Thursday, August 25, 2005

Probabilities Are Better Than Possibilities

Jonathan Prejean has posted another article at his blog responding to me. He writes:

"And how often do I cite the arguments of Karl Keating or Patrick Madrid as evidence for my arguments? Oh, wait, that's right; I don't! See, it's that 'cite as evidence' part that you don't seem to get."

You've been inconsistent on this issue. Here's what you said in our discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board:

"I don't agree with anybody if I don't agree with his argument."

You're changing your standard in the middle of a discussion again. And even if you had only been referring to a need to agree with sources we cite as evidence, that argument would be erroneous as well, and it would be an argument that you aren't consistent with. You don't agree with all of the arguments of the historical sources you cite as evidence for your position. You frequently cite historical sources with whom you disagree on some issues, without even attempting to explain why you disagree with them. In many cases, you can't possibly know what reasons the sources had for reaching their conclusions, because they didn't tell us. Yet, you suggested that I couldn't cite such sources in support of my position, since I couldn't show that they agreed with my arguments. If that standard is to be applied to me, it ought to be applied to you as well.

"There are some views (your own, for example) that are so presuppositionally circular and immune to criticism that it would be almost impossible (if not actually impossible) to construct an argument convincing to you."

An argument for what? I'm convinced by arguments for Jesus' resurrection, the authorship attributions of Biblical books, etc. If you had similar evidence for Roman Catholicism, I'd be convinced by it. You don't have such evidence.

"And specifically, I demonstrate that your arguments against Catholicism are circular and question-begging as well, that you aren't appealing to some externality that is ordinarily persuasive to people outside your cognitive fortress."

So, when I refer to concepts like the earliness of a source and multiple attestation, such historical standards "aren't appealing to some externality that is ordinarily persuasive to people outside my cognitive fortress"? Is the absence and widespread contradiction of Roman Catholic doctrine in early church history something that "doesn't appeal to some externality that is ordinarily persuasive to people outside my cognitive fortress"? Since you're the one claiming to have a historical revelation that can't be publicly verified by commonly accepted standards of historical research, and you repeatedly refuse to even put forward a case for Roman Catholicism, I would say that you're the one who isn't appealing to people outside of his "cognitive fortress".

"When you, for example, use the GHM as a reductionist criterion for meaning in the Bible, when there's no reason to think that it would be accurate when used as such a criterion, you've got problems."

What I've said is that if there's meaning in the Bible beyond what we would ascertain through the grammatical-historical method, then that additional meaning needs to be demonstrated, not just asserted. Your response so far has been to complain that I'm limiting people to the grammatical-historical method, but you never give us any reason to think that there's an additional method we should be using. I'm not preventing you from giving us evidence for another method. You just refuse to produce it.

"We can, to some extent [arrive at theology through the grammatical-historical method]. There's just no reason to think that we will be able to do so at some predetermined level of certainty."

Once again, you've been inconsistent. In a previous reply to me, you said:

"If you're trying to get theology out of them [the Biblical documents], this is a non sequitur. You would only approach them as historical documents if you wanted to get historical information out of them. Whether that would bear any resemblance to the theological meaning is entirely inscrutable by historical methods."

In a previous reply to Steve Hays, you said:

"I have no reason to even *suspect* that there is some independent way to get at divinely revealed meaning apart from the Church; Evangelicals just assume that there is and argue from this perceived necessity to the existence of a method."

What was the purpose of your astrology analogy if you don't have any objections to attaining theology through the historical method I've described? If you were only objecting to the lack of certainty in my method, then why would you compare my method to deriving astrological conclusions from planetary movements? Do you consider astrology probable, but just not certain enough? No, you don't. You don't think that astrology even gives us probable conclusions, much less certain conclusions. Your false analogy to astrology assumes a rejection of deriving theology from the historical method, just as we can't derive astrology's predictions from planet movements.

But now you acknowledge that we can get theology from figures like Jesus and Paul using the grammatical-historical approach. You've shifted your criticism to "some predetermined level of certainty". Aside from the fact that you've changed your argument, what "predetermined level of certainty" did I advocate?

You keep shifting back and forth between saying that we can't get theology from my method to saying that we can get theology from it, but without sufficient certainty. How do you know what the sufficient certainty level is?

"Conversely, there's no cause to think that theological methods that accept other evidence are false on their face."

That's not the issue. The issue is whether we have reason to accept those other methods. The other methods would have to be considered rather than rejected as "false on their face" just because they're other methods. I never argued that other methods should be rejected just because they're other methods. You're burning a straw man.

"you're asserting (without argument) that the GHM is the only 'certain' method, when it's not even clear that it is a 'certain' method in the way you're asserting it (much less the only certain method)."

Where did I refer to the grammatical-historical method as "certain"? I've repeatedly said that historical conclusions are probabilities, not certainties. But there's a difference between the probability of the Holocaust and the possibility of a bodily assumption of Mary. You aren't giving us any reason to think that Roman Catholicism is even probable, so I don't need a "certain" method in order to have a method that's better than what you're offering.

