Friday, April 06, 2012

"Blind Faith" (?): Dialogue with an Atheist, Challenged to Produce Any "Positive" Rational Evidence for Atheism (vs. Jon)

By Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong (4-6-12)

Jon is a former evangelical, now an atheist, with whom I have had cordial relations and a few amiable debates. He's been at my house in a group discussion (and probably will again), and I've attended his atheist / agnostic group several times (being the main presenter once). His website is called Prove Me Wrong. Jon's words will be in blue. The following is a condensed version of an exchange in one of my comboxes.

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Well we should get together again. So much we can talk about. Are you a science denying anti-evolutionist? Just kidding with the inflammatory language there. Does God exist? Does the Bible contain errors? Is it rational to believe Jesus rose? These are all fun topics. 

How about this one: you defend atheism without running down something (or anything) else: positive reasons for why you believe as you do. Is it possible? Will the universe self-destruct if an atheist doesn't run down Christianity and the Bible to try to shore up his view? :-)

That would be a quick one though. Why don't I believe in God? Same reason I don't believe in unicorns. Because there's no compelling evidence.

What happens at that point is we start talking about evidences Christians like to offer and if I criticize them would I be breaking the rule to not run Christianity down? I'm actually pretty positive about Christianity, as you probably know. 

Why have a discussion then, if you can't offer me one positive reason why anyone should be an atheist? If something is so indefensible, it obviously isn't rational; therefore, no rational person should ever espouse it.

It's just a basic rule of argumentation that I'm sure you know. The burden of proof falls to the one that makes the positive assertion.

Let's suppose I propose the existence of an extremely small polka dotted fish which happens to have knees, toes, and feathers. I say let's have a discussion about why you don't believe in it. Why don't you believe in it? And if you have no argument other than that I haven't provided any evidence, does that make your view indefensible and irrational?

Okay, so by thus implying that you have no positive assertion about atheism to make, you concede that atheism is such that it cannot be proven at all, since it has no positive assertion: a key element of "proof."

Something that cannot be positively asserted, seems to me, to be logically reduced to mere irrationality and subjective mush. That being the case, no rational person should accept atheism; having no positive, rational proof for itself. It is only "not x."

Even rejecting Christianity or theism in general (for whatever 10,000 "reasons" you can offer up) is no reason to adopt atheism (and you now describe yourself as an "atheist" on your blog, not an agnostic, as formerly).

To say, "x version of 'God' is nonexistent" is not the same as to say "no possible 'God' can or does exist."

And having no reason for believing something is pure fideism: faith in faith, minus all reason. It requires far more faith and turning off one's rational faculties than Christianity ever did, as I have contended for 30 years or more . . .

This is profound thinking that you give us. Imagine! All you can come up with is:

"I am an atheist for no reason other than that it rejects belief in imaginary things such as unicorns, goblins, dragons, and leprechauns (among which silly things are all Christian doctrines)."

I must confess that such depths of wisdom, insight, and "proof" are quite beyond me. But I trust that with further enlightenment from you I can at least grasp why any thinking person would adopt such a ridiculous worldview that amounts to merely claiming:

"I reject patently absurd things that clearly don't exist, but have nothing positive to offer anyone in favor of my alleged belief-system. All I can do is spend my time running down myths." 

Actually I agree with you based on the way I think you are defining atheism. I can't prove there is no God with certainty, if you mean any kind of God. I don't pretend I can. When I say I'm an atheist I just mean it the same way I mean I don't believe in unicorns. 

I wasn't asking for that, but rather, for any positive arguments and reasons whatsoever . . . you have conceded that you can't even offer that, which is quite extraordinary.

I can't really prove it,. . . 

Nor, apparently, give any rational evidence whatsoever in favor of it (by your own virtual admission) . . .

but I believe it anyway.

Exactly! That is the very essence of a fideistic true believer: something I have never been and never will be, because I value reason far too much.

Thanks very much for your honest confession that an atheist can give no reason for anyone else to be an atheist other than rejecting "the belief in leprechauns and unicorns" (ho hum; big wow; yawn . . . zzzz)

Rarely has a debate been so easy . . . :-) 

It's not fideism. It's a rational belief based on the available evidence.

