Friday, December 29, 2006

Debate on the Nature of "Church" and Catholicism (vs. Eric Svendsen)

By Dave Armstrong

The following series of dialogues with leading anti-Catholic apologist Dr. Eric Svendsen, took place on Bishop James White's Sola Scriptura discussion list, between 27 May and 5 July 1996, and later compiled on 13 August 2000. Dr. Svendsen's words will be in blue

* * * * *

I didn't say we need no earthly authorities. Clearly we do, and the NT bears that out.

Good. This would be progress for many Protestants who have anarchical beliefs. Do you have a bishop, then, by the way? If not, why (it's certainly biblical)?

But it doesn't teach anything about Rome's authority, nor a pope's authority, nor apostolic succession.

Not Rome - that comes immediately after the NT period, but is directly apostolic, since Peter and Paul both ended up there and were martyred there - surely not for no reason, in God's Providence. I have my "Peter and the Pope: 50 NT Proofs" paper, if you're interested (privately, of course). NT has "nothing" about the pope, huh? Shows how profound the gap is between us. Very sad. I've shown how apostolic succession is biblical, too. But apostolic succession also flows from simple common sense and a respect for maintaining all Christian truth undefiled.

My point was that it is a non-sequitur to jump from "the NT teaches ecclesial authority" to "that ecclesial authority must be singular, must be Rome, and must be the pope."

It is not singular, strictly speaking, because it encompasses bishops and councils as well. The pope often acts formally in concert with them (or, at the very least, consults them in every major pronouncement he makes. The "Rome" factor is apostolic, and was present from the beginning (e.g., St. Clement of Rome's letters). The papacy is grounded in Peter's extraordinary prerogatives, granted him by Christ,as shown in my paper.
    We are not a denomination, but the original New Testament Church.
Many assumptions cloud your perspective: (1) you assume the church is a "visible" organization (a "shell" as it were--which is in contradiction even with your catechism!).

It is visible, but more than that. We hold to the Mystical Body also (which is how we can include you guys, since you deny visibility). I prove visibility in my paper on the Church. Not sure why you use the description "shell," nor how you think this contradicts the CATECHISM, which speaks of visibility in, e.g., #815, under the category "The Church is One."

(2) that apostolic succession is a fact (this has not been demonstrated--and probably is not appropriate here);

It is a fact, and has been demonstrated. You guys must deny the fact because you have removed this proof from your ecclesiology and principle of authority. But the fact remains nonetheless. We have the continuity from the Apostles, whereas you have forsaken that by ditching wholesale all the doctrines which Luther and the so-called "Reformers" found personally distasteful, or "unbiblical," or, in some cases, even politically or morally inexpedient.

(3) that the current Catholic church is the same as the historic catholic church (it is not).

It certainly is. Here, you reveal that you misunderstand development of doctrine (as virtually all Protestants do). You confuse outward appearance with continuous doctrinal essence. This very factor is what made me a Catholic. Once I understood it, my fight was over, as I had no logical, consistent counter-reply. The Protestant has only two choices in this regard, in my opinion. He can either ignore Church history, and what it teaches us (the usual course of action) - or (related) can distort it and engage in dishonest revisionism for polemical purposes, as Dave Hunt and many other anti-Catholics do, or, he can face up to historical realities and apostolic succession and become a Catholic. As John Henry Newman says, "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." Is it any wonder, then, that so many Protestants are abysmally ignorant of Church history? Studying it only creates problems for them, so why start? Ignorance is bliss . . . :-) <----said half="" span="" tongue-in-cheek="">
    I'm happy to renounce much of what happened in the Inquisitions, Crusades, etc. Why can't you guys renounce your sinful sectarianism, as many Protestants have in fact done?
Who doesn't admit it? The difference, of course, is that FALLIBLE institutions are allowed to err--infallible ones aren't. :)

All kinds of people don't admit it, by pretending that they have unity "in the essentials," when in fact there is very little of that: And if there were, why not start uniting the denominations if there is so much "agreement," once having admitted that division is sinful? As it is, usually only the liberals do that, because they all agree in ditching fundamental tenets of faith, and in their indifferentism. You can't have it both ways.

The Crusades and the Inquisition (where they did stray) were instances of moral failure, not doctrinal, thus having nothing to do with infallibility, as defined by the Catholic Church (e.g., in 1870 at Vatican I). If you're going to bash us, at least use the appropriate club! :-) In any event, Protestants, in my opinion, are far more guilty of religious persecution and intolerance, especially in light of their otensible first premises of freedom of conscience, etc.

I've not yet heard an answer as to my query of what is the true, best Protestant faith (i.e., what is true Christianity, with no error mixed in)? Care (and dare) to take me up on that one? Again, if you can't even tell the man on the street what true Christianity is, what good is that view? It is a disgrace, and a disrespect for God's truth, I say. At least have the courage of your convictions. I am being obnoxious, but heaven knows all the flak the Catholic Church takes, most of it unjustified. So I return the favor, with all due respect.

One of the reasons why we cannot view Romanism as the true church is because, while we Protestants may not ultimately agree on what every passage of Scripture means, we do know what it cannot mean. Hence, while we may disagree on whether Christ is merely represented, spiritually present, or consubstantiated with the bread and wine, we all agree that He is not transubstantiated (how's that for Protestant unity? :).

A pity indeed. I've been saying this for years. About all that Protestants can agree on is that the Catholic Church is wrong! Even then, you must split into at least two camps, which regard us as 1) an aberrant form of Christianity, but still within the fold (e.g., Walter Martin, Colson, Geisler, J.I. Packer, Billy Graham) or 2) the Whore of Babylon, the Beast, Pelagians, idolaters, pagans, etc. (e.g., Dave Hunt, Bart Brewer, James White, Boettner, D.J. Kennedy, MacArthur, Ankerberg, ad infinitum). But you must demonize us or at least severely criticize us, else how would you justify your own existence as a schism out of the Catholic Church?

Yet on this subject, I find it quite interesting that Super-Pope Luther did not regard belief in transubstantiation as an obstacle to joining his party, as late as 1543, I believe, and "gentle," "cultured" Melanchthon opted for the death penalty for those who denied the Real Presence (but later changed his own mind on the subject!). Luther regarded Zwingli, on the other hand, as damned, because he denied the Real Presence. But then again, many a Protestant exhibits not the slightest interest in what Luther taught, thinking it has no relevance whatsoever to their own beliefs.

Rome simply has too many biblically untenable and contradictory beliefs.

A Protestant criticizing someone else for "contradictory beliefs!" Is any further comment necessary?

Why don't we start instead with the inerrancy and material sufficiency of the Scriptures? What do Catholics believe about these issues? I have yet to receive an answer from anyone on the Catholic side. Are you afraid of these issues? By the way you side-step them, I think you must be.

Nice try. As for fear, I'm waiting to see if James White responds to my simple request for a list of what the Apostles believed [see "Dialogue on the Alleged "Perspicuous Apostolic Message" as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church"]. I ain't scared o' nuthin'! I believe in inerrancy (always have - what that means exactly, of course, is the topic of much discussion among those who hold to it - and I claim no particular expertise on it). I responded directly to James White's question on material sufficiency, but gave a nuanced answer, and argued that, in the final analysis, it is largely a moot point.

