Monday, November 27, 2006

Moral Reasoning and the Fallacy of False Cause

The weekend Wall Street Journal had a front page story about Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip to Turkey that, while clearly written from a certain perspective (I soon lost count of such terms as "conservative", "hard-line", "rigid", and the like), shed some light on how delicate a process Vatican diplomacy is in these debauched times. In particular, the story emphasized the difference between Benedict's approach to Islam and that of John Paul the Great. John Paul II was something of a showman, according to this story, going so far as to kiss a copy of the Holy Quran in a show of solidarity with those other sons and daughters of Abraham. Benedict, by contrast, has stressed the incompatibility of Islam with Christianity. While each is right in his own way (we are, indeed, all sons and daughters of Abraham, but the doctrines of Christianity are clearly inconsistent with the teachings of Islam), Benedict seems to think--and if this is true I tend to agree--that there is a limit to how far one should go in the search for commonality.

One aspect of the story that particularly caught my eye was this paragraph:
This past week, a group of right-wing Turkish nationalists stormed a former church in Istanbul as part of a protest against the pope's coming visit. "This attitude, which fuels division and lack of mutual trust, is seriously threatening world peace," Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey's religious affairs department, said recently, though he didn't specifically mention the pope.
This is a more moderate version of something that we have heard rather often since 9/11: when people riot in the streets, whether it is because of cartoonish portrayals of the Prophet or because of a speech given by the Pope, we must closely examine ourselves to discover what we may have done to make these people so angry. What does it mean to say that "this attitude", presumably Benedict's towards Islam, "is seriously threatening world peace"?

The English philosopher Bernard Williams once critiqued utilitarianism by telling a story along the following lines. Consider a man who is hiking in the jungles of some Central American military dictatorship when he suddenly finds himself in a clearing where there is a village. The local military commander has rounded up 20 villagers and is preparing to execute them one by one in order to make instill fear and obedience in the others, but when he sees the hiker he says to him: "I will offer you the opportunity to shoot one of these villagers yourself, and then I will let the others go free. If you prefer not to shoot any yourself, I will just go ahead and execute all 20, as I originally planned." Suppose this hiker is a pacifist, to whom violence of any kind is abhorrent. What is he to do? Williams claims that a utilitarian in this situation would argue that it is morally obligatory upon the hiker to shoot somebody himself, since that will spare the lives off 19 others, whereas if he shoots no one, 20 people will die. Williams says that this is problematic, since it has the effect of eliminating the military commander's moral autonomy.

As a critique of utilitarianism it is not bad, but there is some wiggle room for the utilitarian, since he might be able to argue that adherence to a nonviolent principle is one of the hiker's highest values, or something along those lines. But as an example of some pretty bad moral reasoning it's a great illustration of the fallacy of the false cause. We're supposed to believe that if the hiker chooses to shoot no one, then the hiker will somehow be morally responsible for the 20 deaths that follow when the military commander goes ahead with his plans. The first time I read this argument by Williams I thought to myself that it was not going to cut much ice against the utilitarian, because it seemed to me to be something of a straw man: who on earth would seriously maintain that the 20 deaths due to the military commander's orders are the moral responsibility of the hiker who has chosen to shoot no one? Imagine my surprise, then, when I began teaching this text in my ethics classes and found that, year after year, a majority of students consistently maintained that it was the fault of the hiker if 20 people died because of his choice not to shoot anybody. Not only did a majority of students think that, but strong arguments against that idea had no effect on their opinion.

So it comes as no surprise to me any more to find that people are willing to endorse ridiculous claims of moral responsibility such as that on offer from Ali Bardakoglu. If there is rioting in the streets because of something the Pope says in an academic lecture, the only danger to peace is from the rioters, not from the Pope. I suppose the idea is supposed to be something like a comparison between what the Pope has said and shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, but that idea is patently inadequate. The whole point of that particular element of the Pope's address was that there is an essential tension between a religion in which God is accessible to human reason and one in which God is above and beyond reason. This tension in itself illustrates the imcompatibility of Christianity and Islam, but it also demonstrates the importance of reason in human life, not only for dealings amongst ourselves but, from the Christian point of view, in trying to understand God, too. Showing "fire" is not an act of reason, especially if there is no fire around. But even if the theater is on fire, the whole point of shouting "fire" would be precisely to stir the crowd into action. Talking about religious differences is not aimed at that end at all, but at understanding. The proper response to an attempt at understanding is not rioting in the streets. The reaction of the rioters was in itself irrational, ironically proving the Pope's point but also demonstrating that the rioters are not as interested in maintaining peace as they are in saving face. One can only wonder which is the greater value to them. Like the military commander in the argument from Bernard Williams, the option not to riot is always available--it's not as though the Pope's words are able to turn whole throngs of people into unreasoning robots who have to become violent whether they want to or not. Their actions demonstrate that what they really want is death and destruction, not peace and understanding.

Imputing the moral guilt here to Pope is no different from blaming the hiker for the deaths of the 20 villagers if he decides not to shoot any himself. Williams is trying to get us to see that, if the utiliatarian view wants to assign moral culpability to the hiker on the basis of the consequences of a putative choice made by the hiker, this is an instance of the fallacy of false cause, wrongly imputing the cause of a particular event to some agent or action that could not, in fact, have been the true cause of that particular event. The Pope's words had an effect, surely, but it was not necessary that they have the effect of rioting in the streets. That was purely the decision of the rioters, who remain morally autonomous and, hence, fully morally responsible for their own choices and actions. Just as in the case of the military commander, we cannot shift any of the blame for the violence away from the rioters and onto the Pope, since that is not only unfair to the Pope, who was not the true cause of the damage done, but it is also unfair to the rioters, who remain, after all, human beings and not robots, moral agents and not slaves of the Pope's words. We have no right to take from them their moral autonomy, for that is to treat them as less than fully human, and that is a harm against their own human dignity.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sollemnitas Domini Nostri Iesu Christi Universorum Regis

Well, that's a little more dignified sounding than "Christ the King", as it was listed on my parish bulletin today. We are an incarnational Church, and I have often blogged about my views regarding the principle I call Imagines Dei (I would give a list of links to some of my earlier posts on the topoic, but I'm so utterly amêkhanos when it comes to such things that I think I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to try to find them all). In my view, all of reality, right down to the lowliest quark, is shot through with a deeper meaning that can only be grasped in light of the Gospel. At a higher level of organization than quarks are people--and we are (images of God) in a special way when we are together in that unity that is the Church, the Body of Christ, itself a more perfect imago Dei.

Today's Sollemnity brings this into rather high relief for me. The Latin word for king, rex, is derived from a root that means a rule. A king is not merely a ruler, he is the rule itself. When God chose the Jewish people from among all the people of the earth to be his particular beloved, part of the choice involved stamping his law upon their hearts so that they could become imagines Dei in this most special sense: living images of the divine law of God written on the hearts of men for all to see. Of course, they did not always live out their lives in perfect harmony with God's law--hey, nobody's perfect--but when Jesus, the God-Man, came among us, all of that changed. Now there was a man who was the most perfect imago Dei possible, a living and breathing rex in the radical sense: the actual embodiment (incarnation) of the Divine Law of God lived and moved and had its being among us, giving us an example to follow and, more importantly, a rex, both a ruler and a rule. He is the rex regum, king of kings (or law of laws, rule of rules), because there is no law or precept that stands above him--he is God incarnate, the very source and origin of all law and rule. (Plato, I think, would agree that this is the solution to "Euthyphro's Dilemma".)

