Dialogue on Reason & Faith, w Theological Liberal

Dialogue on Reason & Faith, w Theological Liberal December 4, 2018
This took place on the Articuli Fidei blog, in a lengthy thread. Chris Smith’s words will be in blue. His blog is called mild-mannered musings [it appears to no longer be active]. Words of two other participants will be in green and purple.

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Hi [former Catholic, now agnostic],

If God wants me to believe, I need a reason beyond reason, because reason stinks.

Then I would highly recommend reading folks like Pascal, Kierkegaard, or Muggeridge (insofar as you want to still read “thinkers”), as well as the spiritual masters (St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese et al), who approach the faith from a devotional and practical and mystical, rather than intellectual slant (insofar as you retain any curiosity at all in these matters).

Let me just add, too (as a general statement), that any apologist who thinks reason is the sum total of the Catholic faith, or even anywhere near its most important aspect, has no business being an apologist at all, as he is supremely ignorant of what Christianity (of any stripe) is. It is that fallacy that has led to the downfall of some who have tried their hand at apologetics: excessive rationalism, which is extreme and a falsehood.

Apologists deal with the issue of reason and faith, which is an important one. That’s what we do. But just because it is our area or field, it doesn’t follow that we are or should be reducing the faith to those things. Oftentimes, this is a caricature or stereotype imposed upon apologists, and sometimes a small number of nitwits on the Internet, claiming to do apologetics, unfortunately exhibit it.

Or we get folks caricaturing the enterprise of apologetics, when in fact, usually the critics who say these things have themselves been far more prone to such errors than someone like me or the great majority of my apologist colleagues (online and offline alike) ever have been. So it is often a case of projection.

In my own case (speaking of the place of reason in faith), I converted to both evangelicalism (1977) and Catholicism (1990) primarily because of the impulse of moral issues, that were highly intuitive and subjective and felt in the heart and spirit, and not solely “rationalistic” or “logical” or even primarily so.

Later I defended those things from more objective reason, assuredly, but they themselves at the time they moved my will and spirit, were more intuitive or mystical or experiential in nature.

There is a balance here, and those who perhaps didn’t realize that, and got into apologetics anyway, were placing themselves in spiritual danger, I submit. I don’t say this is the whole cause of later confusion, but definitely could conceivably be an important factor, and something to ponder.

Theological skepticism is a dead-end just as what we might call “metaphysical skepticism” is. It is the glory of Christianity that it does provide answers. The original Protestants all thought this and were passionate advocates of their own systems.
But because of ongoing sectarianism and increasing theological relativism within Protestantism, that notion has increasingly gone out the window, and now it is quite fashionable to speak the same skeptical, rationalistic language about theology as atheists do about God.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy continue in the same way that all Christians used to: offering answers that can be backed up by reason, experience, and the heart.

It is excessive rationalism that leads to a lack of faith, as we see in historic theological liberals, or a guy like the intellectually brilliant historian Joseph Dollinger in 1870, when he rejected papal infallibility and wound up excommunicated. He couldn’t grasp it because he wasn’t viewing it with the eye of faith and reason. He looked with reason alone: i.e., a post-Enlightenment over-rationalism.

But that is never an acceptable option for a Christian. We all must exercise faith, and that can never be proven with an airtight certainty. At best we can try to show that our faith is not inconsistent with reason and fact.

Then questions of plausibility and comparative systems come into play and stuff like Cardinal Newman’s “Illative Sense” or the positivist-smashing philosophical speculations of Michael Polanyi, or the sorts of warrant for belief that Reformed philosopher Alvin Plantinga discusses with great insight today.

If someone wants to be on the cutting edge of the legitimate relationship of faith and reason, I highly recommend reading folks like these. It will at least be challenging and interesting even if not persuasive in every case.

* * *
It is difficult to have a conversation with a guy who doesn’t think he can possibly be convinced otherwise. That goes far beyond my position as a Catholic, where I say that I could quite conceivably be persuaded that another position is true. Not likely at all, and I have faith that this won’t happen, but as a theoretical possibility, it is entirely possible, just as my change from evangelical Protestant to Catholic happened (quite unexpectedly and unpredictably).
* * *
Of course, anyone familiar with that book, knows that “Job’s comforters” (along with Job, too, to a lesser extent) were roundly rebuked by God at the end of the book, basically for being presumptuous loudmouths. In other words, there was a truth to be ascertained.