I agree that defining dogma is useful in distinguishing between heresy and orthodoxy. So here are some of those dogmas that all Protestants in good standing must believe to be within the pale of orthodoxy: the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Christ, the full deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit, the co-equality and co-eternality of all three persons in the being of God, salvation by grace alone through faith alone (sola fide), final authority in Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), one bride of Christ consisting of all who have ever placed faith and trust in him, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the bodily second coming of Christ in glory, the bodily resurrection of the saved to eternal life and the lost to eternal damnation.

Catholics agree with all of these save for sola fide and sola Scriptura, so this list does not really accentuate our differences. No one taught sola fide from Paul to Luther, according to Norman Geisler, and no one of any note (save for perhaps Wycliffe) set the Bible against Tradition and the Church (which is the usual form and spirit of sola Scriptura) until Luther. So you have an insurmountable historical obstacle where it concerns these two pillars of the "Reformation." Most Protestants "resolve" that dilemma by simply ditching Church history, and "abracadabra" - no more problem! Is that your solution, too?

Perhaps the issue should really be sola Scriptura groups vs. non-sola Scriptura groups. Within non-sola scriptura groups, there is WIDE disagreement. Non-sola scriptura groups would include Catholicism, Seventh-Day Adventism, the Watchtower, Mormonism, Christian Science, and every other false Christian cult in the world that relies on an infallible interpreter, tradition, or some other extra-biblical authority.

Does that mean Catholics are among these "false Christian cults"? Your sentence could easily be interpreted that way. I think, rather, that the relevant analytical dynamic is private judgment vs. apostolic Tradition and the resultant hierarchical Church structure. You guys are much more similar to these heresies (excluding SDA and the Catholic Church), many of which originated in America (gee, I wonder why?). They invariably result from one man or woman, who, of course, is infallible (and more often than not, an autocrat):
    • 7th-Day Adventists: Ellen White
    • Jehovah's Witnesses: Charles Taze Russell
    • Mormons: Joseph Smith
    • Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy
    • The Way International: Victor Paul Wierwille
    • Worldwide Church of God: Herbert W. Armstrong (no relation!)
Heresies have traditionally relied on sola Scriptura, but seen though the lens of one man. The original Arians, e.g., quoted Scripture alone, but the Catholic Church countered with Scripture as interpreted by apostolic Tradition. Likewise the Monophysites, Gnostics, Nestorians, Monothelites, and a host of other non-Christian heresies. They were always countered by recourse to apostolic succession and apostolic Tradition, of which the Catholic Church was Guardian, and of course, Scripture always, too. But Scripture-within-the-Tradition, not Scripture in atomistic isolation, eisegeted by one idiot with a novel idea. Newman discusses this at length in his ESSAY ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, which made me a Catholic.

Now, this heretical dynamic is also very much present in early Protestantism, where Luther formed his own church in which he was infallible (I have MANY quotes substantiating this, lest anyone doubt it for a second). Calvin was the infallible Super-Pope in his church, from which derives Presbyterianism and Reformed sects today. So then, private judgment reigned, but the private judgment of ONE MAN. Zwingli started the novel idea of a symbolic Eucharist, and Bucer, Bullinger and Melanchthon tried to steer a "middle course," very broadly speaking. And apostolic Tradition and succession was necessarily thrown to the four winds, since the new sects could not even pretend to hold to it in so many particulars. Visible authority had to go too (excepting Luther's secular princes, who replaced the bishops, and Calvin's virtual dictatorship in Geneva). The Anabaptists spurned all authority in many cases, which is equally unbiblical.

It goes without saying that Catholicism is entirely different than this. No one man predominates. The popes clearly must respect and build upon doctrines already etablished, and none have remotely the power of infallibility claimed by Luther and Calvin. Our popes make infallible decrees (in the strictest sense) only every 100 years or so, whereas Luther claimed that ALL his teaching was "from God." He regarded his self-proclaimed authority as tantamount to a prophet: i.e., unquestionable. So where do you guys get off accusing us of "authoritarianism"?

It is the same way (to a lesser degree) with pastors in independent congregations, who have their own little "popedoms," often regulating peoples' private lives with impunity and extreme arrogance and impropriety (e.g., Calvin's Geneva and the modern "shepherding" fiasco). Popes, on the other hand, work together with bishops, Councils, many advisors, and the sensus fidelium, the "sense of the faithful," in which the beliefs of the masses are by all means taken into account when a new dogmatic pronouncement is being considered. No kidding!

If someone thinks otherwise, I am curious as to what one man would have started Catholicism? Constantine? Ludicrous. Leo the Great? Hardly: the whole system was in place long before his reign. Gregory the Great? Same as Leo, but even more so, as he was 150 years later. I can think of only one Man Who can be thought of as the Founder of my Church, and that Man is none other than our "Great God and Savior," Jesus Christ. I wouldn't want it any other way, so that's one reason I'm where I am. That's why St. Jerome said:
    I, who follow none as my chief but Christ, am associated in communion with thy blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock the Church is built, I know.
    {Epistle 15 - writing to Pope Damasus}
(which, I am certain, far exceeds the 25,000 denomination figure railed against us by the Catholic side).

I doubt it, Eric. Why don't you back up this "certainty" of yours with some documented figures.

All sola scriptura groups (so far as I am aware) agree on the deity of Christ. Almost every non-sola scriptura group (with the exeption of two that come to mind) [deny it].

But one of those "exceptions" is MY Church!!!!! Talk about non sequiturs! One billion people is one huge "exception"!

I think you get the idea. On this view, sola scriptura has actually prevented churchly disunity that surely would have occurred if every Protestant denomination had their own infallible interpreter.

Ah, I see. But unfortunately for your schema, the first Protestants DID have infallible Super-Popes, and DID experience massive, scandalous disunity. Of course, that was somehow Rome's fault too, as everything must ultimately be!

We may use strong debating language, but that certainly does not make us anti-Catholic. You'll remember, my wife is Catholic--I certainly do not despise my wife! :). I think that I can demonstrate that you are just as anti-Protestant as you claim we are anti-Catholic. Note in even this (your last) post:
    "Orthodoxy" according to whom? I don't know what this means (well, it's "correct doctrine," but who determines that?). The Arians thought they were "orthodox," while the Catholics were "heretical." The Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Sabellians, Eastern Orthodox, etc. ad infinitum thought likewise, so this is not merely a clever, rhetorical question, but a deadly serious one.
Now, Dave, if I were to take every thing you say personally, I might note here that you have equated me with Arius, Nestorius, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Sabellianism. And I might find just cause to say to you, Why, you're nothing more than a Protestant-bashing anti-Protestant! We are no more anti-Catholic than you say you are anti-Protestant.

I think you're sharp enough to understand the analogy I was making. It doesn't imply, ipso facto, that Protestants are in the same league with all the early heresies, only that you guys have a problem in determining orthodoxy, just as these others do (in fact anybody who is non-Catholic), because "orthodoxy" means (historically speaking) what was decided upon by the Catholic Church, time and again.

