Fallible Books: Interaction with The Janitor
Justin Bailey

Hi Justin,

I apologize if I gave the wrong impression regarding your moniker — never thought it was solely directed at me.

No, I just wanted to make sure it didn’t seem like I was merely coming here to argue with you. And you didn’t come off as emotional or anything, either. Thanks for the clarifications. On my own side, when getting into a longer conversation I try to be brief and upfront with my remarks so as to save time. But I’m not trying to be curt. Now that the standard vacation time is over I will have less time than last week. School starts back up at the FBC facilities and this will keep me pretty busy.

I understand you are not interested in such a dialogue. My questions were not intended to open up “further digressions and cans of worms.” They are definitional questions which, as far as I can tell, matter greatly to us having a productive dialogue regarding the question you seem to be most interested in

It seems to me that since this is your argument and if a defense of it hangs on such definitions then it is up to you to provide them when laying out the argument.

Given what you’ve said it’s clear enough, I think, how some terms are being defined. For instance, “Protestant” is being defined a Christian who subscribes to Sola Scriptura. I’ve pointed out that this definition is too idealistic when it comes to how the term is actually used. But that observation doesn’t require me to offer the jointly necessary and sufficient conditions to being a Protestant, it’s just a weakness in your argument I think.

Richard Swinburne’s, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, is sitting right next to me, and is instructive here. He spends few thousand words going through first principles and defining terms as clearly as possible. That’s why I asked the questions I did.

They say that pictures are worth a thousand words. So here’s a few “thousand words” shortcuts to see if we are on the same page.

So you made the claim that Catholicism has greater prior plausibility than Protestantism. I took at that your claim looked something like this:

This picture would represent something similar to what I told in my Thurston’s Island story. And I asked why it would be more probable to think the Catholic-type of model (the left pillar) would be expected over the Protestant-type model (the right pillar).

In response you told a story that I think would be illustrated in the following way:

Clearly the Protestant-type model seems more confused or at least more complicated. And I guess if we assume that God will do things in the simplest way (though I’m not sure there is any basis for this assumption — more on that below) then there is a priori plausibility for the Catholic-type model, on the assumption that this picture accurately represents the way things stand.

But one problem with the picture you’re (not so literally) drawing for us that I have been trying to point out: this is not an a priori assessment of the situation. At least it clearly does not step things back as far as what I would think we should take things at an a priori level.

You are already filling in your assessment of the evidence for us and telling us that Protestantism is a bundle of confusions and Catholicism is a model of harmony and unity (though not in those words).

Now if we want to look at disagreement within each system then that’s fine, though I don’t take it to be an a priori picture. On an a priori consideration we wouldn’t be considering the historical evidence of how those systems have been lived out. After all, that may just be an accident of history. There is nothing about the models just as such which would lead us to predict one result over the other. Since my primary concern here has been with your claim to have a priori reasons to favor a Catholic-type model over a Protestant one then at this point I could just say “Well if that’s your reading of the evidence fine, but it’s not an a priori plausibility of the models just as such.”

But I’ve also pointed out that I think your picture of the two systems is a bit off and by mentioning people like Gerry Matatics I’ve said that the fact of the matter is more like this:

And Matatics is just one example. Off the top of my head I can also think of Robert Sungenis who holds to young earth creationism and a sort of geocentrism. Most Catholics don’t hold to these views though. So that’s another x/~x you could throw in the caldron or chalice or whatever you think the picture is (I just didn’t want to draw a full circle… because it’s hard). Those who are much more studied in issues of Church history and Roman Catholicism could probably come up with more concrete examples.

But anyway my point is that I think the actual picture we have is not one where Catholicism is clearly the less confused and simpler model. But again I would point out that we’re not even looking at the models just as such, but on the possible outputs of those models. And the picture is actually much more complicated than this.

It would be nice to think that every Protestant’s beliefs and every Catholic’s beliefs are simply a product of their models or “systems” or “axioms”, and I think that’s how you’ve been treating the matter, but I would say this is just fantasy. What we actually have is a far more complicated relationship between several variables. Perhaps illustrated like this:

When one properly takes account of the fact that no Protestant’s and no Catholic’s web of beliefs are simply a product of what you take as “axioms” (there is no evidence that most Protestants treat sola Scriptura as an axiom) then trying to argue on the basis of what’s in the caldron/chalice to a conclusion about the integrity of the structure of the caldron/chalice looks like a big non-sequitur.

