In Defense of Jargon

I have all kinds of good and interesting reasons for posting this reply on our blog for our readers to consider. None f them will I articulate in the body of this post, with the following excepting. “Mr. Jargon” (aka) William Ballow (sp?) has managed to get himself involved with James Sawn of a Calvinist persuasion concerning the conversion of some Calvinist to Catholicism. I am stepping in here simply because I am some what responsible. Jargon has been influenced by me and in fact is employing an argument at least cleaned up by myself. It is not that I don’t think that Jargon can’t adequately answer Mr. Swan but rather that I wish to spread out the work load. Mr. Swan’s post can be found here. My response will follow. 

Swan begins by telling his readers that he is going to point out the “hidden presuppositions” in Jargon’s comments. Jargon’s comments were,  “Infallibility is certainly not a necessary condition of knowledge or truth, but it is a necessary condition of *binding* doctrine and characteristic feature of whatever has been taught by God.”

We might expect some concerned expressed over divorcing infallibility from knowledge, as any good Platonist would do or some such worry. But what we get from Swan is not an elucidation of “hidden presuppositions” at all.  His initial response is, I kid you not, “Says who?” as if the person making an implicit argument or assertion needs to be anybody special. Jargon is proposing, if not arguing, that knowledge and infallibility are not mutually implying. It shouldn’t be difficult to see at least plausible cases where this is so. I know lots of things and I am not infallibile. I suspect the same goes for Mr. Swan. Swan’s confusion doesn’t stop there though. He then asks “Who determines an infallible binding doctrine?” Swan’s question is rather ambiguous. Does he mean, who identifies what is a binding doctrine or does he intend to ask, who’s acts are sufficient to produce binding doctrine? (“Determination” can have an epistemic or metaphysical connotation.) In the case of the latter, Swan should at least agree that at least God is, if not others such as the prophets, albeit derivatively so.  In the former, at least every day knowers can know and identify binding doctrine, though not necessarily in a normative way. 

Swan answers his own question, though it still doesn’t amount to actually identifying what Jargon wrote as a presupposition. “Why, it’s none other than whichever sola ecclesia group one places their faith in. In other words, one begins with placing their faith in a particular group/person.” As far as I can tell, Jargon doesn’t begin with the believe that the church is infallible. Simply stating ones believe that the church is so is insufficient to warrant the claim that it is a presupposition. It is quite possible that Jargon, among others, arrived at this belief as a conclusion of an argument or series of arguments. The fact that what Jargon wrote above is consistent with such a belief doesn’t imply that it is a presupposition of his. In any case, even if it were a presupposition of his, why would that be problematic in and of itself? Certainly everyone has their presuppositions, Swan not excepting. If the implication is supposed to be that he begins there and ends up here that merely shows consistency. If it is supposed to imply that you only get here from there, that is just more of the same, at best. If it is the idea that presuppositions are arbitrary, then this is a problem for everyone and not a consequence of Jargon’s position. Moreover, presuppositions can be transcedentally or indirectly justified so even if it were a presupposition, it in no way follows that Jargon is unjustified in holding to it. Swan needs to show that it is so. Axioms and presuppositions are not the same things. Clark and Van Til didn’t speak the same apologetic language at least for that reason. 

It seems possible that one could get to the conclusion concerning doctrine and knowledge from other starting points, like Protestant ones. In fact, I argue that Protestants not only should, but do endorse Jargon’s principle, namely that anything taught by God has a normative character beyond that of knowledge and therefore anything in theology proposed for subscription that does not qualify as being taught by God cannot bind the conscience or be normative in that way. That is, because Protestants believe that there are no infallible interpreters, no interpretation of Scripture is beyond possible revision or is infallible, including each and every confessional and credal statement as well as the canon of scripture as articulated in those statements. Protestants can, on their own principles, know which interpretation is correct, assuming it is so and they fulfill the other requisite conditions on knowledge, but that is insufficient to bind the conscience of any man. This is why Protestants have favored the right of private judgment of each, any and all individuals to accept, reject, question or debate any or all beliefs put forward for subscription. Knowing about and authoritatively proclaiming are not the same things and do not require the same conditions be met. Now Swan can reject the use of the word “doctrine” to speak of those infallible truths taught by God and reserve it for things professed by fallible men, either collectively or individually. (Of course Scripture doesn’t reserve the term in this way.) But this only makes the point, that for Protestants all teachings, even the canon of Scripture is always revisable. All teachings are negotiable.

Next Swan creates a straw man. Jargon articulates the claim that Protestantism, on its own principles could never produce and proclaim theological propositions with the normativity with which God proclaims such propositions. Swan replies “But a statement produced by a sola ecclesia group does carry divine authority, because they say so.” Such statements produced by those people who think that the church is infallible aren’t produced by all of those who think so. Jargon thinks the church is infallible, but he doesn’t think that he could produce such things or that those who can and have, do so, merely because they or he have said they could. That simply isn’t the position. Presumably, Jargon has arguments for thinking so and others in history have put forward arguments for thinking so and have not required agreement merely on the basis of “saying so.” Swan needs to address the arguments and show that they are bad ones. So far his statements have left Jargon’s statements untouched.Swan claims that those who think the church is infallible merely assume it or what is worse, argue circularly. I have seen no reason to think that such people like myself merely assume that the church is so. When asked, I am in the habit of giving reasons for it.

  Suppose though that the charge of circularity were to stick. Is this problematic? I am not clear why. Plenty of Protestant apologists argue not only in a circular manner (
Clark, Van Til, Frame, Bahnsen, even Montgomery on better days) but argue that it is entirely premissable, if not appropriate to do so. First because to try to argue in a non-circularly manner demonstrates a kind of epistemic pride in attempting to be like God, to have independent knowledge. Second, it is simply impossible for creatures to ultimately in a non-circular manner. How does one prove the existence of God? By arguing from science? How does one prove that science is reliable and gets us access to the truth? On the assumption that God exists and gives us reliable cognitive and sensory faculties and that nature is uniform. Granted that this circular is rather large, but Swan doesn’t specify which forms of circularity are problematic.  The example he gives of arguing from the Scriptures to the infallibility of the church can be widened rather easily so as to not appear viciously circular. In any case, Van Til, among others argued in a similar manner. We prove the authority of the Scrptures by reference to the idea of God that they set forward and we prove the existence of God by the Scriptures. 

Then Swan goes on to make some serious theological blunders in anthropology and Christology. His argument is essentially that the church can’t be infallible because it isn’t perfect in its humanity. Well this doesn’t follow, because infallibility doesn’t require perfection in humanity. None of the Apostles or Prophets were perfect humans and yet they exercised the divine power of infallibility in prophecy and teaching. Perfection and infallibility are not co-extensive.   Next, the humanity of the church per se isn’t the humanity of an aggregate or a heap of human individuals, but of Christ, for Christ is the image of God and we are made in that image. Does Swan wish to claim that humans can and have altered God’s image? Whence did humans gain this power to overturn the sovereign and irresistible will of the Creator?  Moreover, it is fallacious to argue from the part to the whole. It in no wise follows that if members of the church sins, that the church as a whole does.

“It is must be noted that it is intellectually dishonest to deny that a persuasive case can be made for Rome and that this does nothing but show an inability or unwillingness to engage the principled reasons and arguments that people give for making that move and validity of which is not dependent upon the person’s character or psychological state(s). Unless one can say that his understanding of Catholicism is the result of studying the relevant primary sources and representative texts/theologians, then one cannot claim to have done his homework or that his opinion deserves to be taken as seriously as one who has.”Swan then makes some rather uniformed comments. “Rarely do Roman apologists begin with what I look for in a compelling argument: the revealing of initial, unproven, faith claims. No, they keep these hidden away, buried under citations of church fathers and complicated arguments.”