If you say that Catholicism as a system is Christian, then you are not anti-Catholic (by my definition, anyway). I believe in context I was referring more to an attitude of severe bias (and often bigotry), which could spill over onto people who technically aren't anti-Catholic. I realize this is subjective, so I suggest we just drop it. But I am not anti-Protestant in my terms, because I accept Protestants as Christians. Thus, any criticisms I levy (however severe) are from a brother to a brother, so to speak. I've described the difference before as the comparison of a family fight to a struggle between Christian and infidel. James White has a ministry devoted to making Catholics come out of their non-Christian error and convert to Christianity (preferably his own Calvinism, of course). This is quintessential anti-Catholicism. How could it be construed otherwise?

When the debate is sola Scriptura vs. Scripture plus something else, then that something else automatically has to first be proved.

And it was, to my satisfaction, in my "Tradition is not a Dirty Word" paper.

But neither am I going to trust a system which sanctioned Reservations, Indulgences, Expectancies, Dispensations, Nepotism, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and multiple popes (each condemning the others to hell). Catholics . . . shall exterminate the heretics, possess the land without dispute and preserve it in the true faith. . . . Hence if forgers . . . are straightway justly put to death, . . . with much more justice can heretics . . . be not only excommunicated but also put to death. When I referred ealier to Catholics killing Protestants, I wasn't being anti-Catholic, I was being truthful! Are you one of those Mythical Catholics who revise Catholic history?

No, but I think it quite fair to point out that Protestants are in no better shape (I think much worse, actually) once their own scandalous history is examined (which it rarely is). I don't even attempt to defend the Crusades or Inquisition, although I regard neither as intrinsically evil. I simply attempt to balance the scales by teaching others about how Protestants did the same sorts of things. And their acts are all the more heinous since they supposedly believed in the primacy of conscience and private judgment from the beginning.
    Yes, the pope's authority (in the final analysis) is distinct from the Councils - this was defined so as to avoid the error of conciliarism, which is a root problem of the Orthodox, who have no non- arbitrary way of determining the legitimacy of an Ecumenical Council.
Oh, I see. To prevent the error of adhering to the consensus of opinions, we adopt the non-arbitrary method of adhering to the opinion of one man. HELLO!!!

HI!!! You guys decide which Councils are or are not legitimate individually. We do it through the institution of the papacy (with all its guarantees of infallibility, etc.). Either way, one is left to judge Councils. One man provides a unity that no group can ever attain. But in large measure, the pope agrees with conciliar decisions, so it isn't an either/or proposition.
    I'm talking about the interpretation of one man entirely dominating a denomination. You simply can't assert that about any one pope. It can't be done, period.
Is not your pope an infallible interpreter? Besides, your criteria is a bit arbitrary and self-serving. The pope is seen in RC as the vicar of Christ on earth and his pronouncements are seen as infallible. Put it this way; even if he doesnt say its infallible, if the pope says it, you may be certain the Catholic church will heed it. THAT is one-man dominance.

You miss my point entirely yet again. No single pope has constructed the edifice of the Catholic Church and its dogmas. Not even close. So my argument stands, entirely unchallenged. In other words, no pope can be said to be the Founder of Catholicism.
    Your opinion on Luther is irrelevant to my argument, since it is an analogy between Protestantism and the non-trinitarian heresies. Luther had more power in his sphere than any pope ever dreamt of, and this is the whole point. You keep switching the terms of the debate, whenever you're trapped by the incoherence of your own position.
I honestly do not follow you here. What terms am I switching? On the contrary, to equate Luther as some kind of infallible interpreter is indeed to throw a red herring into the argument.

My original argument (countering you) was that the heresies and Protestantism are similar in that they adhere to sola Scriptura, but seen through the lens of one man. And this was certainly the case with Luther and the Lutherans, at least in the beginning, which was my primary emphasis. Thus, in terms of refuting my analogy, it is absolutely irrelevant what you think of Luther or his claims. The fact remains that he made himself infallible. Do I have to give you the quotes? This is no "red herring," whatsoever. It is a valid analogy (I love analogical arguments, because they are largely what made me a Catholic - from Newman's ESSAY ON DEVELOPMENT, which is chock-full of 'em).

You seem to view Luther as somehow the genesis of apostolic succession of Protestants;
    All Protestants stem from his dissent.
This is simply not true. The Anglicans have no connection to Luther other than the fact that they departed about the same time. Calvin admired Luther, but noted that he was wrong on many points. The Anabaptists absolutely had no connection to Luther. Well, that just about covers all the reformed groups of the sixteenth century.

I meant in spirit, not technically, or "apostolic succession," as you put it, as if Protestants had no disagreements (which would be like saying that zebras have no stripes). Luther was the first to successfully break, thus making the unthinkable (excepting the Orthodox) thinkable. The similarities are such that I think my opinion is valid. All are agreed in antipathy to Catholicism, and especially in opposing the pope.

By the way, my wife was very disappointed to discover (last night) that the Catholic Biblical College where she was enrolled teaches the legitimacy of higher criticism (JEPD, Source, Form, and Redaction), and that Gen 1 not only contradicts Gen 2 (since, they argue, they were written by two different authors), but also that Gen 1 and 2 are examples of Biblical myth, not history.

Classic liberalism, ain't it?

The book she was reading had both the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, guaranteeing that there are no doctrinal errors.

This is obviously often abused.

Several questions for you. First, I am assuming (and I would hope) that you see a mythical reading of Gen 1 and 2 as doctrinal error. Yet the Catholic Magisterium has placed its stamp of approval on it. Who is right? You or the Magisterium? Second, I am assuming (and I would hope) that you disagree with the mythical interpretation of Gen 1 and 2, no? But if so, then where is your unity of belief with other Catholics on this point?

Geisler in his recent book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals points out that all Catholics must agree that:
    . . . the first 3 chapters of Genesis contain narratives of real events . . . no myths, no mere allegories or symbols of religious truths, no legends. (p.63)
I understand this to be the Catholic dogma on the subject, with which I agree (as a good Catholic). To believe otherwise would be to deny the reality of original sin, as I've already stated. Ludwig Ott also discusses this, under "Creation" (if you have his book). By the way, Geisler also strongly confirms what I said about our views on inerrancy (pp.29-31). Very good! Liberals will be liberals. All you need is a liberal bishop (or even an orthodox one who wants to avoid controversy and unpopularity) to grant an illegitimate Imprimatur.

This same point could be made, of course, about the hundreds of other places where your interpretation would differ from the scholarly interpretation.

As is the case in evangelicalism as well. But, again, we have the "books" to authoritatively ascertain what is an error.

In light of this, I cannot see how you can maintain that the Catholic church is united in its interpretation of Scripture in any meaningful sense. Remember, Dave, this teaching is stamped with both the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat.

The books, Eric, the books. That's all I care about, and that is our system, not a collection of dissenting, intellectually-dishonest, "bleeding-brain" liberals.

This decision was made twenty-six years before Hippo. The Western (Roman) church accepted a Canon that did not include the book of Hebrews, but eventually followed the East in including all twenty-seven books. In other words, the Roman church relied upon the Eastern Orthodox church for her Canon. Far from making an infallible decision, the Roman church, at Hippo and Carthage, simply adopted the decision of the Eastern church. Therefore, the Canon that we currently have is the work of the Eastern Orthodox church, which doesn't claim infallibility.

