Thursday, March 05, 2009

Response to Nick Regarding Spiral Argument and Private Judgment

Nick has provided a response to my rebuttal of Karl Keating's "Spiral Argument" (link).

Nick wrote: "I think you should distinguish between private judgment and a circular argument. Each of those terms correspond to different issues."

That's true. They do often correspond to different issues. The come together, however, because the spiral argument employs private judgment.

Nick wrote: "Private judgment involves looking at some data and coming to a personal conclusion. You are right to point out that everyone must engage in private judgment."

Thanks.

Nick wrote: "A circular argument is when something that is trying to be proven true is in fact (re)stated as it's own evidence/witness."

That's more or less the case. It could be worded other ways.

Nick wrote: "Private judgment, at least to some degree, is necessary and alright. A circular argument, which is not the same thing, is neither necessary nor alright."

ok ...

Nick wrote: "The "spiral argument" is not circular, but does require private judgment."

I explained why it is circular in my original article. Unfortunately, your comment does not address the explanation found there.

Nick wrote: "Basing the Bible's inspiration on it's own testimony is circular and no different than what a Mormon does with the Book of Mormon."

a) The reason why the Bible says that it is inspired is so that we will believe it. Any other reason for why the Bible says it is borderline irrational. The reason that the Bible makes statements is so that they will be believed, as can be seen for example, from John's Gospel:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

b) Believing that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it, isn't employing a circular argument. It's not an argument at all. It's a proclamation. The Bible proclaims the truth, and it can be believed or not.

c) If one calls that a circular argument, though, then - as I pointed out in my post, it turns out that similar circularity exists within the spiral argument.

d) The comparison to the Mormons is irrelevant. We don't accept things based on whether Mormons reject them, and we don't reject things based on whether Mormons accept them. Getting into what Mormons actually believe to dispute this is a waste of time that I won't bother with, right now.

Nick: "When you said: "Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this "spiral" argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again." This is a mixing of circular argument and private judgment."

No, it's not. It's a comment that focuses on the advantage of a "smaller circle" if a "circle" must be used and if "private judgment" is bad.

Nick: "Catholics are not deriving Church authority nor Scripture's inspiration from a circular argument, but we are engaging in private judgment."

I explained how circular reasoning is used in the original article.

Nick: "We are looking at the historical evidence and coming to a conclusion."

The Bible is itself the primary historical evidence relied upon. Why not just say, "We are looking at the Bible and coming to a conclusion"? I think it is partly because that is what "Protestants" are being faulted for.

Furthermore, the Bible (or equivalent evidence) as historical evidence doesn't lead one to the issue of infallibility/inspiration. What I mean to say is that the Bible as historical evidence can substantiate a claim that Jesus told the apostles to found churches. Even if we assume (for the sake of the argument) that the Bible disclosed Jesus founding a single, globally-scoped institutional church, that doesn't get us to infallibility/inspiration of that entity - and it cannot. The infallibility/inspiration is not, strictly speaking, a question of history.

Nick wrote: "We could be very wrong in our conclusion, either because the evidence is bad or we miscalculated, or both, but that is not at all the same as a circular argument."

No, the circularity comes in as I stated in my original article.

Nick wrote: "The real issue is who can present the stronger argument and that usually rests upon who's argument requires us to assume the least."

One real issue is whether the Bible requires an infallible interpreter in order to be reliably understood.

Another real issue is whether the Bible anywhere teaches that "the church" is infallible.

The truth of the matter is the real issue, not the "strength of the argument."

Nick: "An element of faith (private judgment) is certainly always present, but not all arguments are equal."

Yes.

Nick: "A Mormon accepting the Book of Mormon on 'burning in the bosom' is not as strong an argument as a Christian looking to historical evidence that the Scriptures were preserved (among other factors)."

There is some faulty parallelism here. The historical evidence of the Scripture's preservation tells us that we know what it said when it was written. It doesn't tell us whether the Scripture is inspired or not. Since the Book of Mormon was only recently written, that's essentially a non-issue. There's no historical way to investigate the golden plates claim to any earlier authorship date than Joseph Smith's own life.

But this "strength of the argument" issue is rather subjective. Some people find one argument strong (i.e. it persuades them better) and another weak - for others it is reversed.

Certainly, we could probably agree on certain defects that make arguments less persuasive in general. If reliance on private judgment is bad or if faith is bad, we can evaluate two arguments to see whether one of the two arguments uses "more" faith or "more" private judgment.

