Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hays on Hahn: Accusations of Dishonesty, and Attacks On His Basic Scholastic Competence / Steve Hays' Novel, Fallacious Caricature of "Catholicism"

We often hear in anti-Catholic circles moaning and groaning about how given to personal attack Catholic apologists and Catholics in forums, supposedly are. I thought it would be quite instructive to note how many such elements are included in Reformed anti-Catholic apologist Steve Hays' review of Scott Hahn's book, Reasons to Believe. Ad hominem is, of course, a logical fallacy.

With this many fallacies occurring in the review, I would contend that serious doubt is cast upon Hays' own competence. Why should anyone pay particular attention to the arguments that he actually does make if he has to pepper them so liberally with these inane and irrelevant fallacies and insults? In other words, he himself loses credibility in acting in such a manner. But he doesn't seem to notice this.

He was apparently utterly unable to simply stick to a critique of the arguments in the book. He had to make it personal, and make out that Dr. Hahn is a clueless imbecile who is systematically dishonest in his presentations. Is this really necessary? Even if we grant the anti-Catholic the license to make their usual misguided arguments, I don't see why personal attacks and non-substantive, mind- and heart-reading accusations are frequently a key aspect of their critiques (even by their own dubious criteria of what a reasonable critique is supposed to look like):
If there’s one word to summarize his method, it’s “equivocation.”

He often engages in prooftexting, but the actual meaning of the text always falls short of what he needs it to mean, . . . It reminds me of some Mormon flyers I’ve read, which have verses from both the Bible and the Mormon apocrypha to prove their point. Needless to say, it’s only the Mormon prooftexts which really assert Mormon dogma.

In reading these chapters we need to keep our eye on the constant gear-shifting, as he goes from what the Bible really says to his idiosyncratic interpretations and fallacious inferences.

. . . Hahn has no excuse to mislead the reader this way.

. . . Hahn’s simplistic misrepresentation.

As a one-time evangelical himself, Hahn must know this, but he prefers to deceive the reader.

Once again, this is sometimes true, but misleading:

Observe the way he oscillates between the “Bible” and the “New Testament,” as if these were synonyms. This equivocation, which is really a bait-and-switch scam, enables him to make “self-evident” claims that are hardly self-evident if you substituted the “Old Testament” for the “New Testament.”

There is also a fatal equivocation in his comparison.

This is quite deceptive, for none of these local councils or synods qualify as ecumenical councils. Another one of Hahn’s studied equivocations.

Because he’s in the habiting of defaulting all answers to “the Church,” he doesn’t stop to think if what he’s saying makes a lick of sense.

Look at the blinding effect that Roman Catholicism has had on Hahn’s reading of Scripture.

Needless to say, his characterization of Roman Catholicism is utterly tendentious.

Hahn mouths a lot of formulaic phrases without given any thought to the nonsense he’s mouthing.

This is one of the many problems with Catholicism: they begin with their dogmatic conclusions and then cast about for a prooftext (or, should I say, pretext?) to supply the premise. Otherwise, Hahn would never come up with such an absurdly acontextual and self-defeating interpretation. But how many of his devoted, Catholic readers will pause for a moment to ask themselves whether this makes any sense?

Observe the deceptive way in which he turns the exception into the rule.

Is there some overriding reason why a Catholic seminary professor needs to be this incompetent? What we have here is a textbook semantic anachronism. He makes the elementary mistake of confusing words with concepts, and confounds that error with the further mistake of confusing Biblical usage with dogmatic usage.

There’s a pattern to Hahn’s apologetic: begin with Catholic dogma, fish around for a prooftext that, in reality, doesn’t come close, and ignore any counterexamples.

Is that supposed to be an argument? Is such a question-begging answer the best he can do?

Other issues aside, Hahn is equivocating.

Notice how Mariolatry reduces otherwise intelligent men to blubbering imbeciles. They’ll mouth any bit of pious nonsense, however palpably absurd.

Another one of Hahn’s equivocations. A “mortal sin” is a technical term in Catholic theology. Hahn is reading that specialized meaning back into 1 John. It’s a semantic anachronism to confound dogmatic usage with biblical usage. Is Hahn so linguistically na├»ve that he doesn’t know that?

A reader who relied on Hahn for his knowledge of Catholicism would have no idea what a skewed picture he’s getting. Hahn poses as a representative of Catholic dogma, but his exegetical argumentation is hardly representative of mainstream Catholicism.

Hahn has cast the issues as if this is a debate between Catholic exegesis and Evangelical exegesis—whereas it would more often be an internal debate between a retrograde convert and soapbox polemicist like Hahn over against mainstream Catholic scholarship.

Instead, Hahn is caught in some Victorian time-warp.

So many Roman Catholics simply give up doing exegesis. There’s no attempt to establish the actual meaning of the text. They default every interpretation to Catholic dogma regardless of what the text actually says. [implied that Hahn is a prime example of same]

Hahn gushes like one of those “royal watchers” who go gaga over the pomp and circumstance, as well as the tawdry affairs, of the royal family.
Moreover, Hays makes the following mind-numbingly idiotic remarks about the Blessed Virgin Mary (sounds like anti-Marianism leads to its own set of "blubbering imbecil[ities]"):
So she didn’t suckle Jesus or bake bread or fetch water. I guess she had a nanny, wet-nurse, and maid to take over all of the domestic duties while she assumed a lotus position twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. . . . with all due respect to the classic Reformers, did Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or Wesley have some inside knowledge about what Mary and Joseph did behind closed doors? Did they have a hidden camera in their bedroom?

How Much of the Bible do Lutheran Pastors Preach About?

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Martin Luther's Small Catechism: 1549 edition

Original title of this post: Lutheran Pastors Preach On Only 1% of the Bible??? That's Odd!!!