And by his life and teachings he revealed to us God's nature, taking upon himself the function that had previously been filled by the Jewish people as a whole: to be the living instantiation of God's love in the world. Our task is not an easy one: to make him the rex in our lives by living as best we can as imagines of Him. Like the Jewish people of old, we don't always live up to snuff. Happily, this particular rex is a merciful one, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Long live the King.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Science and Religion Again

For someone who has a great deal of interest in science and a great deal of interest in religion, I have remarkably little interest in that domain of inquiry sometimes called "the intersection of science and religion". I myself do not see that they overlap all that much, except in the rather trivial sense that all knowledge, whether scientific or otherwise, is subsidiary to our knowledge of the good, which is God. But I have recently stumbled across a blog that seems to deal in this particular area rather regularly, called starcourse. It is run by the person who is also the webmaster of John Polkinghorne's website. (If you don't know who he is--first of all, shame on you--John Polkinghorne is one of the foremost representatives of this particular domain of inquiry.)

Two items at this blog caught my eye. First is an interesting post claiming to refute some of Richard Dawkins' more egregious howlers. Another is a post that mentions that Alistair McGrath is writing a book to be called The Dawkins Delusion, to be published in February by SPCK. (Again, for those who don't know who Alistair McGrath is--first of all, shame on you--he is a professor of theology at Oxford University and a remarkably good theologian in the reformed tradition who has written extensively on this "intersection of science and religion".)

Update: David Wharton was a friend of mine when I was in graduate school at UNC; now he teaches and blogs from Greensboro, NC. Recently he posted about contemporary scientism, comparing it to similar intellectual trends of over 2000 years ago.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Dr. Mike Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae reports on some aspects of the Bishops' letter regarding reception of Holy Communion. He points out that, although Catholics are called upon in the letter to refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they find themselves dissenting from Church teachings, the letter falls short of addressing two of the most important political aspects of dissent as it affects the American Church.

For example, while the letter makes it clear that if you disagree with the Church that abortion is an unjust taking of innocent human life, you are to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. But if you publicly advocate a legal right to obtain abortions--well, the letter doesn't specify whether you are in communion with the Church or not, even though previous statements from sources have made it clear that such person are not, in point of fact, in communion with the Church. Similarly, the ban on contraception, which, according to Humanae vitae is intrinsically evil, is widely ignored by American Catholics, but the letter does not mention that topic either.

In one sense the letter was a very good idea, because I'm sure it came as something of a surprise to some Catholics to find that, at least in the eyes of the Church, they ought not to be receiving Communion (though I feel quite certain that, in their own eyes, they are perfectly fit to do whatever they please, since who are these stuffy old bishops to be telling people whether they're fit to receive Communion or not?). In another sense, though, the letter clearly lacked bite, and Mike sums things up rather nicely this way:
Once again, the ball has been dropped. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: even if this weren't just business as usual, the bishops' "street cred" is rather low right now due to the sex-abuse scandals. But it would have been refreshing, even evangelically energizing, to see some courage. Not a few non-Catholic Christians are scandalized by how Catholics can thumb their noses at the Church with impunity.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sola Scriptura and Justification Sola Fide

There is little that I can add to the excellent analysis of Fr. Al Kimel on the notion of justification sola fide, "by faith alone", as an example of a bad reason not to be Catholic. As he ably points out in his essay, which draws upon Fathers both East and West, the expression "by faith alone" cannot reasonably be taken to mean anything other than what the Council of Trent took it to mean, namely, that "justification is a process of becoming righteous" and, as such, involves, by its very essence, more than mere intellectual assent to certain propositions:
Justification may therefore be described as both event and process. It is event, for in Holy Baptism God absolves the sinner of all his sins and regenerates him in the Holy Spirit. It is process, for in Holy Baptism God establishes a friendship with the believer, a friendship that can be strengthened and deepened as the believer conforms himself to Christ through prayer, sacrifice, and good works, but which can also be injured or lost through grievous sin and impiety.
In thinking of this distinction between a mere act of assent and a process of growth in love and obedience, I am often reminded of a distinction drawn by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his ethical writings between acting from duty and acting in accordance with duty. Imagine two shopkeepers, Smith and Jones, who both own small shops in the same shopping district and who both charge fully just prices for their goods. In reasoning about whether or not to charge just prices, Smith thought to himself:
If I charge unjust prices for my goods, I shall lose business, because Jones is charging just prices for his goods, and his shop is close enough to mine that my customers will go to his shop instead, and this may result in my losing my shop and livelihood. Therefore I will charge only just prices, thus competing with Jones and saving my own skin.
But Jones reasons to himself this way:
If I were a customer looking for these sorts of goods, and if this were the only shop around, I would want the shopkeeper to charge me a just and fair price, since otherwise I might not be able to buy these goods and if these goods are necessary to my well-being I might begin to fare rather badly if I could not obtain them. Therefore I will charge only just prices, since that is what I would expect of anyone else.
Kant characterized the difference between Smith and Jones this way. Smith's reasoning was basically egoistic: he did, in the end, do his duty, but he did not do it because it was his duty, rather, he did something that was fully in accordance with duty, that is, it was consistent with what his duty happened to be, but his motivation was not to do his duty but to save his own skin. Jones, by contrast, did something that was his duty to do, and his reason for doing it was simply that it was his duty to act that way, since it was what he himself would have expected from anyone else.

The person who merely assents to God's will, without willing it himself, is more like Smith than Jones, that is, he merely accepts a certain teaching or a certain way of life as a necessary condition of some kind, but there is no evidence available in the mere acceptance of the teaching or way of life that there is a concomitant metanoia, that essential "changing of one's heart" that goes along with true conversion. As Fr. Kimel notes, "Even the devils believe and tremble." It is, then a necessary condition upon justification that one believe, but clearly it is not a sufficient condition. There is also required a certain essential attitude towards life in Christ, and that attitude, that inner motivation, will express itself in more ways than simply in terms of intellectual assent to certain propositions. It will, by its very nature, express itself in how we live our lives, in terms of the things that we do.

When I say "by its very nature" I am appealing to a certain kind of necessity, a kind of necessity that Aristotle discussed in his treatise Posterior Analytics. At 73b10-16 Aristotle notes that we may speak of something being the case per se when it
holds in itself--for example, if something died while being sacrificed, it died in the sacrifice since it died because of being sacrificed, and it was not incidental that it died while being sacrificed.
In Aristotle's day, to sacrifice an animal meant to cut its throat, but one did not merely cut the throat with a slit, so as to make the animal bleed, one cut the throat in such a way that it was inevitable that the animal would bleed to death. If the animal did not die from blood loss, it was not a sacrifice. Dying, then, is a necessary consequence of the sacrificing of the animal, it is a part of the very essence of sacrifice, even though the sacrificial cutting is not itself identical with the animal's dying.

In the case of Christian belief, there is an analogue to this that, thankfully, need not necessarily involve dying or even the loss of blood (though on the other hand, it may possibly involve both of those things). It does involve action of some kind, it involves living one's life in a particular way, more like Jones than Smith, even though the two lives may, in some respects, be indistinguishable. But if Jones acts a certain way because of his motivation, there are bound to be cases where his choices differ from Smith's. So, too, the Christian's mode of living will necessarily differ from that of the devil, who also believes and trembles. The Christian, at the very least, will not tremble, at least not for the same reason; but there will be other differences as well.

