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.