Josh S. ( [former] LCMS seminarian) noted this in a recent post, The Bible and Lutheranism:
I realized this morning when talking to my mom that I've lost a good bit of familiarity with the Bible since becoming a Lutheran. . . . the past six years of never hearing anything except the Gospels preached from the pulpit or taught in the Sunday School classroom certainly has taken its toll. . . .

A few weeks ago, I went with my Mom to her PCA church, and the sermon was like a breath of fresh air. . . . And seminary sermons? Well, sometimes they're good, but a lot of them are advice on how to be a good pastor, reassurance that God will still be gracious to you despite the fact you'll be a horrible pastor, or yet another sermon going through the Holy Checklist of Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, showing how the pericope for the day reminds us about those three things. But anyway, this Presbyterian minister preached on Psalm 51. The sermon was laden with Gospel, atonement (he didn't even mention the infamous "L"), and Christ. And in typical Reformed style, he exposited each verse of the text. . . .

I know most Lutheran pastors have a million reasons why 99% of the Bible is not proper sermon material, why hearing more than 1% of the Bible preached is actually detrimental to the laity, or why preaching on the Old Testament on Sunday (i.e. a day for the Lord's Supper) kills souls. . . .

I don't even know why I'm complaining. I have the Small Catechism, and that's all the Bible I'll ever need. . . .
Kudos for the brutal honesty. Catholics, of course (needless to add except for people who don't ever visit Catholic churches), hear far more Bible than this at Mass. "l p cruz" added in comments:
There is truth that Lutherans are low on Bible knowledge. They do not have a good reputation for Bible reading. The only consolation is that they get 3 readings each Sunday printed on the order of service.

A survey in Australia showed Lutherans ranked at rock bottom in Bible reading compared to the average evangelical.

I have met people who can recite verbatim the Small C. But you detect that they still think they are saved by works.

Because some of Josh's commenters disagree with him on this, I chose to modify this post and even change the title. I had thought that Josh was infallible in All Things Lutheran, but since Pastor Paul T. McCain disagrees with him (describing his rhetoric as "typically over-the-top exaggerations"), and he speaks with the utmost authority, I figured extravagant claims from Josh are probably a bit questionable, and to be fair to my Lutheran brothers and sisters, I want to modify my post accordingly. I'm delighted to learn that biblical appreciation in Lutheranism probably isn't as bleak as Josh portrayed.

John H wrote:
Our pastor never feels constrained only to preach the gospel reading.
Pastor William Weedon opines:
For an example of the "pull in" from the reading, check out how Gerhard begins his Pentecost homily:

"In Leviticus 25 we read that God commanded His people, the Israelites, that when they should arrive in the solemnly promised land of Canaan, they would have to sanctify the fiftieth year in the land and call it a year of remittance. Whenever such a jubilee year or remittance year was observed, all debts had to be cancelled..."

Or Pentecost later in the day, his second sermon begins:

In Exodus 30 God the Lord commanded Moses make a holy anointing oil out of the best spices of myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia, along with the best oil from the olive tree. With this mixture, all the tent of the covenant with its accessories, as well as Aaron and all his sons, were to be anointed and dedicated...

Or on Pentecost Monday, his sermon begins:

We read in 1 Kings 19 about the great prophet Elijah that, as he had to fee from the wrath of Jezebel and brought himself to a cave in God's mountain of Horeb...

Or on Pentecost Tuesday, his sermon begins:

When God the Lord promised through the prophet Zechariah, 12:10 that He wanted to pour out the Spirit of grace and prayer over the house of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, this is not to be understood as referring only to the Apostles...

So I think, at least in the way Lutherans historically preached the lectionary, the OT was the "big book of illustrations or types" from which they drew lavishly.
John C. Hudelson added:
I'm happy that my pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church does not fit in the mold of neglecting large parts of the Bible. In fact he does not preach from a prepared manuscript; rather, he reads and explains verse-by-verse.
Let's hope that Josh's experience in LCMS Lutheranism is atypical. The thing I cherish most of all from my evangelical Protestant background is the strong emphasis on Bible study and exegesis. I had assumed that it was the same in Lutheranism. After all, I started my evangelical life out (in 1977) attending a wonderful inner-city ELCA church: going mostly to the mid-week Bible studies. This pastor, the Reverend Dick Bieber, certainly didn't preach only from the Gospels on Sunday. He was great. One can see from the following writing of his, how he emphasizes missions and outreach. This man teaches priesthood of all believers and radical discipleship. He had a profound influence on my own Christian life. I followed such a call myself:

The Volunteer Syndrome and the Call of God by Richard "Dick" Bieber

At the root of our difficulty in "getting the laity involved in ministry" is our tendency to view our congregation as an assembly of volunteers. Volunteers have to be handled with a certain delicacy. They need to be stroked. They must never be offended. If you overwork them, they burn out. "Don't forget, pastor, I'm not getting a salary like you are. I have my job and my family. And I'm entitled to a little recreation. So if I skip the treasurer's report at council this month, don't get bent out of shape."

The successful pastor in this setup is one who knows how to motivate the volunteers and keep them happy. This pastor understands that these dear folks aren't getting paid to come to church or sing in the choir or serve on the evangelism committee. So you reward them for good behaviour. You make it worth their while. Megachurches have been built on this principle. But while numbers and money may flow toward the ministry of the pastor who knows how to organize and stroke the volunteers, the result is a thin caricature of the church which Jesus promised to build, the church which has the power to storm the gates of death.
Membership in the Body of Christ, not only for the pastor but for every believer, begins with the call of God. Surely when the pastor is clear about the call that rests upon his or her life, it becomes obvious that every member of the flock is under the same call to discipleship from the same Lord. Jesus did not call me to be a professional priest, ministering to a flock of volunteers. He called me to follow his example and begin washing the feet of my fellow disciples. He called me to acknowledge before his cross that these men and women he has sent me to serve are as much under the call as I am. I need to see these people as under a call, honour them as "called and ordained ministers of the Church of Christ" who are no less called and ordained than I am. True, they have not been "ordained" by a synod. But they have certainly been ordained by the Lord for ministry in his Body that is no less significant than mine.