  First, Jargon isn’t a Roman apologist. He’d have to be Catholic for that-I’m not either Mr. Swan. Second, all he is claiming is that an intelligent and persuasive case can be made for
Rome. Why get your panties in a wad over that? Aquinas, Scotus and Anselm weren’t idiots and their arguments can only be easily dismissed by mistakes in the thinking of such opponents or fools, and between the two there is often not much difference at all. The idea that someone can be epistemically justified in believing something, even something false is rather harmless, since justification is not co-extensive with truth or even knowledge.
  The fact that Swan isn’t even willing to grant the point says more about his own doxastic habits than anything Jargon wrote. Then he writes, “With Rome, even though the points follow, the argumentation which appeals to history and Scripture is not compelling anyway.” Well if the points logically follow, then Swan should be moved to accept them, since to not be moved by a logical argument shows some kind of defect on the receiving end. And I’d wager that Swan hasn’t read any substantial Catholic theology. At best his diet consists of popular works-Hahn, Sungenius, etc. Sit down with some Augustine, Aquinas, Alcuin or Scotus. Some Suarez or Bellermine with some desert? Besides, Rome isn’t the only kid on the block that  thinks the Church is infallible. Christianity is a lot bigger than your Catholic/Protestant 500 year old side show. 

47 Responses to In Defense of Jargon

  1. Jim says:

    Please remove the ‘Yes’ from that last line. You began to rephrase your sentence in the middle and the ‘Yes’ doesn’t apply anyway. The rest of the line answers your question.

  2. Jim says:

    Lucky for you (or not so, as the case may be) your RSS feed works, otherwise now that this is off of the front page, I’d have certainly missed the comments.

    You ask: “If the lesser important things are decided by God, wouldn’t the level of obligation be greater than what mortals could confer because of the authority that assigned their importance?”

    Looking back at my previous comment I now understand that I misread your question. So let me say that “obligation” is NEVER conferred (directly) by mortals – but only by God. If God prefers (deems important) that I obey a particular mortal, then it’s God that has created the obligation.

    Now, what do you mean by authority?

    I made a mistake using the term (which is why I didn’t repeat it in my last comment).

    It is their place in the schema which confers the property of importance.

    If God so deems it. But I see what you’re getting at.

    As for your errors, Martinich’s anthology on the philosophy of language will be sufficient to correct errors concerning concepts, propositions and statements. Propositions are not concepts but express a relation to concepts.

    And sufficient to dent my wallet also. Alston, without delving into the ontological status (though covering various views) identifies propositions as follows:

    Our concentration on beliefs in the sense of what is believed, and assertions [which Alston takes to be synonymous with statements] in the sense of what is asserted, as bearers of truth value has already brought us to propositions as the primary bearers. For what is asserted or what is believed, the content of an assertion or belief, is a proposition.

    All emphasis in the original, my comments in square brackets. I would have left this out if it didn’t have a bearing on what follows.

    I simply disagree that descriptive statements can have no normative force and it seems odd for an advocate of DCT to claim so.

    A proposition (what I have in mind if I believe it) is what is asserted by a statement. Descriptive statements assert facts – things that are. That is why I qualified my statement with “strictly speaking;” I understand that propositions *imply* other propositions some of what (at least) are prescriptive.

    No doubt you’ll view this as unnecessarily dialectical 🙂 . In any case it’s certainly true that a “mapping function” can be made from any descriptive proposition to a prescriptive one, as in B(s,p) => s ought to believe p. Is that enough?

    I any case, is one obligated to the same degree when the proposition, “You ought to believe the Trinity” when uttered by you and God the same or different?

    Yes. It has a much higher degree of obligation when God says it.

  3. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    If the lesser important things are decided by God, wouldn’t the level of obligation be greater than what mortals could confer because of the authority that assigned their importance?

    As for your errors, Martinich’s anthology on the philosophy of language will be sufficient to correct errors concerning concepts, propositions and statements. Propositions are not concepts but express a relation to concepts.

    God’s preference and importance are synonymous-fine. Now, what do you mean by authority? Second, won’t then the authority and the degree of obligation differ? If so, if I prefer and deem important the same things as God, does it mean that I have the same authority as he does since their semantic content will be identical?

    So yes, if preference and importance just is what authority amounts to, then an identity in meaning and preference will amount to equal authority. But Protestants deny that their ministers have equal authority with God, even when they recite Scripture.

    As for Schematic characteristic, I meant some feature of the schema of doctrines deemed important by God. It is their place in the schema which confers the property of importance.

    I simply disagree that descriptive statements can have no normative force and it seems odd for an advocate of DCT to claim so. I any case, is one obligated to the same degree when the proposition, “You ought to believe the Trinity” when uttered by you and God the same or different?

  4. Jim says:

    I’m not sure any of this is getting closer to a point. I certainly haven’t run across my dilemma somewhere in this particular thread (though, it may be just me). Like the end of most of Socrates’ interlocutors, I keep expecting a clincher.

    I will answer what you’ve put to me, though I certainly wouldn’t mind if you simply stated my shortcoming in this regard.

    DCT comes in lots of different versions, Platonic, Voluntaristic, etc. Which flavor did you have in mind?

    Does it matter in this case? I’m not sure of the subtle qualifications of various forms but in my case (and I would think in all Reformed minds) it would certainly be Voluntaristic. Whether or not it is also Platonic simply refers to the ontological status of the prescriptions (or more specifically, virtue itself – that is, if I understand how you’re using the term in conjunction with a meta-ethical theory) and I think it is quite besides the point. It would certainly also be deontological (at least in a broad sense).

    Putting aside equal importance won’t it be true that some of even the lesser important things will have greater obligation than those decided by mere mortals?

    I certainly don’t see why.

    Correcting your mistakes takes too much time and gets us off on rabbit trails. I am concerned to stick with the point.

    FWIW there is a certain ambiguity in the interpretation of this response which may or may not (such is the nature of ambiguity) detract from my overall opinion of your erudition (or at least your debate tactics). Though certainly no more than the intentional ambiguity in this very paragraph.

    You could at least provide an accessible reference.

    I can’t see how the assigning of importance actually helps us and doesn’t rather just move the issue. How does importance increase or decrease obligation? I can’t see the assigning of importance as any more informative than an appeal to autority. So, please flesh this out for me.

    I did specify that ‘importance’ was synonymous with ‘God’s preference,’ and since I maintain that aforementioned “Augustinian dialectic” (and therefore obviously a Voluntaristic interpretation of DCT) I need no go further.

    It seems your idea is something like this. God assigns some propositions more importance than others.

    Yes.

    Clearly you see the problem of identity of truth value being the basis.

    No. Actually I think you’ve misread me on this. But since we both seem to agree that “obligation” is external (to the individual being obligated) I let it go – there seemed no point in correcting you. The degree of obligation has nothing to do with “the problem of identity of truth value.” God assigns some *prescriptions* more importance than others (that is, He prefers them), simply because He does Job.

    It seems to me that signficance or importance is parasitic on centrality or some other schematic characteristic.

    Schematic characteristic … of what? A schematic characteristic of the particular meta-ethical system I subscribe to? I think you lost me here but hopefully what I’ve said above is enough to clarify.

