Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Ghost of Socrates Meets James White and Debates What "Debate" Means, Among Other Things

[a significantly rewritten variation of an earlier paper which I will be removing from the Internet]

PHOENIX, ARIZONA, May 1, 2006. The Reformed Baptist writer and obsessed oral debater James R. White startled and astonished friends, comrades, and fellow Christian enemies alike on Thursday when he strikingly revealed that he had received spirit messages on several occasions from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. These supernatural brainstorming sessions with the dead heathen idol-worshiper appear to have profoundly disturbed Mr. White.

Bishop White could not be reached for comment, but in a purely coincidental joint press release on Thursday, his four or five compatriots in the cause of bashing the Catholic Church pointed out that "evangelical and Reformed Protestants oppose spiritism and necromancy of any kind." A suggestion from an unnamed source that Mr. White's visions had an uncanny similarity to the Marian apparitions at Fatima and Lourdes was quickly and derisively dismissed by those close to White, with the comment, "obviously this is a conspiracy of RC e-pologists, who engage regularly in unsavory tactics - to discredit our good friend."

Such shocking revelations have alarmed others among Mr. White's anti-Catholic Calvinist "evangelical" friends, but the illustrious slayer of apologetic folly and foolish "Roman" Catholic apologists characteristically defended himself vigorously and assured his detractors that all is well.

Here, then, is the original interview, conducted on the ruins of Plato's ancient Academy in Athens, Greece: Socrates' words will be in black; James White's in blue.

* * * * *

Socrates (S): Mr. White, welcome, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. I am hoping to receive some sorely-needed intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list to talk to St. Paul here in heaven. Blaise Pascal, St. Anselm, and St. Augustine are also quite in demand. St. Thomas Aquinas is a genius, of course, but his style and emphasis is not to my personal taste (no offense intended). He's too down to earth. Very nice and humble man, though . . .

James White (W): It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm honored and humbled by this chance to meet such a great and influential thinker. I was wondering: have you talked much to Calvin, Turretin, Edwards, Warfield, Spurgeon, or Hodge up in heaven?

S: No. Actually, I can't because they're still serving time in purgatory and I hear that it'll be several decades more before they get out. They're resisting the re-education efforts mightily (especially John Calvin: he is no end of trouble down there. Stubborn!!!!). I was blessed myself because I only had to spend a few months in purgatory. I was told that this was largely because I lived before the Christian revelation was fully revealed in Jesus Christ, whereas Calvin lived 15 centuries after it and had far less excuse; also that he rebelled against a bit too much of the apostolic deposit, faithfully preserved in the Catholic Church down through the centuries. Some verses about, "to whom much is given, much is required," and "let not many be teachers, for they shall be judged more strictly," as I recall . . . Calvin (along with the others) made it because he was a disciple of Christ, but alas, he has required more preparation in correct theology than most (because falsehoods are not allowed in heaven). It's much more difficult to extirpate the false than it is to simply accept the true. But enough of my preaching; sorry (I do a lot of that now that I am a Catholic convert).

W: That's too bad. I think you could learn much from them.

S: I doubt it. They're pitifully ignorant of how philosophy works (with the exception of Jonathan Edwards - to some extent, anyway). But tell you what; I'll look them up when they arrive here.

W: Good! I think they might convert you to Reformed Protestantism.

S: As I said, falsehoods (even partial ones accompanied by much truth) are not allowed in heaven, so that is not likely. Don't you think that Catholics on earth (sinners that they are, no doubt) have at least some insights concerning Christian history which might benefit Protestants?

W: No; all I seem to run across is the shallow "Catholic Answers" / Dave Armstrong style of apologetics, which is the equivalent of Jack Chick.

S: I saw a distressing statement of yours about Catholic apologists being deliberately deceptive. I must tell you, my son, that those of us in heaven don't judge hearts and motivations anymore. That was one of the most difficult lessons I learned myself, during my stay in purgatory. Can't you see how some people might consider such remarks (which are, I'm afraid, disturbingly common in your writings) rather harsh and uncharitable judgments?

W: No, because I am telling the truth, so that these heretics can be saved.

S: Do you admit that you ever get carried away in your voluminous discussions on the Internet, and sometimes descend into personal insults?