It is irrational mush, and a form of fideism.

Generally it's very hard, sometimes practically impossible, to prove a universal negative. But we are still rational to reject the belief in leprechauns and unicorns. Maybe for you that means I'm an agnostic, not an atheist. I have no problem with that.

* * *

Just so you know, when I invoke unicorns I don't mean it in a mocking way. Is that believable? I hope so. That's actually why I invoked a fish with odd features. I want to talk about the existence or non-existence of something neither of us believe in just so I can understand what qualifies as proof of the non-existence of a thing in your mind. Unicorns imply childish belief, and I don't think belief in God is childish and I don't want to mock it. So I just want to be clear about that.

Let's just say a fish with an odd feature. Say feathers. When you quote me above saying "I believe it" what I'm saying is I believe that there is no such thing as a fish with odd feathers. How about you? Do you believe in fish with feathers? I assume no. What if someone said this made you a fideist? Because you can't prove there are no fish with feathers, right? You can't scoop all the fish out of the ocean and check. So why do you disbelieve in fish with feathers when you can't prove it?

Really, explain the logical process that leads you to the conclusion that there are no feathered fish. I think the logic is not fideistic and leads you directly to the logic that leads me to belief in the non-existence of God.

I appreciate that you don't have a mocking intent. Neither do I. My sarcasm can get rather barbed at times, but it always has a serious polemical (socratic) intent.

I believe certain things, and I have reasons for why I believe them (now collected in 2500+ papers and 30 books).

You can't tell me why you believe what you do (i.e., in a positive and non-negative way, as I have challenged you to do): have not yet given any positive, pro-active rationale. All you can do is tell me what you don't believe, and to some extent, why.

You are spectacularly proving my point: that atheism is perfectly irrational and unworthy of allegiance on the same basis.

[possibly to be continued; will add future installments]

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Dialogue with a Lutheran Pastor: Does the Catholic Mass Re-Sacrifice Jesus Again and Again? (with Ken Howes)

By Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong (4-2-12)

[From a Facebook thread] Pastor Howes' words will be in blue]

The Bible plainly rules out the notion of Jesus being "re-sacrificed":

Hebrews 7:27 (RSV) He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 

Hebrews 9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:24-28 For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. [25] Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; [26] for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. [27] And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, [28] so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The crucifixion was a one-time historical event. But we must keep in mind that Jesus is both a Man and God. He was subject to time in His human nature. In His Divine Nature, however, He is outside of time. Jesus is called "a priest for ever": not for six hours on the cross only: 

Hebrews 5:6 as he says also in another place, "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz'edek."

Hebrews 6:20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek.

Hebrews 7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever.

Thus, the Apostle John referred to Jesus in heaven (after His resurrection and ascension) as "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain":

Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth;
Hebrews 8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, (cf. also Heb 9:24 above)

In this sense, the one crucifixion is "eternally present" and supernaturally "brought to us" in the sacrifice of the Mass. 

I think the problem is the phrase "sacrifice of the Mass". Jesus is not sacrificed anew; as you correctly say, that one sacrifice's benefits are brought to us in the Sacrament. Some of the earlier Catholic writings could reasonably be understood to say that there is a new sacrifice of Christ. Take a look at Chapter II of Trent and its canons. If the Protestant writers were misstating the Catholic doctrine, that was primarily because of language such as appears there. 

Perhaps the Catholic Church always meant essentially what you say here; I wouldn't object to your explanation here other than to add Heb. 9: "he entered once for all into the holy places." 

But it doesn't say He ever left, and taken with the other passages I provide, this is no disproof of a permanent priesthood of Christ: tied in to the sacrifice of the mass. I think the text refers more to the definitive, end-all nature of the crucifixion, not to some timebound analysis of it.