Again, there was no "Eastern Orthodox church" at this time, so the argument is altogether fallacious. So what if a truth comes from the East in its entirety or partially? Catholic means "universal." We rejoice in such occurrences. This has nothing whatsoever to do with our current argument, nor will it resolve your insuperable difficulties vis-a-vis the Canon.

The point, of course, is that this was at a time before Roman Catholicism existed.

Alright, then: Please define for me: 1) Catholicism, and 2) Roman Catholicism, and inform me as to when each (or either, as the case may be) began. I've yet to hear any Protestant apologist give a cogent, sensible answer to this. This viewpoint, frankly, reminds me of pro-abortionist arguments as to when a "fetus" becomes a "person," all theoretical points of origin being purely arbitrary and subjective. It will do no good to say that my question is irrelevant, since you yourself have stated that there was a time (i.e., the 4th century) when "Roman Catholicism" did not yet exist.

If you can't tell us when it did begin to exist, then your historical statement is unfalsifiable and therefore suspect. You do use the term "Roman church" above. Is that body synonymous with either the "Catholic Church" or the "Roman Catholic Church"? This is a particularly relevant consideration in light of the fact that you make reference to the "Eastern Orthodox church" as presumably existing in the same time period. I say that this historical/ecclesiological scenario is hopelessly muddled. Perhaps your clarification will clear up my confusion.

If later on, the East and West split, what gives you the right to claim an Eastern father?

If you're speaking of St. Athanasius, the Western church leaders and the pope "claimed" him to a far greater extent than the Eastern (almost always caesaropapist) political and church leaders did (which fact I mentioned in the same post). The Eastern Orthodox today venerate, e.g., Pope St. Leo the Great, while they frown upon, e.g., St. Augustine. Pick and choose. For our part, we venerate and hold in high esteem all the Fathers. It is of no consequence to us whether they are Eastern or Western. But the fact remains that there was but one universal Christian Church at this time, and you've shown me nothing to cause me to jettison that "perspicuous" fact of Church history.

Furthermore, it is quite amusing and ironic for any Protestant to chide us for claiming "Eastern fathers" as our own, when it is patently ridiculous for a Protestant to claim any Father, Eastern or Western, as their own, or even anywhere close to "proto-Protestant" (most notably, St. Augustine, who was present at both Hippo and Carthage and exercised a prevailing influence).

You are simply assuming that Rome was on the right side of the issue,

As it always was. This is what made Ronald Knox and Newman sit up and take notice, so striking and far beyond coincidence was it. As I said, historically speaking (most strikingly in the early centuries of the Church), "orthodox" is equivalent to the Roman position on any given issue. It was not very easy to know what Christian orthodoxy was (there were many competing heretical groups), apart from an acceptance of the authority of the Roman see and the papacy, which was shown (with hindsight) to be "orthodox" again and again. This, to us, is compelling evidence of divine guidance and protection from error. On the other hand, one constantly finds in the East in those centuries heretical patriarchs, and massive, widespread defections from orthodoxy, such as the "Robber Council" of 449 and the huge, tragic Monophysite schisms after Chalcedon in 451.

that everyone before that time were Romanists,

This is far too broad of a statement to tackle rationally.

Put it this way; suppose the Eastern Orthodox were to claim, say, Clement of Rome as one of their own against Romanism. How would you feel about that?

For the third time: such talk is meaningless and moot, since there was but one Church then. It is a common heritage, just as medieval England is the common antecedent of both America and Canada. One doesn't speak of Shakespeare as "American" or "Canadian." Now, if some Orthodox want to claim that they are the true Church over against us, that is another quarrel (one which they will lose), but one beyond our purview here. The Catholic Church is presently trying its utmost to be ecumenical and accepting of the Orthodox, with, e.g., word pictures such as Pope John Paul II's "two lung" perspective on ecclesiology, and ecumenical Encyclicals such as Ut Unum Sint (1995).
    Besides, one letter from a single patriarch is not a binding requirement. The East still believed in ecumenical Councils at that time - they would be binding, not a single epistle. And you act like infallibility must necessarily possess the attribute of "first time mentioned," which is untrue.
Are you under the impression that Hippo and Carthage were ecumenical councils? They were neither ecumenical nor councils--both were nothing more than local synods.

Of course. You misunderstood my point. All I was saying was that St. Athanasius' letter was not binding since it was not conciliar (which is the least one would expect in the East, if one wants to maintain - incorrectly - that they rejected the papacy en masse in this period).

So, again, we are faced with the consistency of Rome's decisions. Are all local synods infallible and binding?

Obviously not. If they are orthodox then they are part of the ordinary magisterium, as David Palm noted.

If not, then you end up picking and choosing which are and which are not. Why do you arbitrarily pick Hippo and Carthage as infallible and binding on the church? Let me guess--because Rome tells you to, right?

Well, yes. They were ratified by Pope Innocent I (d.417) and Gelasius I (d.496). This is how Ecumenical Councils are determined as well. The "conciliarism" of Eastern Monophysite heretics brought us the "Robber council" of 449. The leadership of the Western papacy, on the other hand, led to Chalcedon in 451. Before you deride this outlook, let me remind you that you have proposed nothing as a substitute for authoritative determination of the NT Canon. Our system is consistent, but yours is incoherent. You can deny our premises (as is the case in any belief-system), but at least we proceed logically from them, whereas Protestantism is self-defeating with regard to the question of the NT Canon & how it was finalized (and sola Scriptura also).

Thank you for your candor.

You're most welcome.
We Catholics eagerly await a non-contradictory, plausible alternate Protestant explanation of how Christianity came to obtain the present NT Canon. Such insurmountable obstacles are representative of the reasons many of us former Protestants felt compelled to accept Catholicism, not some dreamt-up psycho-babble of an alleged infantile desire for fideistic dogma-without-reflection-and-exegesis, as James White would have it.

Note well, folks, the circularity here. We as Protestants are told that we have no right to pick and choose which decisions of the church we hold and which we jettison--that it is all or nothing.

In a word: nonsense. What you're "told" is that you ought to retain doctrines which have been the historical teaching of the Church from the beginning (e.g., infused justification, baptismal regeneration, Real Presence and apostolic succession come to mind immediately as striking examples of the general Protestant departure from orthodoxy). Protestant "picking and choosing" of "correct" doctrines is, in the final analysis - completely arbitrary, often based historically on the whim of one man (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Zwingli). When these depart in essence from historic Christian teaching they can only be deemed heretical.

Our system, on the other hand, is neither circular, nor based on a radically individualistic, subjective, anarchical principle. We've said all along that Rome, and more specifically the pope, were the arbiters of orthodoxy. The pope is the final court of appeal, and he ratifies councils, whether local or Ecumenical. I'm glad you press this point, Eric, because now I will post a lengthy comment by Newman regarding what can happen in Council (Robber Council of 449) without the pope and what happens with the pope presiding by common consent (Chalcedon - 451). That will illustrate our perspective quite adequately, I think.

Note that both Protestants and Orthodox have a problem in determining which Council is orthodox and which not. But we have always held to papal primacy and jurisdiction. This is precisely why the pope is needed - as a principle of unity (as even many Lutherans and Orthodox are willing to admit). And of course papal primacy is in turn a fairly explicit biblical doctrine. We need not ditch history, nor the Bible, nor consistency, as you guys do when it comes to these sorts of questions. Your principle of individualism and sola Scriptura, on the other hand, leads to "200 Interpretations of 'This is My Body'" within 60 years of the 95 Theses (a book by that title which appeared in Germany).