The Christian will live a life marked by observable differences from the non-Christian lives being lived around him, as the author of St. John's first letter tells us:
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue: but in deed and in truth.
If God's love abides in you, if your motivation to act is more like that of Jones than that of Smith, then it will be as impossible for you not to do good works as it is impossible for a sacrificed animal not to die. It does not follow from this, of course, that you are saved by your good works--all that follows is what the author of the letter of St. James has told us:
Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves...Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
This is a Scriptural text that has occasioned much debate in this regard--so much so that some Reformers of the 16th century sought to exclude the letter of St. James from the Canon of the New Testament. Some of the debate over texts such as this one is nothing more than an artifact of the dangers of proof-texting. Any biblical text, taken in isolation, can be interpreted as being at odds with other texts. There used to be a cottage industry in this sort of thing. In 1874, as Quellenforschungen came to dominate philology during the rise of scientism, and the principles of textual criticism came to be applied more and more unfavorably to the Bible, John W. Haley wrote a book called An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, in which he systematically examined parallel Scriptural texts and defended them from charges of logical inconsistency, showing, in each case, how a correct understanding of either context or meaning could clear up any "alleged discrepancies". Here's what he had to say about the contrast between Galatians 3.11-12 and James 2.14, 17, 21-26:
There is no collision between Paul and James. They merely present different aspects or relations of the same great truth. Paul is arguing against self-righteous religionists, who rely for salvation upon external morality, upon mere works; James addresses those who maintain that, provided a man's belief is correct, it matters little what his conduct is; that a "bare assentive faith is sufficient for salvation, whitout its living fruits in a holy life." In a word, Paul is combating Pharisaism; James, Antinomianism. One asserts: "Works are good for nothing except as they spring from faith"; the other responds: "Faith is of no value except as it produces works." Both together affirm the inseparable connection and unalterable relation of faith and works as cause and effect.
I suspect that few serious and well-educated exegetes would disagree with his analysis. What gave rise to interpretations of the sola fide principle that tended to be hostile to Roman Catholicism was no doubt a reaction to perceived abuses of the late medieval period, especially the sales of indulgences. While some of this was clearly abusive (for example, the monies raised for the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome was more like revenue enhancement than anything else), there is nothing theologically suspect about the doctrine of indulgences in itself.

Whatever the source of this suspicion of the "Romish doctrine" of "salvation through good works", it is interesting to note the fervor of those who wished to purge even the Scriptures themselves of any such doctrine, to the point of wanting to exclude entirely those passages deemed, well, too "Catholic". It is in this connection that we run up against that other great rallying cry of Reformed Protestantism, sola Scriptura, "Scripture alone", that is, the idea that the only legitimate teaching authority is the text of the Scriptures itself. This is a curious principle if for no other reason than its self-refuting nature. There was a movement in philosophy during the 1930s and 1940s, sometimes known as Verificationism, that held the following principle, call it principle V:
The meaning of any assertion is nothing other than the method of verification of that assertion.
Principle V was particularly popular among the positivists, who thought that philosophy would be better off if it abandoned all that meaningless gibberish being done in the name of metaphysics and tried to be more like the empirical sciences. According to these sorts of philosophers, an assertion is not so much false if it cannot be empirically verified, it is downright meaningless. That means that all talk of God, morality, essences, etc., should be tossed into the dustbin of history, since none of those things can be empirically verified. The difficulty lay in the verificationist principle itself, principle V. What, precisely, is the method of its verification? There is no method for verifying such a sentence, so it, too, is meaningless, and that doesn't seem too good for verificationism.

Now we are told that the sole source of teaching authority is to be Scripture alone. Call this assertion principle S. On what authority are we to accept the truth of principle S? According to principle S, the only source of authority for the truth of any teaching is Scripture, but nowhere do the Scriptures advocate anything like principle S. The closest thing one gets to it is probably to be found in Revelation 22.18-19:
If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life....
Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the passage appears to be referring not to the Scriptures as a whole, but only to the book of Revelation, and the fact that, even if we take these verses in the way that the Sola Scriptura crowd would like to take them, it would prove to be rather embarrassing for the likes of Luther and others who wanted to remove parts of the book of Revelation from the Canon of the New Testament, there is still the even more difficult problem of the fact that the verses, if taken in the wrong way, contradict themselves, because of course as those words were being written, they were not yet in any "Scriptures", they were, in fact, being added to the Scriptures by the person writing them. The same would be true of any Biblical text taken to be proof of the Sola Scriptura principle, and so the principle is in itself incoherent and invalid.

In point of fact, none of the texts of the New Testament existed in any written form until well into the second generation of Christian history. While the Apostles yet lived their teaching was transmitted orally, and it probably remained oral for some time. The earliest New Testament text is the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, dating to about 50 or 51. Now, he is obviously teaching things in that letter, things that are not written in any Scriptural text because the only Scriptural texts available to him were the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures, neither of which contained any direct Christian teachings. The only way to get Christian teachings out of those texts is through ampliative interpretation, precisely the thing that is condemned by the principle of Sola Scriptura.

Now, if I were going to defend this principle against this line of argumentation, I would probably say something along the lines of "When I say 'sola scriptura' what I mean is the text of the Scriptures as they stand today," but it is difficult to find any principled reason for thinking this to be a valid theological principle. It is extraordinarily ad hoc in its approach, and it presupposes that the New Testament Canon that we have today is something that somehow settled itself, independently of the Church's teaching authority. In point of fact, the documents of the New Testament derive their teaching authority not from their being part of the Canon, but rather they derive their being in the Canon by virtue of the teaching authority of the Church, which both produced them and put them into the Canon. To say that the Church's authority to interpret and teach from the scriptures disappeared once the Canon was settled is to beg the question; to say that the Church did not have the authority to interpret and teach from the Scriptures prior to the settling of the Canon is to say that nothing taught by the Church prior to the 16th century can count as authoritatively taught, including such doctrines as the Trinity and the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Presumably the defenders of the principle of sola Scriptura are Trinitarians in spite of the fact that being a Trinitarian is not warranted by Scripture alone, if by "alone" one means "independently of the Church's authority to interpret the meaning of Scripture.

If both of these principles are incoherent, what is their appeal? It is too facile to point out that we live in times in which incoherence is itself taken to be a value--all you have to do is to look at the moral relativism that pervades our materialistic culture. This is too facile because, of course, the defenders of sola Scriptura are not moral relativists--usually they are quite the opposite--and it seems unlikely that their thinking is influenced by that kind of intellectual banality. I would suggest that, on the contrary, the appeal of these doctrines lies in their perceived capacity to rule out a wide range of interpretive options right from the start. In my prefatory remarks to this post (they can be found here), I suggested that these principles are the functional equivalent of the scientific principle of parsimony: they are grand simplifications that act as even grander simplifiers, rendering difficult theological questions easy and brightly delimited within boundaries of stark black and white. Reality itself is seldom like that, but if you pretend that it is you may find reality somewhat easier to deal with. This is not an intellectual attitude that is conducive to moral relativism, but it is a kind of intellectual sloppiness and laziness nonetheless, dressed up as a desire for precision and loyalty to a text. To see just how sloppy it can become, all one has to do is to have a look at some of the defenses of the principle floating around on the internet, such as the one available here. The arguments tend to equivocate or appeal to sophistries, or to ignore reasonable alternative views, or to be extremely selective in their compilation of evidence. The principle cannot be found in the scriptures, nor can it be found in the tradition--it is, in short, the invention of an ideology, an ideology that was imposed by the cultural elites of the 16th century as part of a broader political program aimed at greater independence from Rome at a time when securing that independence was incredibly risky. If you can show that Rome usurped her authority to teach from the only authority ever intended by God, namely, Holy Writ, then you are well on your way to becoming your own magisterium. Once you've gotten rid of Rome as an interpretive guide, as Luther and the other Reformers did, you need to fill the vacuum by providing a new, Reformed guide to interpretation. Scripture all by itself will always stand in need of interpretation, otherwise there would never be any need to listen to any preacher ever again, be he Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Free Will Baptist or what have you.