    So the Trinity ought to be believed because it is more important than say, women wearing head coverings. Ok. What difference is there between when God says [“]X is more important[“] and I say it? There still seems to be a difference, which makes me think that your analysis hasn’t captured what is obviously true. Why doesn’t my “mapping” have the same normative force as the original?

    I’m assuming that you meant to insert quotes where I did (see the square brackets)

    There is a repeated equivocation in you questions. Strictly speaking, descriptive propositions have no normative force and therefore no obligation.

    “X is more important”

    … is descriptive.

    “You ought to believe that X is more important”

    … is prescriptive and certainly has more obligation when God says it than when you do. So where is the problem?

    Also, if meaning is anatomic in a given schema, won’t obligation be as well, and won’t this have a levelling effect on obligation? That is, why isn’t obligation transitive?

    I’m more and more sure we’re talking completely past each other. I decoupled “meaning” from “obligation” and (as any good deontological Voluntaristic DC Theorist would 🙂 ) located “obligation” with God (God’s preference, to be more precise). How then does any characteristic of “meaning” (which I take to be the proposition itself) imply that the “obligation” has the same characteristic?

  5. acolyte says:

    DCT comes in lots of different versions, Platonic, Voluntaristic, etc. Which flavor did you have in mind?

    Putting aside equal importance won’t it be true that some of even the lesser important things will have greater obligation than those decided by mere mortals?

    As for obligation, lets just run with it as some kind of property for now. I usually don’t think of them as intrinsically quantifiable in any exact way anyhow.

    Correcting your mistakes takes too much time and gets us off on rabbit trails. I am concerned to stick with the point.

    I can’t see how the assigning of importance actually helps us and doesn’t rather just move the issue. How does importance increase or decrease obligation? I can’t see the assigning of importance as any more informative than an appeal to autority. So, please flesh this out for me.

    It seems your idea is something like this. God assigns some propositions more importance than others. Clearly you see the problem of identity of truth value being the basis. It seems to me that signficance or importance is parasitic on centrality or some other schematic characteristic.

    So the Trinity ought to be believed because it is more important than say, women wearing head coverings. Ok. What difference is there between when God says X is more important and I say it? There still seems to be a difference, which makes me think that your analysis hasn’t captured what is obviously true. Why doesn’t my “mapping” have the same normative force as the original?

    Also, if meaning is anatomic in a given schema, won’t obligation be as well, and won’t this have a levelling effect on obligation? That is, why isn’t obligation transitive?

  6. Jim says:

    Perry,

    I thought you had just decidede to drop this. – I just assumed my thickheadedness must have grown too frustrating.

    So please explain to me what you mean by authority and how this would account for the difference in obligation relative to speakers

    In short, I’m quite partial to Divine Command Theory.

    Also, I’m not sure I have a good grasp on exactly what this thing we’ve been calling “obligation” is, or how it can be quantified.

    I suppose – completely off of the top of my head and given what I already said about DCT – the quantity of obligation would correspond to the importance with which God has placed on the particular prescription within His own scheme. If all things are equally preferable to Him (‘preferable’ being synonymous with ‘importance’) then all prescriptions would be equally obligatory.

    To measure my obligation to obey any particular prescription it would need to be mapped back to God’s scheme. Why I would be obligated by what you say would include my obligation to God to believe the truth (given, of course, that you’ve spoken the truth). The amount I’m obligated to follow an elder’s request would depend on several factors including the fact that God requires me to submit to their authority. All measure of obligation then – I would think – depend on God.

    Of course, if there were no God, then prescriptions are meaningless and have no objective obligatory aspect.

    As a side:

    Propositions are identical with the meaning of a statement (this isn’t true even on a Neo-Fregian gloss, let alone Wittgenstein or Quine, but I’ll let it go for now.) I will even let go the conflation of concepts and propositions and the misrelation between statements and propositions, since statements express, but do not necessarily refer to propositions.

    The only thing that I recall reading that explicitly deals with the issue of the ontological status of statements, sentences and propositions is Alston’s “A Realist Conception of Truth” (and I’ve read a large portion of Plantinga – if he dealt with it explicitly then I missed it) so simply pointing out my mistakes is less informative than correcting them – which would be appreciated.

    Jim

  7. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    Let me try it another way. Let’s assume you are correct. Propositions are identical with the meaning of a statement (this isn’t true even on a Neo-Fregian gloss, let alone Wittgenstein or Quine, but I’ll let it go for now.) I will even let go the conflation of concepts and propositions and the misrelation between statements and propositions, since statements express, but do not necessarily refer to propositions.

    So let’s take 1*

    1* You ought to believe the Trinity.

    It is uttered by me and God. Now you want to say something like the following. The statement is true and so as uttered by me and God the degree of obligation differs because God has more authority than I do. Right?

    Ok, what does “more authority” amount to here? I can’t see how God’s having “authority” adds any obligatory content. The fact that God always gets things correct and necessarily so, seems different than authority. In which case, by your gloss, I should believe 1* not because of divine authority but because God is infallible.

    So please explain to me what you mean by authority and how this would account for the difference in obligation relative to speakers.

  8. Jim says:

    Here is our point of disagreement:

    The proposition is the same when uttered by different parties, but its form is not.

    No matter what you’re understanding of “form” is (whether you give it the Hellenistic spin you seem to be, or understand it in a colloquial sense) there is a complete disconnect here. A proposition is synonymous with the meaning of a statement. The meaning of a statement, or the concept it refers to, is identical, no matter who refers to it, God, Paul or you.

    1) “You ought to believe that the Chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”

    (1) is a sentence that refers to a proposition – that is, the meaning that is intended by the uttering of the sentence. That meaning, the referent of the statement, is not different if God says it or if the Westminster Divines do.

    How then can the ‘form’ of the proposition differ if the IDENTITY of the proposition doesn’t differ?

    So, separating the source of the obligation from the proposition (which I gladly concede), the “difference between divinely commissioned teachers like prophets and apostles” and anyone else, is that they are speaking for God – that is, they are speaking God’s words and not (only) their own. It is precisely because the source of that obligation is God, and not that the nature/form/identity/essence/substance of the propositions that they utter is somehow different, that the obligation entailed by their utterances is different.

  9. acolyte says:

    If your gloss were right, then should be no difference between divinely commissioned teachers like prophets and apostles and myself, but there certainly seems to be.

    Now, would there be a difference between a truth uttered by me and God? If so, what? I don’t find “authority” to be all that informative.

    The proposition is the same when uttered by different parties, but its form is not. So that in terms of the concept that gets uttered, it is the same, but in terms of obligation, there is clearly a difference in the degree of obligation. Suppose the WCF is true (its not) and suppose the same things are taught to me by God verbally. Does what I learn in both cases math up in terms of obligation, given that one is a construct of fallible agents and one is not? I don’t think so.

    Put it another way. If you and say Paul get into an argument over his interpretation of an OT passage, which person carries the greater degree of obligation, you or paul?

  10. Jim says:

    Dogmatic statements as taught by God, in the mode that God teaches them have a specific obligatory caharacter. Do dogmatic statments produced by Protestant bodies match it or not?

    The problem with my above (previous comment) answer is that I’m trying to understand “obligatory character” as inhering to the prescription itself, but I simply cannot –(keep in mind that this doesn’t change what I already conceded, that true prescriptions imply obligation).