"Well, my people sure don't act like called ministers. So how can I regard them as such?" Moses was under a call from the day of his birth. He tried the volunteer method when he killed the Egyptian, when he tried to settle an argument between two Hebrews, and when he rescued his wife-to-be from some rough shepherds. At last, at the age of eighty, Moses was lifted out of himself and set free to be what he was always meant to be -- a deliverer -- as he heard the call, took off his shoes, and answered it.

Our job is to be the burning bush through which our people hear the call which has been haunting them and hunting them through the barren years. They will hear the call of the living Lord through us, when we open our eyes and behold God's claim resting upon them, and, under the power of the cross, beckon them to follow the Master with all of their strength and the best of their resources.

Once they begin to hear that call -- and they will -- they will no longer function as volunteers. They will know that their lives are not their own, they belong to the God who called them. They (and we) will no longer be able to produce something half-baked and whimper, "This is the best I can do. I'm doing all I can, Lord," because the Spirit of excellence, the power to do it right, is in the call.

Every man and woman in our flock who has any faith in Jesus at all is under a call. They are not volunteers; they are called. And one day they are going to answer for that they did with that call. And we are going to answer for whether we allowed ourselves to be the burning bush through which they heard it.

Richard Bieber is an ELCIC pastor living in Nova Scotia.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Are My Books Difficult or Easy to Read? An Objective Standard To Determine Relative Readability and Complexity / Comparison With Other Authors

I ran across this tonight in my usual scanning of the amazon lists of bestselling books. I've always said that my books (and writings in general) probably require a high school education to have the most impact on a reader.

Secondly, I've reiterated that I am trying to challenge and "stretch" readers to expand their horizons in the theological realm. I resist at every turn, calls for "dumbing down" or simplifying, because I think it is important to show people that religious matters can be mind-challenging and intellectually stimulating, rather than infantile speculations for the gullible, as is often charged by agnostics and atheists. The more we Christian writers "dumb down", the more that false impression is fostered.

Thirdly, I have said that oftentimes I feel like I am writing in a "zone" that is somewhere between undergraduate college and academia. I think that I use probably an above average number of "big words" and that I tend towards longer sentences (actually, the latter is seen below to be not as much the case as I had thought).

My three books for Sophia, all now have, by the way, the "Search Inside" capability, as listed on amazon:

A Biblical Defense of Catholicism

The Catholic Verses

The One-Minute Apologist

"Search Inside" for The Catholic Verses, however, has less features than for the other two books. I think the reason is because it was only recently added to the other two, and as amazon has developed it, more (rather interesting and fun) things have been added. One of the cool new aspects of this search and "analysis" capacity is called "text stats." I've never seen anything like it. First it offers three measuring criteria for "Readability" (my emphases):
The Readability calculations estimate how easy it is to read and understand the text of a book.

The Fog Index was developed by Robert Gunning. It indicates the number of years of formal education required to read and understand a passage of text.

The Flesch Index, developed in 1940 by Dr. Rudolph Flesch, is another indicator of reading ease. The score returned is based on a 100 point scale, with 100 being easiest to read. Scores between 90 and 100 are appropriate for 5th and 6th graders, while a college degree is considered necessary to understand text with a score between 0 and 30.

The Flesch-Kincaid Index is a refinement to the Flesch Index that tries to relate the score to a U.S. grade level. For example, text with a Flesch-Kincaid score of 10.1 would be considered suitable for someone with a 10th grade or higher reading level.
Then there is the "Complexity" criterion: percentage of "complex words" (three or more syllables), syllables per word, and words per sentence. Then, for both broad standards, one can compare a book with all other books, or other books narrowed down into more specific categories. So let's see how my books rate:

A Biblical Defense of Catholicism [link to stats]:

Readability Compared with books in All Categories
Fog Index: 14.1
61% are easier
39% are harder
Flesch Index: 51.9
47% are easier
53% are harder
Flesch-Kincaid Index: 10.9
57% are easier
43% are harder

Complex Words: 16%
55% have fewer
45% have more
Syllables per Word: 1.6
48% have fewer
52% have more
Words per Sentence: 19.8
70% have fewer
30% have more

It's interesting that when one compares A Biblical Defense of Catholicism to others in the Catholic theology category, that it becomes (relatively) considerably easier to read. The first criterion then gives percentages of 36%, 34%, and 35%, and the second 43%, 40%, and 42%: quite statistically significant differences.

Here are the stats for The One-Minute Apologist [link]:

Readability Compared with other books
Fog Index: 12.9
51% are easier
49% are harder
Flesch Index: 54.4
43% are easier
57% are harder
Flesch-Kincaid Index: 10.1
48% are easier
52% are harder

Complex Words: 14%
50% have fewer
50% have more
Syllables per Word: 1.6
47% have fewer
53% have more
Words per Sentence: 17.9
59% have fewer
41% have more

All indications here are for a simpler book, which is to be expected, due to the summarizing, compact, "Reader's Digest" nature of the book (two pages for each sub-topic). Only the syllables per word remained the same. The education levels required are what I would expect: two years of college for Biblical Defense ("BDC") and one year of college for One-Minute Apologist ("OMA"): according to the fog index. But according to Flesch-Kincaid, only an eleventh-grade and tenth-grade education are required. If we average the two, it comes out to a half year of college for BDC and halfway through 12th grade for OMA.