W: No.

S: Can you point to a specific example of an intellectually dishonest Catholic apologist? Maybe we can get a prayer chain going up here in heaven and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary in particular to prayer for compulsive liars who give Catholicism a bad name, as her prayers are more powerful than any other creature's (James 5:16).

W: Yeah, Dave Armstrong.

S: Who is he, pray tell? Whoever he is, he obviously has you very upset.

W: Oh, just this clown who is scared to debate me.

S: He is? He has never countered your ideas and subjected them to critical examination?

W: No, not in debate.

S: But I understand (my research assistant and expert on earth goings-on in the Christian apologetic world just handed me some information about this Armstrong guy) . . . um [he looks over the memoranda] . . . that you and Armstrong have had many debates, not none.

W: That's not true. A debate has to be an oral confrontation with prearranged rules, time limits, etc. There must be a crowd of rowdy anti-Catholics, who snicker and make faces and childish gestures whenever the Catholic speaks.

S: Why would you say it has to be spoken?

W: Because that proves whether someone is man enough to defend their ideas under the pressure of my relentless sophistry and rhetorical / polemical tricks.

S: Do you not accept that there is such a thing as a written debate?

W: I don't, because that allows men to hid behind their keyboards.

S: Couldn't one reply that you also "hide" behind your slogans and sophistry, at oral debates?

W: No, because no one has ever defeated me in debate. I'm not a sophist!

S: But we haven't decided yet that a debate is confined to formal spoken exchanges. My student Plato, for example, compiled some of the debates I engaged in while on earth, into books. Most of them were quite informal, on the streets of Athens. Did they cease to become debates once they were written?

W: In that case, it was an oral encounter in the first place. You prove my point!

S: Yes, but isn't the relevant factor the presence of back-and-forth debate and cross-examination, regardless of whether this is in a written or oral format?

W: Armstrong doesn't cross-examine, Socrates; he just plays games with words . . .

S: But assume for the sake of argument that he did do so, in writing. Would that not be a debate?

W: [thinking, with furrowed brow] Well . . . maybe.

S: So you concede the point?

W: I concede that a debate could conceivably be in writing, but not that Armstrong himself has ever debated me.

S: Ah, but our research shows that you and this Armstrong have indeed engaged in many back-and-forth exchanges: some quite lengthy.

W: Yes, but he uses sophistry and then runs. He even claims to follow your method. LOL

S: Indeed, he does. But our records do not indicate what you report at all; quite the contrary. I see that Armstrong has examined many of your assumptions and found them wanting; and then you are invariably the one who ends the discussion, right at that point where critical openness would demand that you continue on to defend your premises and assertions founded upon them.

W: I disagree.

S: Why? Do you dispute the facts of the matter? Our records are very detailed . . . that is hardly possible.

W: I am saying that Armstrong can't be right because he is Catholic!

S: Now that is an entirely different subject. It's an ad hominem attack, of course, to say he can't be right because of his religious beliefs. If he is wrong, that must be shown by cogent, consistent rational argument, and you have notoriously failed to provide that: especially in the consistency department, where you fail abysmally.

In any event, I don't know anything personally about Dave Armstrong apart from these notes I was given by my assistant, so I can't comment on him (we've heard, however, from some recently-deceased Protestants that he is on the devil's side. They were sternly rebuked by the Lord because lying and slander is not allowed up here). The way you describe him, he sounds like quite a strange, objectionable, obnoxious character.

W: Oh, you wouldn't believe it, Socrates. He's no end of frustration, and the most anmoying person I have ever met.

S: Perhaps you consider him annoying because he consistently prevails in argument when you two debate each other? Could that be, perhaps, because he has some good arguments that frustrate you, and so - lacking a cogent reply - you take it out on him personally, when such attacks have nothing to do with the argument at hand? After all, I often received reactions like this in my many discussions on earth, and I don't believe most people who have studied philosophy would consider me (if I do say so) a simpleton or stupid. Haven't you ever had a decent dialogue (a form of discourse I personally favor) with a Catholic apologist?

W: No. Some, like Fr. Pacwa, were nice men, but none has ever come close to defeating me in debate.

