Blue Men on Mars

I am addressing Michael Liccione, and in what follows, I’ll be responding to comment 231 here, but I’ll likely be ranging to other places to take into account some of the other things you’ve said, such as when you refer me to Sections IV and V in the main article which this comment follows.

I’m pleased to see you trying to address what I take to be the basic epistemological issue between Catholicism and Protestantism. In my opinion, understanding and addressing that issue accurately is the only way for the uncommitted inquirer to decide between them without begging the question.

I’ve been responding to these issues all along, although I’ve not been doing it in the same words that you are using. What you are doing is clouding the primary epistemological issue in a more formal-sounding language, which tends to give some “intellectual grounding” where there is none.

What you call “begging the question” here with remarkable ease, is in reality, taking the Apostles at their own words. As Paul says to the Roman Governor Festus, in his trial defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26:26), “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

As a book-end to my comment from the other thread on Adam and Eve (citing Beale) and later following his argument through the Old Testament, the “IP” that God wants you to use, is to rely on your own eyes and ears and understanding. (See Acts).

The “IP” that God wants humans to employ is also clearly stated in the Scriptures, from Isaiah 6:9–10, related here from Acts 28:27, but which is also the most highly-quoted passage of the Old Testament found in the New Testament:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

What, in this case, is “the formal proximate object of faith”?

The Lutherans have a good way of discerning this. Where, precisely, is the locus of activity? Is it in God? Or is it in the human?

The human “sees”, “hears”, and “understands”, but it is God who heals. This is how the interaction between God and man takes place. This is what God intends. This is the easy yoke, the light burden of Matthew 11:30.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The proper role of the human being is not to “identify infallibly the formal proximate object of faith”. There is no need for a “formal proximate object of faith”. We have “Christ alone”.

“Christ alone” “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”. Further, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power”. He is the One, who, when we “turn”, he “heals”. Notice the division of labor there. “Turn”, “repent”. “take my yoke”, “and learn from me”.

Do you suppose that He won’t, in his time, give all things? That he won’t give all knowledge?

To whom is he talking? He is not talking just to his disciples here. He is talking to “the crowds” (Matt 11:7).

The kind of discernment you are looking for, a way to “[reliably identify] the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion,” does not at all appear to be a part of the “interpretive paradigm” that Jesus tells “the crowds” to employ, and nor does Paul employ the need to [or tell the king to have] “a principled way to reliably identify the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion”.

I’m wondering why you even need to posit this kind of concept? Actually, I don’t wonder. I know why you need to obfuscate what is otherwise an appeal to “the CPIP” [conservative Protestant IP], which simply holds that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

You write:

I explain why any theology must rely on some-or-other IP, and I proceed on the assumption that any theological IP needs some sort of principled distinction between authentic expressions of divine revelation as such and merely human opinions about it.

Two things here: you “proceed on the assumption”, but why do you assume this? I’ve asked several times. Where is it posited that anyone “needs” this “principled distinction”?

Second, building upon that question, the Protestant IP, as I have explained over and over again, is the equivalent to the “IP” that God “assumes”, for Adam, for the Patriarchs, for Israel, and as Jesus instructed, and as Paul employed it. If relying on “a due use of the ordinary means”.

You are looking at a result – “Protestants can’t agree on “x”, therefore the IP is bad.

But that misses the fact that God has created 7 billion human beings and counted, each of whom looks upon “Christ alone”, has his or her own lives, understandings, and prejudices. But I still maintain, using a “due use of ordinary means”, that if each of these 7 billion individuals would “turn” [in the God-given capacity which is not beyond each one’s means], God himself would “heal”.

I then argue, in effect, that the CIP’s [Catholic IP] candidate for such a distinction can be successfully deployed for the purpose stated, whereas the CPIP’s [conservative Protestant IP] candidate cannot, and thus is only an ad hoc distinction.