And then averaging these averages for the two books (i.e., adding up the four measures and dividing by four), it comes out to exactly a high school education (12.0): precisely as I have said for years. I shall use this method to compare my books with others. Using the same averages for complexity, we arrive at the following "master readability index" for my (two) books:
Readability: 12.0 (high school education; roughly 54 percentile; a little bit above average for all books)

Complex Words (three + syllables): 15% (just about average for all books)

Syllables per Word: 1.6 (also just about average)

Words per Sentence: 18.85 (roughly 65 percentile: 35% of books have more)
Now let's have a lot of fun and make some comparisons with other writers:

Scott Hahn (A Father Who Keeps His Promises + The Lamb's Supper):

Readability: 11.95

Complex Words: 13%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 20.6
So compared to Scott, my writings require one-twentieth of a year more education to properly understand, have 2% more complex words, have .1 more syllables per word average, but 1.75 less words per sentence average. This is fascinating, since Scott Hahn is a professor, and I have a BA in sociology with a minor in psychology and no formal theological education. I would say, then, that he is deliberately making his material simpler to read (which is, I think, very good for an academic to do, so he is not just writing to other scholars), and I am not trying to do that at all, making our two "readability" indices come out about the same.

I'm curious about Peter Kreeft, since he is a philosopher by trade, and one of my favorite apologists (Catholic Christianity + Fundamentals of the Faith):
Readability: 10.73

Complex Words: 13.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 17.35
I find this very interesting also. Kreeft's two books require about a year and a quarter less education than Scott's and my books. His complex words are 1.5% less than mine and 0.5% more than Scott Hahn. He uses 1.5 less words per sentence than I do and 3.25 less than Scott. Clearly, again, he is simplifying, which is a good thing. When one is at the sublime level of intelligence and insight of a Hahn or a Kreeft, if one didn't simplify, few would either understand or benefit.

How about a well-known and beloved historic apologist like G.K. Chesterton? He did not have a college education, so cannot technically be considered an academic. But he was an undeniably great thinker and writer (Orthodoxy + The Everlasting Man):
Readability: 12.9

Complex Words: 12.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 23.05
What is most surprising to me here is the words per sentence figure. I think of Chesterton as a short sentence-writer. Yet for these two books (his most famous apologetics titles), he averages 4.2 more words per sentence than I do, and also surpasses Kreeft and Hahn. His readability requires a higher grade level, as I would suspect, since, according to my hypothesis, academics writing for the populace have to necessarily simplify their writing and expression.

Chesterton, being more like me in this regard (no theological degree) probably felt that he could write as he wished. Consequently, his works actually require more education by these criteria than those of the academics Kreeft and Hahn. He was also an exceedingly wise man, and that surely requires more complexity to convey in words. But, curiously, Chesterton uses fewer complex words. It's funny how all three average 1.5 syllables per word, but my average is 1.6.

How about my favorite writer, the great Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity + Screwtape Letters)?
Readability: 11.47

Complex Words: 9.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.45

Words per Sentence: 22.25
Lewis is notable for considerably fewer complex words. I'm interested in seeing how different his stats are for a children's book and also for one of his strictly academic books, written to fellow scholars (and both scarcely "apologetic" at all, as are the above two books). If we examine his famous children's book (part of The Chronicles of Narnia), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we find exactly what we would expect of a children's book:
Readability: 6.7

[Flesch Index was 79.2, so that it is as easy to read as 95% of all books]

Complex Words: 5%

Syllables per Word: 1.3

Words per Sentence: 14.4
We see that it is suitable for a child in seventh grade to read, with far fewer complex words, words per sentence, and even less average syllables per word. But if we take a look at his scholarly works, we see, of course, a huge difference in the other direction. I shall average the results from five such volumes: The Discarded Image, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Studies in Words, An Experiment in Criticism, and A Preface to Paradise Lost:
Readability: 12.06

Complex Words: 14%

Syllables per Word: 1.58

Words per Sentence: 19.56
This is interesting in that even the scholarly works are accessible to those with a high school education. Probably, Lewis' work as a popular lay apologist spilled over into his actual academic writing (which is a good thing, I think). He still uses 1 % less complex words than I do (I appear to be the king of three-syllable-plus words!).

That was fascinating. Now, I'd like to analyze John Henry Cardinal Newman's works, that are considered by many very "dense" and difficult to read (and, in my mind, known for very long , eloquent sentences): An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (the edition used here also includes three other related works), Parochial and Plain Sermons (considered by some the finest sermons in the English language), Apologia pro vita sua (his spiritual autobiography), and The Idea of a University:
Readability: 13.79

Complex Words: 13.75%

Syllables per Word: 1.53

Words per Sentence: 24.78
Some individual differences in Newman's writings are striking. Of these four titles, The Idea of a University was significantly less "readable": a remarkable 17.45 average, or the middle of thee second year of graduate school (!!!). Development came in second, with 13.6 (middle of sophomore year in college), while the other two were about equal: 12.0, or high school education. Idea also had far more words per sentence than the average: 33.1. Development had the most complex words: 17% and Sermons the fewest: 10%, with the others in-between.

How would St. Thomas Aquinas rank, then? His writing is often synonymous in many people's opinions, with difficult, dry-as-dust writing. Summa Theologica gives these statistics:
Readability: 9.7

Complex Words: 13%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 15.1
This is most surprising. Less than a tenth grade education is required, and there are relatively fewer complex words and long sentences. So it seems that the great Doctor uses simple words to get his extraordinary ideas across. His thought processes, and how he argues and utilizes logic, however, are something else again, and cannot be measured by these criteria.

