Monday, August 25, 2008
"Having therefore the truth itself as our rule and the testimony concerning God set clearly before us, we ought not, by running after numerous and diverse answers to questions, to cast away the firm and true knowledge of God...If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God."
--ANF, Vol.I, Against Heresies, 2.28.1-2 [emphasis mine]
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The Purpose of this post is to respond to a second post by Michael Garten at the Eastern Orthodox blog Well of Questions. This second post by Michael gives additional arguments for church infallibility. These are five smaller arguments that Michael has given and I will respond to each of them.
“1) The principle of testimony says that we should believe someone’s testimony about some event unless we have good reason to doubt the reliability of that person’s testimony. The fact of a person’s fallibility should not detract from thinking that they can be a reliable reporter about some event. When an early Christian after the death of the apostles claimed “I believe x because it was delivered to me by the apostles or someone who received their teaching from the apostles” they are a reporter. Their testimony should be considered reliable unless we have reason to believe otherwise.”
Response: I agree with the principles of this argument that we are warranted in thinking that a testimony is reliable until we have a defeater or a reason to doubt it. It’s hard to see that this is an argument for infallibility. The Protestant would need to see the citation from an early Christian witness and evaluate it on a case by case basis. Furthermore, if the Protestant saw an early church witness claim in writing that the church is infallible in the sense that it is a source of continuing revelation or a divinely inspired interpretation of revelation then the Protestant who believes the Bible teaches that divine revelation doesn’t continue after the completion of the canon would have a good reason to doubt this early church witness. Thus, it seems unclear if even the early post-canonical church did teach such infallibility and that we should trust an early witness that contradicts a teaching in the earliest church witness; Holy Scripture (Ephs. 2:20; 1 Cor. 13).
“2) Ancient Greek-speaking Christians’ interpretive skills should probably be taken into account as a reason for favoring the interpretations of early Christians. This isn’t an appeal to the intrinsic authority of Church offices or something; this is just saying “scholars who speak a language or a close derivative thereof, and are not as distantly separated in time, should be given the benefit of the doubt in how they understand a word/idea/sentence/book of that language”. Early Christian scholars who are culturally and linguistically connected to the apostles should be considered very weighty sources of information for how we interpret things. So the early Church’s scholars, at least, should be considered reliable in their biblical interpretations.”
Response: This is a good point, but I don’t see much inferential connection to church infallibility. However, it’s not clear that all people who have a good grasp of Greek should be considered as a beacon of doctrinal truth. Take Origen for example, he knew Greek very well, but we would not consider his interpretations as a part of main stream biblical teaching. Thus, this is all to say that we should look at the Ancient Greek speaking Christian’s remarks on the Greek as weighty and not so much there theology which could or could not be mistaken. Yet, we should take into consideration the theology they support by their linguistical points in the original Greek language. But this of course has nothing to do with church infallibility and it’s hard to see an argument for church infallibility from this standpoint alone (unless Michael supplies additional premises).
“3) The principle of early attestation states that we should tend to trust the testimony about some event the closer in time the testimony is to the event reported. Applying this to the teachings of the Church throughout, for instance, the first 3 centuries yields the conclusion that we should consider the Church of the first 3 centuries reliable in what it specifically taught. It is close to the events where the source (apostles and Christ) taught what it had to say, so its more likely to accurately report the source’s information (apostolic and Christian teaching).”
Response: This is a good point that any reasonable person could agree with. However, this argument and many others in this post fail to take into consideration the fact that many of the early teachings either wholly do not include the central parts of the gospel (they are ignorant of them) or they actually contradict the teaching of scripture. This is what many Protestants have claimed and thus if a claim in the early church father appears that go against the Bible (confuses justification and sanctification and a continuation church infallibility) then we would have good reason then to not accept it as authentic apostolic teaching. In the same way, we wouldn’t consider early corruptions of Gnosticism as authentic apostolic biblical teaching. The Protestant can just say that there were corruptions in the church early on and that there was and always will be in the covenant of grace made up of unbelievers and believers. It seems like then these arguments assume church infallibility to be biblical in the first place, which is something that Michael is far from proving in these arguments.