"I've said clearly: you get that additional meaning by the manifested faith of the Church. Pick up a copy of the Catechism if you're interested."

I wasn't asking whether you think the Roman Catholic denomination gives us additional meaning for the apostolic revelation that isn't ascertainable through the grammatical-historical method. I'm aware that you think that your denomination does give us such additional meaning. I was asking you to give us convincing evidence for your conclusion. All you've done is reassert a conclusion for which you have yet to give us a justification.

"Plenty of scholars will admit that they lack sufficient information to draw firm conclusions on matters like this or disagree with the certainty asserted by other historians."

Again, you're not addressing the issue I raised. The issue isn't whether historians disagree on some elements of a historical figure's theology. Rather, the issue is whether historians think they can arrive at some probable conclusions about a figure's theology through the grammatical-historical method. And they do. Yet, at times you've told us that we can't arrive at theology through that method. But at other times, you'll acknowledge that we can get theology from my method, then complain that my method doesn't give us enough certainty. And after you complain about my method, you don't give us any alternative that would give us any higher level of certainty.

Apparently, what you're now arguing is that we can arrive at some of the apostolic theology through the grammatical-historical approach, but to differing degrees of probability and without certainty that the apostolic theology is ascertainable only through that method. But I never disputed either of those points. I never denied that historical conclusions are a matter of probability rather than certainty, that historians disagree with each other, etc. I also never denied that other methods of ascertaining the apostolic theology are possible. What I've said is that I'm not aware of any other such method (in the context of public verifiability). I've asked you for evidence of another method, but you keep refusing to make a case.

"I'm arguing exactly that we can't ascertain their theology with the degree of certainty you're asserting"

Earlier in your latest reply, you referred to me claiming to have a "certain" method. Now you're referring to me claiming to have a "degree of certainty". Which is it? What I claimed is differing degrees of probability. For example, Paul's authorship of 1 Corinthians is more probable than Peter's authorship of 2 Peter. I don't claim that either one is a certain conclusion of the historical method. If you want us to believe that you have some better method of publicly verifying a system, then make your case. All that you've done so far is complain that my method doesn't produce enough certainty and complain that I haven't proven a universal negative by showing that no other method exists. But the probabilities that my method gives us are better than your failure to give us any publicly verifiable method.

"Of course I assume things; we all have to assume things in forming models, but I don't assume any of the things you assert (at least if you mean it to be assuming my conclusions)."

There's a difference between a necessary assumption and an unnecessary assumption. The fact that some truth claims are necessary for forming a model doesn't mean that any truth claim can be made. You can't just begin with the unjustified assumption that the church is infallible, for example, then claim that your assumption is "axiomatic" when it's questioned. That's what you did, even using the word "axiomatic", in the discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board.

"Here's a novel idea: read a book!"

Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria wrote many hundreds of pages of material. Telling me to "read a book" doesn't explain how you're defining their allegorical method. For example, neither of those men advocated the doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary. How would you go about moving from their allegorical interpretations on an issue such as Christology to arriving at the conclusion that Mary was bodily assumed to Heaven?

"OR provide a coherent reason for disagreement."

I cited examples of historical sources agreeing with me about justification through faith alone without those sources having explained their arguments leading up to their conclusion. You said that was insufficient. But now you've changed your standard. You're now claiming that I can cite historical sources I disagree with as long as I "provide a coherent reason" for disagreeing with them. If I can cite historical sources with whom I disagree on some issues, then what's your complaint about the sources I cited earlier? Some of them don't explain their arguments leading to their conclusion, so we don't know whether I agree with their arguments. And I have coherent reasons for disagreeing with the other sources where I disagree with them.

Are you going to claim that there's no possible coherent explanation for disagreeing with a Presbyterian view of baptism, for example? If my explanations are to be considered incoherent because you disagree with them, then I can say that your explanation for why you disagree with Papias about premillennialism, for example, is incoherent, since I disagree with it.

"Ever hear of ecumenical councils? That's not the same thing as popularity."

All that you're doing is pushing the question back a step. How do you know that the councils you consider ecumenical are correct in their teachings? If these councils are "not the same thing as popularity", then you can't cite their popular reception as the reason for following them. What's your reason, then?

In closing, I want to remind the readers that I've provided a method of publicly verifying the apostolic revelation, and my method leads to probable conclusions, even by the admission of Jonathan Prejean and other critics. In contrast, Prejean hasn't given us any publicly verifiable method that adds any doctrines to what would be attained through my method. Instead of giving us something better, he complains that my method doesn't give us more certainty, and he complains that I haven't proven a universal negative by showing that no other method is available. If Prejean had a convincing case for another method, don't you think he would have produced it by now rather than repeatedly refusing to do so?