Thursday, May 14, 2009

Catholic Apologists as a Class Care Little About Truth or Honesty: So Sez (Pontificates?) Protestant Theology Student Kevin Davis

The hallowed halls of King's College Chapel, University of Aberdeen, where Kevin Davis is doing M.Th. dissertation research on John Henry Newman’s moral epistemology in the assent of faith (you'd think such admirable endeavors would lead to his seeking to be more accurate and charitable towards Christian brethren)

Kevin Davis, Protestant postgraduate student, whose intransigence in argument was (quite literally) the direct inspiration and provocation for my book 501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, has dogmatically pronounced that Catholic apologists i.e., us lowly, live-under-a-rock, so-called "e-pologists" are a dishonest and altogether unsavory lot.

First, he played the obligatory "Catholic theologians vs. lay Catholic apologists" card: which is a highly fashionable move these days: as absurd as it is ingenious at first glance:
I have the utmost respect for Catholic theology. But, there is a world of difference between, on the one hand, Möhler, Rahner, and Ratzinger, and, on the other hand, the staff of Catholic Answers and all the e-pologists, who shall remain nameless.
This is a tactic that allows the critic of Catholic dogma and theology to express a vague, abstract high admiration on one hand, but to continue to lie about and distort the reasoning of the frontline, day-to-day defenders of the Church: the class of apologists. In other words, when particulars come into play, it is a vastly different story. In my own case, no one has ever demonstrated to the slightest degree that I (since he goes on to name me, among other apologists) disagree with the Holy Father on any matter of Catholic dogma whatsoever. It's easy to make a dumb, stupid, sweeping statement: much harder to back it up. And so the folks who use this tactic rarely if ever do that. I've seen it again and again, because I follow these sorts of "polemical" developments closely.

Kevin fancies himself an astute observer of the Catholic scene, but he hasn't been able to cover up his obvious spirit of bitterness and derision towards Catholic apologists. Judge for yourself:
I don’t have a lot of confidence in the moral acumen of most current Catholic apologists, but maybe the next generation will start caring more about truth and basic facts, instead of just winning as many converts as possible and keeping financially afloat.
He makes further remarks in the comments for this hit piece:
. . . the mainstream evangelical apologists dealing with Catholics are pretty decent. The problem with Catholic apologetics is not the fringe, it’s the mainstream apologists.

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I can “gloat” because people like . . . are far, far superior than [sic] Tim Staples, Patrick Madrid, Steve Ray, or Dave Armstrong. I have broken my “shall remain nameless” rule, but I need to specify who I am talking about. . . . The evangelical side is imperfect, to be sure, but the Catholic side is simply awful.
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I’m fine with Kreeft’s philosophy, but I haven’t read any apologetics from him. Scott Hahn is a genuinely honest and humble man, which is more than I can say for a lot of the others. I’ve read his works with appreciation. I’ve witnessed Steve Ray, on far too many occasions, make blatantly unsubstantiated claims, and when myself or others have tried to dialogue with him, he shuts down the conversation. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.
So, to sum up, we know that Kevin believes the following:

"Most current [and] mainstream Catholic apologists" such as "Tim Staples, Patrick Madrid, Steve Ray, or Dave Armstrong" lack "moral acumen" and care little "about truth and basic facts" and mostly care about "winning as many converts as possible and keeping financially afloat." They are "simply awful."

I wonder (to center in on one of the remarks that strikes me a rather bizarre) what the objection is to an apologist and evangelist attempting to win converts??? Isn't that what they are supposed to do, by definition? Why that is included as a thing that Kevin looks down upon, as if it is a shameful, embarrassing fact about Catholic apologists, is utterly beyond my powers of comprehension, I must confess. I guess it comes down to a scenario whereby when Catholics attempt to win converts and souls and influence folks, it is a naughty no-no and scandalous affair, to be mentioned in condescending terms in a laundry list of supposed "dirty laundry," but when Protestants do, it is, of course, noble, high-minded, and of the utmost admirability.