“4) Lets assume that the Church considers holy tradition to be a deposit of divinely-revealed truths. If this tradition is contained in oral practices (recitation of creeds, bishops teaching catechumens and clergy, etc.) then we have to ask the following question: is there any reason to think these oral practices would be reliable in preserving the content of the tradition? The answer is yes. The amount of care that is spent to preserve information is directly proportional to the importance of preserving the information. If you believe that you have received God’s words directly or intermediately, you will want to go to great lengths to preserve the content of that message. Given that the early Christians seemed to understand their tradition (including stuff not explicitly contained in the New Testament) as from God, there is a significant prior probability that they would not gratuitously warp the content of their tradition.”
Response: Most of these arguments miss similar types of considerations that Protestants consistently take into account. We don’t accept the Gnostic gospel of Thomas do we? Why not? Because it’s unbiblical and I am sure that most reasonable Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants could agree on that (it also doesn't seem to be self-attesting via Holy Spirits reliable belief production). We don’t trust this early testimony because it doesn’t fit in with what the first century prophets and apostles taught and wrote. Obviously if the Gnostic corruption is possible then it is certainly possible that there were some doctrinal corruption in some early thinkers that were a part of the visible church. Secondly, it’s not even clear if the early church taught the church infallibility that you believe in and if they did the Protestants would argue that such statements contradict what earlier New Testament prophets wrote. Most of the argument given in this post by you could be responded in a very similar fashion (as I have done above).
“5) One might construe passages such as “the Church [is] the pillar and ground of truth” (2 Tim 3:15) and “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13) as indicating that there is some kind of divine guidance behind the belief-forming processes of the Church. This divine guidance could be construed in terms of a tendency of the Church to get its beliefs correct, or infallible authority as well. However, there are other possible interpretations of these passages. Whether or not they are more plausible than saying that these passages indicate the reliability (or infallibility) of the Church is another question.”
Response: Protestant happen to think that the church was infallible during this period (even my favorite theologian James White), but that after the prophets and apostles died and when all the completion of canon came this type of divine infallible revelatory function ceased (1 Cor. 13; Ephs. 2:20).
Michael has given some interesting arguments in his post, but the fundamental problem with these arguments is that it assumes the Eastern position and fails to take into account basic Protestant reasons for not accepting church authority.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
One argument against Protestants I've heard used a lot recently is that without an infallible list of books that belong in the canon (an infallible table of contents, if you will), we are left without absolute certainty that we actually have the right books. This lack of certainty seems to jeopardize any attempt at turning around and claiming this fallibly collected list of books to be an infallible and binding authority. But does the Orthodox or Catholic have it any better?
As White points out, each individual Orthodox or Catholic must choose, by his own fallible reasoning faculties, to accept that the church is infallible. But this decision itself is necessarily fallible. And a fallible decision cannot then produce infallible certainty.
This applies not only to the church's proclamation of the canon, but to the very claim of church infallibility itself. Can the Orthodox or Catholic be absolutely certain that the church is infallible? Not at all, for once again their belief in church infallibility is itself a fallible belief.
If the Protestant lacks assurance in his Bible, the Orthodox and Catholic must likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it. Unless, of course, we accept that our own fallible understanding of God's infallible Word is the best we can hope for in this life, as we look forward to that day when we shall at last know fully.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The clever Eastern Orthodox MG, at the blog Well of Questions, has presented a interesting argument for church infallibility (which can be found here). The goal of this post is to respond to the defeaters to the Protestant position and to show that the Protestant is still rationally entitled to hold to Sola Scriptura.