In fact, it is precisely your “CIP” which, in and of itself, is an ad hoc creation, developed by you specifically for the purpose of permitting “the Catholic faith” to appear to have some rational basis, when in fact, it is “the Catholic faith” which “developed” along historical lines that are incredibly ad hoc, in and of themselves.

It’s true, “the Catholic faith” retains some memories of Scriptural doctrines such as Christ’s resurrection (of which you say that no “infallible proclamation” has ever been made), and early Scriptural guidelines that were adopted in the first four councils (Trinity, Christology).

But the uniquely Roman Catholic doctrines themselves all developed in a variety of ad hoc ways – the papacy came out of nowhere, the Marian doctrines and dogmas have a variety of origins in spurious and even heretical sources; “Transubstantiation” is nowhere found in the early church, but is peculiarly added on in 12th century; the Council of Trent is even more ad hoc and peculiar still.

If I am correct that every religion and theology contains an IP and that none can dispense with using one, then the first question cannot be answered without first comparing pairs IPs, and then determining which is the more reasonable one to adopt, thus supplying one good reason to profess the religion containing the rationally preferable IP.

Why do you need to “compare pairs of IPs” to see what is “preferable”? How is your own “preference” here not simply ad hoc?

Your methodology of comparing one IP vs another, and finding it “preferable”, is perfectly useful when you compare the “Green Men On Mars IP” (GMOMIP) vs the “Blue Men On Mars IP” (BMOMIP). Of course the GMOMIP is preferable to the BMOMIP for a host of reasons which I shall not get into here, but let me just say that, it seems a travesty to dismiss the BMOMIP, which relies on an analysis of the most plentiful elements on Mars (Oxygen and Silicon), which most naturally would lead to Blue Men on Mars, rather than the older (if less scientific) GMOMIP. There are, in fact, no elements on Mars (copper is not plentiful, for example) that would lead to the development of Green Men on Mars.

Given that Christianity is a “revealed” religion, that God is hidden and what we know about him is only what he “reveals” of himself (and that revelation finds its fullest what It is more reasonable to adopt the “IP”.

I’ve argued elsewhere that you need to determine first of all whether an “IP” in and of itself yields a truthful result. Various IPs rather yield varying degrees of truth. They yield varying degrees of “certainty”.

Even your own “CIP” only yields “divine protection from error under certain conditions”. Presumably there is no “divine protection from error” throughout the rest of the “CIP”, and that is what we see, in instances which you claim to be “the tu quoque” – but look at those “certain conditions” – look at what those “certain conditions” have yielded: most egregiously, they have yielded (according to most, but not all, Roman Catholic accounts), “infallibility” that Mary was conceived “immaculately”, that she was “assumed body and soul into heaven”, and that the pope is also “infallible” when he makes ex cathedra pronouncements (and as I’ve also mentioned, the extent of these is in question).

So, “under certain conditions”, you know (probably) three things with “divine protection from error”.

But (a) these three things can only be said to be “implicitly” found in Scripture, if at all (and I maintain they are not), and (b) they are not only “divinely protected from error” but they are such in the same unfalsifiable way that I might say “there are no blue men on Mars, only green men”. One might say, “oh, but we’ve sent robot rovers there and they find no evidence of green men on mars.” To which, the true believer replies “Oh, but they’re underground. Give me two pieces of evidence that says they’re not underground”. The presence of robot rovers on Mars, and the evidence they’ve found, is “not incompatible in any way” with the infallible, unfalsifiable doctrine that there are blue men underground on Mars.

Some may laugh, and you may scoff, but this is precisely what having a discussion with you is like.

You then move on to Scott Oliphint:

citing Scripture alone, or one’s reaction to Scripture alone, would by no means show that such a belief is itself anything more than an opinion. After all, the writings comprised by the biblical canon–whichever canon is the correct one, about which there is some disagreement–were produced by men, gathered together in a canon by men, and presented in that form by men as divinely inspired and thus inerrant. So whatever argument there may be for accepting Scripture as authoritative in the sense indicated would have to involve showing why the claim that the biblical canon is the inspired and inerrant word of God, not merely the word of men, is more than just an opinion, but is itself the “word of God,” in the sense of being an authentic expression of divine revelation.