I'm curious about the eminent Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Some of his more well-known straight philosophical works are Warranted Christian Belief, God and Other Minds, The Nature of Necessity, and Warrant and Proper Function. Here are the average stats:

Readability: 14.7

Complex Words: 16.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.63

Words per Sentence: 24.35
This is as expected for a modern analytic philosopher. He's the most difficult to read of anyone thus far: more than halfway through junior year of college, most complex words and syllables per word, and sentence length just slightly lower by average than the "long-winded" Cardinal Newman. Warrant and Proper Function is his most difficult book to read, with a 16.5 readability rating, 17% for complex words, 1.7 average, syllables per word, and 28.1 words per sentence.

A modern philosopher, Rene Descartes, shows very high numbers (Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy):

Readability: 18.95

Complex Words: 12.0%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 39.4
Descartes (in this one work) has the highest readability level of anyone on my list (almost three years of graduate school), which is interesting because I read this in a first year of college introduction to philosophy course (12 years of school). The strange thing is that his "big words" are a low proportion. He also wins the highest words per sentence, hands down.

As an example, I was curious to look at a technical scientific work. How about The Elegant Universe, by physicist Brian Greene (that I happen to have in my own library)?:

Readability: 15.5

Complex Words: 18%

Syllables per Word: 1.7

Words per Sentence: 24.2
Not surprisingly, Greene breaks the record in the first three categories, with the readability rated at halfway through the senior year of college.

I'm curious about someone like John Calvin, who writes in a pretty "high" and (some would say) quite dry style. Here are the stats for his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Readability: 10.2

Complex Words: 14%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 15.9
Like St. Thomas Aquinas, I think the ratings here are surprising, in the more "readable" direction. But again, complete thoughts are not able to be measured, so that a writing may use relatively simpler words in the service of relatively more complex ideas. I think that is true of both Aquinas and Calvin.

As for Catholic theologians, it is said that Hans Urs von Balthasar makes for very difficult reading. I'll do an average of his (Explorations in Theology: I. The Word Made Flesh, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: III, and Elucidations):
Readability: 16.83

Complex Words: 15.33%

Syllables per Word: 1.57

Words per Sentence: 30.77
Balthasar's Explorations in Theology, I comes in the highest level of readability: 18.25 years of education, or third year of graduate school! He also has the highest average for readability, by quite a margin (almost one year of graduate school), and the highest average for words per sentence, by far (remarkably, twice as much as both Aquinas and Calvin). So, yep, he is definitely difficult to read. No question, by these stats.

And of course we ought to include Pope Benedict XVI (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Introduction to Christianity, God is Near Us: The Eucharist: the Heart of Life, The Nature and Mission of Theology, Principles of Catholic Theology, and Truth and Tolerance):
Readability: 14.49

Complex Words: 16.17%

Syllables per Word: 1.62

Words per Sentence: 24.42
The Holy Father rates high in difficult readability (middle of third year of college), and has the highest percentage of three-syllable plus words of anyone except for philosopher Alvin Plantinga). He is also just o.o1 less average syllables per word than Plantingaand ranks fairly high in words per sentence.

Lastly, I'd like to see how my books compare in this regard with some of my fellow apologists. First, Patrick Madrid (Where is That in the Bible + Pope Fiction):
Readability: 12.93

Complex Words: 14%

Syllables per Word: 1.55

Words per Sentence: 22.1
Pat comes in high for readability: almost a year of college (and almost a year more than my average). He comes in slightly less than I do in the next two categories and with three words plus more per sentence, average, than my writing.

Karl Keating's three best selling books (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, What Catholics Really Believe, and The Usual Suspects), come out this way:
Readability: 11.85

Complex Words: 14.33%

Syllables per Word: 1.6

Words per Sentence: 18.93
This is quite close to my rating in all respects: the closest of anyone surveyed yet: just slightly lower in the first two categories, the same in the third, and slightly higher in the fourth.

How about Steve Ray (Crossing the Tiber and Upon This Rock)?
Readability: 13.18

Complex Words: 15.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.6

Words per Sentence: 21.6
Steve tops Pat Madrid in difficult readability, with a year in college and a bit more, uses slightly more "big words" than I do, and almost three more words per sentence.

Where does Jimmy Akin (The Salvation Controversy, Mass Confusion) come down on the spectrum?:
Readability: 14.78

Complex Words: 16%

Syllables per Word: 1.6

Words per Sentence: 25.35
Jimmy's readability is high (third year of college), but part of that is accounted for, I think, by technical terms that would be necessary for his book on the Mass (which averaged 15.95, whereas his other book averaged 13.6). He also writes a lot of words per sentence than anyone thus far, even Cardinal Newman.

Mark Shea is an apologist who majored in English. I think that certainly makes for better writing, but does it lead to more complexity too? Well, let's see, using his two bestselling books (By What Authority? and Making Senses Out of Scripture):
Readability: 13.7

Complex Words: 13.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.55

Words per Sentence: 24.5
Mark's readability quotient comes in pretty high, while (curiously) his use of complex words comes in low, while words per sentence are very high. Perhaps English majors, then, like long, complex sentences (perhaps with more difficult syntax), while not necessarily using more "big words."

Following this line of thought, I am particularly curious about Thomas Howard, an English professor who writes excellent, eloquent books about Catholicism (semi-apologetic in nature). I think of Howard as having a fabulous vocabulary. I shall average his books, Evangelical is Not Enough and On Being Catholic:
Readability: 11.75

Complex Words: 12.5%

Syllables per Word: 1.5

Words per Sentence: 20.6
This is a bit surprising. Howard requires less than a high school education (but then, I suppose, professors are used to simplifying in class), and has a low complexity rating. This means to me that, though he uses many words that I never heard before, he also must use a lot of simpler words overall.