    If the obligation rests with the authority behind the prescription then I can admit that the same prescription uttered by God has a different “obligatory character” than when it is uttered by the anyone else (Protestant bodies or otherwise).

    If we do not allow for that, then *you* cannot say that a prescription uttered by a Protestant body doesn’t have the same “obligatory character” as when God says it – for it’s the SAME proposition.

    I suppose you will let me know why this is problematic.

  11. Jim says:

    Dogmatic statements as taught by God, in the mode that God teaches them have a specific obligatory caharacter. Do dogmatic statments produced by Protestant bodies match it or not?

    Yes to the extent that any “dogmatic statment[] produced by Protestant bodies” matches “a dogmatic statement[] as taught by God.”

    No otherwise.

  12. acolyte says:

    I take normativity to at least form some of the content of obligation. Most metaethicists that I know of agree and give all kinds of interesting reasons which I will not repeat here, even those who reject obligation in their ethical theories liek Virtue Ethicists do.

    I can’t see how the issue of control over belief forming mechanisms is sufficient to address the point. Control or not, you can be obligated regardless of any fiduciary disposition or belief towards the object of belief, as Moses was when he first encountered God and Pharaoh was consistently. They had no fiduciary disposition or belief (at that point for Moses) but were still obligated. This I think shows that your account of fiduciary dipositions and belief forming mechanisms are not sufficient or necessary for the kind of obligation under discussion. Consequently, I am not interested in whether ones does believe God or not. The question is what kind of obligation do dogmatic statements possess?

    I am not worried about how we can be obligated if we can’t believe. Partly because I reject the Augustinian dialectical structure on which that question is built. And secondly, it is not the issue under discussion. Dogmatic statements as taught by God, in the mode that God teaches them have a specific obligatory caharacter. Do dogmatic statments produced by Protestant bodies match it or not?

    If not, that seems to be problematic, or at the least revealing.

  13. Jim says:

    I’ve realize were some of my confusion has come from. Given any proposition P, I can express a prescriptive proposition

    1) S ought to believe P

    When I said “It seems clear [that it] is not the case [that the] degree of obligation inheres in some way to the proposition itself” I was thinking of ‘P’ and not (1), as the example I followed up with then deomonstated.

    Certainly, as I granted above, you are correct, (1) implies obligation (though P may not) as *obviously* any true prescriptive proposition would. Prior to the comment where you called this inconsistency to my attention I had said “I will grant […] that prescriptive propositions admit degrees of obligation (at least in a deontological ethical system)” so that later flub must have been a momentary loss cognitive coordination (or at least clarity). 🙂

  14. Jim says:

    I don’t see why obligation or normativity can’t be a property of propositions.

    I don’t think ‘obligation’ and ‘normativity’ are the same thing. In fact, at this point, I’m not even sure how we’re using the word ‘normative.’

    OK. I can see that when viewed from within the context of any ethical system that accepts that there are meaningful objective prescriptive statements, that the very fact that a statement is prescriptive (i.e. deals with morals – as opposed to descriptive) will be (almost tautologically) equivalent to admitting that a moral obligation exists.

    Does that concede enough for you to make your point?

    The example you give seems like a false analogy for it turns on extrinsic or instrumental value.

    This is clearly true, but I think my main point remains intact. That is, that I do not have the type of control over my belief forming mechanisms required to make ‘obligation to believe’ have any effect on whether or not I actually do.

    But how about Moses at the burning bush. What kind of obligation was Moses under to believe? How would the gloss you give map on to that case

    I do not understand your point. It certainly *seems* to map.

    One is obligated to believe what God speaks regardless of how much faith one has in him or even if one has no faith in him at all.

    And this makes my point. The objective and external fact that I am under obligation to believe what God says doesn’t seem to have much bearing on whether or not I actually DO. However, the faith I have in God – that is, the trust I have in Him; how trustworthy I consider Him (and He is infinitely trustworthy) – is determinative, for me.

    … and I believe the example of Pharaoh is anther demonstration to this effect.

    Now, before you ask me:

    If God requires us to believe and therefore puts us under ‘obligation’ to believe – how can it be that we have no ability to comply?

    … please bear in mind who your talking to 🙂

    Jim

  15. acolyte says:

    Here’s something else to chew on.

    Pharaoh didn’t believe in Yahweh and probably didn’t know much about him nor cared too. He probably had very few beleifs, true or not about yaweh. And surely didn’t have any faith in him. What kind or degree of obligation was he under to assent to Yaweh’s demands?

  16. acolyte says:

    Per Carl and God, is this true for things that God says? I can’t see that the property is in Carl but in the fact that he is a more reliable source, he is more likely to be correct. With God such statements obligate me for entirely different reasons, if not God and my calculator would be nearly equals. In any case, I don’t see why obligation or normativity can’t be a property of propositions. If it can’t, then we can make no sense of lots of ethical glosses on propositions. But we do. Moral value, which has normative content seems to be a property of propositions.

    2nd. Beliefs or propositions don’t work that way? The example you give seems like a false analogy for it turns on extrinsic or instrumental value. At least for many theories in normative ethics this isn’t true. And especially for deontological ones it is false. Which is why deontologists would give entirely different reasons for believing such a thing. It makes me worry that deontology turns on such a point.

    It isn’t the property of the proposition at all or the consequences that would ensue if you did not assent. So you would need a case where the moral property was intrinsic, and I think there are lots of cases where that is the case. The ought in the case you construct then has nothing to do with the proposition, but it isn’t clear that it bears no intrinsic relationship to any proposition. My account can easily admit such cases. What it couldn’t admit would be such a situation where God obligates and the normative content is extrinsic. Even Voluntaristic Divine Command Theorists wou;dn’t deny the intrinsicality of normativity to divine utterances. Try again.

    So I agree that the point is existentially uninformative (Perhaps neutral or idle is better than meaningless.) in the case you give. But how about Moses at the burning bush. What kind of obligation was Moses under to believe? How would the gloss you give map on to that case? Does the same extrinsic and teleological relationship obtain there? I can’t see how, and these are exactly the kinds of cases that are germane to our discussion.

    I don’t think your internal account will work. One is obligated to believe what God speaks regardless of how much faith one has in him or even if one has no faith in him at all. Proper functon or not-intellectual virtues or not. So the states you denote aren’t necessary. At best your account gives us only sufficient conditions. Secondly, it is quite easy to think of cases where people attribute fiduciary properties to sources and they aren’t obligated to believe them at all and consequently I can’t see how you capture the sufficient conditions either.

  17. Jim says:

    Apolonio,

    One more thing. I believe the following is exactly correct:

    It could be that compulsion, to use your vocabulary, corresponds to the degree of your the function in your cognitive faculties

    … and was considerting belief formation in the specific case of the testimony of others.

    Thanks again,
    Jim

  18. Jim says:

    Apolonio,

    I don’t think that’s true. It could be that compulsion, to use your vocabulary, corresponds to the degree of your the function in your cognitive faculties; […] it may not be “faith in the source” or even an internalist matter.

    A few things here which may clarify: I listed my assumption that we’re dealing with properly functioning cognitive abilities and took for granted that it was uncontroversial that we validly formulate beliefs on the basis of the testimony of others. Not to say that that is the ONLY case in which we formulate beliefs – certainly we also fomulate beliefs based on direct sensory input also. I also avoided using the frame “true beliefs” and simply said “beliefs” to avoid a temptation to discuss ‘knowledge’ rather than ‘doxastics’ which I think is what’s at issue here.