I like your statement that in that one sense, "the one crucifixion is 'eternally present' and supernaturally 'brought to us,'" in the Communion. A priest does two kinds of acts--sacrificial (as in the prayers and the presenting of the collected alms) and sacramental (as in reading the lessons, preaching, and administering the Sacraments). That which is sacrificial is what we give to God; that which is sacramental is what He gives to us. The sacrifice itself was once for all and has been accomplished, while the sacrament based on that sacrifice goes on eternally, bringing us the benefit of that one "full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world", to use the words in the Book of Common Prayer. In His sacramental role, which is part of being a priest, He gives us the gifts of His Body and Blood once sacrificed.

He has indeed promised to be with us always. On the other hand, He said, "It is finished." The sacrifice was complete. What we receive is the benefits of that sacrifice. In any event, the more recent language used by Catholic writers such as yourself is helpful to a constructive dialogue. There are many places where there may be less difference between us in the doctrine itself than in our respective formulations of it.

Let's look at the Council of Trent, Session 22, Chapter II:

And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy Synod teaches, that this sacrifice is truly propritiatory and that by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid, if we draw nigh unto God, contrite and penitent, with a sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence. For the Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits indeed of which oblation, of that bloody one to wit, are received most plentifully through this unbloody one; so far is this (latter) from derogating in any way from that (former oblation). Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles.

First of all, there is the differentiation (first sentence) between "unbloody manner" and "once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross" -- thus showing that the former is not regarded as the latter, repeated over and over again (as the contra-Catholic reasoning would claim), but rather, a different means of bringing the one sacrifice to us.

Secondly, there is the phrase, "the manner alone of offering being different," thus showing that it is one sacrifice being re-presented (different "manner").

Moreover, the phrase, "The fruits indeed of . . . that bloody one to wit, are received most plentifully through this unbloody one" shows that the reference was back to Calvary, whose benefits accrues to those partaking of Holy Communion, not to some imagined "repeated bloody sacrifice."

To drive home the point in a different way, the Council reiterates, "so far is this (latter) from derogating in any way from that (former oblation)."

That is four distinct proofs that it means exactly what I have said it means, and what is Catholic teaching and doctrine. How anyone could interpret this any differently, perhaps you would be kind enough to explain to me (and us).

See also the plain language of Chapter I:

He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the last supper, on the night in which He was betrayed,--that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit,--declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, . . .
There are many places where there may be less difference between us in the doctrine itself than in our respective formulations of it.

Absolutely. And those are good to find and rejoice in. That's part of my goals in doing my new book of John Wesley quotes: lots of common ground: more than many (if not most or nearly all) Catholics or Methodists (including myself) realized, I'm sure.

Perhaps the language of Trent was not as careful and precise as it should be (one can always argue about style and content of words), but I think a reasonable reading of it arrives at the conclusions I and Catholics hold, and have always held. If not, then I'd like to see your alternate explanation / rebuttal of my four points, and demonstrate what is so unclear about the passage, so that Protestants have been misled through no fault of their own.

I don't think the language itself is the problem, so much as an interpretation brought to it by those with prior assumptions and premises that are different (and too often, hostile at that). This leads to an incorrect reading of that which is (I contend) objectively sufficient to communicate what we do in fact believe.

I think another important factor in all this is the understanding of the patristic background: the notion of eucharistic sacrifice (in the Catholic sense) was common in the fathers' writings. So, e.g., J. N. D. Kelly summarized St. Augustine's view:

The self-same Christ Who was slain there is in a real sense slaughtered daily by the faithful, so that the sacrifice which was offered once for all in bloody form is sacramentally renewed upon our altars with the oblation of His body and blood.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, fifth revised edition, 1978., 454; further sources: Ep. 98:9; cf. C. Faust, 20,18; 20:21)

Not understanding this background, one can misinterpret what something like Trent expressed and come up with this "sacrificed again and again" business. But knowing it, then it is seen as merely further development of what had been believed long since.

Therefore, one of the false premises lies in the denial that the fathers taught eucharistic sacrifice and the same notions in essence as what Trent and Catholic dogma hold.