It seems to me that the folks who make heavy water out of these two theological slogans are beginning to be somewhat thin on the ground--the passions of the Reformation period are long behind us--but there are still good reasons for thinking about their vapidity and the reasons for rejecting them. The close examination of deeply held convictions is always worth the effort, especially when, by means of such an examination, those convictions can be exposed for the banalities that they are.

Looking for the Magic Bullet

There are a few theological ideas floating around out there that have become quite popular principally because they appear to provide quick and easy answers to difficult and complex problems. Some of these ideas are not particularly widespread, but have become fundamental matters of faith in certain quarters, for example, the notion of Biblical literalism. This idea had its germ in the rather more sensible notion of Biblical inerrancy, but it was taken to a ludicrous extreme. Although not many Christians subscribe to the idea, some of those who do subscribe to it are big enough loudmouths that they make the rest of us look foolish in the eyes of some.

Other ideas of this kind are not so poorly founded and are more widespread, but equally problematic. As I ponder these ideas it occurs to me that one of the elements in their success, at least in certain quarters, is precisely their simplicity. Perhaps this reflects something like a theological analogue to the principle of parsimony: any account that does the same explanatory work as some other account is to be preferred if and only if it is less complex in its structure. In some quarters parsimony is called the principle of simplicity, or sometimes Occam's Razor, after the 14th century English philosopher William of Ockham, whose famous slogan "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" amounts to a kind of proto-parsimony.

But there is simplicity and then there is simplicity. On the one hand, parsimony can be very useful in keeping things clear. Consider a mathematical proof. If you can derive a theorem in just a dozen steps using only the most transparent axioms and rules of inference, then why appeal to another proof that justifies precisely the same theorem but that requires hundreds of steps and appeals to obscure hypotheses and controversial rules of inference? From an explanatory point of view, it just doesn't make any sense. On the other hand, consider two explanations for the existence of life here on the earth. Assume that both explanations appeal directly to the Neodarwinian synthesis of evolutionary biology and molecular genetics, but one theory, A, leaves it at that, while the other theory, B, includes the axiom "And God created the world in just such a way that these forces of natural selection have these effects on these sorts of molecules". Clearly Occam's razor will have us preferring theory A over theory B, since both theories do precisely the same explanatory work, but theory B adds an entity, namely God, that is lacking in theory A, and nothing about the theories themselves suggest that this particular entity has anything to do with the explanation at hand.

From an empiricist standpoint, that is. If one is not an empiricist, then one can have independent reasons for favoring theory B over theory A without violating parsimony. But it is important to note that parsimony is, in itself, not a requirement of an explanation. The mathematical proof of hundreds of steps is just as valid as the proof of a dozen steps--the only difference is that one is simpler than the other. Only if we want the proof to be perspicuous to the average mind need we prefer the simpler proof over the more complex proof, provided that the two proofs really accomplish precisely the same thing, that is, proof of the theorem in question.

Suppose, however, we return to theories A and B and ask the question: what if the entity added in theory B, God, is not, in fact, praeter necessitatem? This is a centrally important question because the existence of God is not one of the proper objects of the empirical sciences. The principle of parsimony is quite useful if what one wants to do is to show, for example, that phlogiston is not needed in our account of combustion, but parsimony alone cannot tell us that an entity such as God is not needed in any explanation of the origins of life. To merely assert that God is not "needed" is to adopt an a priori metaphysical commitment that is not rationally warranted, though it is commonly enough done. In short, nothing about the principles of explanation in themselves can rationally warrant the exclusion of God from an explanation without begging the question.

I mention all of this as merely prefatory to some remarks I would like to make regarding two theological principles that I think are often defended by their adherents with similarly question-begging arguments. The two principles that I have in mind are Sola Scriptura and Sola Fides, and I will discuss them in a subsequent post. Each is widely held in certain Protestant quarters (though not necessarily in all, nor are both held equally by all) and each has been used as a matter of complaint against Roman Catholic theology amounting, for some, to a reason not to become Catholic. This aspect of the problem is given an excellent analysis by Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications in this post, and discussion of that analysis is now open at Dr. Mike Liccione's blog, Sacramentum Vitae, here. What I will focus on in my own treatment will be the nature of the arguments used to defend these principles. I will show that neither principle is rationally warranted as a reason not to be Catholic in precisely the same way that appealing to the principle of parsimony to exclude God from any and all explanations is question-begging. As I mentioned at the outset, I think that part of the appeal of these principles lies in the fact that they are widely perceived as doing a lot of explanatory work in just a few simple and perspicuous steps, and folks are always looking for the magic bullet that will kill off all the explanatory demons in one fell stroke. These principles, however, will not do the trick.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Richards, Gibson, and Jillette

In a press release today, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League criticizes the "phonies who claim to be horrified by bigotry" because there was a hue and cry over Michael Richards' racist tirade and Mel Gibson's inebriated anti-semitism, but virtually no reaction at all to Penn Jillette's sick and bizarre comments about Mother Teresa of 5 April.

While it is true that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice, it is not true that there is anything like a moral equivalence between what Richards and Gibson said and what Jillette said. Richards and Gibson both made racist remarks, that is, remarks that characterized as normatively deficient those aspects of certain persons due solely to their genetic lineage. To say such things is morally illicit because it holds people normatively responsible for things about them that are not under their control. Jillette's remarks, as ignorant and bigoted as any, were nevertheless not in the same category. He merely said strange and hallucinatory things about Mother Teresa's sexual preferences--a fairly clear case of projection, actually, but not in itself racist or in any other way a characterization of a group of persons on the basis of their birth or ethnic background. He also referred to her as "Mother f****** Teresa", again probably some kind of projection, but not racist. Possibly, in referring to the members of Mother Teresa's order as "f****** c****" he was expressing some sort of vile disdain for women or some deep-seated misogyny, but joining a religious order actually is something that is under a particular individual's control and, hence, counts as something for which they may receive moral praise or blame.

So, while his statement is tantamount to saying that it is really bad to try to do good things, which is not particularly surprising coming from him, Jillette's own little tirade is probably not going to get the condemnation that Bill Donohue would like to see it get.

The difficulty is that it cannot be condemned on quite the same grounds that racist remarks such as those made by Gibson and Richards are rightly condemned. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that Donohue himself expressed some frustration over demands that Gibson apologize, presumably on the grounds that he was drunk. Gibson, I mean, not Donohue. Surely Jillette is far worse than merely drunk! How can you criticize a man who is saying such things? It's like getting angry at a child for throwing a tantrum. You don't get angry at such children, you put them into time out until they can get control of their passions. In the case of someone like Jillette, who has never been and will never be in control of his passions, the prospects of a permanent time out begin to appeal, but it is not the sort of thing that is to be brought about. On the contrary, we are committed to the proposition that freedoms, such as the right to express oneself in a public way, are only morally licit if they apply to everyone in the same way. While it is unfortunate that some folks are not able to express their dissatisfaction with the choices of others without resorting to vile objectification and hatred of women, I don't think that we live in the sort of world where we can reasonably expect to be shielded from such unsavory persons or their bigoted, hate-filled opinions.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Kramer Leaves the Cosmos

Sometimes when folks call for apologies about what other people have said, one gets the impression that they may be over-reacting. Some folks are just too sensitive sometimes, and calling for apologies isn't always appropriate. But demands from many different quarters that Michael Richards apologize for his racist rant at the Laugh Factory are inappropriate for a different reason: no apology will be sufficient to undo the horrible damage he did. He needs to just go away. has the full video of Michael Richards' insane racist tirade. It's a lot worse than what has been reported in some outlets. He did not merely say "That's what happens when you interrupt the white man", but went on for several minutes spewing some unbelievably disgusting racist insults. It was like watching a Ku Klux Klan rally, and it was really appalling. Although Richards, appearing on the Letterman show, said that he just flew into "a rage" and was "all busted up" over the incident, there's no way that I can see to apologize for this thing by calling it "a rage", as though he weren't really in control of his emotions. He had plenty of time to think about what he was saying, and folks in the audience repeatedly called him on what he was doing, but he didn't stop. This is the end of his career, and rightly so in my view. He's not the only one who's "all busted up" about what he said. When people demonstrate so clearly that they are not fit to partake of civic life, it is time for them to find a nice little hole to crawl into and just stay there.

A Christian should always be merciful, compassionate, forgiving. But as I write this post, my five year old, African American daughter is standing right next to me, and I find that I cannot tolerate folks who would say such things, not just because such things are harmful in the abstract sense of being manifestly unjust and evil, but because they also cause real harm, and not just to people in comedy clubs who are ambushed by an act that turned out to be very different from the one they paid to hear, and not just to blacks, but to all decent civilized persons everywhere, who have a right to live their lives free of such hatred and vitriol. It's disgusting.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Not For All, Just For Us

From a Catholic News Agency story:
Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, reportedly sent a letter to Church prelates worldwide, instructing them to adjust the translation of a phrase in the middle of the Catholic Mass’s words of consecration. The translation of the expression “pro multis” is to be changed to read “for many” rather than “for all,” as it currently appears.
Personally, I think this is a fine idea--I hate the so-called "dynamic" translations of the ICEL, though I hasten to add that dynamic translation is not, in principle, itself a bad thing. It is, in fact, necessary to some degree in every translation, since it is not possible to translate from one language to another--let alone from one time and culture to another--without engaging in a rather significant act of interpretation right from the start. But there is dynamism and then there is dynamism, and the ICEL clearly gets carried away from time to time.

The argument, for folks who have only been going to Mass for 35 years, has to do with the question of whether heretical views might be derived from the overly dynamic translation of the phrase into vernacular languages. If you say that Our Lord poured out his blood "for all", according to some, that suggests a kind of universalism that the Church clearly finds rather suspicious (though it is not condemned). The expression "for many" gives you that nice hedge just in case some folks don't make it. Of course, there is almost always a possibility for heresy when it comes to unpacking conversational implicatures: the expression "for many" could be understood as meaning that Christ's sacrifice was not sufficient to save everyone, which is even more heretical than the suggestion of universalism. However, the expression "for many" is, at least, a more literal translation of what is in the normative Latin text of the Mass, so some suggest it is prudent to err on the side of safety by being literal whenever possible.

Be that as it may, the debate is only relevant to Masses not said in Latin, since the normative Latin text of the Mass retains the traditional expression "pro multis", "for many", itself a kind of dynamic translation, since the Greek original, peri pollôn, is found only in Matthew and Mark. According to Luke Our Lord said that his blood was poured out only huper humôn, "for you"--presumably a reference to the disciples, who were the only ones in the room with him. I wonder why the wackos don't want to the text to read that way, since it's obviously even more restrictive than "for many". Maybe they don't like it because it appears to refer to a group that was exclusively Jewish.

Of course, what could be said here is that "for you" is at least a literal translation of the Greek text, and yet we can still interpret it as meaning not "for you, that is, just those of you who are here listening to me now," but rather an apostrophe along the lines of "for you men and women of all nations" or something like that--that is, the equivalent of "for all". Or we could say that what "for you" means is "for you men and women of all times and places who accept me as Lord and persevere in your faith until the day that I come again in glory to take with me those whom my Father foreknew and chose from before time to abide with him in glory." You decide which is the more dynamic translation here, and get back to me.

Or we could just become Johannines, and leave out the institution narrative altogether. That would be consistent with one Gospel text, though not with the other three, nor with St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, which, by the way, contains neither "pro multis" nor "pro vobis". I guess St. Paul was one of those ICEL heretics who decided that it was OK for him to tamper with the words of Our Lord. How did he manage to become such a softee 1900 years before Vatican II? Man, the deleterious results of that Council are everywhere! The best solution, obviously, is to return to a Latin Mass where the priest recites the entire Canon silently to himself. No danger of heresy there!

If there are so many variant texts here, and if the meanings of the various expressions are so close, what is all the fuss about anyway? Apparently not much:
Cardinal Arinze’s letter says that, as supported by previous declarations from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “there is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to ‘for all.’”

“Indeed,” the cardinal continued, “the formula ‘for all’ would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord’s intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5,14-15; Titus 2,11; 1 John 2,2).”
The problem is only that the expression "for all" is not so much a translation but rather "an explanation of the sort that belongs properly to catechesis". You wouldn't want explanatory materials in the text of your prayers, after all--that might lead to greater understanding or something. Better to leave it mysterious.

From a conservative and aesthetic point of view, however, there is no doubt that the Cardinal is right:
Arinze gave as reasons for change the Gospels’ specific reference to “many” rather than “all,” the consistent Latin use of the phrase “pro multis” and never “pro omnibus,” the consistent use of translations equivalent to “pro multis” in the various Oriental Rites, and the document “Liturgiam authenticam’s” insistence that “efforts should be made to be more faithful to the Latin texts in the typical editions.”

The Vatican’s Sacraments chief also noted that, “the expression ‘for many,’ while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the ‘many’ to whom the text refers.”
With that I think we can all agree, and I look forward to the speedy implementation of the change.

Not that We're Proud or Judgmental or Anything

From a New York Times interview with Katherine Jefferts Schori, new presiding bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church:
How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I'm not a huge movie-goer. In the last few years I've been to see maybe half a dozen films. I saw all of the Lord of the Rings movies because I've been a fanatic about the books since I was 12. I hesitated to go see the movies because when you love a book as much as I love those books then movies often make you angrier rather than anything else. Add to this the fact that a truly horrible version of The Fellowship of the Ring had been released right after I had read the books (and not long after an even worse animated version of The Hobbitt had been released) and my apprehension level was high. I also went to see The Passion of the Christ. I wound up being very happy with those movies, but that was not the case with most of the other movies I have seen of late. I did not like the Harry Potter movies, but I had to see them because of my kids. Same with the last installment of the Star Wars saga. These kinds of things can be fun, but the entertainment is thin on the ground once you get used to looking at the pretty pictures. I did enjoy Spirited Away so much that I saw it twice, but that kind of thing is rare for me. More usual is the fact that, in the case of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I would not go to see the movie at all because the trailers made it manifestly clear that the movie was going to butcher everything that was important about the book.

Lest you think I'm a snob or something, I'll let you in on my dirty little secret. I love Jackie Chan movies, and I've seen a fair number of them in the last few years. But recently I've been thinking about movies like that and what about them interests me. I used to go to see lots of movies in the lunk-head genre, especially the Schwarzenegger or Van Damme sort of thing. I drew the line at things like Kill Bill or Reservoir Dogs, but I would see a Chuck Norris movie any old day. Godfather movies also interested me, but it was watching things like Scarface that got me to thinking about my whole interest in "action" films. If you check these things out at the USCCB website, you will find that not all are listed as "Morally Offensive" in the technical sense of being a movie that a faithful Catholic should not watch. Kill Bill made it, and so did Scarface, but not The Godfather. Personally, I find The Godfather rather disturbing in its own way, more so than, say, The Terminator, which merited an "O" rating from the USCCB.

As I got to thinking about this, it occurred to me that what is offensive about such films is the way in which violence against human life is so easily portrayed and made an object of spectacle. The wackings, the cruelty, the heinous violence, all tend to objectify human life in a way that is sordid and cheap. Interestingly, these elements in themselves do not always prompt an "O" rating. Here is what the USCCB says about the new Bond movie, Casino Royale:
Adrenaline-charged adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first “James Bond” novel (spoofed in a 1967 film of the same title) in which the iconic British super spy (Daniel Craig in his 007 debut) must infiltrate a high stakes card game organized by a banker (Mads Mikkelsen) to international terrorists. Director Martin Campbell’s addition to the franchise (the 21st overall) jettisons the campy elements of past films for a grittier, more serious return to the hard-boiled tone of the books – especially in regards to the violence – blending virtuoso action sequences and more character development to show the origins of the Bond mythology. Virile yet vulnerable, Craig’s secret agent is less the sophisticated playboy – though there is the usual womanizing – and more the savage assassin, equal parts deadly and debonair. Recurring strong action violence, including an intense torture scene, adultery, partial nudity, sexual situations, and some mildly crude language. A-III -- adults.
So a "grittier", more "hard-boiled" approach to the violence of the original books merits only an "A-III"--not even an "L". But presumably a "gritter", more "hard-boiled" approach to portraying, say, fellatio, would generate an "O" rating every time. Indeed, it's fair to say that the "grittier" and more "hard-boiled" you get in portraying sexual objectification the more likely you are to get such a rating.

I'm not altogether sure why we are so much more queasy about watching sex on screen than watching someone getting their head blown off, but I do know that many of my friends who also enjoy these "action" movies would never in a million years even dream about going to see a porno flick, and yet surely both are cases of objectification and cheapening. Is the sexual function somehow more sacrosanct than life itself? Is it more degrading to watch people pretending to love each other than people pretending to kill each other? I suppose in the case of a porno flick there's possibly a little less pretending going on--maybe that's the difference. The blood in a Bond movie is always known to be fake, and that's not always the case with the fluids involved in other kinds of movies.

I also enjoy watching war movies. I love The Longest Day, and I found Saving Private Ryan to be very compelling in spite of its cheap trick of an ending. In movies like those people are being killed right and left, often in graphically portrayed gruesome detail. Saving Private Ryan was also rated "A-III" by the USCCB, and The Longest Day, filmed in black-and-white nearly fifty years ago, only made it to "A-I".

But wars are real things; super-secret agents, robot warriers, and crazed psychopaths going on killing sprees, while they may have the real-world analogues, are not quite the same. Watching a war movie can help to illustrate for us just how horrible war is, why it ought to be avoided at all costs, and why we ought to be grateful to those who responded to the call to serve when war could not be avoided. Watching a bad-guy get whacked just feeds our gluttony.

So, I haven't been to see one of these movies in a while, and I guess I won't be going any time soon, as tempted as I am by the new Bond movie. Some temptations it may not be so bad to give in to once in a while: gourmet chocolate, single-malt scotch, a new mouthpiece for your trumpet. But some temptations are best avoided, especially when it is difficult to come up with anything like a real reason as to why it should be indulged.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans' Day

Born too late for Vietnam and too soon for the Gulf War, I did not have the honor of serving my country in the military. I think it's important to take the time to thank those who did serve, however, and Veterans' Day is a good opportunity to do so. Olivia and I watched the Veterans' Day parade here in Athens, then we went to the local Catholic cemetary where I donned my old Boy Scouts shirt and played taps while standing amidst the graves of the veterans who are buried there, much to either the amusement or annoyance of the students living in the rental homes surrounding the graveyard.

When I got home I watched The Longest Day on TV. During a break I switched over to C-SPAN, only to see Richard Dawkins lecturing somewhere in Lynchburg, Virginia, of all places. At the point at which I tuned in he was making jokes about the assassination attempt against John Paul II. Charming man, really. Real classy guy. I found myself wondering how the British veterans who fought to defend freedoms such as those enjoyed by Richard Dawkins would feel about how he makes use of his freedoms, and it occured to me that it shouldn't matter: when we value human life, we value all human life equally. Richard Dawkins is every bit as valuable as I am, and I would defend his life along with my own if it was just me and him against some crazy person with a gun. But I have to confess that, after channel surfing a bit, I found myself wondering about the extent to which we all take our freedoms for granted. After watching Combat Hospital on CNN I found myself filled with a strange sense of remorse over the debauched and materialist ways of our society as portrayed on many of the other channels I passed by in quick succession. Thinking of all the pain and suffering there is in the world, some of it endured precisely so that I won't have to endure any myself, prompted me to want to take my own life a little more seriously. As a way of saying thank you to the persons who risked their lives in defense of the common good, the common good even of those who don't believe that there is any such thing as a common good.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Doctrine and the Deposit of Faith

There is an excellent essay up over at Pontifications by Fr. Al Kimel regarding the rejection, in some quarters, of the historical and theological evidence in favor of the doctrine of papal primacy. As Fr. Al points out, the Vincentian canon cannot be taken to mean that every de fide teaching of the Church must literally have been universally accepted from the beginning, since history shows that this criterion is manifestly not met by certain key elements of Christian belief, including the doctrines of the Trinity and of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Some of the commentators on earlier posts by Fr. Al, and on various posts by Dr. Mike Liccione, who has also addressed this topic at some length (focusing, in his case, on the problem of the natur of the authority by which such teachings are to be accepted or rejected), suggest that the teachings on papal primacy--or more notoriously the doctrine of papal infallibility--are innovations and thus to be rejected as heresy.

I can't pretend to be prepared to say anything so interesting or eloquent as what either Fr. Al or Mike have already said on this topic, but I will add two short remarks of my own. First, I think it is always worth asking about the question of authority, as Mike does. In particular, I'm very interested in the following thought experiment. If I am permitted to reject the teaching of Vatican I because it introduced an "innovation", or because it was "not ecumenical enough", or because its voting was "political in nature", then what is to prevent me from rejecting whatever doctrine I find disagreeable by claiming a similar defect in any Conciliar pronouncement whatsoever? If the answer is supposed to be something like "But come one, we all accept the authority of Chalcedon, indeed the first seven are OK by us--it's only the ones after that which we reject", then it's hard to see how this can avoid begging the question, since whatever criterion one applies to the councils since II Nicea, or IV Constantinople, or I Lateran, or wherever one happens to wish to draw the line, similar objections can be raised going all the way back to Jerusalem. To reject any of them, really, is to establish one's own judgment (or the judgment of others whom one regards, as a matter of one's own judgment, as worth listening to on this issue) as the final arbiter of what counts as a legitimate Council.