Nick: "Moving onto a specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, the canon of Scripture, each side must engage in private interpretation."

Each person must exercise private judgment. It's not necessarily a question of interpretation, as such.

Nick: "The 'deciding issue' is which side presents a more coherent case for why one canon is accepted over another."

The deciding issue should be "which side is right." The argument is the demonstration of that issue.

Nick: "Pointing to Fathers and Councils who share a particular canon is far more of an argument/evidence from which to based your private judgment on than claiming the various books give a inner conviction of their inspiration."

The argument on the canon is virtually never "I have an inner conviction." So, again, there is faulty parallelism being employed. I assume that you intend to address "Protestant" position from the context of your comment, but your comment doesn't actually address the arguments used by "Protestants" regarding the canon.

Additionally, there is conflation of categories here. The ultimate answer to the question, "How do you know that Isaiah is canonical?" for the Reformed believer is that the Holy Spirit persuades him. On the other hand, the ultimate answer to the same question from the perspective of someone within Catholicism would seem to be, because Trent said so. But if we then pressed that issue back further, we start running into the same problem (if it is a problem), that some things are accepted by faith.

Nick wrote: "Again, a Catholic could be totally wrong when it comes to interpreting evidence, but that does not make it circular."

That was never my argument in the original article.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

GeneMBridges said...

A circular argument, which is not the same thing, is neither necessary nor alright."

>>Nick here fails to distinguish between vicious circularity and virtuous circularity. All "circular" arguments are not to be called neither necessary nor alright.

In fact, I believe Turretin himself pointed this out. Steve posted a quote from him on that last year, over at Tblog.

Turretinfan said...

Gene wrote: "In fact, I believe Turretin himself pointed this out. Steve posted a quote from him on that last year, over at Tblog."

I doubt there is much at all in response to Romanism that I think of that was not previously thought of by Turretin, saving for responding to those doctrines that did not exist in Romanism in Turretin's day.

natamllc said...

Addressing this portion above and narrowly quoting a Swedish Theologian, Einar Billing, who, in my judgment, "got it right" as to an antecedent to this private judgment/circularity issue. You will clearly understand my intent as I quote a portion of his booklet, "Our Calling", pages 22 and 23.

The above citation first:

"....Nick: "Moving onto a specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, the canon of Scripture, each side must engage in private interpretation."

Each person must exercise private judgment. It's not necessarily a question of interpretation, as such.

Nick: "The 'deciding issue' is which side presents a more coherent case for why one canon is accepted over another."

The deciding issue should be "which side is right." The argument is the demonstration of that issue...."

My proffer:

Einar Billing, pgs. 22-3:

"....If then the call is comprehended in the forgiveness of sins, it becomes clear that faithfulness in one's calling is "faith". "This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). It is worthy of note that the forgiveness of sins gives not only the motive and power to accomplish a deed already planned, but it gives first of all the deed itself, that is, clarity as to what deed God desires of me. The Roman Catholic divorces the one from the other--he depends on the priest in the confessional for his clarity, on the grace which is infused through the sacraments for his power, and on the thought of reward for his motive. But this is to reveal a misunderstanding of the nature of the inner life. When we are called to a task whose worth we do not clearly understand, we cannot give ourselves to it with singleness of purpose and concentrated power. But purpose and power naturally follow clarity...."

And why? Because God is testifying to His own personal "deeds" done through Christ. When the basis of Faith is shifted from reliance upon the Word of God by both its written and spoken forms to an earthly institution, you should quickly realize the error and why Protestant reformers finally after so many centuries rose up and "reformed" the Church's teachings, challenging that divorce Einar Billing writes about at the turn of the 20th Century!

This "false" power carries such sway even today as this one article so articulates!

It begins with a "private visit" from the Holy Ghost to divorce us from ourselves and reliance upon the institutes of mankind in the right way as many men have written their own institutes, sound institutes of the Faith once delivered to the Saints.

It may be that this is the issue of reality Satan uses to keep those sitting in darkness from seeing the "Light" these "institutes" shine clearly to the enlightened, awakened from a sole sinful private judgment to join with the Election of the Saints, who, ironically, "make private judgments" about the Testament of the Holy Ghost, then turn, repent, reform and join in the "catholic" judgment of the Elect, moving away from self, man made institutions to the one and only Institution of God known among men, The Holy Catholic/Christian Church!

It is by His Faith through His Grace that one is freed once and for all from selfish private judgments and delivered to the True Liberty of the Sons of God!