Moreover the specific test case for this, provided by the Catholic side, is the issue of the canon.

In this discussion, perhaps, but of course there are many, many test cases in which the Protestant position is revealed to be utterly incoherent as well.

Unless we ascribe infallibility to the church in deciding upon the canon, we cannot know with certitude if the church chose the right books. And the minute we ascribe infallibility to the church in this area, then we are inconsistent if we do not likewise ascribe infallibility to the church in all areas.

Yes, you make a tacit exception to your system by bowing to a local council (not even an Ecumenical one) and conceding that a bunch of Catholics "got it right." Why would, and how could, that be? God made an exception to the rule of sola Scriptura and individualism just because the Bible was involved? Why accept any councils in the early days but not later ones? Protestants hold no councils that I'm aware of. When was the last: the acrimonious Marburg Colloquy in 1529, in which Luther and Zwingli butted heads over the Real Presence?

Yet the minute we press the issue, we get another story altogether! Were Hippo and Carthage councils? Well, no, they were synods. Were they even ecumenical? Well, no, they were both local. Indeed, were they even infallible? In the words of David Palm: Let's make sure we're precise. The decisions of local councils are never taken as intrinsically infallible in and of themselves.

"Another story"? This is silly. There are no big "revelations" here. Only Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and only insofar as they are in accordance with the pope, who may "veto" some of the proceedings. It must be this way, otherwise one is faced with the sad reality of the Robber Council, in which the East adopted Monophysitism wholesale.

But if this is the case, then Catholics themselves pick and choose which synods and councils are infallible and which are not. And in fact, the very synod (often posed to Protestants as a council until challenged) Catholics point to as their coup de grace ends up not even being infallible itself. Ah but (we are told) Hippo and Carthage are infallible by virtue of the ordinary magisterium. Do you know what ordinary magisterium really means, folks? It simply means that the Catholics can have their cake and eat it to. They can neatly avoid labeling all councils and synods as infallible (as avoid they must since many councils and synods subscribed to heresies); yet at the same time they can reserve the right to label those councils and synods by which they are well-served infallible via an esoteric principle that the Catholic church could not possibly be led into error.

In other words, they've covered their tracks. How do we know whether a synod or council is infallible or not? Why, only the Catholic church can tell us. Conveniently enough, Hippo and Carthage just happen to be included within the infallible ordinary magisterium. That, my friends, is circular reasoning at its best. I dare say that if the Protestant side tried this kind of rationale, the Catholic side would be only too quick to point out our faulty reasoning.

A fair enough description of our system (at least by you :-). But you ought to substitute "pope" for the "Catholic Church" and "Catholics" in a couple of places, for accuracy's sake. Pure conciliarism is the principle of the Eastern Orthodox, although they don't seem to have many Councils lately. Again, our system is not circular. You have not proven that in the least here. But yours is, as I've shown in my Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura, which has not really been answered.

Dead Saints: Are They Playing Harps on Clouds or Interceding for Us?

By Dave Armstrong (12-29-06)

[all passages RSV; Scripture passages colored in blue]

1. "Cloud of Witnesses" - Hebrews 12:1

. . . we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . .

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980; originally 1887; Vol. 4, p. 536), a famous, standard Protestant reference work, comments on this verse as follows:
'Witnesses' does not mean spectators [Greek martus, from which is derived martyr], but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer's picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the ontest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid.
Saints in heaven are therefore aware of, and observe events on earth, "with lively interest," as Vincent puts it.

2. Prayers in Heaven for Those on Earth

Revelation 6:9-10 . . . I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?"

Here the martyrs in heaven are saying what are known as "imprecatory prayers": pleas for God to rescue and vindicate the righteous. Examples can be found particularly in the Psalms (Psalms 35,59,69,79,109,139) and in Jeremiah (11:18 ff., 15:15 ff., 18:19 ff., 20:11 ff.). An angel offers up a very similar prayer in Zechariah 1:12. Jesus mentions a type of this prayer in Matthew 26:53, in which He stated that He could "pray" to the Father and receive legions of angels to prevent His arrest had it been the Father's will.

Therefore dead saints are praying for Christians on earth. If they can intercede for us, then why shouldn't we ask for their prayers? Clearly, they're aware of what is happening on earth. They are more alive, unfathomably more righteous, and obviously closer to God than we are. Omniscience isn't required for them to hear our prayers, as is often charged. Rather, we have reason to believe that they are out of time, by God's power, because to be in eternity is to be outside of the realm of time. That allows them to answer many requests for prayer because they have an infinite amount of "time" to do it.

Even Martin Luther and John Calvin admitted that the saints may be praying for us in heaven:
Although angels in heaven pray for us . . . and although saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, do likewise, it does not follow that we should invoke angels and saints.

(Smalcald Articles, 1537, Part II, Article II in Theodore G. Tappert, translator, The Book of Concord, St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1959, 297)

I grant they pray for us in this way.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, 20, 24)
If so, then how can it be wrong to simply ask dead saints to pray for us, since they are aware of earthly happenings?

3. Saints and Angels Presenting Our Prayers to God

Revelation 5:8 . . . the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. (cf. Tobit 12:12,15)

It's somewhat unclear whether the twenty-four elders in this scene are angels or men, and commentators differ. References to them clad in white garments, with golden crowns (4:4,10) suggests the view that these elders are glorified human beings (see, for example, 2:10, 3:5,11, 6:11, 7:9,13-14, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4). In any event, in both examples above, creatures - whether men or angels - are involved with our prayers as intercessory intermediaries, which isn't supposed to happen according to most versions of Protestant theology, where all prayer goes straight to God with no creature involved other than the one who prays the prayer. What in the world are these creatures doing with "the prayers of the saints"?

Also the deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees (15:13-14), describes Jeremiah the prophet loving his people after his death and praying for them. since Protestants don't accept that book as inspired, we might offer them also Jeremiah 15:1: "Then the Lord said to me, 'Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people.'"

Here it appears that God receives the prayers of the dead saints as a matter of course. Moses and Samuel were both known as intercessors. One could argue that this is only a hypothetical, yet even parables can't contain something that isn't true. This mentions a state of affairs which is assumed to be possible (or else why would Jeremiah mention it at all, as coming from God?)

4. No Contact Between Heaven and Earth?

A) 1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 (Samuel): the prophet Samuel appeared to King Saul to prophesy his death. The current consensus among biblical commentators (e.g., The New Bible Commentary, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) is that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, not an impersonating demon (since it happened during a sort of seance with the so-called "witch or medium of Endor"). This was the view of, e.g., St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:19-20 reinforces the latter interpretation: "Samuel . . . after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people."

B) Matthew 17:1-3 (the Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah): . . . Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (see also Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:30-31)

C) Matthew 27:52-53 (raised bodies after the crucifixion): . . . the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

D) Revelation 11:3,6 (the "Two Witnesses"): And I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days . . . they have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall . . . and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague . . .

These two witnesses are killed (11:7-9), then raised after "three and a half days" and "stood up on their feet" (11:11), and then "went up to heaven in a cloud" (11:12). Many Church Fathers thought these two were Enoch and Elijah, because both of them didn't die; thus this would explain their dying after this appearance on earth. Some Protestant commentators think the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, because of the parallel to the Transfiguration, and also similarities with the plagues of Egypt and the fact that Elijah also stopped the rain for three-and-a-half years (James 5:17).

We must conclude based on the above passages that contact between heaven and earth is God's will; otherwise He wouldn't have permitted it in these instances. The Catholic belief in more interconnection between heaven and earth cannot be ruled out as "unbiblical". One has to try other arguments to refute our beliefs in this regard.

5. Prayers for the Dead in the New Testament

Prayers for the dead are very clearly presented in the deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees (12:39-45). Protestants don't accept that book as part of the Bible, of course, so is there anything about prayers for the dead in the New Testament? It may shock and surprise Protestants to hear it, but yes, there is. I contend that there are three passages:

A) 1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

Protestants consider this one of the most mysterious and odd passages in the entire Bible. But it really isn't that difficult to interpret. It's very similar to 2 Maccabees 12:44: "It is superfluous and vain to pray for the dead if the dead rise not again. . . ." That gives us our clue as to what Paul means here. In the Bible "baptism" can describe not just the water ritual but also afflictions and penances (Luke 12:50, Mark 10:38-39, Matthew 3:11, 20:22-23, Luke 3:16). So Paul is saying that we pray and fast and undergo penance for the dead in purgatory precisely because they are resurrected and will live eternally. The "penance" interpretation is supported contextually by the next three verses, where the Apostle speaks of being in peril every hour, and dying every day. So this is a proof of both purgatory and prayers for the dead.

B) 2 Timothy 1:16-18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me - may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day - and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

This is another passage that gives Protestants fits. The problem is that it seems to plainly imply that Paul is praying for a dead man. Yet Protestants can't accept that practice because of their theology; therefore, they must explain this away somehow. What they do is either deny that Onesiphorus is dead, or that Paul is praying. Most of the nine Protestant commentaries I consulted for this passage seen admit that he was praying, but deny that the person was dead. Some try to say that Paul was merely "wishing", but I don't see any difference between that and a prayer: it looks like a word game to avoid the implications. The same commentaries said he was possibly dead (two), take no position (two), think he was "probably not" dead (one), or deny it (three). A.T. Robertson, the great Baptist Greek scholar, felt that he was "apparently" dead and that Paul was "wishing" rather than praying. I think it's much more plausible to simply take the Catholic position: the man died and Paul was praying for him.

C) Acts 9:36-37,40-41: Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas . . . In those days she fell sick and died . . . But Peter . . . knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, rise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.

Now, what would Peter have been praying for?: obviously, that Tabitha would be raised from the dead. So it seems indisputable that St. Peter literally prayed for a dead person, the very thing that Protestants say is not permitted, and supposedly not recorded in the Bible. And Jesus prayed for Lazarus, just before he was raised from the dead, in John 11:41-42 ("Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me"). The Bible informs us that the disciples raised people from the dead (Mt 11:5, Lk 7:22) and that Jesus told them that they would be able to, and should, do so (Mt 10:8). So they went out and did it. It's natural to assume that prayer would accompany these extraordinary miracles (because God performs miracles - thus we ask). So almost certainly they prayed for the dead, too. It's as simple as that. The prophet Elijah did the same thing in the Old Testament:

D) 1 Kings 17:21-22: Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's soul come into him again." And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.

Martin Luther and his successor as head of Lutheranism, Philip Melanchthon, accepted prayers for the dead:

As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: "Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it."

(Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, 1528, in Luther's Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 37, 369)

[W]e know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit . . .

(Apology to the Augsburg Confession: Article XXIV, 94)

Friday, December 22, 2006

On Whether Atheism is Inherently More Rational and Scientific, and Less Dogmatic and Axiomatic Than Christianity

By Dave Armstrong (12-22-06)

"drunkentune" (words in blue) and "beepbeepitsme" (words in green) offered responses to a similar posting of mine. "soulster", a Christian (words in purple) made a "moderator-type" remark that may have been partially directed towards my arguments in this regard, and I responded in turn with a general defense of my arguments and perspective.

* * * * *

Atheist blind faith and irrationality far exceeds the supposed blind faith and irrationality of the Christian, I would contend. So, if you atheists want to come after us, fine; just exercise the same scrutiny towards your own epistemology and cease with the double standards (hyper-examining us while ignoring your own ultimate philosophical commitments, which are ridiculous and intellectually-suicidal at worst and flimsy and unsubstantiated at best).

Why would an atheist consider the atom to be god especially as an atheist doesn't believe in god or gods.

Quarks are possibly one of the basic building blocks of matter and I don't know any scientists or atheists or consider them to be gods either.

Why do you ask questions that are already answered in the paper?

Let me repeat this because obviously it wasn't understood the first time. Atheists do not believe in the existence of gods. So to pretend that atheists consider, atoms, quarks, George Bush, Richard Dawkins, or a little fluffy kitten god, might make a nice tu quoque fallacy, but that is about all.

You believe in precisely the same things that we believe God can do, except you project these powers onto the atom, as explained in the paper. Your polytheism exceeds that of the ancient cultures who worshiped amulets and slabs of stone.

The powers that you attribute to spiritless matter far exceed anything those ancient "gods" could supposedly do. I don't see any difference at all. I say that you are much more religious and exercise almost infinitely more faith than the ancient Babylonians or even us Christians. And by the way, my argument is what is known in logic as a reductio ad absurdum. If you don't like it, overcome it by reasoned refutation. That would be a nice change.

Oh, I see, it is the semantic argument from the liberal interpretation of god. Where god gets to be an atom if you say so. 

Tsk stk - just the usual tu quoque fallacy. You might have well said - "Yes, I know we are silly for believing in a god, but look, you are silly also for believing that atoms exist."

Really - quite a poor argument I must say. When you have to loosely define what "god" is, in order to try and make atheists look like god worshippers, you must be really embarrassed about your delusion, is all I can say.

And by the way, when I start demanding "under atom" on the moneys, or "in atom we trust" in the pledge, then I will do what most of you should have done 50 years ago - seen a psychiatrist.

That's right. We're all nuts. Then why waste time talking to us at all, pray tell? Why do you so many of you atheists spend tons of energy talking to lunatics (as if it would do any good)?

It's good to hear from you again. Four questions, after skimming your paper:

1. Are you an "atheist" in relation to the Greek gods?

2. Are you an "atheist" in relation to the Muslim god?

3. Are you an "atheist" in relation to the Mormon god?

4. Are these "irrational" atheistic notions, as you say, "ridiculous and intellectually-suicidal at
worst and flimsy and unsubstantiated at best",
that you hold, denying the existence of the Greek, Muslim, and Mormon gods?

I'm not gonna answer your question-answer to my questions!

If you want to actually interact with my paper, fine, but I don’t see the point of going down a rabbit trail.

Oh, and I would recommend actually reading it, not just skimming.


I should add that my target in that paper is not non-belief in the Christian or theistic God, so much as it is what atheists do manage to believe, that I find essentially indistinguishable from gross polytheism, as argued in the paper.