    Thanks for the note though,
    Jim

  19. Apolonio says:

    Jim,

    I won’t say much here because I’ll allow you and Perry to have your own conversation. But with regards to your last statement about “degree of compulsion then will probably correspond to the degree to which I have faith in the source,” I don’t think that’s true. It could be that compulsion, to use your vocabulary, corresponds to the degree of your the function in your cognitive faculties; the less it is dysfunctional the more it will properly function and therefore compel you to have true beliefs. So it may not be “faith in the source” or even an internalist matter.

  20. Jim says:

    I think I understand what you’re asking now. You said:

    Meeting the conditions on knowledge compels one to assent to a specific degree. Meeting the conditions for something proclaimed by God do so to the maximal extent.

    So you’re question could be rephrased:

    Is the degree of obligation between these two cases identical or different:
    1) P is justified in believing that he has a toothbrush (and he actually has one)
    2) P is commanded by God to believe in angles.

    You want to say that P has more obligation to believe in the case of (2).

    As it is, I have several problems with this line of thinking. First, you’ve implied this degree of obligation’(you’ve been calling it ‘normativity’ – I’d prefer to avoid that word – too imprecise) inheres in some way to the proposition itself. It seems clear this is not the case. Consider:

    3) Extraterrestrial life exists

    According to what you’ve been indicating, my degree of obligation in believing (3) would be different if Carl Sagan said it, as opposed to God having said it. The obligation is not inherent in the proposition but in the authority of its source.

    Secondly and more importantly, beliefs simply don’t work this way. As a hypothetical example, what if it were the case that the death of an innocent child will be prevented if you would believe that the moon is made of green cheese (as the oft repeated example goes)? I think you would admit that:

    4) You ought to believe the moon is made of green cheese. this *ought* is prescriptive in nature and implies obligation

    – and this would engender a particularly high degree of obligation. However, if you had the doxastic apparatus capable of such a feat I think you would be clinically pathological.

    Therefore it seems if there is some obligation to believe certain propositions, then this obligation is purely academic – it in no way helps get me from one end of my day to the other. The point is existentially meaningless.

    However, there is another descriptive way to consider ‘compel’ (which, in this case, would be a better word than ‘obligate’). That is, as an *internal* compulsion. As Plantinga would say, if my doxastic faculties, having been designed for acquiring truth, are properly functioning (and in the appropriate environment, yadda yadda yadda … ), then ‘compulsion’ would simply be that mechanism that in fact, drives the creation of beliefs.

    The degree of compulsion then will probably correspond to the degree to which I have FAITH in the source. Having faith in God and very little in Carl Sagan, I’d be much more likely to believe (3) on God’s authority than on Sagan’s, while your average secularist would be in the completely opposite position.

    Of course, I’m not sure where this leave us. My apologies if I’ve derailed your discussion.

    Jim

  21. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    You’re correct, it isn’t a listed premise. It is a suppressed premise. People aren’t fully self conscious about it though. I try to be.:)

    I didn’t mean to ask for the names of types of circular reasoning but an articulation of what they consist in since many people misidentify the concept behind petitio principii.
    I agree that none of the things constitute the argument explicitly, except that they form a suppressed premise. It’s transcendental all the way down. If facts are anatomic, then this includes facts about arguments.

    I have seen convincing examples of TAG. Russ Manion has formulated a few, either as disjunctive syllogisms or in an informal dialogical format. So for all other positions, I don’t think refuting them one by one is required. One only needs to identify principled problems common to all possible positions and then formulate a TAG from there. God at least solves epistemic problems, though the Trinity is adept at a whole lot more.
    I wasn’t charging Swan with hypocrisy but inconsistency. At least that is what I thought I was doing.

    To say that propositions are either normative or not, is not a statement about normativity per se, but about whether normativity can be a property of propositions. My comments were about the kinds of normative content in propositions. Substitute normative for prescriptive and I don’t see that it makes a significant difference for my purposes.

    That is, I am not asking if some propositions can be classified as prescriptive, but does the intensity or degree of prescriptive force vary? I think it does. Perhaps it is my own cognitive limitation but I can’t see how prescriptive in terms of the ethics of doxastic states and habits lacks normative content. So I am not sure that there is an advance in using prescriptive as opposed to obligation.

    I think you are construing prescription too widely, as in terms of non-moral value. Scrambled eggs are good, but not morally so. A prescription from a physician is normative, but not necessarily morally so. A prescription from God is. To wax Kantian, morality isn’t hypothetical. In any case, construing prescription more narrowly or perhaps potently, in the field of ethics does include the notion of obligation. For God to prescribe a belief for you doesn’t amount to a hypothetical suggestion. It carries with it normative content.

    Knowledge carries with it a normativity. Revealed truths do as well but their power to compel assent is far greater. True, both statements are descriptive, but even descriptive statements can refer to normative content, which I think they do and that was the point. Meeting the conditions on knowledge compels one to assent to a specific degree. Meeting the conditions for something proclaimed by God do so to the maximal extent.

    Propositions do not (in my mind) admit degrees of ‘prescriptiveness.’ They are, or they are not. ‘Obligation’ on the other hand, comes by degrees – as your excellent example demonstrates.

    Surely my statements need cleaning up, though you should be able to see the basic argument. To narrow the discussion, we can do away with the descriptive housing for normative content, and, just as I wished previously, discuss the degree to which that normative content varies, why it varies and if claiming a lower level of normativity for Christian beliefs, for which one can be admitted to or excommunicated from, membership in the church is problematic.

    So perhaps we can start with something like the following.

    A. You ought to believe the Trinity.

    I do think that Protestants agree with my point. Their bodies never promulgate theological statements with the degree of normativity of theological statements promulgated by God. That is because their bodies are fallible. They put them forward as, this is the best that men can come up with given this divine matter.
    Currently, my capable hands have already fed, bathed and put to sleep three children and now they are going to aid my capable eyes in reading 100 pages of meta-ethics tonight, as soon as my capable feet can get my incapable back to lie down.

  22. Jim says:

    Perry,

    Each and every statement in the section of your post on CVT is certainly (and obviously) true. So I’m somewhat puzzled when you conclude this well worded perfectly clear set of statements with “so I don’t understand how we get out the existence of God as an implicit premise in any argument for God’s existence.”

    The objective fact that the ability to argue presupposes God’s existence doesn’t mean that an argument form that recognizes this (like a CVT reductio ad absurdum) lists as a premise, God’s existence.

    > I think you need to specify the kinds of circularity
    > conceptually rather than by examples.

    In my previous post (1) was clearly an example of simple question begging – I’m assuming we all have the concept well in hand. This species already has a name, “petitio principii.”

    (2) was an example of demonstrating that a particular proposition is self defeating. This clearly exhibits a feature that may analogically be called a ‘circle.’ Clearly (1) and (2) don’t exhibit the same species of circularity. Let’s call this species “demonstration of self-refuting absurdity”

    VanTil’s transcendental argument, if there is a successful particular instance of it, is *framed from the perspective* that, as you say, ALL facts are God’s facts. It is *framed from the perspective* that, as you say, it is impossible to isolate any given fact and argue for God’s existence from [said fact] or to successfully deny God’s existence by giving [said facts] a non-Christian understanding. It is *framed from this perspective* but none of these things constitute the argument itself. While it is certainly true that some presuppositionalists argue this way ( E.g. “God is a precondition for knowledge – you claim you know things – therefore God exists. HA! YOU LOOSE!”) this is NOT the argument. Any specific instance of this argument is structured as you described transcendental arguments are – i.e. as (3) is structured (note – the *magic* in (3) occurs in the italics 🙂 ).