It wasn’t implying at all that the very pursuit of truth or answers was folly (quite the opposite!), and as is currently fashionable among semi-liberal Protestants these days. Hence God said to Job’s long-winded advisors:

Job 42:7-8 (RSV) After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eli’phaz the Te’manite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. [8] Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

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Enlightenment over-rationalism . . . is never an acceptable option for a Christian. We all must exercise faith, and that can never be proven with an airtight certainty.
Is that really the problem for most doubters?

It can be; I suspect it often is, but every case is different, and I don’t know the percentages. I was referring specifically to Joseph Dollinger and that sort of thought, that has close ties to a sort of post-“Enlightenment” hyper-rationalism and positivism (Hans Kung exhibits it in our time). It is the lack of faith which is the problem, because now the equation is out of balance. Christianity is not merely a philosophy (hence subject to all the epistemological requirements of same); it is a religion.

That they expect the faith to be “proven with an airtight certainty?”

With Dollinger that was part of the problem, in terms of historical propositions. He didn’t look at the question of infallibility with the eyes of faith. He was in danger of reducing Catholicism to mere historiography at that particular point of his thought. This is what Cardinal Newman severely critiqued.

It was certainly never the problem for me. I am not so foolish as to expect such a thing.

Good for you. But (accepting this) you could still use rationalism in an excessive way in order to (consciously or not) cause some folks to lose faith, as you seem to have brought about to some extent in critiquing Newman’s conception of development.

I don’t contend that it was an insincere endeavor for you anymore than I would question David Waltz’s current struggles. You believe these things, no doubt (that’s not at issue), but I think you are mistaken.

On the other hand, I doubt that the contra-Newman arguments are by any means irrefutable. But in any event, I commend you for at least grappling with Newman and his ideas. So many folks want to bash him, while offering no alternative. Looks like (from glancing at your blog) you have done much more than that, and I truly respect that effort (as one whose favorite theological topic is development).

My general impression is that the accusation of “positivism” (i.e. the expectation of airtight proof before belief is warranted) is usually a strawman argument that mischaracterizes the real sources of most doubters’ doubts.

That could be, sure. In these matters, there is much subjective speculation. Most of my stated opinions in this thread are generalizations to some extent, by the nature of the case. To the extent that a person expects answers immediately amenable to their own reasoning and satisfaction, to all (or major, or many) theological issues, this factor could quite possibly be an important one.

If one doubts papal infallibility (as David has), then he has likely thought: “it fails because of historical counter-examples a, b, c, and d.” The pros and cons of each case could be argued, sticking mostly to historiography (that would be my methodology if it came to that), but the question must be asked, “why is it that one has placed their private judgment and personal doubts above the judgment of the Church in the first place?” That is a question of faith and of the rule of faith.

One has now assumed a Protestant stance of judging the Church (indistinguishable from Luther), rather than being judged by her, and giving assent, without necessarily having every jot and tittle of Catholic doctrine perfectly understood and tied in a neat little package with a shiny purple bow.

Doubters doubt because there are problems with faith claims, not because those faith claims cannot be proven.

The problems can also possibly reside in the doubter, due to false premises, rather than in the alleged thing in the faith that is supposedly worthy of being doubted or disbelieved.

Assume for the sake of argument that a thing is true; yet someone doubts it (say, a spherical earth). Obviously, in that case, the problem is in the doubter. not the thing doubted. That could be the case here as well. Since I believe in faith, with reason, that Catholicism is true, and that Newman’s theory of development is true, obviously, I think that is the case presently, and I am quite happy and willing to show why I think that.

This (problems in the doubter’s thinking) is what I have always found in atheists, for example (many of whom I have debated). Inevitably, their objection to something in Christianity or the Bible comes from misunderstanding it or from false premises. That is what caused the problem. They were fighting a straw man themselves. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times.

This mentality manifests itself, for example, in atheists or other skeptics who amuse and occupy themselves by finding scores of alleged biblical contradictions. In most cases, there is a glaring fallacy in play. Once identified, the whole thing comes collapsing down. I’ve done it many times myself (i.e., have identified the false premise in play, and provided the counter-argument from a deeper examination of the Bible). Atheist exegesis is often as dumb and clueless as the most wooden fundamentalism is. But I can solve one “problem” and they will simply come up with another one. It’s almost a game to them. It’s almost always the case.

That is because the problem is in the person’s excessive skepticism from the outset, which in turn came from somewhere else. Until that is dealt with, solving every biblical “contradiction” in the world won’t cause them to move one inch from their position.

At best we can try to show that our faith is not inconsistent with reason and fact.

And when you fail, then what?