In other words, it is your religious beliefs (the stuff you actually believe in faith) that I find intriguing and quite absurd, not your lack thereof (with regard to Christianity or some form of western theism).

Then your paper isn't really targeting atheists and atheism - only the few atheists that express polytheistic language in relation to matter (as per your argument). You generalize the worldview of atheists by including other claims under the "atheist" label besides positive or negative atheism. The lack of faith in the existence of a god is not irrational; perhaps the beliefs of the atheists you quote are.

You are (presumably) an atheist in relation to the Greek Pantheon, Allah, and the Mormon god. That is not "blind faith" or "irrational" or "ridiculous and intellectually-suicidal at worst and flimsy and unsubstantiated at best."

It's common sense.

Again, you completely miss the point. If you had actually read the paper and grasped the reductio argument I made there, it is a perfectly serious critique (incorporating provocative satirical humor) of what every atheist believes (indeed must believe - matter being all there is).

Clearly, neither you nor beepbeep have understood the very nature of the argument. You obviously think it is far less serious and ignorant than it actually is. It doesn't rest upon you stating that you are a polytheist. Of course you don't say that.

Rather, it is based on the attributes that you believe particles of matter inherently possess, that require no less faith (I would say much more faith) than the attributes we believe God possesses.

And so this is faith, and not a whit more reasonable than what we believe (again, I myself believe it is much less reasonable or plausible). You can hem and haw that you have no faith at all and that your outlook is entirely reasoned and logically airtight if you like, but it's sheer nonsense.

The sooner the atheist recognizes this, then the better off they will be, epistemologically -speaking (because self-understanding is key to all understanding). Atheist-Christian discussion would then vastly improve, too, because you will cease laboring under the condescending illusion that y'all are so eminently rational and we are fundamentally irrational and gullible, and as if we are the only ones exercising faith or accepting things we can't prove, whereas you supposedly are not.

It's the residue of the dead philosophy of positivism, I reckon. It'll take several more generations for atheists to get over that miserably failed thought-experiment.

Also, please read #36 above [indicated here by three asterisks]. You seem to have missed that, too, judging by your response, that #36 already dealt with. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Just wanted to say that some posts on this tread are getting dangerously close to a mocking tone. In the interest of keeping our ears open, we should be careful not to push people into defensiveness at which point listening becomes difficult if not impossible. Of course, this will require walking a knife edge of sorts since we must still be honest, which includes much evaluation and saying how we feel about things.

I'm feeling that this conversation is teetering on the edge about to fall into closing each other's minds. Perhaps we can practice good listening skills by summarizing the other person's objection or position, stating politely that we understand but disagree or where we think they missed us, and moving on to the exploration of other things if the conversation is just going round in circles.

Since we have very different views of the world in some areas, we should expect disagreements about the importance of certain pieces of evidence and the force of certain arguments, so none of that should be a surprise to anyone. There will likely be no single point where anyone stands or falls in this blog, or in the larger conversation it represents, so we are more faithful to ourselves and our readers by presenting the broadest picture possible.

For my part (inasmuch as [the above] would apply to me, if at all), I am simply turning the tables. The implication that Christians are somehow logically and intellectually deficient (and often, mentally ill) is standard, humdrum atheist modus operandi.

As long as that is the case, certainly it can't be wrong for Christians to make arguments that atheist epistemology involves the same basic aspects of faith and induction that Christian epistemology entails.

Nor is it wrong for me to point out that my very argument is not being accurately portrayed in how it is described in replies.

It's "mocking", I suppose, insofar as the standard argumentative techniques of the reductio ad absurdum, analogy, or turning the tables are "mockery." Much worse happens to us Christians all the time. My replies are, I think, quite mild compared to what Christians are routinely accused of.

To cite just one example above, drunkentune wrote:

"Science does not claim to have the ultimate truth, as many holy texts do. Science is a process, and I trust the process that attempts to uncover the truth because its results have been repeatedly verified by both skeptics and individuals disinterested in furthering a dogma."

Now, the implication (subtle, but quite real and definite) is that Christians are either anti-science or irrational or dogmatic in the blind sense, or all of the above (or quantitatively much more so than atheists, at the least). This is common atheist polemic: they are the "scientific" ones, while we flounder around in gullible irrationality.

But it's simply untrue. The materialist atheist is, I would argue, more dogmatic than the Christian. To show this is very simple. Take, for instance, the evolution / creation controversy.

The Christian can adopt either position (I have held both myself, at different times, as a Christian). But the atheist cannot possibly accept a creationist outlook in any way, shape, or form (even fairly secular Intelligent Design has to be derisively dismissed), because his dogma precludes it from the outset.

How about the question of spirit and matter, that has occupied philosophers for centuries? The materialist atheist (not all atheists are materialists, but most are) cannot accept the existence of spirit, because his materialist dogma forbids it. The Christian, of course, can, so his worldview is less dogmatic and less exclusive.

The materialist has the underlying dogma that science is pretty much the only path to truth (albeit constantly capable of being revised, but even so, it can give us much reliable truth about reality). Science, in turn, rules out (by definition) explanations involving non-material elements or aspects.

But that is pure dogma, and simplistic to boot. The Christian, on the other hand, recognizes that science is but one philosophy (roughly-speaking, empiricism): one which involves unproven axioms from the outset. To claim that it is the only way to arrive at truth is philosophically naive in the extreme.

The Christian is under no such constraints. Recognizing that science is but one species of philosophy, and that it can't possibly exclude things that are beyond its purview (just as religion does not and cannot preclude science, because it is a separate inquiry), we can discuss and incorporate non-scientific avenues to truth.

But the atheist, by and large, cannot do that, because their dogma (generally-speaking, as throughout) confines them to one method, and then they labor under the illusion that this method is the be-all and end-all of reality (itself in turn reduced to materialism by most atheists).

All of that requires at least as much as, but arguably much more faith than any Christian exercises by believing in God and revelation. It entails dogma that has no shred of evidence suggesting that it is indubitably true, and that no one could possibly doubt it.

Blind faith? There is plenty in atheism. There are many faith-assumptions and axioms, just as in Christianity. The difference is that we honestly admit that we have faith and can't and don't know everything there is to know about reality.

In other words, Christianity allows a place for intellectual humility and the finiteness of human beings and our minds. But atheism tends to make out that people can figure everything out, and it is relatively simple, etc., etc., because we have the "god" of science to solve all problems and reach virtually all knowledge.

But most atheists are unwilling to admit that they accept any tenets or presuppositions that involve any leaps of faith or unproven assumptions. This is itself irrational, and philosophically naive.

And that is what I was driving at in my paper about "Deo-Atomism." Most atheists don't dare to truly interact with it because it attacks their root assumptions at such a fundamental level, and they (like anyone else) don't want to deal with that: it's too frightening in its implications. Again, we Christians have our root assumptions attacked all the time (often gleefully so, with the "gotcha" attitude quite apparent), but atheists don't like it so much when we do the same to them (minus the triumphalism and condescension and insinuations of mental and psychological abnormality).

It was that way when I first put out the paper some years ago and I see that nothing has changed: the reaction is precisely the same now (judging by drunken and beepbeep and their non-replies or non sequitur responses).