"Most Protestants don’t want to say awful things about the Church. They don’t want to say that the Church became apostate for over a thousand years. They don’t want to say that the Church is just a mere human institution. There is something special about it. The beliefs of its members aren’t just normally-arrived-at human beliefs. There is divine guidance of some kind."Response: The problem is that a Protestant need not have a problem with saying that the church had a misconception or ignorance of some of the essential biblical doctrines handed down by the prophets and the apostles. The only thing that they ought to categorically deny is that everybody in the Catholic and Eastern church before the Reformation was going straight to hell. Thus, as Calvin and many of the Reformers thought there were always believers in the false external institution of the Catholic and Eastern church, as well as unbelievers. I would say that everything has divine guidance because I am a determinist, but I would not say the church is to be the true external church as prescribed by the New Testament because it contradicts the New Testament.
"But in order to not cross the line over to a Catholic ecclesiology,  a Protestant must deny the infallibility of the Church. An essential doctrine of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura. This view can be defined as the position about authority and Christian teaching that holds that there are no divine authorities about Christian teaching distinct from the content of the Old and New Testaments. This rules out (a) oral or written tradition distinct from the Scriptures as a source of infallible divine authority and (b) decisions by the Church as a source of infallible divine authority."Response: Protestants reject that the church today is a source for continuing or new infallible *in being* divine revelation. This is what Protestants mean by church authority. Also we reject the fact that the church can make certain pronouncements true today. Rather, the Protestant view of the church is that the church recognizes certain things that God has already made true either through scripture or right reason (these are the two ways we know what things he has made true). This is what Protestants mean by church authority. I would also take issue with MG's view on Sola Scriptura. I would hold to Sola Scriptura as an epistemological principle and not as a ontological one per se. There could be other traditions from Paul and Peter that we do not know about or we lack rational support for. If MG were to give me an infallible divine revealed tradition from a first century prophet or apostle in a church father and it was self-attesting and lacked historical defeaters then I would take that as divine revelation. However, I have never seen an eastern or western theologian do that with the church fathers so I am warranted in believing that the contents of scripture are inspired alone. Of course it possible that I missed some other divine revelation, but I don't think this is likely. I believe that what we have in scripture is sufficient for faith and practice, but I don't think it's all of the revealed truths of God. Thus, principle (a) could be true, but I am going to need self-attesting grounds for it and a historical tracing to one of the first century prophets and apostles. And lastly, principle (b) was true but because of verses in 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephs 2:20 I think that that type of authority has ceased.
"How does a Protestant deny the infallibility of the Church but still hold onto the idea that being in the Church tends to make you have the correct beliefs about the content of Christian teaching? The most plausible way to say this is that the Church’s judgments and the collective beliefs of all Christians are reliable but not infallible. To distinguish these two concepts, consider the statement “you should believe this (proposition) because we tend to be right”. The appeal being made is not to some kind of authority inherent in the group that is making the statement that garuntees the correctness of the group’s judgment. Rather, the appeal is to probability. It is an appeal to the duty that rational beings have to pursue reliable methods of belief-forming. This group is claiming to be accurate or reliable. Contrast this appeal with the command “you should believe this (proposition) because we say you should.” Here, the appeal is to the inherent authority of the group as a source of normativity. The duty to believe comes from the authority of the group, not the fact that a rational agent should adopt reliable methods for truth-seeking. This group is claiming to be authoritative."Response: Obviously, since I reject this need from the outset, this argument wouldn't be entirely effective on me. But let's just take a Protestant who wants to hold to the church having beliefs that are most likely true. Now this Protestant could have a principle that says that they should trust the church for doctrine (since it is mostly true) unless they have a biblical/philosophical defeater for that particular church doctrine. So the church would have in this view an "innocent until proven guilty" epistemic status. Now my personal view of tradition in theology is this: with all things being equal with reason/philosophy and scripture (biblical and systematic theology), if one had to choose between two interpretations in the Bible (one interpretation being untraditional and the other being traditional) one should choose the traditional reading. This is my view of tradition. But I happen to think that if there were any philosophical or biblical reason that would put this tradition into question then of course it would seem that those two things (philosophy/theology or reason and the Bible) would have a trump card over tradition (they have a higher epistemic priority). On all these scores these altered views I have given of church tradition and scripture escape the arguments that MG will give in his next quotes.