I think what you might want to argue at this point is that we have a priori reasons to think that God would want us to have a narrower sort of chalice (and one with a filter on top) that would more clearly weed out those whose theological beliefs are not being primarily driven by the chalice itself.

I’m not sure exactly what your a priori reasons would be for that, but I would say two things in response: (1) Okay, but then we immediately see that God hasn’t given us that sort of chalice and so much for that speculation. (2) If we take a step behind the whole systems/model issue and look at the body of Christ as a whole I think it undercuts any reason we might have for thinking God wants to guarantee greater unity.

So, picture this:

Here we are simply looking at the body of Christ as a whole or the church universal (I assume Catholics would include some Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc. in the church universal?). And suppose that A and ~A represent contradiction on the sort of “system” or model that God has left us. X and ~X can be various beliefs that are “system neutral” if you like, such as the filioque controversy.

Given that God is clearly not concerned to guarantee our unity or infallible access at this level (call it level 1), there is no presumption that he would be concerned to guarantee our unity at level 2 or 3 etc. either.

Well that about sums it up. If you think I’ve misrepresented what you’re saying, draw me back :)

Also, I recommend establishing a more than cursory knowledge of Catholicism and other non-sola Scriptura systems.

“Cursory” can be vague, but I’ll accept the blame for that lack of clear definition since I introduced it :) I probably know more about it than an average protestant. I did already know when they defined in the canon in the 16th century, for instance (the question was rhetorical). And I’ve listened to several Catholic v Protestant debates over the years.

I once saw an atheist ask an apologist (I forget who) if he had thoroughly studied every other religion and showed them wrong prior to becoming a Christian. The apologists response, which I thought was good, was that you don’t need to try every form of medicine (e.g. homeopathy) before you commit yourself to taking one (e.g., chemotherapy), so long as you have reasons for thinking the one you’re taking is good and no one has given you a defeater.

That captures the obligations of the ordinary Christian, I think. I don’t think the average Protestant or Catholic sitting in the pew is failing in their epistemic duties unless they follow your recommendation. Granted you didn’t say that such a person would be failing any epistemic duties, you merely recommended it. But I say that by way of my response: I think I’ll pass for now until I’m given a serious reason for thinking I should become a Catholic :) That’s not a challenge for you to present me with one, it’s just how I think we ordinarily approach such issues that are not our main area of focus or concern at the moment.

The certain beliefs I referenced were not from “The Bible” per se. The beliefs I mentioned are derived from documents from the first century. One needn’t attach special “inspired” or “infallible” status to the externally fallible examination.

Right. And as you reflect on that you think you have very good reasons for holding that. So you’re not left in the startling state you want to (rhetorically, I think) paint Protestants in who reject an infallible canon or even infallible documents within the canon. This was, in fact, the initial impetus for my comment. You seemed to be acting as though without an infallible canon we are left a drift not having anything to take us from point A to point B, yet you seem to be getting there just fine prior to your fallible leap into Roman Catholicism.

Those persuasions are fallible and based on educated guesses […] If you’d like to squabble over clarifying “guess” because of a perceived rhetorical move, fine.

Offer accepted :)

A “guess” is usually understood and defined as “estimate or suppose (something) without sufficient information to be sure of being correct” (OED). And an educated guess is: “a guess based on knowledge and experience” (OED).

So while a guess can have various degrees of support it’s usually understood to not be sufficient to be sure of being correct. The claim then would be that you lack sufficient information to be sure of being correct in your conclusions about the resurrection, Matthew 16, etc. Yet you don’t seem to be unsure about these at all! Which is why I suspect that your language here is more rhetoric: attempting to paint one who doesn’t take the Catholic plunge in a fog of confusion and uncertainty, even though that’s not how you understand your own theological beliefs as a self-described “fence sitter”.

Or maybe it’s just an honest reflection on your epistemic state. You’re really not sure about whether Jesus rose form the dead. You’re not sure if you’re interpreting Matthew correctly. And your not even sure if Jesus ever said what Matthew reports him as saying. And so you’re unsure (or sure?) that Jesus would have established a system like Roman Catholicism to somehow bridge that gap. (I admit that how that gap is supposed to be bridged is still baffling to me. A chain of reasoning is usually only as strong as it’s weakest link.)

Definitions and first principles are needed to proceed.