Forgive me if I cynically suggest that maybe the reason why Kevin throws in this derisive tidbit, is because we Catholic apologists actually have a pretty good record of drawing in many converts, by God's grace (which is currently of great concern to many in the evangelical Protestant world). I myself work for an apostolate, The Coming Home Network, whose primary purpose is to assist the hundreds and thousands of converts that are flowing into the Catholic Church: especially from the Protestant clergy. I do that sort of work every day: working directly with new or potential converts. And it is a joy and quite rewarding. Because Kevin doesn't like that fact of widespread conversion, he has to put it down. But I'll bet my last dollar he hasn't and wouldn't put down Protestant efforts to win converts.

Kevin likes Peter Kreeft so far because he hasn't read any of his apologetics (again, note the lack of particulars: when more of them are present, then Kevin starts to dislike folks because they disagree with him: how magnanimous). Scott Hahn is honest and humble, unlike "a lot of the others"; however, we get no opinion of his apologetics from Kevin. Steve Ray, "on far too many occasions, make[s] blatantly unsubstantiated claims" and "shuts down the conversation" so that Kevin (big surprise) is not a "fan." Ironically, Kevin shut down the conversation in our sad exchange, after repeatedly demanding that I argue the point exactly how he wanted me to, according to his minute, pedantic rules, or else he would split in a huff, as he did, complete with personal insults. So I know the feeling well.

But now the fun really begins. At the beginning of his article, entitled Internal Correctives in Catholic Apologetics . . . finally!, Kevin cited with rapt admiration, an article by Ben Douglass, David Palm and Nick E., about bad Catholic apologetic arguments. He described the authors (I love this!) as "blessed souls." So the perspective (utilized by more than one critic of Catholics as of late) is that they get it, with regard to (allegedly) most Catholic apologetics going on today. They represent the lonely unheeded voice, speaking out against the highly troubling corruption and lack of truth in "mainstream" Catholic apologetic circles.

The only problem is that this is a distortion of their position and does not follow from what they asserted. For example, in my own case, since I have been juxtaposed against them as a supposed counter-example to their views, or an example of what they critique, I have already written about how I agree with their own conclusions 87.5% of the time (in 14 out of 16 instances). Yet Kevin feels compelled to pit me against them, as if I would disagree. They are "blessed souls" and praised to the skies (witness the title of his post) yet I am "awful" and lack "moral acumen" and care little "about truth and basic facts". Go figure! We believe virtually the same things, yet I am a wicked, sinister figure and they are "blessed souls." Truth is stranger than fiction once again!

Moreover, Ben Douglass himself responded in Kevin's combox, citing my article, largely agreeing with his:
Dear Mr. Davis,
I’m glad you appreciated the article. Dave Armstrong did an appraisal of it in which he expressed agreement with most of it. I think he cares about the truth more than you give him credit for.
In private correspondence, two of the three authors have made it quite clear to me that they did not intend for the article to imply that they were going after "mainstream Catholic apologetics" or the more well-known apologists, such as the ones Kevin mentions. In fact, David Palm is readying a clarifying article on his blog, as I write.
Ben Douglass informed me that he objected privately to a prominent anti-Catholic Protestant apologist who publicly singled me out by name as supposedly one who would strongly object to his paper, and he will do so publicly when he updates his blog in early June. David Palm wrote to me, saying that the painting with a broad brush that is going on is "ridiculous" and that "most" of the arguments they critiqued were in his opinion "thoroughly peripheral" and not applicable to mainstream Catholic apologetics. Both will issue public statements along these lines in due course.
Kevin implies that Scott Hahn is an "okay guy" (which he certainly is!) and an exception to the rule of folks like myself, Steve Ray, and Pat Madrid. Yet Scott himself wouldn't think the latter at all. He wrote a foreword to my book, More Biblical Evidence for Cathoilicism, way back in 2002, has asked me to speak at the Defending the Faith Conference in Steubenville (the most influential annual Catholic apologetics conference), and included me and indeed, all those insulted by Kevin Davis and many others, in a list of apologists that he highly commends, in his recent bestselling book Reasons to Believe (Chapter One; my bolding and coloring added):

This book is a summons for Catholics to fulfill the duty that St. Peter spelled out . . . to prepare a defensible account of our hope, showing that its foundations are unshakable, grounded as they are in ultimate reality.