"A person, group, or method, can be reliable without being authoritative. So it is possible for something to be reliable but not infallible. Perhaps a Protestant could maintain that the Church is like this: it tends to get stuff right, but just isn’t authoritative. We should accept what it says, because it tends to get stuff right. It is not mere coincidence that makes the Church tend to get things right; it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we are not obligated by divine authority to do or think as the Church says, because the judgment of its members is no more authoritative than anyone else’s judgment."Response: I would tend to agree with this quote, mostly. However, there is one thing I would like to add: the reason why the church (Catholic and EO) tends to get things right is because they do ascribe some authority to the Bible and there are people in these corrupt external churches that are true believers. So perhaps that might be the way in which the Holy Spirit helps these institutions: by believers and the Holy Scripture.
"A major problem with this view is that if the Church has believed itself to be infallible, and it tends to get its beliefs right, then it is probable that it got its belief about its infallibility right. The ancient view of the Church held by Christians for over a millennium was that the Church had teaching authority, the power to forgive sins, the power to excommunicate, etc. This was held universally by Christians for the majority of Christian history. It was very important to everything they did and believed. The nature of the Church is the kind of thing we would expect a reliable Church to get right. If Christians were wrong about something of such overwhelming, earth-shattering importance for over a thousand years, then claiming that the Church is reliable in the face of this huge error is implausible at best."Response: The principles I laid out earlier avoid this conclusion well. If one thought that the earliest prophets and apostles reject this view of church authority (according to the Bible) then they would have a good reason for not accepting it (a defeater for it). Furthermore, if one thinks that there are philosophical reasons to doubt church authority then this would be another defeater for it. Thus, either one of these would be a sufficient defeater. And the doctrine of church authority loses its innocent until proven guilty epistemic status. I happen to think both are true, that there are both philosophical (my ockham's razor argument) and theological defeaters (1 Cor. 13 and Eph. 2:20) for church authority. I think these reasonable modified Protestant views of Eastern and Western views of church authority escape MG's argument. But I would grant it true that if someone held to the Protestant position earlier described then this argument would be effective. But I don't know any Protestant that is fully clothed and in his right mind who would accept such a vulnerable view of the church without any qualification.
"Consequently, if one accepts the reliability of the Church, then one should accept the infallibility of the Church. If you think the Church tended to get things right–especially the important things–then you should probably think that it probably got its self-understanding as an infallible, divinely-authoritative institution right. If you are committed to the fallibility of the Church, then it seems one should give up claims to its reliability as well. A more consistent Protestant position that denies that the Church’s belief-forming processes tend to be reliable would be preferable to a claim that implies that there is a high probability that the Church is infallible."
Response: I think that if someone accepts my qualified views of church reliability then they do not fall prey to MG's brilliant argument. However, I agree that this post is a great argument against a weak and ignorant Protestant position, but I think the more thought out version(s) escape it easily. Thus this argument is an argument against one view of Protestantism that is ignorant for making too much of an unqualified statement, but it is hardly a good argument against Protestantism as a whole. I will conclude by saying that one can thankfully reject church authority and be perfectly reasonable in holding to Protestantism.
Perry Robinson has attacked my use of Alvin Plantinga's epistemology to warrant the Biblical canon as properly basic.
"As an aside, the appeal to proper basicality isn’t going to help you. First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic? Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic? How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is? And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them? If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None."
The purpose of this post is to respond to all of these objections and to defend my previous post that Protestantism is more rational than Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Response to Objection 1:First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic?