My friend, Al Kresta, a great talk show host, wrote a book of apologetics entitled Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin? Here are its stats:
Readability: 13.35

Complex Words: 15%

Syllables per Word: 1.6

Words per Sentence: 22.1
Now, a comparison chart compiling all we have learned: each one from more complex (and longer sentences) to less complex:

Readability (years of education required):

Descartes (Discourse on Method . . .) 18.95
Balthasar, Explorations in Theology, I 18.25
Newman - Idea of a University 17.45
Balthasar (3) 16.83
Plantinga, Warrant & Proper Function 16.5
Brian Greene (physicist) 15.5
Jimmy Akin (2) 14.78
Alvin Plantinga (4) 14.7
Pope Benedict XVI (6) 14.49
Cardinal Newman (4) 13.79
Mark Shea (2) 13.7
Newman - Development 13.6
Al Kresta (1) 13.35
Steve Ray (2) 13.18
Patrick Madrid (2) 12.93
G.K. Chesterton (2) 12.9
C.S. Lewis (5 academic works) 12.06
Dave Armstrong (2) 12.0
Scott Hahn (2) 11.95
Karl Keating (3) 11.85
Thomas Howard (2) 11.75
C.S. Lewis (2 apologetics) 11.47
Peter Kreeft (2) 10.73
John Calvin (Institutes) 10.2
St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) 9.7
C.S. Lewis, Lion, Witch & Wardrobe 6.7

Complex Words (3 or more syllables; percentage):

Pope Benedict XVI, The Nature and Mission of Theology 20%
Pope Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology 19%
Brian Greene (physicist) 18
Newman - Development 17
Plantinga, Warrant & Proper Function 17
Alvin Plantinga (4) 16.5
Pope Benedict XVI (6) 16.17
Jimmy Akin (2) 16
Steve Ray (2) 15.5
Balthasar (3) 15.33
Dave Armstrong (2) 15
Al Kresta (1) 15
Newman - Idea of a University 15
Karl Keating (3) 14.33
Patrick Madrid (2) 14
John Calvin (Institutes) 14
C.S. Lewis (5 academic works) 14
Cardinal Newman (4) 13.75
Peter Kreeft (2) 13.5
Mark Shea (2) 13.5
Scott Hahn (2) 13
St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) 13
G.K. Chesterton (2) 12.5
Thomas Howard (2) 12.5
Descartes (Discourse on Method . . .) 12
C.S. Lewis (2 apologetics) 9.5
C.S. Lewis, Lion, Witch & Wardrobe 5

Words per Sentence:

Descartes (Discourse on Method . . .) 39.4
Balthasar, Elucidations 34.8
Newman, Idea of a University 33.1
Balthasar (3) 30.77
Plantinga, Warrant & Proper Function 28.1
Jimmy Akin (2) 25.35
Cardinal Newman (4) 24.78
Mark Shea (2) 24.5
Pope Benedict XVI (6) 24.42
Alvin Plantinga (4) 24.35
Brian Greene (physicist) 24.2
G.K. Chesterton (2) 23.05
C.S. Lewis (2 apologetics) 22.25
Patrick Madrid (2) 22.1
Al Kresta (1) 22.1
Newman, Development 21.7
Steve Ray (2) 21.6
Scottt Hahn (2) 20.6
Thomas Howard (2) 20.6
C.S. Lewis (5 academic works) 19.56
Karl Keating (3) 18.93
Dave Armstrong (2) 18.85
Peter Kreeft (2) 17.35
John Calvin (Institutes) 15.9
St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) 15.1
C.S. Lewis, Lion, Witch & Wardrobe 14.4

Syllables per Word:

Alvin Plantinga (4) 1.63 (highest average)
Pope Benedict XVI (6) 1.62
Dave Armstrong (2) 1.6 (tied with Keating, Ray, Kresta, & Akin for highest average among apologists)
C.S. Lewis (2 apologetics) 1.45 (lowest average for non-children's books)
C.S. Lewis, Lion, Witch & Wardrobe 1.3 (lowest average)

Readability (current-day Catholic apologists only):

Jimmy Akin (2) 14.78
Mark Shea (2) 13.7
Al Kresta (1) 13.35
Steve Ray (2) 13.18
Patrick Madrid (2) 12.93
Dave Armstrong (2) 12.0 [12.5 for Biblical Defense alone]
Scott Hahn (2) 11.95
Karl Keating (3) 11.85
Thomas Howard (2) 11.75
Peter Kreeft (2) 10.73

Complex Words (current-day Catholic apologists only):

Jimmy Akin (2) 16
Steve Ray (2) 15.5
Dave Armstrong (2) 15 [16 for Biblical Defense alone]
Al Kresta (1) 15
Karl Keating (3) 14.33
Patrick Madrid (2) 14
Peter Kreeft (2) 13.5
Mark Shea (2) 13.5
Scott Hahn (2) 13
Thomas Howard (2) 12.5

Words per Sentence (current-day Catholic apologists only):

Jimmy Akin (2) 25.35
Mark Shea (2) 24.5
Patrick Madrid (2) 22.1
Al Kresta (1) 22.1
Steve Ray (2) 21.6
Scottt Hahn (2) 20.6
Thomas Howard (2) 20.6
Karl Keating (3) 18.93
Dave Armstrong (2) 18.85 [19.8 for Biblical Defense alone]
Peter Kreeft (2) 17.35

Conclusions About My Own Writings Compared to Other Apologists Today:

I use big words: a lot of syllables per word average (tied for highest), and lots of three syllable plus words (surpassed only by Akin and Ray and tied with Al Kresta).

But I don't use long sentences (less than everyone except for Peter Kreeft).

With the big words and shorter sentences, I'm about in the middle for "readability" -- a high school education, as I have said for years; ironically, I placed above the three professors and Karl Keating, who has a degree in law, but lower than five strictly lay apologists (less formal education and none or far less in theology). Of the ten listed, only Scott Hahn actually has an advanced degree in theology (doctorate).