Nothing personal, I assure you. All I'm doing is responding to what Christians are constantly subjected to and making a reasoned, analogical, analytical critique of atheist presuppositions.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Short Dialogue with Atheists on Souls, Bodily Resurrection, and Heaven (vs. Steve Conifer and Sue Strandberg)

Is there such a thing as a soul, or a resurrected body?

[By Dave Armstrong: from Internet list discussion: 28 April and 8 June 2001. Steve's words will be in blue, Sue's in red:]

A brave soul you are, venturing into this subject matter and spirited discussion . . . but to get to the heart and soul of the question: The sole notion of importance is the spirit of the thing . . . :-) Okay, okay . . . couldn't resist . . .
How can one possibly conceptualize a nonspatial (or transcendent), atemporal entity?
By thinking at all, just as you did right then (and as you are, reading this).
There's no substance to imagine, no points of reference (in space or time), just no imagery whatever.
One doesn't need "imagery" (there is no image to a "spirit" in the first place, by definition). One merely needs thought and consciousness, or self-awareness. What "imagery" does a person blind from birth see? Does that mean, then, that they can't imagine or conceptualize anything? Stevie Wonder, e.g., has said that when he thinks of colors, he imagines them to be analogous to how the sun's rays feel on his skin. Very interesting . . .
I suspect that what YOU take to be (what you believe is an accurate mental representation of) a "soul" (or "spirit") is something largely akin to a ghost on TV.
No; that's what I conceptualize as most pop psychic nonsense and charlatanism (or horror movie imagery) - akin to the "devil in a red suit [with the obligatory zipper in back] and horns, with a pitchfork" sort of silly and stupid cultural "mush religion" which attempts to pass for a description of serious Christianity (and to caricature or distort it, on other levels of deliberate slander and construction of straw men).
But that's really just a guy with a sheet over his head, Dave, and no matter how hard you try, I assure you that you will NOT succeed in conceptualizing a nonspatial, atemporal entity.
As I said, it is no different from having a thought, or a dream, an imagination, an intuition, an inspiration, an appreciation of beauty, romantic love, reflection upon poetry, or any number of things along those lines.
Why? Because it's downright impossible.
I should think that any philosophically-minded person would be a lot more reluctant to throw around a word such as "impossible." It is impossible for you because you have chosen to think in categories (themselves axiomatic and unprovable) that disallow belief in spirits and souls in the first place. That is not rational argument per se; it is arbitrary selectivity and hypothesis-espousal as to what one chooses to believe: defining some things as "out" from the outset.
Now, does this prove that no such entity exists? Yes, since it shows the proposition that there exists such an entity to be unthinkable and therefore conceptually (a priori) false.
Why, and how, then, did a great many philosophers manage to believe in such a thing? You tell me. Were they all simpletons or bound to dogmatic religious assumptions which even they couldn't shake due to cultural mores or groundless sentimentalities or psychological needs? Einstein, e.g. (as one example among hundreds of revered intellects) is in disagreement with you on this "spirit" / "atemporal entity" business. How can that be, if this is so obviously "impossible" to imagine? You clearly consider him intelligent and rational, else you wouldn't have tried so hard (failing, I believe) to establish that he is more properly to be classified in your camp than in mine (given that rigid double choice).
And how is that even atheists can be dualists, as I am currently being informed, yet have the greatest difficulty comprehending a mind (or soul) which doesn't have a body or brain to accompany it? What is so difficult about that?! I don't get it. One simply imagines thinking or mind without a brain to be necessarily associated with it. The relevant question at hand is the relationship between minds and bodies. Far greater minds than yours and mine have struggled with that complex question for centuries. The very struggle itself leads me to believe that, therefore, the question is not so cut-and-dried, black-and-white, and simply resolved as you make it out to be, by slinging around words such as "impossible." You don't seem to show much respect for the history of philosophy when you talk like this.

. . . it should be noted that virtually no theist (or believer in an afterlife of some kind) takes either God or the afterlife to be physical in character. Indeed, some (if not most) of them take both to be immaterial and atemporal, i.e., outside spacetime altogether.

This is quite uninformed. All orthodox Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and non-classified trinitarians) believe in the general resurrection. That means that we will eventually have bodies in heaven. If we have bodies, presumably there will be ground to walk on, food to eat, chairs, and all the usual accompaniments of physical life. I'm hoping there will still be baseball, roller coasters and hang gliders, so I can float on a cloud, but it will be with both a body and a hang glider. :-)

In orthodox Christianity God the Father is a spirit, as is the Holy Spirit (obviously). God the Son took on flesh and a human nature in the Incarnation, and retains His body eternally.

I think you are making a much too hasty generalization here. I seem to recall that both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons believe that the afterlife will be physical, a bodily resurrection into a world (or worlds) much like the Garden of Eden was before the Fall.

As do orthodox Christians (which these two groups are not - they deny the Trinity). JW's (I studied their doctrine in some depth in the early 80s, as a cult researcher) believe that God the Father has a body. I'm not sure about the Mormons.

What you guys are describing are the Platonists and the heretical Gnostics who followed them insofar as regarding matter as evil (so that resurrection would be quite undesirable; indeed virtually unthinkable). This is gross heresy and a foul error in the eyes of the Apostles and the three branches of orthodox Christianity.

The other day I was curious and went into a Christian chatroom to ask them what they believed about heaven. They were either very vague or very specific. One woman wistfully said "oh, I hope I get a cottage by a lake" and nobody at all seemed to think this odd. They seem to see "spiritual reality" as virtually identical to this one, only somehow lighter or more purified.

Yes, that's good theology. This life is a preparation for the next, which will not be so different as to be completely unfamiliar to us. That's why we will have our own bodies, but in a resurrected, glorified form. It's only our wonderful "cultural mush religion" which perpetuates all the silly, stupid stereotypes about floating on a cloud playing a harp, St. Peter at the Gate, and all the rest of the juvenile, inane tripe which our secular culture seeks to pass off as representative of serious Christian theology (so as to be able to ridicule and dismiss it - very ingenious!).

And even Christians pick up some of this drivel from the culture, unfortunately. We don't seem to be able to escape the influence of secularization, pervasive anti-Christian bias or ignorance, and theological watering-down. It's hard to be different and independent-minded. One has to work much harder and be all the more educated, to go against the grain of society and actually understand Christianity as it is and has been all through the centuries.

I am also thinking of the book/movie What Dreams May Come, a New Age version of heaven that is also very similar to our experiences in this life, only stranger in content.

Unless the New Agers give me rational reasons to believe in their brand of reality, I don't care about their speculations of heaven. I used to be into all the "life after life" near-death experiences (and von Daniken and Uri Geller and UFO's and so forth) during my occultic-leaning period. But I have a far more skeptical and rational criterion of truth and falsehood since becoming a Christian.

The sophisticated heaven of the theologians and transcendental mystics seems to be very different than what the majority of people expect.

One would expect people who have actually studied the subject to know far more (just as in philosophy or science or any other field of knowledge), even despite the assurances we have heard here that any atheist can readily understand biblical exegesis and theology as well as your average Christian (not very compellingly demonstrated in practice here, however, I hasten to add). To read a bit more sophisticated orthodox Catholic descriptions of heaven, see the articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) on Heaven and General Resurrection. If you don't trust the Catholic version, the Protestant beliefs on these things are pretty much the same as ours, as far as I know.