Then, like Swinburne, you should start with them. You should recognize how “opinion” and “guess” are understood by the average person and realize that when pepper your descriptions of Protestantism with these sorts of terms while also telling stories which are supposed to be analogous to it about how we lack knowledge of relevant things one could easily get the impression that Protestants not only don’t know their theological beliefs but also don’t have very good reasons for them. Then when you start cashing those terms out (after I’ve highlighted the problem) it turns out neither is necessarily the case. A Protestant can have good reasons for their beliefs and even achieve warrant in their theological beliefs… and I’m left scratching my head again as to why it’s so startling that God left us in that situation.

Never argued your belief was without warrant. The least credulous belief is what I’m after.

Your counter-Thurston’s Island story had Skipper (the Protestant) saying he didn’t know such and such. Warrant is usually understood to be necessary to knowledge.

Definitions and distinctions needed. As I see prescriptive Protestant theology, the former is an externally fallible move while the latter is an internally fallible move. Since we do not have the foundations in place for you to see what I’m getting at with this distinction, plus my own mediocre skills of communication, there is no sense in writing another quasi-treatise which is clear in my mind and baffling in yours.

Hopefully my pictures drew that out for you :)

Yes. Any time the “sola” prescriptive mindset is applied, disunity closely follows.

I think I showed in an earlier comment that your argument about sola Scriptura applies to the Catholic system and turns it into sola Ecclesia.

The controlling system indiscriminately prescribes the words to be pulled out of their liturgical context and placed within the man in the mirror.

I addressed this confusion in the picture section. You’re assume, incorrectly, that anything Protestant’s believe is an output of sola Scriptura.

I’m saying it was the necessary consequence because humans have varied experiential baggage they bring to the text, assuming their text to be the right one.

Ditto for what they bring to church history or the magisterium.

I bring up Calvin because, he, as far as I can tell, is Protestantism’s best and most internally consistent systematician.

I’ve read Calvin and other Protestant systematicians and I’m not sure that’s correct, but it’s also irrelevant. Even if he is on the whole the best and most internally consistent it still doesn’t logically follow that everything Calvin said about any particular theological topic is the best and most consistent thing a Protestant can say about that topic.

Here’s more of Calvin’s context:

That’s great. But Calvin still doesn’t say that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught only know Scripture by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. So the broader context does nothing to further your claim there. Perhaps this can be derived from his statement that “hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning.” But even so, I (and virtually every other Protestant) have no problem disagreeing with Calvin.

So, either the “evidence of its own truth” is not as clear as Calvin supposes (and I think needs it to be for his idea to carry the required weight) or the Holy Spirit has not given me the inward testimony so as to discern, with certainty, white from black.

My own position is that while the Holy Spirit does aid Christians in recognizing the word of God, he does not do this fully or equally in all people at all times.

By moving Scriptural discernment away from the Church and into the individual, the recourse is subjective experience.

As I said in my last response, so what? Suppose that God reveals himself privately to Abraham in such a way that he somehow gets through to him that he wants him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Normally, we would say that if a deity appears to us and tells us to kill our child this is demonic because God doesn’t command such things. But somehow God was able to appear to Abraham in such a way that it overcame any overriding doubts he may have had. As far as we know, there were no public demonstrations amidst a group of witnesses that could confirm to Abraham that this was in fact God and not some supernatural trickster. And what would such a demonstration even consist in in that context?

In a similar move, Mormons put the terms like this: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

As William Lane Craig says, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, so what if the Mormonism does make that claim? Simply asserting it doesn’t change whatever internal witness we may have. It’s not an entailment of Protestantism just as such that our only recourse for this question is a burning in the bosom. (I put things like this because I’m sure there are a great many Protestants sitting in the pews who may say the same sort of thing, just as there may be some Catholics sitting in the pews who would likewise say the same thing.)

If you see that sort of prescriptive subjectivity to be prima facie unproblematic, I suppose that is your prerogative.

You’ve not given me any reason to see it as problematic.

One of the reasons I asked you the set of questions I did… If we were to move forward, we would need to know clear (as clear as possible at least) lines of demarcation, so as to see what is meant by “‘Christian system’ as a whole”. Perhaps we draw the lines in different places? Depending on the definition of “Christian system”, I do think it would possibly apply.

See my pictures above.

Unjustified equivocation made by teasing away the “teachings of Rome” from the living Magisterium they are contextualized within. Scripture alone has no living Magisterium… except for the man in the mirror. But I don’t think Scripture plus yourself is what you mean by sola Scriptura, do you?

You’ll need to provide more of an argument for how it’s an unjustified equivocation. You only gesture at an equivocation.