If the great pumpkin was similar to the story of Santa or the tooth fairy then certainly young children who believed their parents and were functioning properly (and fulfilled the other necessary conditions I laid out) would be warranted. But of course as they aged they would see with obvious defeaters that such a belief is entirely unwarranted. Most people in our culture find out that Santa doesn't actually exists because they have no reason to believe it and they have a massive defeater, namely, that it is tradition in our culture to pretend with our children that a overweight man gives us Christmas present if we are good. Once the adult who is functioning properly realizes this to be the case they will of course give up their belief in Santa. The problem is I don't see how the great pumpkin or Santa objection is a threat to proper functionalism. After all properly basic beliefs can be extremely fallible and subject to revision. So no problem here!
Response to Objection 2:Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic?
He could say this. I have never said that he couldn't say that the church authority is properly basic. The problem is this: Why do you need the church if the scripture is already God's words and that are self-attesting by the Holy Spirit (which forms in us beliefs that fulfill all the necessary conditions that I have given in my previous post). This falls into my ockham's razor argument on a previous post I have made.
Response to Objection 3: How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is?
This third objection is actually two objections. A belief being properly basic implies that it is true because we have a properly basic belief that our faculties are functioning properly to produce mostly true beliefs rather than false ones. The second objection on this part assumes that we need a reason for basic beliefs and thus assumes some form of internalism. Since this theory of knowledge that Reformed epistemologists hold to is externalistic then to assume internalistic view of warrant is to just beg the very question at hand.
Response to Objection 4: And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them?
I don't even know if this is an objection. This is just asking the question: that can properly basic beliefs be fallible? But of course Plantinga and other Reformed epsiteemologists think so. I happen to think so as well. But it's hard to see how one being possibly mistaken about a properly basic belief could constitute a defeater for things that we know fallibly in properly basic way.
Response to Objection 5: If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None.
This argument assumes that in order for beliefs to be basic we ought to have infallible justification for them. So in other words Perry is arguing that basic beliefs are worthless if we do not know them infallibly. But my question is this: Why think that warrant and knowledge of properly basic beliefs requires infallible justification? I can see no reason. It seems to me that the statement that properly basic beliefs ought to be infallible in order for us to have knowledge or to be useful is neither infallibly properly basic or something that can be inferred by these infallible basic beliefs. So it seems to me that this requirement is self-referentially incoherent. The question that I think Perry or any internalistic epistemologist cannot answer is this: How do we know about the existence of other minds? What about the existence of the external world? Or that our memory is reliable? Or that our sense perception is reliable? Or that we have existed longer than 5 minutes? What about the problem of induction? These answers internalistic (and especially infalliblist on justification) cannot answer. Thus, this sadly and ultimately leads to some form of skepticism.
Perry's questions of doubt about Reformed epistemology seem to be wanting at best. Thus, the Protestant can hold up the Bible and say that he is warranted in thinking that the Bible is the word of God. Further that since this word of God is self-attesting we have no need for the church to justify the canon. In fact such a move would seem to be positing unnecessary entities and thus violating the principle of Ockham's razor.
Monday, August 4, 2008
However, it should be pointed out that many of these denominations do not even hold to the doctrine! Liberal groups who claim that Paul just didn't understand sexual orientation and so disregard his teaching on homosexuality can hardly be called strict adherents to SS. And mega mega church pastors in Texas who barely read from the Bible or use it to inform their teachings; it what meaningful sense do they hold to SS?
In short, why should SS be blamed for those who don't even follow it?
Saturday, August 2, 2008
"If God is beyond being, then strictly speaking “existence”, which is a verb is applicable to the energies, since they are doings. To say that God ad intra is not something is not tantamount to saying that God is nothing. And to speak of God ad intra negatively doesn’t imply knowledge of God. You confuse the ways of speaking with the ways of knowing. Try some later Wittgenstein."