Okay, I can put what you're saying together with other things I've previously read, and I see how you get there. I continue to have trouble with other language in the same chapter: "For the sacrificial Victim is one and the same, the same now offering through the ministry of the priests who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner of offering being different." His offering of Himself sacrificially was finished. Of course His priesthood is not ended. He remains our Priest as He continues to intercede for us. That is a sacrificial act on His part which He does at all times. He remains our Priest as He gives Himself in His Body and Blood to us in the Communion. That is a sacramental act. But the sacrifice actually offered now is not of His Body and Blood, which have been sacrificed already, but of our prayers, praise and thanksgiving. No question: The whole sequence of the Mass, including the service of the Word that begins the service, is the representation of the whole Gospel in the liturgy--we can see the Gloria at the beginning, the song the angels sang at His birth, the lessons, as He also taught us, the Sanctus, which reminds us of Palm Sunday, the Verba first spoken by Him on Maundy Thursday, and the distribution, which is the Body and Blood of the Paschal Lamb sacrificed on us on Good Friday. This is indeed the Word, which comes to the elements and makes a Sacrament (Augustine). Is that of itself a new sacrifice of Him? Or is it the application of the sacrifice He already made to us? Yes, it is accompanied by our present sacrifices of prayer, praise and thanksgiving (see Heb. 13). Chemnitz quotes some Catholic writers of his day (Gropper and Vicelius) saying that, and does not criticize their statement of the doctrine, but says only that they should have corrected those who taught differently. You quoted Kelly's quotation of Augustine; Chemnitz also quotes Augustine: "The likenesses are customarily called by the names of the things whose likenesses they are." If you are saying that you call it a sacrifice because it is a likeness of the original sacrifice, then the difference becomes one of semantics. One can point to Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, and say, "There is the Last Supper," and that is true in the sense of the statement of Augustine that I just brought up. And if you say, "This observance is a likeness of the one true Sacrifice, so we call it 'the sacrifice.'

I can see what you are saying then.

Chemnitz says, "Because the dispensation and participation or Communion of the Eucharist is done in commemoration of the one and only sacrifice of Christ, and because the sacrificial victim, who was once offered on the cross for our sins, is dispensed and taken there, it could for this reason, and with this explanation added, be called a sacrifice, even though Scripture does not so call it."

Eugene Cunningham wrote:

A man and women get married, once, on their wedding day. Yet, each day, after that, they are 'married', though not 're-married' each day. They are not 'less married' each day because the initial act of being married is over, in time. Same for the mass. The crucifixion was 'once', yet it is also 'forever', for what God does, he does forever. It is not so much the event of the crucifixion that saves us (for God is not required to do anything), but Christ, by virtue of Who he is ("God is Salvation") saves us. The crucifixion was the sign of this, but still not the actual, principle 'thing' which saves us.

Eugene, you make my point. Marriage is a continuing state; the wedding is not. "It is finished." The atoning sacrifice, the satisfactio vicaria, was done on Calvary--in your analogy, the wedding. Yes, the act of the wedding night is, in any healthy marriage, re-enacted more or less frequently, but it is not a wedding; the joinder of husband and wife as one flesh has already occurred, and is not re-joined. Just so, atonement has been made for our sins, and does not need to be re-made. The Crucifixion was not just a sign. His baptism and the voice of the Father and the Spirit descending in the form of a dove--those were signs. Even the raising of Lazarus was a sign. The cross or crucifix over your altars and ours--those are signs. But they were and are signs, in different ways, of the one Thing; the Son of Man had to be lifted up. It was for that purpose that He came to that hour. God put him forth to be a propitiation in His blood. That was our redemption. To say that the crucifixion was a sign and not the thing signified is to miss the point of the crucifixion. Read Gal. 3; look also at St. Anselm, "Why God Became Man" (Cur Deus Homo). That was why St. Paul said, "We preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

His offering of Himself sacrificially was finished.

As a man in history, yes. As God, outside of time, no. This was the gist of my post. His being God brings in a "supra-historical" aspect in which time is transcended. This is what Protestants often seem to neglect.

Of course His priesthood is not ended. He remains our Priest as He continues to intercede for us.

Priests not only intercede, but much more to their essence: they offer sacrifice. If Jesus is our high priest forever He is still offering Himself, out of time, because that's what priests do. Otherwise, what is the "pure offering" of Malachi 1:11?