I have the most divergent ratio regarding lower level of education required (12 years) compared to the highest percentage of "big words" (15%). This, combined with the shorter sentences (ninth lowest of ten) makes my "profile" perhaps the most unique of all ten current apologists, producing a graph with great peaks and valleys (apart from possibly Mark Shea's, which is similar in divergence but in a different fashion). That's not to claim that my writing is "better"; only that it is different in its qualities in these respects from most of the others. Karl Keating's "profile" is the most similar to mine, judging by all three categories.

Related to the above, most of the authors tend to be either high or low in all the categories, and to maintain a similarity across the three major categories (with the lowest numbers being more complex and lengthy):
Jimmy Akin 1-1-1
Mark Shea 2-8-2
Al Kresta 3-4-4
Steve Ray 4-2-5
Patrick Madrid 5-6-3
Dave Armstrong 6-3-9
Scott Hahn 7-9-6
Karl Keating 8-5-8
Thomas Howard 9-10-7
Peter Kreeft (2) 10-7-10
One might average these three figures for the "Master Complexity Quotient":
Jimmy Akin 1.0
Al Kresta 3.67
Steve Ray 3.67
Mark Shea 4.0
Patrick Madrid 4.67
Dave Armstrong 6.0
Karl Keating 7.0
Scott Hahn 7.33
Thomas Howard 8.67
Peter Kreeft (2) 9
Ironically again, it is the three professors and lawyer who score lower for complexity and higher for readability, then myself, and then the "lay apologists". I have interpreted this as meaning that academics are better acquainted with the effort to simplify one's thoughts for the function of educating students. I don't really try to do that (except deliberately in my latest book, The One-Minute Apologist and in The New Catholic Answer Bible, due to strict demands for brevity); the result being that I come out in the middle overall, compared to other apologists. That's fine with me; I rather like that.

Jimmy Akin leads all four categories (i.e., more difficult and complex compared to others, at least judging by words alone).

Mark Shea's writing requires a high education (13.7 grade level) while using less complex words (13.5%), but Karl Keating requires less education (11.85 years) and uses bigger words (14.33%).

After Jimmy Akin's three 1's, Al Kresta is most consistent across categories, followed by Pat Madrid and Thomas Howard (tied for second).

Style, rhetoric, argumentative technique, use of humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, polemics, analogy, exaggeration, logical points, use of citations, structure of sentences and chapters and books, and the like, are all factors not at all included in these analyses. How they could be measured is a fascinating question, and probably unanswerable, in the same way that people's tastes in, e.g., classical music and its performances and recordings, can hardly be quantified by any measure that is objective across the board (which makes it all the more fun and challenging to discuss). Variety is definitely the spice of life, in apologetics, as in literature, generally-speaking, and the wider arena of all the academic fields and the arts

Friday, May 25, 2007

My 1981-1982 Folk and Blues Recordings (Guitar + Harmonica, Blues Harp, "Electric" Guitar and Slide Guitar)

Dave Armstrong: August 1988 (age 30)

Delta blues and folk recordings by a Catholic apologist??!! I know it's weird, but hey, music and history were my first loves (and I'm still in love with 'em today), so it stands to reason that I would also be interested in the history of music. I like blues and folk that go back to the 1920s. This period (in my humble opinion) was the roots of the best music in those genres even today.

I did these recordings in my room in Allen Park, Michigan between November 1981 and August 1982. I had only learned guitar in the Fall of 1980 (or was it Fall 1981?), so I was a relative rookie. But I could pick up new instruments fast, having previously played piano, trombone, baritone, and some violin in school bands and orchestras, and tin whistle (I still would like to learn the bagpipes -- especially the Irish Uilleann Pipes -- and the French horn). Yeah, I'm told I can sing, too, but I've never sung a solo in front of anyone. So I was far too shy to record my voice on these.

I recorded almost all of them, as I recall, in one take or just a few at the most. It's pure spontaneity. The music here ain't "professional" of course, but it has plenty of feeling and passion and love of the music. Whether people will like them or not, I have no idea. If some don't, I think it won't even bother me (because you can never please everyone). This is a part of my life that I would simply like to share with others beside my immediate family, for the first time. I had a great time recording them. Hopefully, the listening experience will provide some enjoyment for a few people too.

I favored the Hohner "Special 20" blues harps with the nice black plastic as the mouthpiece (eventually buying them in five different keys). I had been inspired also by hearing the legendary Peter "Madcat" Ruth (possibly the best harp player in the world; I've never heard anyone come close) at the Ann Arbor Art Fair (where I did street evangelism every year from 1981 to 1990 and once or twice after I became a Catholic, too). It took me about a week, I think, to learn how to bend notes, and then it was a breeze after that. I basically learned guitar by listening to early Bob Dylan folk / acoustic albums.

Typically, I showed a great interest, but a short-lived one in retrospect. In those days I was 23 years old, still single, in my last year of college (just a few classes though), attending a "Jesus Freak" sort of non-denominational church and meeting many new friends there, playing softball on the church team (I hit fourth even though I weighed 150 pounds at the time!). I had developed a great interest in apologetics starting in 1981, and started to figure out that it was what I was supposed to do with my life, vocation-wise (though how exactly I would do that was anyone's guess). I hadn't met my wife Judy yet. That was in October 1982 at a singles group at an Assembly of God church I started attending in May 1982. Descriptions of each selection follow:

When the Ship Comes In
(12-24-81 / "stereo": guitar: left and harp: right / 4:01)

[ Link ]

A classic Dylan folk song from 1963 (hear a sample). I loved how his harmonica and guitar blend together, and the chord progressions and driving rhythm (the lyrics are excellent, too, as always with Dylan). I was able to concentrate on doing better in the harmonica part (an almost slavish imitation of Dylan, as was the guitar) by recording it on a separate track. It's one of my very favorites of my own 24 total recordings (I've selected eight to make available online).