You have to take the step of examining supposed instances of such failures. Someone has to make that judgment, and that judgment can be argued against by the next person, who remains a faithful Catholic. The person who is judging is certainly not infallible. There is no reason to think he is, whereas Catholicism has a notion of infallibility attached to it which is a supernatural gift, as seen in the Bible, that we believe is inspired on yet other grounds, and by faith.

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The claim that “one of the leading factors that cause people to fall away is the Church’s moral teachings and/or struggling with sin” not only has no empirical foundation that I know of, but also rather strikes me as a ploy designed to trivialize other people’s religious decisions.

Hardly so, given the fact that there are many prominent dissidents right within the Catholic Church, who make it clear that they do not accept all of the Church’s teachings, and pick and choose. And by the strangest coincidence, many of the doctrines they dissent on are moral ones (particularly sexual).

This being the case, it could certainly be a fact that many people leave for moral reasons. The most common case is probably that of the “irregular” marriage situation. Folks find Catholic indissolubility and opposition to remarriage too difficult, so they split.

Same thing could hold for contraception, or pro-choice (witness the Kennedys, Pelosi and all pro-abortion Democratic and Republican politicians).

This happens in all (more traditional) denominations, in fact. C. S. Lewis wasn’t allowed to get married by his local Anglican vicar because his fiance (Joy Davidman) had been divorced. This was as recently as 1960. So he found another clergyman to do it (though he didn’t leave Anglicanism).

I work with people (as a staffer at the Coming Home Network) who want to become Catholics, but don’t because a spouse doesn’t agree. And often an irregular marriage is the problem. So even when a person is convinced of Catholicism, they won’t move into it because of moral issues in their marriage that are unresolved. The spouse doesn’t want do go through an annulment, or abstain during same, or to not contracept if they go Catholic, etc. Very common . . .

Far from being a “ploy,” this is rather common and almost self-evidently true. That said, I have no idea what was the cause in David’s case, nor is it any of my business. That may be partly it, but probably not. I think he can be trusted for the report of what the major reasons were for his change of mind.

I’m simply disagreeing with your sweeping disavowal of what Nick observed. I think what he said is quite true, and demonstrably so in lots of actual cases.

I appreciate your thoughtful comments. You are correct that many people leave their faiths because of disagreements with those faiths’ moral beliefs. In fact, that’s more or less what I argued in my response to Nick: that if people apostasize and then engage in activities the faith would call “sin”, it’s typically because the apostates no longer believe in the faith’s moral standards and thus no longer consider these activities to be sinful. I did not take that to be Nick’s meaning, however. He seemed to be saying that people leave because they want to sin. That is, they still believe in the moral standards of the faith, but just don’t care enough or aren’t strong enough to abide by them. If that’s not what Nick meant, then I apologize to him for the misinterpretation. It is unfortunately a pretty common accusation, and one to which I am emotionally attuned, so I may be inclined to see it where it is not really present.

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Speaking of false premises, Chris has stated the following on his blog:

Ultimately, the claim that the Bible is inerrant is simply indefensible. The errors and contradictions in the biblical text are too numerous to count. The Bible itself recognizes the existence of such errors. It makes no claim of inerrancy for itself. And even if it did, the argument for inerrancy would be circular at best. I think it’s clearly time to leave this particular fundamental” behind.

Obviously, a person who thinks that about the Bible, which all traditional Christians believe is an inspired document, will believe all the more so that Catholic doctrine has “contradictions . . . too numerous to count” since we claim for Catholic doctrine mere infallibility: a gift lesser than inspiration.

So there is one of the hostile presuppositions that can cause problems, that I referred to above. These effect one’s reasoning. They are the backdrop; the context of reasoning and how we approach things coming in.

Not only does Chris question biblical inspiration, but also the New Testament canon:

[W]e evangelical types have been trained all our lives to believe that biblical books are better than all others. So we’re not exactly the most unbiased judges.

. . . There’s no way that the book of Revelation, a fairly run-of-the-mill apocalyptic pseudepigraphon, is more valuable than the Didache. Nor can I see the value in having forged and chauvinistic epistles like 1 and 2 Timothy or 2 Peter rather than a document whose authorship is known and respected like 1 Clement.

In response to your two most recent comments, yes, I am the epitome of the slippery slope (as Rory suggested in a previous comment). Although I was raised Pentecostal, I presently consider myself a Christian pluralist.

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As to your question, “why is it that one has placed their private judgment and personal doubts above the judgment of the Church in the first place,” I’d ask you precisely the opposite question. Why is it that you trust the judgment of the Church in the first place?