    The circularity appears in CVT’s view of things (again, NOT in any instance of the argument) and is simply the circularity of an all encompassing coherent system that assumes, as you say, that all facts are anatomically related.

    As a side note: I’ve never seen a convincing example of TAG. I have seen examples of someone who understands the fact that all facts are God’s facts and has been able to show the futility of claims to knowledge in opponents. In general there are two problems that I see, the first of which was a frequent topic of conversation back when James Anderson used to run a very active VanTil list (many years ago now). 1) TAG may require the complete refutation of all other positions in order to work (like I said – it does great one opponent at a time). 2) In my opinion, it ends up presenting God an academic heuristic necessary to solve epistemic problems.

    Now, I get the sense all this is not exactly all that important and is somewhat of a rabbit hole. Originally my only point was that your accusation that James Swann was being hypocritical was itself uncharitable and requires some grasping. Personally I think you’d have been better off pointing out that he may have misrepresented Jargon’s original argument.

    On “normativity,” I’d like to point out that I think we’re using the term differently. I tried to clarify the way I was using the term in my post when I said “propositions are either normative or they are not – it’s a classification of proposition.” I am using it synonymously with ‘prescriptive.’

    Consequently when you say “normativity admits of degrees. I am obligated to obey the state, but I am far more obligated to obey God.” It seems you are using the term as synonymous with ‘obligation.’

    Propositions do not (in my mind) admit degrees of ‘prescriptiveness.’ They are, or they are not. ‘Obligation’ on the other hand, comes by degrees – as your excellent example demonstrates.

    >Is the degree of normativity between these
    > two propositions identical or different?
    >1. P knows that he has a tooth brush.
    >2. P is commanded by God to believe in angels.

    This is confused (even with the clarification off line). I will grant (for now, with little reflection) that *prescriptive* propositions admit degrees of obligation (at least in a deontological ethical system) when one considers the degree to which one is obligated to *OBEY* them. However, both of the above propositions are descriptive, not prescriptive.

    Let’s cut to the chase, eh? Any descriptive proposition (e.g. any theological dogma) implies a prescriptive statement when one considers my obligation to believe it (I suppose). I’m not so dense that I can’t see the general direction you’re going (as was evident in your first response to me). But the above line of questioning is so imprecise and muddled that I cannot even reformulate it with this in mind. It would be appreciated then, if your capable hands were to do it.

    Jim

  23. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    Arguing for God’s existence includes every other fact because facts are anatomically related. By that I mean that every fact is God’s fact. All facts are therefore intrinsically related, as are beliefs about them. This is why it is impossible to isolate any given fact and argue for God’s existence from it or to successfully deny God’s existence by giving them a non-Christian understanding. Consequently there isn’t one fact about the world, say causation that proves God’s existence, but every fact proves God’s existence. There is therefore no neutral ground between the believer and non-believer but there is common ground.

    Arguing for God’s existence includes pushing off epistemic, ethical, semantic and metaphysical squatters off their Christian lands into the abyss of nihilism. This is what arguing from the impossibility of the contrary amounts to. So no, I am quite familiar with Kantian transcendental methodology and I am not confusing it with transcendent objects. It is just that for CVT, he endorses a kind of holism about beliefs and facts so that even the ability to make an argument presupposes the existence of God. So when arguing with an atheist, when they ask for evidence that proves that there is a God, we simply say “You are.”

    Consequently, even arguing transcendentally presupposes God’s existence, because God is the necessary precondition for logic. So I don’t understand how we get out the existence of God as an implicit premise in any argument for God’s existence. Transcendental arguments usually have the following form.

    There is some undisputed phenomena. There is some disputed phenomena. The disputed phenomena is the necessary precondition for the undisputed phenomena. The undisputed phenomena is true, therefore the disputed is also.
    I think you need to specify the kinds of circularity conceptually rather than by examples.

    As to your answers to my questions regarding Normativity I think you missed the boat. My question wasn’t whether propositions about normativity have a truth value. We can take that as uncontroversial between Protestants and other traditional Christians. So I am not asking, is it true that x is normative or false that it is so? Rather I am asking, is normativity a simple property such that possession of it is an all or nothing deal? Such can be seen in the paradox of the Meno. Knowledge at that stage for Plato is a simple property, so how is learning possible? If you know what you want to learn about, then you already must know everything about the thing, in which case, there is nothing to learn. If on the other hand, you are ignorant of it, then you are totally ignorant of it, so that it would be impossible to learn about it. Knowledge seems to admit of no degrees.

    What I am driving at here is the idea that given that a specific proposition has normative content, are all normative propositions created equal? Do they bind or obligate to the same degree? I think the answer is obviously no, they don’t. Consequently, normativity admits of degrees. I am obligated to obey the state, but I am far more obligated to obey God.

    Is the degree of normativity between these two propositions identical or different?
    1. P knows that he has a tooth brush.
    2. P is commanded by God to believe in angels.

  24. Don Bradley says:

    I may be out of my league in this crowd, but I’ll take an amateur stab at David Richard’s question. God is transcendant, unknowable, beyond all human understanding or language. He exists outside our known universe of knowledge, because everything we know exists in this created realm. Our language, even the language of scripture, is incapable of explaining what He is. However, God has condescended to use human language, customs, reason, sacraments, etc. to bring us to some kernel of knowledge of that which is beyond our comprehension. So I’ll use the tools of reason that God has given, and perchance put a dent in an atheist’s logic. Ultimately in a debate with an atheist it is a stalemate; I have drank my Kool-Aid, and he his, because neither of us can give material proof of that which is immaterial and outside the created order when the only means we have is that which exists inside the created order we dwell in.

  25. Jim says:

    Hello all,

    In case it’s not obvious, Don and I have a history (the last time we got together we drank too much at an Orthodox seminary … 🙂 ). Don independently sent me the link to this post thinking I might find it interesting – only after I had two comments posted to it (small world).

    Perry,

    On CVT. Perhaps you are right, though I have never understood him this way. You say “arguing for the existence of God in a transcendental manner includes every other belief about God and the world and every other fact.”

    It would seem (perhaps mistakenly) that you’re construing a ‘transcendental’ argument as if it were some sort of ‘transcendent’ (so to speak) argument and therefore in incorporates the entire set of all axioms and their derivatives in an argument as premises and/or conclusion.

    It’s my understanding that VanTil objected to arguing from particular facts to a conclusion that God exists. Instead, since he viewed God’s existence as a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of human experience itself, and therfore, for arguing at all, that one ought to demonstrate THAT fact. The form that argument should take, according to CVT, is that of a, sort of, reductio ad absurdum (Bahnsen frequently called it an “argument from the impossibility of the contrary”), where one would show that it is impossible for God to NOT exist without also denying the intelligibility of human experience in general (whether any particular argument succeeds in demonstrating this, I can’t say).

    This *implies* what William said: that “arguing for the existence of God presupposes the existence of God” and hence has features that can be likened to a circle – but this is NOT the argument itself, and therefore this likening to a circle is not in the same way that a question begging argument is likened to a circle.

    1) “Miracles have never occurred, therefore there is no such thing as miracles.”
    2) “’Statements are only meaningful in that they can be empirically verified.’ – cannot be empirically verified.”
    3) “It is impossible for God to not exist, for if He didn’t, knowledge itself would be impossible – some demonstration to that affect

    These are three different species of “circularity,” not three different sizes of the same species of circle.