- Perry Robinson (Blog: Energetic Procession)
Perry Robinson a clever Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian has argued that apophatic (negative terms or the way of negation in modern theology) terms are not informative and do not have conceptual content. Furthermore, Perry argued that terms such as these (negative terms) do not give us knowledge. When discussing this with my friend Steven Gutmann he brought up a very interesting objection to this view. He said if negative terms are not informative and do not yield knowledge then by it's own terms we couldn't know that negative terms do not yield knowledge since that statement is negative. So if Perry would like to argue that he knows that negative terms do not give us knowledge then his view is self-referentially incoherent since that statement is negative. But if he wants to be consistent then he would have to say that he doesn't know if negative terms do not give us knowledge. Either way he is not in a position to argue according to Steven. This is just a interesting argument and I am not sure if it works. But I thought a good idea like this should be put up on this blog and to be flirted with a bit. If it's true then no big deal we have other reasons to doubt the claims of the east.
Check Out Perry Robinson's blog! It's a first class blog and a excellent resource for eastern orthodox philosophy and theology!
Here are some ontological arguments and then afterwards I will briefly show how these are incompatible with the Eastern view of the Divine Essence:
The Three best ontological arguments:
The one that is falsely attributed to Anselm, but it is still valid and sound:
1) I can think of the greatest possible being (or I define God as the greatest possible being)
2) It is better to exist in reality and in thought than just merely in thought
3) Since the greatest possible being is the greatest then he will have everything that is better to have rather than not to have those great things
4) If the greatest possible being does not exist in reality and in thought then he is not the greatest possible being
5) The greatest possible being would not be the greatest possible being which is a contradiction
6) Therefore, The greatest possible being exists in reality and in thought and this is what we call God
Answering the most popular objection: It is often objected to this argument that just because I can think of the greatest possible thing doesn’t mean that it exists because I can think of the greatest possible Island, animal, house, or girl but that doesn’t mean that those things exists. The problem with this counter argument is it over looks the definition of God as being the greatest possible being. If God is the greatest possible being then he would have only those attributes that would be great to have rather than not have those attributes. One of those great making attributes is that God is entirely unique from the creation which is his creation is lesser than God in many ways. One of those ways in which his creation is lesser is that God is the only being that in his definition or nature there contains a claim of existence. In other words God would be better if he was the only being that could be shown to exist merely by contemplating him rather than not. Since God is the greatest possible being then he is the only being that could be shown to exist merely by contemplating him since this displays a great making property of God, namely his utter uniqueness from the lesser created things.
This is the one that Saint Anselm used (Brian Davies interpretation of Anselm as well as the argument he endorses from Anselm):
1) I can think of the greatest possible being (or I define God as the greatest possible being)
2) It is better to exist necessarily than not
3) Since the greatest possible being is the greatest then he will have everything that is better to have rather than not to have those great things
4) If the greatest possible being does not exist necessarily then he isn’t the greatest possible being
5) Then greatest possible being would not be the greatest possible being which is a contradiction
6) Therefore, The greatest possible being exists necessarily and this is what we call God
Here's Moreland’s formulation of the ontological argument:
1. A maximally perfect being possibly exists.
2. If a being is a maximally perfect being, it exists
in all possible worlds.
3. The actual world is a possible world.
4. Therefore, a maximally perfect being exists in the
Now let's get to the incompatibility with this reasonable and ontologically robust view of the Divine Essence's with the Eastern view of The Divine Essence.
The Divine Essence in Eastern Theology does not exist but it is not true that it doesn't exists (the way of negation), but in Anselmian perfect being theology God's essence exists because this is true by definition thus the eastern view is necessarily false since they believe that God's essence doesn't exist. Furthermore, The East doesn't think the Divine Essense is contigent or necessary, but on perfect being theology and philosophy (the second and third argument) the divine essence exists necessarily thus if one holds to perfect being theology he would be most reasonable in thinking that the conception of the Divine essence in Eastern Orthodoxy is necessarily false. From these conclusions it is more reasonable than not that eastern orthodoxy in necessarily false if one wants to think that God is the greatest possible being.