It is a matter of faith supported by reason. Faith is a supernatural thing. It can’t be reduced to logic and reason. It transcends those things. I became a Catholic and thus submitted myself to accept all that the Church teaches, through faith: but a faith exercised because I saw a great deal of cumulative evidence that supports this faith: particularly of he kind that is typified by Newman’s theory of development, and an overall interpretive framework for the Bible that made eminent sense and was superior to alternatives.

Is it not because you have “judged” it to be trustworthy? Does not a measure of private judgment necessarily precede the affirmation of infallibility? If so, then isn’t it only natural that this initial judgment should remain open to re-evaluation?

The answer is yes, but that is not all it is. It’s an accumulation of all sorts of evidences and factors: some I suspect, perhaps not even on a conscious level. We’re back to the same dynamic of faith and reason and how they are related to each other. We g back to the teaching of Jesus; particularly His setting up of His Church with Peter as leader; apostolic succession, patristic teaching, the vicious internal logical problems of all forms of Protestantism, and many other factors.

This question of “using private judgment to reject private judgment” is a frequent argument of contra-Catholic polemics, and I have replied to it several times.

I’d suggest that if you really break it down, private judgment (and the other faculties of the person, whether inborn or acquired) is all we’ve got. We can lament its limitations and untrustworthiness, but there is simply no alternative. Belief in infallibility requires the exercise of private judgment just as much as rationalism does.

But it’s not “all we’ve got.” This is precisely the main problem as I see it. You have entirely neglected supernatural faith: on which alone Christianity ultimately rests. God draws us; we don’t figure everything out on our own, with our supposedly independent reason. If that were the cause of salvation and discipleship, then Pelagianism is orthodoxy. But all three major branches of Christianity have roundly rejected that.

You completely overlook faith because that is your presupposition coming into the discussion (the other major point I have been making in the last several posts). You’re making my argument for me, when I go to your site and see what you believe. On the question of faith (or lack thereof), for example, you write:

I’d like to suggest that this whole argument is a category confusion. There can be no ranking of Scripture above reason, experience, and feeling because the exercise of these three faculties is logically prior to the acceptance and comprehension of Scripture. We accept Scripture as authoritative because we have had the experience of being told that it is authoritative, and because we have reflected on this and felt or concluded that it is true. We comprehend Scripture only when the experience of reading it gives rise to feeling and reflection on that experience. The same goes for other authorities, whether they be Tradition, the Pope, or the Hare Krishna: their contents can only be accepted by means of the exercise of the three basic faculties through which the world is known: experience, reason, and feeling.

In other words, experience, reason, and feeling are in a category completely their own: a category that logically precedes the other authorities that are typically proposed. So the argument that Scripture can somehow be ranked above reason or experience can only lead to absurdity. A building cannot destroy its own foundation without destroying itself. The building can be viable only to the extent that its foundation is viable.

Faith is never mentioned once. You have no place for it. It is excluded by the supposedly comprehensive categories that you construct. This is hyper-rationalism: an absolutely classic, textbook case.

And this is what I have been contending: this lack of faith and belief that there even is such a thing (by appearances, anyway) leads to things like rejecting biblical inspiration, and the canon, and papal or conciliar infallibility. You’ve made reason your god, in effect. Without faith, no one will believe those things, because, as the Apostle Paul says, God’s wisdom is foolishness to men, and it is only spiritually discerned.

One can support the tenets of faith by reason (I do that all the time, as an apologist), but it is ultimately a matter of faith in what one thinks is true and plausible, for a variety of reasons.

Thanks again for the cordial and eminently reasonable discussion.

Thanks for your kind words and the same back atcha!

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The abundance of heterodox notions on your blog continue to appear. I was wondering if you also denied the fall: without which the entire Christian scheme of salvation and redemption makes little sense. Sure enough, you have done so:

The reason that the narrative of the Fall has been so popular throughout Jewish and Christian history is precisely that it captures in mythic form our suspicions about the state of the world. So rather than ejecting the narrative altogether, I think it’s useful to provide a liberal reading of it. The Fall may not be historical, but it is nevertheless a powerful metaphor.

I think the advantage of the myth of fallen humanity, even if not literally true, is that it expresses the hope that human beings are capable of ideal behavior. If you believe that there is a fundamental capacity for goodness at the core of all of us, then the failure to realize our potential can be conceived of as a “fall” of sorts. But it’s a fall from an ideal standard rather than from one that has ever really been actualized.