    Now that the preliminaries are out of the way.

    > Is normativity an all or nothing deal or does it admit of degrees?
    > Does the WCF and the Bible have the same normativity?

    Propositions are either normative or they are not – it’s a classification of proposition.

    Let me rephrase what I think what you’re asking. Since we were originally talking about ‘theological statements’ (or ‘dogma’), It seems you’re referring to my obligation to believe them as ‘normative.’ Therefore, for any theological (dogmatic) statement S, it is either true or false that:

    1) S *ought* to be believed (that is, S “compels” belief)

    (1) is a normative proposition. By ‘degree’ then you can mean either the ‘degree’ to which I am ‘compelled,’ or the degree to which I believe. Or both.

    As it is I can follow any of these options down several paths but since I’m not sure where you’re going, or even if I’ve simply clouded the issue further, I’ll let you respond before posting any further thoughts.

    Thanks
    Jim

  26. David Richards says:

    Sorry Perry, I misunderstood you and consequently framed my question wrongly… of course I understand you and Photios to deny the validity of arguments for the existence of God using natural theology, e.g. God as being and so forth. But what I really needed to ask was, if arguing for the existence of God presupposes the existence of God, ahd hence have a circular feature to them, then what makes belief in God justified? Once again I apologize, my thoughts are a bit scattered right now and I am trying to gather them. Why would a radical atheist for example be justified in becoming a devout Christian and what basis might he have to shift his presuppositions from non-belief in God to belief in God? Hope that wasn’t too muddled for you.

  27. acolyte says:

    David,

    I didn’t argue anywehre that arguments for the existence of God are impossible. I was just trying to illustrate that they presuppose the existence of God and hence have a circular feature to them.

  28. David Richards says:

    Perry,

    So how do we address unbelievers? If arguments for the existence of God in the order of knowing are impossible, what reason would an agnostic or atheist have to believe and repent? Where do we start in our dialog with agnostics and atheists when we believe that God is beyond being?

  29. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    If the difference is types of circularity, what property differentiates types of circularity? I am aware that the argument is transcendental or at least it is supposed to be. I am not sure how given the kind of holism that CVT endorses that the argument still isn’t circular. The fact of God’s existence is anatomic as is the epistemic status of every belief in the process of discovery for CVT. Consequently arguing for the existence of God in a transcendental manner includes every other belief about God and the world and every other fact. While there may be a difference in the order of knowing and being for CVT, and I am not even clear that there is given his explicit identification of nature and grace, a gross pelagianism, it is still true that the metaphysical and epistemic facts are inter and intra anatomically related. This is part of what licenses CVT in his transcendental argument for God in inferring that God is the necessary precondition for knowledge.

    If God doesn’t exist in the order of being, then arguments for the existence of God in the order of knowing are not possible. But arguments for the existence of God in the order of knowing are possible, therefore God exists in the order of being.

    If arguments for the existence of God in the order of knowing are not possible, then God doesn’t exist in the order of being. God does exist in the order of being, therefore arguments for the existence of God are possible.

    A ≡ G

    The fact that you are arguing for God assumes that God exists, as any good Postmodernist will suggest. How is that not circular reasoning?

  30. Don Bradley says:

    All of you need to change the specific article on what is binding to fit the occasion. Let’s poke Jim where it hurts……… let me see……… oh, yes; Mary is Theotokos and not merely Christotokos.

    Jim, you have no idea the good it does my soul to watch you get ganged up on; like wine making the soul glad.

  31. acolyte says:

    Jim,

    Let me try a different route. Let’s assume the case of eating meat sacraficed to idols. Assume false beleifs can and in some instances do have normative content. Fine.

    Suppose we have a person who rejects eating such meat on the basis that Paul says. Now, compare the putative normativity of that belief with a belief in the Trinity.

    Is normativity an all or nothing deal or does it admit of degrees? If so, do your knowledge claims, when in fact you do have knowledge and God’s admit of the same degree of normativity? Does the WCF and the Bible have the same normativity?

    If not, why not? And what is the normative status of the canon?

  32. Rob Grano says:

    Right, David. A Protestant really has no ground to call another Protestant a heretic.

  33. David Richards says:

    Jim,

    I don’t think Perry was saying that in order for a statement to bind the conscience it must be infallible, but that in order to bind the conscience it must be beyond the possibility of revision. Since no formal teaching in Protestantism is infallible, it follows that none of them are beyond the possibility of revision and hence no Protestant ‘dogma’ can bind the conscience. Liberal Protestants are just being consistent then with Protestant principles.

  34. Jim says:

    In my above ‘thanks’ I inadvertently left off Apolino who pointed out the same thing missing from my understanding.

    It took four of you repeating the same thing in different ways for it to get through my head. What hope is there for me as things get more complicated … 🙂

    I’ll organize my thoughts and post tonight. Thanks again.

    Jim

  35. Jim says:

    Rob, William and Photius,

    Rob, Thanks for the clarification. It’s made me understand what I’ve been missing in the last several exchanges.

    My apologies to Photius, who’s post was a concise statement of the same distinction that you explained – and while I thought he missed my point (hence my sarcastic response), though I am embarrassed to admit, it’s clear I missed his.

    I have several things to add to this that will clarify things (I think). I will respond a little later when I have more time.

    Thanks again for the clarification from all three of you.

    Jim

  36. Rob Grano says:

    Jim,

    Allow me to chime in here. I don’t think you can necessarily make the same truth claims for moral statements as you can for dogmatic ones. What one person sees as a sin for himself may not, in fact, be a sin for another, hence St. Paul’s admonition neither to judge nor to cause a brother to stumble. This, however, doesn’t apply to dogma in the same way; no one is free to reject a dogma for conscience sake, despite the fact that neither can a person be coerced into accepting a dogma, only reasoned into acceptance of it. Matters of conscience are a different sort of truth than matters of dogma.

    Obviously, though, if a person believes a falsity to be the truth, and if they are consistent, then of course they will see that falsity as in some sense binding on their conscience. As Chesterton said, to think otherwise is to be insane, wicked, or at very least extremely inconsistent (‘I know that this belief is untrue, but I choose to hold it anyways’ or ‘So what if it’s true? That doesn’t mean I have to believe it.’) But the fact that this occurs doesn’t show that the falsity is correct, only that the individual isn’t.

  37. Apolonio says:

    I agree with Jim on this one. Something does not have to be infallible in order for it to be binding. But I think Perry was speaking about doctrines being dogmatically binding.

  38. William B says:

    Jim,

    According to Protestants, Scripture alone is infallibile. The Westminster Confession as a fallible confession of faith is not *irreformable* or binding upon the conscience of believers as God’s teaching is or would be. Whatever is taught by God *IS* irreformable, infallible and obligatory teaching; the Westminster confession is not. For example, Catholics and Orthodox believe that the Nicene & Chalcedonian Creeds are *infallible*; Protestants do not, does this help? Everything God teaches is “irreformable”, and binding on the conscience; the teachings of God and the teachings of men may both be true but the first possess characteristic features that the latter does not. The mere teaching of men can be inerrant but it is not infallible. Infallibility, like immortality, is a divine power.

  39. Jim says:

    Photius,

    Thanks for the info.

    The issue of eating meat is not the sum of complete squares either.

    Come to think of it, it’s not red, nor is it any good in helping me get my garage open.