And thus you fall upon that last corrupt bastion of Roman Catholic apologetics, “the Canon question”:

One must also show why the men who wrote, gathered together, and handed Scripture down to us as they did should be trusted, with the assent of faith, as divinely sanctioned authorities themselves. If one does not produce such an additional argument, then one will not have shown why the belief that Scripture contains the word of God, as distinct from mere accounts of what some men have said and done about God, is itself the word of God. One will have failed to show that such a belief is anything more than an opinion.

Now, since the CPIP rules out claiming that any post-apostolic human authorities are infallible, it cannot show why those who wrote, gathered together, and handed the Bible down to us are to be trusted with the assent of faith, as distinct from just giving their opinions by so doing. I realize, of course, that on the CPIP, the authors of Scripture are seen as infallible when writing Scripture, by virtue of being divinely inspired. But if there are no people after them who are themselves granted the gift of infallibility by some other means, then the affirmation that the human authors of Scripture were divinely inspired and thus infallible can, itself, only be made fallibly. Thus it can only be held and taught as an opinion. And what is held and taught as an opinion has simply not been shown to be much more than that: an authentic expression of divine revelation.

Why must one also show this? Certainly, it is preferable to you, but what’s “preferable” is precisely where the ad hoc, human opinion comes into play. If you take Paul’s words – the observer, any observer, “knows about these things” (Romans 1), because, as he says, “I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

God speaking to Adam and Eve was not “done in a corner”. God speaking to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses (who wrote these things down) were not done in a corner. The history of Israel, from Joshua, through the writer of Judges, to Samuel, Kings, the Chronicler, the prophets – none of this was “done in a corner”. There was certainly, to your eyes, anyway, “no principled basis is there for distinguishing authentic expressions of divine revelation as such from merely human opinions about how to identify and interpret divine revelation”

Just the scrolls, faithfully added to as God’s revelation was perceived, and the faithful copying of those Scriptures. The Jews had no “inspired table of contents”. They just faithfully copied those scrolls and toted them around. That was “sufficient”.

As evidence of this “sufficiency”, note that Jesus frequently asked, “What did Moses command you?” He said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” He said, Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.” Without the use of an infallibly-produced “table of contents”, Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” With no “inspired table of contents, “he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”


So, in the light of this, why do you posit the need for “people after them who are themselves granted the gift of infallibility by some other means”?

With respect to the New Testament, Michael Kruger has Michael Kruger has argued thoroughly and incisively to the effect that conservative Protestants do in fact have “a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon”.

He argues this on the same grounds: that these writings are “self-attesting” in the sense that these writings have “divine qualities” (in the same sense that Jesus said, “my sheep hear my voice”. As I’ve said repeatedly, God made human beings to have receptor that was capable of hearing His voice; which would resonate within them when they heard it). But that is not his only argument. He also notes that these writings, and only these writings, have “Apostolic origins”. And we know this for a number of reasons – they were the only writings extant from that time period; they were held and cherished and read among the churches from the very beginning. Any other writings said to be “authoritative” were checked against these conditions – apostolic authorization, held from the beginning – the individuals in question merely had to be “faithful”, not “infallible”.

Kruger’s case is intellectually airtight. It by far is “principled” enough to give believers the assurance that the words contained within those 27 books is without question “the formal proximate object of faith”.

This does not preclude, as wise individuals through history have always maintained, the need for leadership, the need for instruction. But this need is “ministerial”, not “Magisterial”.

The right question, as per the Lutherans (as I mentioned it above), is not “who can give me the right interpretation?” The right question is, “Where, precisely, is the locus of activity? Is it in God? Or is it in the human?”

There is the principled distinction

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

%d bloggers like this: