Saturday, June 11, 2005

Defending Romanism --- Part 1

Kirk says, among other things:
But if they can support their positions from Scripture alone, then why do they need the infallible RC church? It seems inconsistent to me.
Also, don't they first have to fallibly decide that the RC church, as well as the pope, are infallible?

Since I've been thinking about posting on these sorts of things as of late, Kirk's questions are the straw that broke the camel's back, so speaking, giving me a good excuse for posting on these matters.

There are various ways of defending Roman Catholicism. Here's a brief outline, that if not exhaustive, should be close enough to being exhaustive to do the trick:

(1) RCism is completely supportable from the OT and NT.

(2) RCism is not completely supportable from the OT and NT:
(a) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, being found in "seed" form, but needs extra-Biblical evidence
(b) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, not being found in "seed" form, but extra-Biblical evidence supports the Roman superstructure added to the Bible.

(3) Independently of scripture, Romanism is true because of certain philosophical a priori assumptions, which assumptions in the end make Romanism the only thing consistent with said assumptions.

(4) RCism is true by an experiential argument or some sort of mystical experience.

In tackling these four prongs of attack, which are mixed-n-matched by Roman apologists, I'll give my own opinion on their strengths and weaknesses.

Prong (4)

This is the easiest to discuss. I have a tape of Scott Hahn who, during his days of questioning his Protestantism, still doubted the distinctly Roman doctrines or the RCC. He mentions later on the tape that while praying the Rosary [I'm not sure if it was his first time or not] he was overcome with certain mystical feelings. Presumably, this served some sort of confirmatory function in his quest to join the Roman Church.

Let's say that Hahn is generally correct in reporting truthfully his experience. That is, suppose that in praying the Rosary, he really was overcome with feelings and such as described in his audiocassette tape. Does this count as actual evidence for the Roman Church?

The answer seems to depend on if one is favorably or unfavorably disposed towards Rome in the first place. A Protestant such as myself who finds much of Rome to be in serious error if not damnable error can accept the veracity of Hahn's experience in a way that is wholly inconsistent with the premise that Romanism is true, for one possibility is that such an experience is diabolical in origin. Personally speaking, even though I don't consider Hahn to be the sharpest blade in the drawer, I don't have any reason to doubt his experience. But I do openly and freely doubt its source. Perhaps it is a self-induced psychological reaction, perhaps it is diabolical. There is no way of telling. Regardless, it doesn't bolster the Roman claim.

On the other hand, assume that I'm favorably disposed towards Rome. Even in this situation, Hahn's experience, being personal, and so far as I know and remember unattested by eyewitnesses, lacks evidentiary value. It may have happened, but the apologetical value is lacking. Now if Hahn has a track record of miracles or the supernatural [such as Paul or the other Apostles], then I'm willing to count this as evidence for Rome. So far as I know, Hahn doesn't have a track record of such supernaturalities, and hence even if I were sympathetic to Rome, it would still be hard to view this as any sort of evidence.

Now some people would be more friendly towards experiential arguments that are unattested by eyewitnesses or corroboration. I'm not. Therefore, speaking only for myself, I find Prong (4) utterly useless in making headway towards a Protestant. It probably makes good programming on the EWTN channel, though.

Prong (3)

The second prong to briefly discuss is Prong (3). In speaking with Romanists over the years, this is really what I've seen to be the main apologetic method when one knocks down the flimsy evidential supports for Romanism. Here are some of the assumptions that I've seen and heard from people, whether on the internet or through friends or in person:

(i) God wouldn't leave Christians without an infallible arbiter
(ii) God wouldn't leave Christians to be in error for 1500 years [until the Reformation]
(iii) There must be some sort of succession, whether apostolic, doctrinal, etc.
(iv) Related to (iii), barring some sort of direct line of succession, the link with truth is lost or in peril
(v) The Christian Church has to share various attributes with the "Old Testament Church"
(vi) Scriptural revelation can't possibly be enough.