What’s next: the Trinity; the deity of Christ; the incarnation, resurrection, ascension? With no fall, sin as we know it and redemption are fundamentally changed, and Christianity becomes scarcely distinct from, say, Buddhism. If you are right, Brit Hume wouldn’t have caught one-hundredth of the flak he has been getting. :-)

Sure enough, orthodox Christology has been ditched, too, in Chris’s religious “pluralism”:

These apparent problems cease to be problematic when we abandon the conservative evangelical perspective in favor of a more liberal one. I am not opposed to Enns’ hypothesis that Scripture incarnates a true, divine message but does so messily. Nor am I opposed to the implication that Jesus incarnated a divine reality but did so messily. Quite to the contrary, these are propositions I enthusiastically embrace. When the traditional “marks” of Christ’s and Scripture’s divinity are removed (as Enns has done), they begin to look less extraordinary. We can begin to imagine that perhaps other texts also mediate a divine message, albeit in a similarly messy way. We can begin to imagine that perhaps other people can also incarnate a divine reality, albeit in a similarly messy way. Christ and Scripture start to look less like unique and unreplicable examples of incarnation, and more like exemplary instances thereof. When they are so conceived, the way is open for us to affirm the universality of divine revelation and to find comparable instances of incarnation in many different times and cultures throughout history, including our own. The way is open for us to affirm the integrity of non-Christian religious experience rather than a priori repudiating it, and to find the divine perspective in the sum of all human perspectives rather than in a single, narrow, sectarian one. In short, the best way to resolve Enns’ dilemma is to embrace a pluralist worldview.

So it looks at this point as if just about anything is up for grabs in Christianity. You have gutted it at its heart if you go after Jesus’ divinity and the fall of man and biblical inspiration. Without a common standard or ground at some prior point in the discussion at the level of premise, fruitful discussion becomes impossible. If indeed, your discussions with David have been key in his new agnosticism as to the truth of Catholicism (as I have seen some indications of), I think he has to seriously ponder the sorts of presuppositions you were operating from and how that affected your reasoning and conclusions.

I’m not advocating the genetic fallacy: that what you say is untrue simply because you said it and because of these manifold heresies you espouse. I’m saying that the grounds for your contentions are questionable on many fundamental levels, and that if someone has accepted your conclusions, then by the nature of the case, chances are that they have uncritically taken in some of your false presuppositions as well (judged by basic Nicene Christian standards).

I don’t exclude the possibility that faith could be given supernaturally.

Glad to hear it. But you certainly made no indication of that whatever in your article I cited, and it belonged in the overall equation. To exclude it was very telling indeed.

But presumably you would agree that some kind of rational activity is involved in recognizing and/or accepting that faith, and in deciding what is its content?

I’ve never denied that. I’m an apologist, for Pete’s sake: why would I want to deny the importance of rational activity in theological matters? That would be ridiculous. What I denied was 1) this reasoning capacity as the initiator of faith and belief; over against Pelagianism, and 2)the exclusion of supernatural faith as an extremely important supra-rational factor in all (true) theological belief.

My concern was the de-emphasis of faith and the excessive emphasis on reason, in the hyper-rationalistic sense. Reason has to be put in its proper place. It’s because it is placed too high in the scheme of things, that folks can sometimes become disenchanted with apologetics: precisely because they didn’t keep the proper balance of reason, in league with other factors like experience, intuition, mysticism, faith, conscience, etc.

And presumably you would agree that supernatural faith is not given in such a straightforward and self-explanatory way that it is easily recognized as such, do you?

Supernatural faith, by definition, is a gift of God. Whoever receives it usually does not understand every jot and tittle of its rationale and justification. It is not the equivalent of an airtight conclusion drawn from a syllogism or other straightforward logical processes. Later on, a person may build up an intellectual apparatus by which they can defend the belief that they initially received by this faith, but to say that faith comes as a result of our profound reasoning efforts, is putting the cart before the horse and a fundamentally flawed analysis of the dynamics involved.

And surely you don’t deny that nearly every Christian sect would claim precisely the sort of faith-infusion you claim, right?

As I stated: all major branches of Christianity reject Pelagianism. It is only cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses (itself shot-through with a sort of naive and curiously inconsistent hyper-rationalism) that teach something akin to it.

So in terms of practical decision-making, we’re still only left with our own resources.

I think we can use reason to defend our own positions, yes. That is why I am an apologist. I don’t think it is all there is, or nearly the most important consideration.