    It is, however, an example of a prescription that can be all of the following:

    1) believed
    2) binding on the conscience
    3) false

  40. The issue of eating meat that is sacrificed to idols is not of dogmatic value.

  41. Jim says:

    William,

    Unless I misunderstand something, Perry said that for a normative statement to be binding on the conscience, it must be ‘infallible.’ I disagree and tried to show that Paul indicates that, not only do they not need to be ‘infallible’ (though I’m less sure what that even means in this context), but that they don’t even need to be true.

    Don,

    Ask Paul. He wrote Rom 14:14 and 1 Co 8.

    If I *believe* that eating food sacrificed to idols is wrong – then for me, it would be wrong to eat. Even though, as Paul would indicate, the moral judgement:

    “It’s wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols”

    is false.

    Jim

  42. Don Bradley says:

    Jim,

    How can a believed prescription that is NOT true be binding on the conscience?

    Where can the mind rest; that what it believes really is true? How is God’s “infallibility” communicated to the individual mind of the believer?

  43. William B says:

    Acolyte,

    Excellent work! Feel free to defend Jargon whenever you feel any inclination to do so.

    Jim,

    I cannot make any sense of your last comment. Can you explain to me what your point is?

  44. Jim says:

    >> Moreover, Protestants agree that for theological statements
    >> to have the kind of normativity of something proclaimed by
    >> God, then they have to be infallible.

    >Hardly – they (normative propositions proclaimed by God) simply
    >need to be “known.”As someone whose writings I respect once said:
    >“I know lots of things and I am not infallibile.”

    Having thought about this a bit I believe that I understated my case. It seems to me that normative propositions do not even have to be ‘knowledge’ in order for them to be binding on the conscience.

    Even if we widen the set of normative propositions circumscribed by the term “knowledge” from ‘justified true belief’ to simply ‘true belief’ we still have not encapsulated all of the propositions that are ‘binding on the conscience.’

    Paul teaches belief alone (true or false) is binding on the conscience (Ro 14:14 in context, and 1Co 8) and it seems all together possible that Jesus teaches that true prescriptions are also binding, believed or not (for those that didn’t know their masters will and did it not will be beaten with few stripes).

    So, if you want to classify prescriptions that are binding on the conscience then all true prescriptions along with all believed prescriptions (true or not) are binding on the conscience of the Christian.

    So believed false propositions certainly do not constitute knowledge, yet they are binding. Where then does that leave ‘infallibility?’

    I, no doubt, am confounding certain principles – though it is unclear to me where my mistakes lie.

    Jim

  45. Jim says:

    Perry,

    Thanks for the response. Please pardon me if you took my tone to be antagonistic. I certainly have a different perspective but I meant no disrespect.

    > 1. I can’t see that the reference makes a difference.

    At the very least it affects the import of the rhetoric in your post: “His initial response is, I kid you not, ‘Says who?'”

    > Whether infallibility is a necessary condition
    > of binding doctrine or not does not turn on someone
    > saying so or denying it is so.

    Maybe so. You words above certainly seems to be true to me – but this has nothing to do with what you said in the third paragraph of your original post – which is what I referred to.

    > Moreover, Protestants agree that for theological statements
    > to have the kind of normativity of something proclaimed by
    > God, then they have to be infallible.

    Hardly – they (normative propositions proclaimed by God) simply need to be “known.” As someone whose writings I respect once said: “I know lots of things and I am not infallibile.”

    >2.[…]

    I was joking – hence the 😉

    > 3. Swan makes no distinction between various degress
    > of circularity. He should have been more careful.

    Actually, he STATED the particular line of reasoning he found “circular” (and to anyone that ponders it, it certainly is). Did he need to make such a distinction?

    > Besides, can you articulate, other than analogizing
    > to spatial relations, what the difference is?

    Sure – and I’ll answer your other issue with VT in the process. The issue is not one of quantity (the size of the circle) but of classification. VanTil’s supposed circularity appears in many places, like:

    “It is taken for granted that everyone begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of this investigation. Yet this is not the case. It could not actually be the case. In the first place this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But it must also be his starting point.”

    Now – anyone that understands VanTil understands that THIS is not the argument – if it were it would certainly admit vicious circularity – “God exists, therefore God exists.” The argument, however, is transcendental in the Kantian sense and claims to show that God’s existence is a precondition for knowledge. It admits no circularity in the sense of “petitio principii,” where a premise assumes the conclusion in a deductive argument.

    > 4. My gloss on the relation of the church to its members
    > doesn’t admit of a full Hellenistic analyses.

    I know – I’m importing my understanding of things you’ve said in other places (as I said in my original comment). Whether or not ‘Hellenistic” is the appropriate term I leave open to correction – I understand the term in a broad sense and tend to view the Realism that pervades eastern thought (where universals have a distinct ontological status from their particulars) as gererally “Hellenistic.” Feel free to correct my use of the term.

    > I don’t think that the fallacy of composition or division
    > for that matter turns on a hellenistic metaphysical gloss
    > on universals.

    Nor do I.

    Jim

  46. acolyte says:

    JIm,

    1. I can’t see that the reference makes a difference. Whether infallibility is a necessary condition of binding doctrine or not does not turn on someone saying so or denying it is so. Moreover, Protestants agree that for theological statements to have the kind of normativity of something proclaimed by God, then they have to be infallible. Protestants just deny that the doctrines they produce are binding in that way. So I don’t know why he would object to the idea.

    2. I do think that a transcendental proof will work outlining the necessary conditions for a normatively identified public and historical revelation with various skeptical hypotheses to rule out a denial of the conditions.

    3. Swan makes no distinction between various degress of circularity. He should have been more careful. Besides, can you articulate, other than analogizing to spatial relations, what the difference is?

    And what specific problem do you have with my characterizations of VT’s arguments? How do you suggest that I clean it up?

    4. My gloss on the relation of the church to its members doesn’t admit of a full Hellenistic analyses. Consequently I didn’t specify a Hellenistic analysis as cashing out that relation. Hellenistic or not, it is true that truths of individual members of CHrist are not true of Christ’s body. If you think there is some Hellenistic model that will successfully cash out that relation or its analogy, with Adam, then go for it. But I don’t think that the fallacy of composition or division for that matter turns on a hellenistic metaphysical gloss on universals.

  47. Jim says:

    Hi Perry. I’ve been on and off reading your blog for a while now and I hope you don’t mind engaging me; I’ve been considering writing you for a while but just never got around to it. I picked this post because it’s as good a place as any to start.

    I’ll certainly understand if you’re too busy or my understanding is so far off that it would take too much effort to set me straight.

    A few things:

    1) >His initial response is, I kid you not, “Says who?”

    The “Says who?” was clearly in reference to the SECOND part of the original statement, which was: “Infallibility […] is a necessary condition of *binding* doctrine …” and not the epistemological idea proposed in the first part: that “Infallibility is not a necessary condition of knowledge.”

    2) Just curious, will a transcendental proof for the churches infallibility be forthcomming? 😉

    3) Swan’s accusation of circularity is that of “petitio principii” – NOT the “circularity” that Presuppositionalists admit to. (Obviously then, I have some difficulty with the characterization of VanTil’s arguments at the end of this paragraph in your post).

    4) “It in no wise follows that if members of the church sins, that the church as a whole does.” – I’ve noticed this reasoning in several of your posts. While I don’t take direct issue with it, I am curious why YOUR hellenistic presuppositions about how particulars (individuals) relate to the principle (church) should be accepted by a western mind.

    Thanks Perry.

    Jim

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