Friday, August 26, 2005

Jonathan Prejean's Demand That His Opponents Prove a Universal Negative

Jonathan Prejean has posted another response to me at his blog. He still isn't telling us how we can get more meaning from scripture with an approach other than the grammatical-historical method. Instead, he keeps demanding that those who don't agree with him prove a universal negative. We're supposed to prove that no other method exists rather than him proving his assertion that there is another method. Since I don't know of any other method, I'll wait for him to prove his assertion. He hasn't done so yet, and it doesn't look as if he ever will.

Prejean writes:

"Plenty of people agree with the apostolic succession being 'publicly verifiable,' as it is a matter of historical record that ecumenical councils were used to resolve theological disputes."

And there were Arians who held councils to settle disputes, other groups have held councils that Roman Catholicism rejects, there are portions of the ecumenical councils that are rejected by Catholicism, etc. What does the fact that some councils were regarded as settling some disputes prove? Prejean isn't making a case. He's trying to give the appearance of having an answer without actually giving one.

As far as apostolic succession is concerned, I answered Prejean's claims on that subject on Greg Krehbiel's board. Prejean changed his argument in the middle of the discussion by first claiming that the concept was universally accepted all along, then claiming that it was universally accepted "after Nicaea". I challenged that claim as well, but Prejean decided to end the discussion by telling me that I wasn't understanding him. He never gave a defense of his false claims about apostolic succession.

And how does Prejean reach his conclusions about apostolic succession, ecumenical councils, etc.? Through the grammatical-historical method. Or does he want to say that we can interpret the documents allegorically? If he's going to say that we can only interpret the Biblical documents allegorically, then how does he know that? He's already said that he doesn't know it by means of popularity, so he can't appeal to the popularity of allegorical interpretation. And if popularity doesn't make the case, then he can't cite it to prove the authority of ecumenical councils either. Where, then, is Jonathan getting his unsubstantiated conclusion that we're to apply one method of interpretation to the Biblical documents and another method to these other documents he's citing to support his theological conclusions? Just saying that the documents are different in some way isn't enough. He has to explain why the difference leads to his conclusion. He doesn't explain it, because he can't. He just makes assertions without evidence.

"This is exactly what I mean by the astrological method; it's not a commonly shared premise that the GHM is a limit on ascertaining apostolic theology, so it's an idiosyncratic use of a commonly-accepted method to use the GHM in this way."

So, Jonathan, you have no objection to astrology? You just object to limiting the interpretation of planetary movements to astrology's method? You're willing to accept astrology, as long as it's accompanied by other methods of interpreting planetary movements? No, you reject astrology. Your astrology analogy has been shown to be false, so now you're redefining it. But your redefinition doesn't make sense.

Again, if you want us to believe that there's another way of interpreting the words of Jesus or Paul, for example, then you need to prove that assertion rather than demanding that people like Steve Hays and me prove a universal negative. Nobody is obligated to believe in a second method of interpreting Jesus and the apostles just because they can't prove that a second method doesn't exist under a rock on the back side of Neptune. If we're only aware of one method, and you claim to have another, it makes no sense for you to repeatedly refuse to prove your proposed second method while demaning that we prove a universal negative.

"The point is that it has insufficient objective certainty to justify Jason's stance that only what is 'ascertainable' is binding."

I don't know what you have in mind, since you aren't giving us many details. What would qualify as "sufficient objective certainty"? If the grammatical-historical method is giving us probabilities, and you aren't giving us any other publicly verifiable method, then any probability, however low, is better than the nothing you're giving us.

"What is 'ascertainable' by the GHM is more or less bare possibility; beyond that, it is a subjective question as to what is 'probable,' 'likely,' and whatnot....My point is that he is imposing subjective, not objective, criteria as a binding limit on theological speculation, and that is unwarranted."

So, the historicity of the Holocaust is just "bare possibility"? Its probability is "a subjective question"? Nobody denies that some subjective elements are involved. But many objective elements are involved as well. Are you suggesting that deciding on an issue such as whether Jesus was Jewish or whether He had twelve disciples is similar to deciding on your favorite flavor of ice cream?

In our discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, you said:

"I think there are reasonably objective historical ways to identify a Christian community entirely apart from theology."

So, if historical conclusions are just "bare possibility", and viewing them as probabilities is a "subjective" matter, then why did you refer to "reasonably objective historical ways"?

What about your views of apostolic succession, the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria, what the ecumenical councils taught, etc.? Since those are historical matters that you approach with the grammatical-historical method, should we think that your conclusions on those issues are "bare possibility" and "subjective"?

"Moreover, that determination also implicitly includes a determination on what counts as evidence for particular interpretations, and Jason's use of the GHM as a limiting factor excludes evidence that many people consider persuasive for meaning."

Your latest reply repeatedly refers to what "many people" believe. But stating that many people believe something, without giving us reason to believe it, isn't a sufficient argument.

"Evidence is cited for arguments, not conclusions. The corollary is that citing someone as evidence means that you agree with their conclusions and their reasons for the conclusions."

If you claim that nobody before the Reformation believed in justification through faith alone, that's a matter of what conclusions those people held, not the arguments that led them to their conclusions. I can respond to your false assertion about conclusions without having to address the arguments that led these people to their conclusions.

"This means that if you don't know a person's reasons for a conclusion, you can't cite that person as evidence."

Evidence for what? It depends on what's being discussed. If the issue under discussion is whether anybody in a particular timeframe held belief X, then we cite people who held belief X, regardless of whether they had different reasons for holding that belief. What you've done in our discussion is change the subject from whether people believed in justification apart from baptism to whether they believed in justification apart from baptism for the same reasons I do. I'm not the one who claimed that I must be able to show that other people agreed with my arguments. You're the one who suggested that standard. Many of the historical sources don't even mention what their arguments are. Even when there are disagreements over arguments, there can be some overlap, despite the differences. If a Baptist arrives at justification apart from batism by means of Biblical passages A, B, and C, whereas a Presbyterian arrives at the doctrine by means of passages A, B, C, and D, I don't conclude that their agreement must have no significance just because it isn't complete agreement.

"Contrary to Jason's assertion, I never cite a source without a reasonable basis for thinking that I know why they are making the statement (if it's an older source, that always means that I have a qualified secondary source backing up my interpretation), and I never cite a source whose reasons for a conclusion contradict my own. If I do, please call me on it; it's culpable negligence."

What's the relevance of a secondary source if the secondary source has no way of knowing the original source's arguments? What secondary source do you have who can state all of the arguments that led John the Baptist to his conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah? Nobody knows every consideration, every thought process, etc. that led John the Baptist to his conclusions. Do we have to know all of his arguments in order to state that we agree with him about Jesus' Messiahship? No. Likewise, we don't have to know every one of Ignatius' reasons for believing in the deity of Christ in order to say that we agree with him that Jesus is God.

Your reasoning here is absurd, Jonathan, and I've never met another Roman Catholic who has said that he agrees with your standard. I frequently see Catholics claiming agreement with historical sources without knowing the arguments that led those sources to their conclusions or without agreeing with all of the sources' arguments. Catholics will claim agreement with a church father on a Marian doctrine, for example, even if that church father relied in part on a spurious apocryphal document to reach his conclusion.

Do you agree with all of Thomas Aquinas' arguments for the papacy, such as his citation of forged documents? Must you therefore say that you and Thomas Aquinas don't share a common belief in the papacy? Should we ignore the arguments the two of you have in common, since the two of you differ in some arguments?

In your last reply to me, you said that you can claim agreement with the allegorical method of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, even if you don't agree with all of the details of their allegorical method, as long as you have "a reason" for disagreeing with them:

"I don't disagree with them without having a reason for doing so."

Well, I also have "a reason" for disagreeing with Presbyterians on baptism, for example. Yet, you tell me that I can't claim agreement with them on justification through faith alone. So, why can you disagree with Athanasius and Cyril in some details, yet claim agreement with them?

In conclusion, the reader ought to note that Jonathan has now written an even larger amount of material in response to me and in response to Steve Hays and others, but still hasn't made a case for Roman Catholicism. He tells us that we shouldn't limit our interpretation of the words of Jesus and the apostles to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, but he doesn't make a case for any other method, and he keeps demanding that we prove a universal negative. Yes, it's true, there might be another method somewhere in the mind of a farmer in South Dakota or inside the heart of an angel flying above the skies of Pluto. We can't prove that no other method exists in such places. But until Jonathan Prejean produces a convincing case for a second method, we'll work with what we have, not with the pixie dust of Jonathan's unpaid IOUs.