Those resources may include only the things we were born with, or they may include some kind of acquired supernatural faith deposit, but either way the process of decision-making and private judgment still precedes the church’s infallibility.

If something is true, it is so independently of our reasoning by which we espoused it. That’s the point. If Catholicism is indeed the fullness of Christian truth, it is so by God’s design, and not because some sharp person “figured it all out.” We’re talking about matters of alleged or actual objective truth.

The Catholic comes to a decision to accept the Church and all that it teaches. He does so (hopefully, and as in my own case) by consideration of competing claims and reasoned analysis. But becoming convinced entails a lot more than mere reason. We believe that the Church is the fullness of the faith because we believe that was what was revealed to and by the apostles. We accept that in faith, passed down from them.

And presumably the person who re-evaluates his/her belief in infallibility is doing so with any faith infusion still in effect, so the re-evaluation is not qualitatively different than the initial evaluation. The same private judgment is employed in both cases.

I have explained the essential difference between Protestant private judgment and what a Catholic does in accepting the Catholic faith, in one of my papers I linked to above.

Which is all to say that your supernatural infusion of faith ultimately doesn’t suffice to get you out of the problem at hand: that private judgment necessarily precedes the acceptance of infallibility.

This goes round and round. Practically speaking, in terms of comparative theology and competing truth claims, we can all only give the reasons why we think our system is true or more true, defend our claims from critiques, and show how other systems lack proper biblical support, or are inconsistent and illogical at several points, etc. I’m more than happy to defend Catholicism and to discuss the reasons why I think no other Christian system provides the answers to the important questions as Catholicism does.

* * *
I’m an optimist in matters of reason and faith both. I believe that right reason can persuade people of the truth and remove falsehoods from their thought processes. I believe that David could be persuaded to return to the Catholic faith and to see the error of the incorrect positions he has accepted.

Because I believe in reason, I don’t have to denigrate it by ditching it and saying “faith only” (as Edward Reiss and much of Lutheranism seems to have done), or by going to “reason only” (as you have basically done, and which is the liberal path). Nope: the true state of affairs is faith + reason: both in their proper proportion.

* * *
Based on what you wrote above, I’m still not clear on how you think a supernatural infusion of faith gets you out of the logical and temporal priority of private judgment.

Insofar as everyone has to offer rational evidences for their own views (if they hope to persuade anyone else of them: on the human level), we’re in the same boat. I defend Catholic positions, and general Christian ones when I am debating atheists.

My main point previously, however, was to say that truth is not determined by our own logical processes. It is what it is. Our task is to find it. And without supernatural faith we can’t arrive at the true faith (using “faith” in two different senses there).

Anyway, I don’t talk much on my blog about supernatural faith, it’s true (mostly because I haven’t experienced anything that would obviously fit under that heading). But I am not a strict rationalist. I think that the whole person must be ministered to and that the whole person must be involved in decision-making.

I agree. Good. I get accused of being over-rationalistic, too, as do most apologists, because people confuse what we concentrate on with the notion that it is all there is: as if most apologists are foolish enough to believe such a ludicrous thing.

One thing I do talk about a lot on my blog is conscience, which as far as I can tell would not be all that phenomenologically distinguishable from your supernatural faith.

Yes. When it is truly conscience it is God’s voice and that is supernatural. But conscience also has to be informed by apostolic Tradition and the Bible. It can’t go off on its own and contradict those, or it is not what it is thought to be.

My conscience is actually one of the factors that drove me down the slippery slope rather than one that anchored me in the faith.

Many have taken that path; but if you are relying on an atomistically individual conscience, or one driven primarily by skeptical forces, at some point (in my opinion) it is invalid and one is being led by the Evil One, if it is in the direction of falsehood.

In other words, determination of truth is primary, and if a conscience leads to falsehood or wrong behavior or sanctioning of same, then it is not from God, and is diabolically supernatural, not divinely supernatural. Truth and factuality always constitute the bottom line.

He [Dollinger] couldn’t grasp it [Papal Infallibility] because he wasn’t viewing it with the eye of faith and reason.

[Tom: a Mormon] When I read this I find it easy to make a characterization of it and then dismiss it as unhelpful, but perhaps I do not understand what is being said here.

I’m glad you decided to ask for clarification. That is always better than taking the risk of misunderstanding someone, so thanks!

A number of folks on this thread (David W included) are searching for truth. Some of us have strong commitments to our traditions and others have more neutral stances. It would seem to me that from a neutral stance or from a commitment to another faith tradition, the appeal to look at Papal Infallibility with “the eye of faith” would ring rather hollow.