S: Mr. White, I must inform you (with all due respect) that I reside (by God's grace) in heaven where the truth concerning the nature of the Church and ecclesiology and theology is a rather elementary affair. I must, therefore, say - with no offense intended at all - that your reasoning (though impressive in presentation at first glance) is more or less a complete muddle.

W: Well, of course you would say that, if you are a Catholic. How did you get to heaven, anyway, without believing in the gospel and Grace Alone?

S: Like I said, I spent a stint in purgatory first. But all Christians believe the gospel and Grace alone, don't they?

W: Not Catholics! They're not Christians!

S: Do they not believe that Jesus died for the sake of men's salvation, and hold (like you) that this is sufficient to save men?

W: No; they add works.

S: They believe in what the Bible calls the gospel, just as you do.

W: If this is one of your trick line of questions again, I'm not interested . . .

S: [smiling] Alright; I'll desist. It's so often hard for earthlings to accept the truth. God gave some of us who were striving after philosophical truth (before our Glorious Lord Jesus went down to earth) much grace to arrive at truth and not falsehood. I'll never forget the wonderful day that He came down to Hades and took us up to heaven!

You see, when we sons of heaven talk about theology and philosophy with mere earthlings, we need to simplify our thought processes and communication styles by several levels of magnitude (much like God did in His revelation, the Bible) because if we didn't, no one on earth would be able to understand us at all. So I am not answering at my full capability (I'm only at about 10% strength). If I did so, you would undergo a severe trauma because so much of your thought is erroneous. I inform you of this as gently as I know how, knowing how you tend to react to people who question your arguments and insights.

W: Thanks for the lecture, but I'm finished being lectured - especially by Roman Catholics.

S: I wasn't lecturing; merely informing, my friend. But perhaps the supreme advantage of my heavenly knowledge (it's not really a fair fight at all) is "leaking through" my attempts to simplify it. If so, you have my apologies.

W: No problem.

S: I want to ask you a few more philosophical questions, if I may. How do you relate philosophy to Scripture?

W: I think that neither your tenets nor the those of Plato and Aristotle are found in Holy Scripture.

S: James, James! Your zeal blinds you! This is simply not true. There are many truths in my philosophy that I developed while on earth, and also (of course) in my pupil Plato's, and his student Aristotle's philosophy. Whatever was correct in both corresponded with biblical truth, because all truth is God's truth. It is wrong for you to so easily dismiss these philosophies in such broad terms. One must work through the issues one by one. Plato, Aristotle and I got many things right because God's grace was working through us (largely unlike other rival groups such as the Sophists or the Epicureans). The Christian Church picked up many elements of our thought and developed or "Christianized" them. It's obvious and uncontroversial that Holy Scripture and Christianity as a religion are not philosophical systems at bottom (in that very broad sense you are correct, if that is what you meant). But they can utilize philosophy as the "handmaiden of faith." I think you generalize far too much and contradict yourself. Hellenistic thinking contradicts Scripture in some ways but not in all ways. We didn't (to cite but one example) get the general resurrection right, but we got concepts like the Logos pretty much right. I see that you have a lot to learn.

W: So do you, if you are still a Catholic.

S: I can't learn anything so simple as theology anymore. We already know all that in heaven.

W: How can you be a Catholic, then?!

S: Because, of course, it is true!

W: [shakes head in bewilderment]

S: You definitely have a lot of zeal and energy. Would that you could transfer all that into more positive endeavors, and learn logical consistency . . . I sure had my moments on earth, too, I can assure you (far too many) . . . we intellectuals are a rather arrogant, stubborn lot.

But I have other duties to attend to at the moment, so take care, my friend, and go with God.

W: You, too, Socrates. It was my pleasure chatting with you. You're not nearly as bad a fellow as I thought you were; especially for a pagan; er, Catholic [he grimaces and vainly tries to hide it].

S: Great; thanks for the compliment! Shall we pray together before I take my leave?

W: No! [preparing to run if Socrates starts a prayer, since he never prays with Catholics . . . ]

[Socrates then smiles broadly and vanishes in a puff of smoke and White walks down the street, deep in puzzled thought about what he has heard and learned.]

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