. . . . we're talking about that branch of theology known as apologetics - the art of explaining and defending the faith.

. . . In any case, and in every case, we, like our ancient ancestors, need to take up the art of apologetics. We must be ready to give our reasoned defense. . . .

The field of Catholic apologetics has yielded an abundant harvest in the last generation. I will not try to duplicate the efforts of authors whose apologetic skills far exceed my own. I stand in awe of their achievements, and I urge you to get to know their work: James Akin, Dave Armstrong, Jeff Cavins, David Currie, George Duggan, Joseph C. Fenton, Marcus Grodi, Father John Hardon, S.J., Thomas Howard, Karl Keating, Peter Kreeft, Patrick Madrid, Rosalind Moss, Stephen Ray, Alan Schreck, David Scott, Mark Shea, Tim Staples, and Father William Most. They are worthy successors to the ancient apologists, and I invoke their names with admiration, but also with the affection of longstanding friendship . . . When you read the works of these authors, you see the sort of apologetics St. Peter was talking about - apologetics that draws its strength from theology, that is dependent on theology, and that inspires us to pursue theology with a ravenous desire. That's what their work has done for me, and that's why I'm writing this work for you.

I, in turn, was asked to write a blurb for the book, which I did:

Scott Hahn has been an inspiration to an entire generation of orthodox Catholics and particularly, Catholic apologists. His gently-expressed enthusiasm for theology is infectious enough to be "caught" by readers, and comes through in every page of this exciting new introduction to Catholic apologetics. Especially noteworthy and fascinating are the parallels he draws between the Old Testament monarchy of King David and the papacy, and New Testament passages and the Mass. This work will help those who are inquiring about the Catholic Church to "take the leap," and those already within the fold to appreciate all the more the biblical basis for, and unique fullness of the Catholic faith.

There is no huge divide, as Kevin makes out, either internally between Catholic apologists, or between apologists and orthodox Catholic scholars like the Holy Father. I'm right in the middle of this community of Catholic apologists. I know of what I speak. Kevin and other outside critics do not. Don't believe jaded, cynical, ax-to-grind critics of the Church; go right to the source. Don't buy their divide-and-conquer strategy.
I suppose it is a left-handed compliment that I seem to always be on the short lists of "terrible apologists" -- drawn up by critics of the Catholic Church. At least I appear to have some influence, consistent with the fact that my name keeps coming up. But far more attention to truth and facts (let alone rudimentary charity and the demands of appropriate documentation) would sure be appreciated. I'm always here to point out the whoppers. If my critics want to be exposed again and again along these lines, that's up to them. If, on the other hand, they retract the nonsense and garbage and smears, then in turn I am always more than happy to modify my counter-criticisms.
I just did that last night, in fact, relating to a Catholic "traditionalist" who falsely claimed on a forum that I thought Martin Luther was "heroic." I informed him of his error, wrote about it; he was classy enough to retract it, and so I followed suit by removing my public objection. But he is a fellow Catholic. I've not had nearly that much success in persuading zealous Protestant critics of Catholicism and myself to remove demonstrably false whoppers.
At 1:22 PM EST, 14 May 2009, I replied to Kevin's piece on his blog (I recorded it here, in case he decides to delete it):
I've responded at length, with much documentation, to this highly inaccurate, incoherent hit piece. [gave URL]
Kevin replied:
I don’t care to dialogue with Dave on this. I know his methods, and neither myself nor any readers would gain anything from it. The last back-and-forth I had with Dave was the last I will ever have. Dave has lost most of his Protestant interlocutors…for a reason.
Now he will probably cut-and-paste the above and slam it with faux-witicisms [sic].
I then replied:
. . . it's fine to differ with someone's exegesis in good faith. It takes it quite a bit further, however, to question folks' basic integrity and honesty and competence, as Kevin does. Some of us (heaven knows how few anymore online) have no particular need to treat entire classes of people in such a fashion simply because we have an honest disagreement with them.
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