Of course it would, but everything is written in a context. There are several conversations in this thread going on simultaneously, and the subject matter is quite subtle, complex, and nuanced.

My comment there was in a specifically Catholic paradigm, but also placed within a larger overall point I was making about the necessity of supernatural faith: with which all Christian traditions agree. I have been arguing (over against self-described “pluralist” Chris) that Christian faith cannot be reduced to mere philosophy or reason. Nor can it be reduced to historiography.

And so the criticism against Dollinger that Cardinal Newman made in 1870 was along these lines: he thought that he couldn’t accept papal infallibility because he was thinking merely in historiographical terms and in effect reducing Catholic historical considerations to that. But one must also look at things with the eye of faith.

Dollinger was a Catholic, you see, and was an historian. He rejected papal infallibility on historiographical grounds. Newman responded (see above) that he wasn’t quibbling about bare historical facts, but rather, with how to interpret them. And the interpretive framework is what requires faith. This is not Catholic-specific: it applies to any Christian person or group who wants to interpret history “Christianly.”

I suspect this may be part of David Waltz’s rationale, too, for why he has concluded what he has. He seems to be reading some material that tends toward this over-rationalism and minimizes the place that every Christian reserves for faith: a thing that transcends reason without being contrary to it.

The whole point is that we are trying to know if there is something worth having faith in. Unless Catholicism holds some type of priority for us, it does not seem to me that it deserves this “leg up” any more than any number of paradigms.

That’s right. It has to be argued, with those persons who have not yet accepted it. It’s what I do as an apologist.

1. In my particular faith tradition, I speak of the overwhelmingly strong (to me) position associated with some unique aspects AND from this suggest that the most consistent view of the most difficult issues is one that either breaks the tradition (like being a Cafeteria Catholic) OR looks at the weak positions with a boost from the other strong points. If A being true entails B being true and the case for A being true is overwhelming, then one can infer that B is true even if it is unlikely but slightly plausible that B is true.

Yes, plausibility and belief structures all involve axioms, reasonable assumptions and preferability of one option over another. I feel strongly that Catholicism is true because of an overwhelming number of cumulative evidences all taken together: like the proverbial strands of a rope. Papal infallibility is an example of a belief thus confirmed.

This is my attempt at a rational argument for my faith tradition in light of difficult aspects.

The overall approach is agreeable to me. We would disagree on how it comes down, in conclusions.

2. A position that I believe has merit for me, but is of little apologetic value (with the exception of the fact that I believe it is most reasonable to conclude that there is a supernatural being who exists) is my personal witness from God for my faith tradition. If I didn’t think the above rational (attempted rational) argument supported the difficult aspects of my faith tradition, I could still suggest that those things that are plausible but unlikely are still true in light of the experience I have personally had. This of course does little for external dialogue, but IMO it is not an irrational (just and extra rational) position.

I think there are beliefs that are warranted, that go beyond reason, per Plantinga’s arguments for warranted Christian beliefs, properly basic beliefs, etc.

So, I quite expect that you would say that #1 is a good reason to accept what is merely plausible about Papal Infallibility, but your “eye of faith” argument looked much more like Catholicism should receive a preferential “eye of faith” where I doubt you would grant such to Mormonism. It sounded like your “eye of faith” was much more of a #2 than a #1 to me.

I hope I have explained sufficiently. I was describing the critique of one Catholic (Newman), whose development theory is presently being questioned by David W., to another Catholic (Dollinger) who refused to abide by the proclamation of an ecumenical council: a position that is indistinguishable, as far as it goes, with Luther’s stance.

I wasn’t implying in the slightest that this particular notion would be persuasive to anyone outside of Catholicism, except to note that all Christians have a place for faith. So this faith, within the Catholic paradigm, is applied to the papal infallibility issue as well as all others. It’s not reduced to merely historical argumentation. It’s not historical positivism. One must interpret, and that is always the more fascinating part of the process.

Anyway, I will be interested to see how you might flesh out “eye of faith.”

I hope I have helped you better understand where I am coming from. Thanks again for the opportunity and the good discussion.