Now if some of the assumptions in this admittedly incomplete list are in fact true, then a lot of Protestantism is in trouble! Also, let it be stated that there is nothing particularly invidious about these assumptions, as they're quite natural, stemming from a quest for absolute certainty [instead of epistemic probability].

But are they true?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Where is it stated in scripture, or where is it a corollary to the world-at-large that, say, Christians need some sort of infallible arbiter, whether a man or institution? It would be nice to have one, of course, but who says life has to be easy and straightforward?

The Roman apologetic for something like (i) breaks down precisely when one asks the obvious question of just why we need an infallible arbiter? In my experience, I haven't seen anything resembling a powerful or convincing argument as to why we need one. And, viewing Rome through historical eyes, the so-called infallible arbiter that Papists claim to have hasn't really done the job.

Another common Roman apologetic is the idea that if Protestants are true, then for a span of 1000-1500 years, most Christians were in serious error, and such a thing is a priori unthinkable to the Romanist sympathizer. Here though, what causes the difficulty for the Romanist? Surely, people can be wrong. And, people can be wrong for a long time. On top of that, majorities can be horribly incorrect. The strength of the Roman assumption here really dissipates when one is not swayed by the fallacy of the majority.

Now the Romanist is not being inconsistent by bringing the issue of alleged historical discontinuity up, since the Romanist is obligated to follow the idea of succession through. So, I'm not charging the Romanist with inconsistency here. The charge is that the Romanist is not dealing with Protestant currency here, and the whole argument from historical continuity won't have any evidentiary value to somebody like me.

[Note: the claims for Roman historical continuity and Protestant discontinuity are greatly exaggerated by a good portion of the Roman apologetics that I've seen.]

Another tack that the Romanist can take is to say something as follows: You know more than Early Church Father X? That's bold. If it is bold, so be it. I'm perfectly willing to state in public that yes, it is quite possible for an educated Protestant who has carefully studied scripture to speak more soundly about it than many of the ancient authors. This isn't to act in a chronologically chauvinistic fashion, since we're not dismissing the ancients as superstitious primitives. But the ancients need to be subjected to the same scrutiny as any other writer. And, if the ancients go against scripture, then the verdict against them can proceed just as confidently as a negative verdict goes out against modernist theologians today.

In my experience, most Romanists with whom I have dealt know more about "The Church" than they do the Biblical texts, or, when they deal with the Biblical texts, their work is completely amateurish and semi-literate at best. When somebody who fits this description has asked me about my boldness in saying that venerable Father X from long ago is in error on a certain point, they're not even familiar with the broad Biblical background on which I base my objection.

In conclusion to this point, then, merely pointing out the audacity that the ancients were in error on a lot of things doesn't really have any capital with the Protesants, and the issue is not brokered by bringing up this point.

The other assumptions that I've seen, (iii)-(vi), are perfectly reasonable, but, as stated above [and I fear I'm getting horribly repetitive], the evidence for their truth really isn't there in scripture. This admission that the Romanist assumptions are reasonable isn't damaging to the Protestant case in the slightest, for their negations are also reasonable. Just as positing some sort of necessity for succession isn't silly, one could also state the negation [that it is quite possible that succession is not a vital ingredient] with the same degree of plausibility.

The Roman Catholic will convince this Protestant to cross the Tiber and kiss the Pope's ring precisely when assumptions such as (i)-(vi) can be demonstrated or at least established to a stronger degree than their negations.

The behavior of Roman Catholics when cornered on evidence, in my experience, as been to retreat back to these seemingly unfalsifiable assumptions. Given the lack of evidence for Romanism, such a maneuver is expected. The behavior here isn't too different than when Darwinists abandon giving evidence for their position and merely posit that science has to be done according to materialistic principles, and Darwinism, being the only position consonant with materialistic principles, therefore holds.

This post is getting long by blog standards, and I'll terminate it here. Prongs (1) and (2) will be discussed in the next thread.

[Yet to edit]


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