(4-27-82 / guitar and harp, possibly played together with a Dylan-like harmonica holder/ 1:56)

[ Link ]

This piece and the next one below are my own folk "compositions" and both have a sort of reflective, melancholic, nostalgic feeling that I love (as a died-in-the-wool Romantic and autumn "fanatic"). This one (as I conceive of it, anyway) has a very "rustic" feel, conjuring up images of the Oregon Trail or something: the "old west" thing (where they played harmonica around the campfire, etc.). I don't remember how this came to me. It sounds vaguely reminiscent of some music by The Band. Possibly some influence there . . .

(1-4-82 / "stereo": guitar: left and harp: right / 2:53)

[ Link ]

What I remember most about recording this was that the harmonica was in the "wrong key" (one usually plays a harp in the same key as the guitar or four tones apart for blues: e.g., an A harp for the key of E). Somehow I was fooling around and just wandered into this little harmonica improvisation (the guitar part appears to have been in D; I was probably playing my A harp, then; my best guess). I also recall the bouncing guitar rhythm having somewhat of a resemblance (probably it's initial inspiration) to Dylan's 1961 (non-original) song, Baby let me follow you down (sample of that song). One or two other Dylan songs may have influenced it. But mine is different enough to be considered my own song. Nothing in music (as in theology and apologetics) is ever totally original. Even George Harrison was convicted of (surely unintentional) plagiarism for My Sweet Lord (The Chiffons' He's so fine).

Dirty Mistreater
(3-31-82 / "stereo": "electric" guitar: right and harp: left / 3:35)

[ Link ]

A song from the legendary folk blues duo Sonny Terry (harp) and Brownie McGhee (guitar). The guitar, however, looks a bit forward to rock styles and riffing (particularly 50s rockabilly, which is one of my very favorite kinds of music). I love how the guitar "rings". I utilized (I believe; I'm not positive) a primitive "electric guitar" set-up (see more on that under Dust My Broom below). I was lucky to achieve a halfway decent sound, given the primitive equipment I was using. A fade-out at the end was the height of my mastery of "studio technique". :-) I see that the song made it onto the Sonny & Brownie album, Absolutely the Best (hear a sample of it). This also is a bit reminiscent of certain old-timey type songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival (I absolutely love that group), where John Fogerty would play the harmonica. You can hear that influence on my guitar part too.

Delta Shuffle
(8-19-82 / "stereo": guitar: left and harp: right / 4:10)

[ Link ]

This is the last recording I made: an original country blues improvisation (not someone else's song, copied), and also one of my own favorites. I played a decent harp, I think. Good blues harp playing depends very much on spontaneous feeling and mood and musical inspiration, and is difficult to capture in a studio recording (let alone an amateur one like this). I seem to have had the "feel" that day. I have no idea of direct song influences, but the general drift of it is a sort of very old country style of folk blues (hard to imagine this on electric guitar). I love simple but catchy syncopated blues "shuffles." They may not be danceable but they sure get the head nodding and feet tapping. To me it is (like so many early blues variations, and like the spirituals) a timeless style. Back in the 20s and earlier, black and white rural folk music had a lot in common (you can hear this, in, e.g., early 1940s recordings of Muddy Waters or in Charley Patton). Country music owed a lot to primitive blues, just as blues drew from European folk song traditions. Good music has no color or ethnic barrier.

Dust my Broom
(11-13-81 / "electric" guitar, "electric" slide guitar, and foot tap / 3:28)

[ Link ]

The very famous Elmore James blues song (originally, however, from the king of the Delta blues: Robert Johnson) . The fun I had with this was coming up with a primitive "electric guitar" sound. I put a little microphone into my acoustic guitar, which I then amplified through my stereo system and recorded onto a separate tape recorder. The result was a surprising, interesting sound with reverberation, that resembled a dobro. For this recording I played rhythm guitar in the usual fashion, but slide guitar for the lead, using a test tube. All of this amateurish "fooling around" lends itself to the "roots" feel of the music, I think. The original went on for another two-three minutes, but I thought it was too repetitious for public consumption (especially without singing), and so cut it off abruptly.

Death Comes A-Creepin' In My Room
(11-13-81 / "electric" guitar, "electric" slide guitar, and foot tap /2:24)

[ Link ]

An eerie, "spooky" kind of blues that well reflects its title (it's also known as Soon one mornin'). This is an ancient folk blues style as well, and the song was from Mississippi Fred McDowell, who originally "played slide guitar using a pocket knife and then a slide made from a beef rib bone, later switching to a glass slide for its clearer sound. " This song is listed as part of a collection called Roots of the Blues, in McDowell's discography. My playing technique was the same as Dust my broom: primitive "electric" guitar + primitive "electric" slide guitar with the foot tap so beloved of Delta bluesmen and great postwar figures like John Lee Hooker, who carried on the tradition of Delta blues for several more generations (all the way to his death in 2001). Oddly enough, this song made it onto the 2000 box set, Ken Burns's Jazz: The Story of American Music (hear a sample): Disc One, selection 2. I knew it was a cool song back in 1981!

Barnyard Blues

(1-23-82 / "stereo": guitar: right and harp: left and foot tap / 1:14)

[ Link ]

This was really fun. The idea in my head was to do a sort of barndance / hayride / bluegrass style (yet still with a blues feel). The harmonica part is playing what would normally be a fiddle part in such a setting. It could also surely be a Sonny and Brownie song. The style again probably goes back to the 1920s if not earlier and would fit right in with a 1930s western movie or Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, complete with square dance.