Thank you for your comments. It does make sense to me that an “eye of faith” is important for difficult issues when one is part of a particular faith tradition. I would suggest that there are many different degrees of conviction however. I know that I once sustained my conviction with an over reliance (close to total reliance) upon reason (as I perceived reason). Evidence against my tradition, especially when it was associated with the reason(s) I believed in the first place could (and did in one instance) shake my conviction considerably. Today, in my occasional apologetic efforts, I offer reason and for me the case is still compelling. But were I to become convinced that reason did not strongly point me in the direction I have gone, I would then have a conflict between my spiritual witness and my intellectual witness. I, like Cardinal Newman during Vatican I, am thankful for the faith to see the landscape of my tradition in a way that aligns both my spiritual and intellectual witnesses. I, like Cardinal Newman respect those who struggle and feel bad when others think they must (1) leave the faith, (2) tolerate conflict between their intellectual witness and their spiritual witness, or (3) jettison significant (IMO) portions of the faith.

* * *
I still think you’re coming very close to question-begging and a double standard. Pointing to supernatural faith is fine, as long as you only mean that people should take their felt conviction into account when making decisions (and as long as this standard is applied consistently to religious people across the board, and not just to Catholics). If the appeal to supernatural faith is used to exclude questioning and/or deconversion, however, then you have gone much too far.

But I’ve never done that. You keep implying that I have, and I keep saying it ain’t my view.

Your question to David earlier in the thread– “why is it that one has placed their private judgment and personal doubts above the judgment of the Church in the first place?”– leads me to believe that you are using it in this latter way.

The question makes perfect sense when asked of a Catholic, because a Catholic has already rejected private judgment insofar as it clashes with the Church: in faith. Therefore, it is perfectly relevant to ask by what process a catholic has gone from the Catholic rule of faith (infallible Church authority) to a Protestant one of private judgment.

I’d also add that the significance of supernatural faith can only be as strong as the experience of it.

It’s not an experience, but an act of God which is not necessarily consciously felt at all.

When I was a Pentecostal, our extra-rational justification was miracles. The nice thing about that was that it was fairly objective and observable (although many experiences were highly subjective as well, such as speaking in tongues, hearing God’s voice, etc.). Ultimately I decided that most of the experiences I had been socialized to view as miraculous were not really all that miraculous, so the extra-rational leg-up was no longer compelling to me. When I investigated Mormonism, I was told that I could obtain an extra-rational “testimony” experience if I prayed about the Book of Mormon. I did so, but obtained only weak and conflicting emotional sensations. So again, the extra-rational component was not deeply compelling to me. In the case of your “supernatural infusion of faith,” it seems like it would be difficult even to identify it as such.

That is not the ultimate criterion of proof, but rather, what the Bible says about it. One who believes it is already believing that the Bible is inspired.

And again, there is always the possibility that someone just won’t feel much in the way of supernatural faith at all, in which case the appeal to said faith won’t be a particularly compelling defense.

Again, you compare mere feeling with God’s sovereign actions.

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I guess I’m still a bit confused as to what exactly your view is. Earlier in the thread you seemed to agree with me that supernatural faith is one of a number of different factors that must be kept in balance during our judgment-process, along with reason, experience, intuition, mysticism, and conscience. Now though, you seem to be denying that it is part of our conscious awareness, and more or less equating it with Providence. And I still can’t figure out, given either definition, how any of this solves the problem of the logical and temporal priority of private judgment to the acceptance of infallibility. And to complicate matters, you went on at some length about how your point was that truth is objective and external to ourselves, which I don’t really disagree with and which in any case doesn’t seem to have much to do with your points about faith and infallibility. Perhaps your real point lies in your statement that “a Catholic has already rejected private judgment insofar as it clashes with the Church.” Under this view, a Catholic by becoming a Catholic has forfeited his right to question the Church. I can’t figure out, though, whether this is a legal argument (i.e. “you made an oath, so your soul is ours”) or a sort of logical/developmental argument (i.e. “private judgment was an earlier, childlike state of existence, but now you have passed beyond it to the higher level of robotically accepting infallibility”). (Please forgive my wry and possibly offensive attempt at humor.) To the legal argument, I’d respond that our obligation to the truth is at least as important as our obligation to keep our oaths, so if we find out that an oath violates this other moral and legal obligation, then I’d view breaking the oath as the lesser evil. To the logical/developmental argument, I’d go back to the issue of the logical and temporal priority of private judgment. By denying the authority of private judgment to judge the tradition, the Catholic denies the very means by which s/he came to accept the tradition in the first place, and thus undermines his/her own position. Realistically, private judgment simply cannot be forfeited, because our reason/intuition/conscience/faith etc. are always with us, no matter how we may try to suppress them. I suspect God designed us that way.

You can have the last word on this.

(originally 1-19-10)
Photo credit: Circe Denyer [PublicDomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain license]

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