My second comment has to do with the very idea of innovation as it appears to be understood in some quarters. The very complex issue of the development of doctrine has been ably handled, I think, by both Fr. Al and Mike in their respective venues, so I won't attempt to address the finial details of that whole theory here. Instead, I will simply point out a principle that was endorsed as long ago as St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a principle that I will call the Principle of Non-ampliative Inference. Fr. Al mentions the Palamite notion of "energies" of God, and this reminds me of a different but possibly related case in St. Gregory--the question of what to call the hupostases of God. In Oration 39 St. Gregory says:
Three individualities or hupostases, if any prefer to call them, or persons (prosôpon), for we will not quarrel about names so long as the syllables amount to the same meaning...
The idea here seems fairly clear: to call the individualities "persons" instead of, say, hupostases, is not to introduce a theological innovation, just so long as the meaning of the new term is not different from what everyone already understands to be the object of reference. In other words, the technical term "person" is not ampliative, but rather clarificatory. St. Anselm clearly endores this same principle in his treatise De processione Spiritus Sancti, written, significantly, to a Greek audience in 1103, shortly after the Council of Bari on the question of the Filioque. The upshot of St. Anselm's argument in that treatise is that the of the semantic content of the Filioque clause is not innovative but rather follows by logical necessity from what is agreed to by all parties:
If we should consider the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in pairs, it is clear from what I have said that it is necessary either that one of the pair is from the other, since the other is not from that one, or that that one is not from the other, since the other is from that one. For example, if we should pair the Father and the Son, we perceive that the Son is from the Father, since the Father is not from him, and that the Father is not from the Son, since the Son is from the Father. And similarly, if we should consider the Father and the Holy Spirit, we find that the Holy Spirit is from the Father, since the Father is not from him, and that the Father is not from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is from him. So also, if we should explore how the Son and the Holy Spirit are related to one another, we shall understand that the Holy Spirit is from the Son, since the Son is not from him, and that the Son is not from the holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is from the Son. Therefore, what I said before [in section 1] is evident, that the aforementioned relations, although they are in one thing, cannot let their plurality be absorbed in the unity nor can the unity let its uniqueness be absorbed in the relations.
The text here appeals to a distinction, accepted by all the parties at the Council of Bari, between something being Deus and something being Deus de Deo. St. Anselm claims that once you accept this distinction, along with the doctrine (also accepted by all parties) that God is one single thing, with a single substance, the rest follows of logical necessity and cannot rationally be denied.

Theologically the argument deploys a Platonic essentialism that ought to have appealed to the Greeks if for no other reason than its manifest origin in Greek metaphysics but that apparently fell rather flat. The Godhead contains, as a matter of its essence, the asymmetrical relational property pair “from/not from”, and it is this fundamental relational property that defines the relations between the three Persons. Just as the Father begets the Son, the Son is begotten—that is, a non-begetter, establishing the Father as the “from” and the Son as the “not from” elements of the relation when they are brought into comparison. Just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Father is a non-proceeder, establishing the Father again as the “from” element and this time the Holy Spirit as the “not from” element in the relation. Since it is possible for the Son and the Holy Spirit to be considered as a pair, the full essence of the unified Godhead must still be present, otherwise it is not really a unified substance shared by all three Persons. If the “from/not from” asymmetrical relational property is an essential element of that substance, and if that substance is truly a unified singular, then it is necessary that the property will be present in any pairing of Persons, including the pairing of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Since the Son is evidently “not from” the Holy Spirit, we can infer that the Holy Spirit is “from” the Son, and not merely through the Son as by an instrument, per Filium, as the Greeks insisted, but from the Son as source, proceeding from him just as he proceeds from the Father, since the relational property must apply in the same way to every pairing. This point would have been very difficult for the Greeks to accept, and they could not have tried to apply Gregory of Nazianzus’ semantic equivalence rule here even if they had wanted to, since this is manifestly not the same sort of Double Procession that had been advocated by Saint Augustine and provisionally accepted by such Eastern Fathers as Saint Cyril of Alexandria. It was, in fact, in order to nuance the facts about Double Procession that the several Greek technical terms for modes of procession had been developed in the first place, and ex hypothesi those terms did not carry the same meanings as required by Gregory. Taken individually, then, every Person of the Trinity is in fact the same with respect to having the disjuctive property “God who is either from or not from God as origin or source”; taken as pairs, the disjunct collapses into the respective Personal relations, either “God who is from God as origin or source” or “God who is not from God as origin or source”. This is a sameness relation that preserves both unity and distinctness.

Famously, the argument did not exactly carry the day with the Greeks. Their committment to (the non-heretical version of) monarchia constrained them with respect to what they could accept regarding the theological status of the Son as a source of the Holy Spirit. But it seems clear that if they could have been convinced that the Filioque clause did not actually mean something different from what they already believed, they would have been willing to adopt the logical consequences of their own committments.

This is mere speculation, of course, but my intuition is that the Catholic principle of the development of doctrine is not very different from this Principle of non-ampliative Inference. The difficulty lies in getting those for whom it is antecedently attractive to reject those doctrines that they don't like to see this point.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Immanentizing the Eschaton

Don't get all excited--this isn't going to be about immanentizing that eschaton. I'm just referring to the fact that this is the last week of classes here at Ohio University, and everything is winding down to the end of term/end of year kind of state. Also, Lisa and Michael will be returning from Paris today, signalling an end to my noble experiment in single parenthood. Although I've done it before--sometimes with two children in my care!--this time was rather different, as it lasted longer and it was just Olivia and I. Nobody got hurt, I'm happy to report, though somebody's hair doesn't look quite as good as it does when mommy is there to braid it.

Olivia's hair looks great, though.

Michael's hair, however, is apparently long enough now that people in Paris regularly mistook him for a girl. This rarely happens in Athens--last refuge of hippiedom east of Berkeley--but when I took him and Lisa to the airport in Columbus and we emerged from the men's room along with about a dozen other guys hurrying to catch their flights, one wizened old man came up to me and said "Did I see a girl in there?" I was non-plussed. I just said that I hadn't seen any girls in there, but that I did tink I taw a puddy tat. When I was Michael's age (1970) I had hair about as long, but mine was all frizzy and stood out from my head like an Afro, which in those days was pretty cool for a white dude. Nowadays I just wish I could grow hair on my head of any length.

While Lisa has been away I've been teaching her Latin class for her, which for me is rather fun but for her students I'm sure it's something of a downer. I have to admit that I admire their perseverence, coming in every day knowing full well that there's going to be a substitute teacher who's not going to just shoot the breeze with them, biding the time until the real teacher comes back. Their Latin is pretty good, too, which makes one proud to have been a part of their educational experience if only for a short time. Even those who are stuggling struggle valiantly, and one admires their fortitude in the face of adversity.

