Friday, September 7, 2007

Question-Begging is Not an Argument

In her latest trip down Fallacy Lane, Carrie resorts to question-begging. First, she quotes from a comment by poster jswranch (in green):
Just because I am fallible does not mean the HS didn't institute an infallible institution to do its will. Wasn’t Moses the infallible teacher anointed by God to instruct His people in truth?
Carrie responded (red here):
No, the HS didn’t institute an infallible institution because nowhere in scripture is such a thing ever mentioned. The point of the epistemological argument is that an infallible organization can never provide 100% certainty because the followers are still fallible.
With respect to the first sentence: Carrie begs the question, simply assuming that if the Bible doesn't say it, then God didn't or couldn't or wouldn't do it: sola scriptura. But Carrie hasn't proven this - not by a long shot. The Bible doesn't teach it, and even if it did, we would have no rational basis for believing that the Bible is the Word of God apart from the Catholic Church's declaration of the fact.

With respect to the second sentence: Jonathan Prejean has stated this better than I could ever hope to do (see, for example, this post), but by way of a poor summary of his argument: the Magisterium serves to adjudicate all disputes related to faith and morals. Whatever the frailties of individual Catholics, the Magisterium remains at all times the living voice of Christ in the world, so that if we misunderstand, the Church may correct us. We have a living rule of faith, not a dead one, so that it is able to respond to our actual problems and questions and concerns.

But by way of radical contrast: the Bible is a book. It doesn't talk. It doesn't speak. To call it the final authority is no different in principle from calling a boulder the final authority. Unfortunately, Protestants do not see this huge flaw in the idea of sola scriptura. They think that by reading this book they are "submitting" to it, but what they are actually submitting to is what they think that the Bible says. In other words, they are submitting to their own judgment (or, in rare cases, they may submit to a pastor's or a respected leader's judgment). But just as there is no rational basis for supposing the Bible to have the authority (on the Protestant's terms) that they claim for it (since they deny the Church's authority to identify it as the Word of God), there is no good reason to accept their individual judgments as to what that book says, nor to accept their word that it's an authority.

Carrie continues:
I believe this plays out in two ways. First, your personal fallibility means that your determination that the RCC IS an infallible organization instituted by God is a fallible decision. You can never be 100% certain that you are correct. Second, even if there were an infallible, visible organization, you can never be 100% certain that you will properly interpret what they have to say because you are still fallible.
But Carrie here omits any place for the role of faith. God gives us faith by grace, and by that faith we do in fact know with 100% certainty that the Church is exactly what She claims. As St. Thomas points out, some things cannot be known apart from the gift of faith. We cannot attain to heaven on the strength of reason or our own merits. It's not possible.
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith "man freely commits his entire self to God" (CCC 1814, quoting Dei Verbum 5).
Because it is truth, we believe it, and we do so by the G0d-given virtue of faith. It's worth reading all of Dei Verbum 5:
"The obedience of faith" (Rom. 13:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) "is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals," and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving "joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it." To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.
This is how and why we know that the Church is what She claims: Faith, given by the grace of God. Hence Carrie is very very far from saying anything even remotely relevant to how the Catholic arrives at his certainty of what the Church teaches.

But then Carrie gets desperate:
The Catholic position is really no different than the Protestant position.
(She means with respect to whether we have an infallible authority or not). This, of course, is completely absurd. She has no certainty, and she knows it, and she would have us believe that Catholics do not enjoy certainty. But, as I've just shown, we most certainly do.

Finally, Carrie gets around to jswranch's second question (concerning Moses):
As far as Moses being the “infallible teacher”, really? Is this the new Catholic apologetic argument to try to read an infallible leader into the Old Testament? Moses was not infallible, so this really doesn’t affect anything.
This is of course complete hogwash. Moses was most certainly infallible in the two areas where it mattered: faith (what Israel was supposed to believe) and morals (what Israel was supposed to do). Those areas are the very things that were at the heart of his mission to them. Or would Carrie care to show us an example where Moses erred in either one of these areas? A single example will do. I suspect more than anything that Carrie has confused "sinlessness" with Moses' authority in regards to what he taught. But of course she has a vested interest in denying the possibility that Moses may have taught infallibly, because it opens the door to the possibility that Christ invested a certain charism of infallible authority in the Church.


Richard Froggatt said...

Her reasoning leads me to believe the she's not 100% sure who Jesus Christ is; or that he's even real.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Richard,

I'm not sure if she's "arguing" this way purely ad hoc, or if she really and sincerely means that she doesn't need (and can't have) certainty. Either way, it's rather disappointing.