Why do you and I agree that 2+2=4?

Non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow that if some axioms are so simple as to make disagreement virtually nill that all axioms have the same simplicity and clarity.

As a Protestant, I’m currently convinced I’m in a “whatever that is” situation regarding the Bible.

And yet your confident enough in it to think your beliefs derived from “whatever that is” justifies making the move to Catholicism. Which leads me to conclude that this is another rhetorical “boo-word”, as the philosopher Jamie Whyte might call it (cf. his book Crimes Against Logic).

Decontextualizing it from an authoritative tradition is not an option since we no longer have the originals (fallible copies which arguably don’t even go back to the originals), and no original table of contents was attached.

Where is your argument that decontextualizing it from an infallible tradition is not an option?

What’s the point of calling your chosen collection “God’s Word” (assuming you do) if he isn’t even concerned with us having infallible versions along with an infallible table of contents?

Why would him not being concerned with us infallibly recognizing his word somehow make it not his word?

So, a construction of authority based on total agreement with what you think is true?

No, there doesn’t have to be 1-to-1 correspondance, as is indicated in the rest of my remark: “their track record for approximating the truth.”

If so, why wouldn’t they just be your equal?

I never said that “what we take to be true” has been arrived at prior to or independently of them.

If you disagreed with an “authority”, is there any situation where you should submit and affirm what the “authority” affirms, even if you’re not intellectually persuaded?

Yes and no. Yes, because, like I said, through something like a “track record” we can be persuaded that a person likely sees a truth that we don’t. But “no” in the sense that we could not do that if we weren’t already persuaded that this person is more likely to have the truth than us. Even the faithful Roman Catholic is in that scenario. They can and will only assent if they are intellectually persuaded that the person sees better a truth that they don’t. So the ultimate authority for the Roman Catholic is still “starting with the man in the mirror” to quote St. Michael Jackson.

Here is the definition of ad hoc I’m thinking of (from Webster): for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application.

I didn’t stipulate that Protestants would elect a pope just to solve that problem. I only expressed credulity that if they were to elect a pope it would solve any problem.

Yes. Both sola Scriptura and Scripture-plus systems have disagreements. A different sort though. Sola Scriptura kinds are internal disagreements about what Scripture is, which determines what God means to say.

As I illustrated above (literally) you’re artificially limiting your scope. At the level of the “Body of Christ”, God has clearly not provided any infallible axioms to arrive at internal agreement. And while the Scripture-plus system may not have internal disagreements about what Scripture is they certainly have internal disagreements about the magisterium or church history.

Scriptura philosophically rules out the possibility for objectivity when attempting to recognize what God means to say. The “who” is you.

By the same logic, you’re ruled out from objectivity from the very first fallible step about recognizing whether the “who” is you or a pope.

Since we are talking about the latter, and exist in a context far removed from the multiple relevant cultures, without a shred of the original “infallible” documents, where 99.9% (a rhetorically sweeping guess) of laity — plus a high percentage of teachers — can barely speak a word of Koine, Aramaic, or Hebrew to even start grappling with the literary nuances attached to the multiple cultures they are far removed from, where the layers of philosophy are so dense massive interpretive divides can rest on subtle distinctions which take years and a fairly well equipped mind to explore (often without conclusion), and finally (not really finally, but for this list as I am getting tired), where human psychology and subjective personal experience are so powerful and varied to cause equally capable individuals — faithful and pious individuals as well — to reasonably diverge on nearly every major question that can be asked,

Having the magisterium do your thinking for you on these issues won’t make the realities of such questions and issues go away. It’s just assuming that they have the right answers. Not sure why that is more comforting than a Presbyterian assuming the Westminster Confession has all the right answers.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose more solid footing exists than my own subjective interpretive wits buttressed by the belief that the Holy Spirit is giving me the right answers and not giving you the right answers about God’s divine revelation with eternal consequences attached.

Then your a priori argument should be that God would give us infallible guidance not within some sub-system in the body of Christ but as the body of Christ per se. Unfortunately, even if there is a priori reason to think that, the facts still blow it out of the water.

I don’t see how your questions about Dale Tuggy will work into a case for the a priori plausibility of Roman Catholicism, so I’ll not bother answering them in detail. Suffice it to say that I’ve seen him try to give it a go with some people on exegetical grounds and he doesn’t do very well and always ends up reverting to his law of identity speech. But we’ve already, again, followed lines of thought beyond that scope…

Thanks for your time, again.

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