I've been teaching two classes this term, an introduction to philosophy and a survey of the philosophy of science. In both classes I pushed the students very hard and many of them rose to the challenge--I think that many of my students can be proud of their accomplishments this term, because they worked very hard for everything they got. One of the great things about being an educator is having the opportunity to take part in someone's intellectual growth--it is something for which every teacher should be grateful. You get a real sense of this when you attend the graduation ceremonies at the end of the year--often a parent will come up to me, son or daughter in tow, and tell me how much they appreciate all I've done to help educate their child. Often these are folks who never went to college themselves and hence have a particularly keen sense of the importance of the accomplishment of finishing it. Whenever I meet one of these people I feel humbled in the presence of their great gift: entrusting their child to me, and to others like me, to prepare them for the rigors of the real world. Whenever I worry that I may be pushing the students a little too hard, I remember this important trust and the magnitude of the task before me. In addition to being valuable in themselves, these kids are our future--you don't want to ignore them or treat them in a cavalier fashion, or deprive them of the hardest challenges you have to offer.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Celebrating Guy Fawkes' Day

What better way to mark the degree of success the Crown had in crushing English Catholicism in 1605 than to have a look at some nice photos of young Londoners attending a Mass done under the rubrics of 1962, posted by Joee at Joee Blogs. Be sure to scroll all the way down so that you can see the pictures of them continuing their, um, eucharistic celebrations, at a pub afterwards. Take that, Jimbo!

H/T to Fr. Finigan of The Hermeneutic of Continuity.

More on Torture

Principally in response to I. Shawn McElhinney of Rerum Novarum, Dr. Mike Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae has posted a response to many--if not all--of the salient points at issue in the torture debate. I had been thinking long and hard about a response of my own to Shawn, since he posted an excellent rebuttal to my own position, but now that Mike has posted I find that I have little, if anything, to add to what he has to say at Sacramentum Vitae, and I invite readers to check out the argument for themselves.

Dawkins, Dennett, and Delusions

There is a rather delicious irony floating around out there these days, and I'm a little surprised that nobody has called attention to it yet.

Sir Karl Popper was a british empiricist who did seminal work in the foundations of the philosophy of science. Among his contributions to the demarcation debate was the suggestion that the main criterion for counting something as science ought to be the criterion of falsifiability. That is, any hypothesis that is not susceptible of falsification is not a scientific hypothesis. He gave two rather interesting examples. One was Marxist economic theory, the other Freudian analysis. Marxist economic theory is not falsifiable because it is not, in principle, testable. Freudian analysis is not falsifiable because any possible falsification one can imagine for a given hypothesis can be explained away as actually being fully consistent with the theory. For example, take the Oedipal Complex. If you think that asking grown men whether they had the hots for their moms when they were kids might be a good test of the theory, think again: if they say yes, of course that confirms the theory; if they say no, then the Freudians say that they are either lying or just repressing the memory, and again the theory is confirmed.

This criterian is often applied to creationism, because it fails on both counts. Since it is a claim about a singular historical event--God's special act of creation at the beginning of time--then it is not testable even in principle, since nothing about it falls under anything like a natural law. But in addition to that, any possible falsification you can try to think of will be answered by the creationists as fully compatible with their theory. I had a friend when I was in graduate school with whom I would often go jogging, and we often talked about this issue because he was himself a creationist. One day, while we were jogging, I asked him about the fossil evidence. It's millions of years old, I said, so how could the earth be only a few thousand years old. His answer? God put those "fossils" there, and made them appear to us to be millions of years old, when in fact they are only a few thousand years old. Why on earth would God do that, I asked. To test our faith, he answered.

I have no sympathy with those who claim that creationism is science, or with those who think it ought to be taught alongside evolutionary theory in the science classroom. On the other hand, I do have sympathy for those who object to the hubristic and condescending attitude of the acolytes of scientism such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Dawkins, of course, has just released a new book, The God Delusion, in which he gives what amounts to a kind of just-so story about the origins and foundations of religious belief: it is a vestige of a phenotype that is in fact valuable (neonatal trust in a parental figure) but that has the effect of continuing our magical thinking well into adulthood.

Needless to say, just-so theories of this sort are not falsifiable, since they are not testable; they are merely abductions, inferences to the "best" explanation, where "best" usually means "most appealing to the researcher". Also, like the Freudian complex, any possible falsification one can think of can be explained away as a vestige of the very phenotype one is trying to falsify. So the irony here is that the so-called "God Delusion" fails to be science and, most deliciously, it fails to be science on precisely the same criterion by which creationism fails to be science. Dawkins, Dennett, and the rest are on the same intellectual level as creationists. Given the sorts of terms Dawkins uses to describe such people ("stupid", "morons", "imbeciles"), I hope he's got his falsifications ready.

Remember! Remember!

The fifth of November, and all of the Holy Catholic Martyrs who were unjustly tortured and murdered by the state, having been falsely accused of complicity in the gunpowder treason.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Holding the Fort and One's Tongue

My wife and son have absconded themselves to Paris, leaving me here in beautiful Athens county with Olivia. Lisa has to go to Paris twice a year as a part of her job as the director of the American office of the international bibliography of classical studies, L'Année philologique. It's a nasty job, but somebody's got to do it. But if you're going to take someone along to carry your bags for you, I hardly see how a twelve year old boy can really fill the bill as well as a 48 year old man.

So, instead of going to the Musée d'Orsay with my lovely wife, I went to Kroger's with my lovely daughter. Olivia is only 5, but she's really quite mature for her age and I'm quite sure that it will be only a matter of a year or two before she gets to go with mommy. Eventually I'll get invited along, too, I suppose, but it's starting to look like Lisa thinks that I've been over there enough for one lifetime and it's time to start saving a little money.

Kroger's is no Musée d'Orsay, of course, but lest you think it's not as much fun as going to Paris, let me just tell you that there's a Starbuck's in there and they sell sushi. Olivia always wants to get hot chocolate from the Starbuck's, so that's a big help to me: I can use it as leverage. She's not always on her best behavior in Kroger's, you see. She wasn't bad this time, but she was a little more, well, "energetic" than the management usually allows for, so I had to deploy my Secret Weapon: settle down or no hot chocolate. Of course she just got worse, though still it wasn't as bad as it might have been, since she wasn't carrying. But at the checkout she asked about the hot chocolate, and I asked if she had done what I asked and been a good listener. Instead of answering, she put her hands on her hips and declared, "You can be really annoying sometimes." She doesn't know the half of it.

When we got out to the car, I unlocked her door for her so she could get in while I put the loot into the trunk. As she got into the car, she turned her back on me and said with just about the most exaggerated sarcasm it is possible to put into one's voice without seeming to be hot dogging it, "Thanks for the really great time at Kroger's, dad!"

The drive home was not too bad, since I mostly thought the whole thing was funny and she had already moved on to an explanation of why she didn't really think I was stupid just because I wasn't letting her have what she wanted. When we go to Mass tomorrow morning I will take along, for her infotainment during the drier parts of the liturgy, her copy of L'abécédaire de l'ART, which Lisa got for her last year in Paris. It features artworks from, among other places, the Musée d'Orsay.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Traditionalists, Orthodox, and Benedict

Theo has a very interesting post up at Vivificat regarding the ramifications of a possible "universal indult" for the Mass of the 1962 rubrics. One of possibilities vetted there--the post is really a discussion between Theo and a "traditionalist" friend--is that a return to older forms will somehow impress the Orthdox that the Latin rite is serious about its rites. I'm not sure why that would be the case, or how it would aid in restoring unity, but it's an interesting discussion.

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021

  Readings OT: Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 [2, short form] Ps: 25 [2] NT: Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39 [6] Alleluia verse: John 6:39 [...