That is a sacrificial act on His part which He does at all times. He remains our Priest as He gives Himself in His Body and Blood to us in the Communion.

Like I noted before, if His Body and Blood are truly present in the Eucharist (as you agree), then the sacrifice on the cross also must be present in some sense, since that is where the sacrifice took place, and why we talk about Body and Blood at all. One can't be separated from the other. But sure enough, Protestants (in their opposition to the Catholic Mass) attempted to separate them in the 16th century, by renouncing the traditional element of the sacrifice of the mass.

You quoted Kelly's quotation of Augustine; Chemnitz also quotes Augustine: 'The likenesses are customarily called by the names of the things whose likenesses they are.' If you are saying that you call it a sacrifice because it is a likeness of the original sacrifice, then the difference becomes one of semantics.

According to Kelly, St. Augustine was a realist on this question, just as he was on real presence and transubstantiation (i.e., the earlier kernels of the later fully developed doctrine: the transformationalist view).

For more on this question of the fathers' views: observations of Protestant patristic historians Schaff and Kelly, see my paper: "Church Fathers and the Sacrifice of the Mass." Here are several of St. Augustine's statements on the sacrifice of the mass:

For then first appeared the sacrifice which is now offered to God by Christians in the whole wide world, and that is fulfilled which long after the event was said by the prophet to Christ, who was yet to come in the flesh, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek,” —that is to say, not after the order of Aaron, for that order was to be taken away when the things shone forth which were intimated beforehand by these shadows.

(City of God, Book XVI, 22; NPNF 1, Vol. II) 

Not only is no one forbidden to take as food the Blood of this Sacrifice, rather, all who wish to possess life are exhorted to drink thereof.

(Questions of the Hepateuch, 3, 57) 

The entire Church observes the tradition delivered to us by the Fathers, namely, that for those who have died in the fellowship of the Body and Blood of Christ, prayer should be offered when they are commemorated at the actual Sacrifice in its proper place, and that we should call to mind that for them, too, that Sacrifice is offered.

(Sermo, 172, 2; 173, 1; De Cura pro mortuis, 6; De Anima et ejus Origine, 2, 21) 

The Sacrifice of our times is the Body and Blood of the Priest Himself . . . Recognize then in the Bread what hung upon the tree; in the chalice what flowed from His side. 
(Sermo iii. 1-2; in Pope, 62) 

Out of hatred of Christ the crowd there shed Cyprian's blood, but today a reverential multitude gathers to drink the Blood of Christ . . . this altar . . . whereon a Sacrifice is offered to God . . .

(Sermo 310, 2) 

[F]or it is to God that sacrifices are offered . . . But he who knows the one sacrifice of Christians, which is the sacrifice offered in those places, also knows that these are not sacrifices offered to the martyrs . . . For we do not ordain priests and offer sacrifices to our martyrs, as they do to their dead men, for that would be incongruous, undue, and unlawful, such being due only to God . . .

(City of God, Book VIII, chapter 27; NPNF 1, Vol. II) 

You know that in ordinary parlance we often say, when Easter is approaching, “Tomorrow or the day after is the Lord’s Passion,” although He suffered so many years ago, and His passion was endured once for all time. In like manner, on Easter Sunday, we say, “This day the Lord rose from the dead,” although so many years have passed since His resurrection. But no one is so foolish as to accuse us of falsehood when we use these phrases, for this reason, that we give such names to these days on the ground of a likeness between them and the days on which the events referred to actually transpired, the day being called the day of that event, although it is not the very day on which the event took place, but one corresponding to it by the revolution of the same time of the year, and the event itself being said to take place on that day, because, although it really took place long before, it is on that day sacramentally celebrated. Was not Christ once for all offered up in His own person as a sacrifice? and yet, is He not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations; so that the man who, being questioned, answers that He is offered as a sacrifice in that ordinance, declares what is strictly true? For if sacraments had not some points of real resemblance to the things of which they are the sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. 
(Epistles, 98, 9; NPNF 1, Vol. I)