Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Refuting Matt Slick's "Did the Roman Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?"

On his CARM website, Matt Slick argues that the Catholic Church did not give us God’s Word.  And so, the Church would agree, because we believe the source of God’s Word is God.  He also is the source of authority in His Church.  However, Mr. Slick seems willing to misrepresent the Church’s claims and teachings, and so is willing to engage in deception in order to make his point.  This deception will be evident throughout his article, and will show itself no more than two sentences into his argument.

 The Catholic Church, what many people today call the “Roman Catholic Church”, did indeed decide which books and letters were to be included in the Canon of Scripture.  Martin Luther, one of the so-called "Pillars of the Reformation” made this point clear.  To claim otherwise, there are some things that Mr. Slick is going to have to explain.  Among them are:  1) how did the Church come to know, without doubt, which books belong in the Canon of Scripture; 2) is the known Canon a fallible list, or an infallible list; 3) what did the Church look like/teach, that which declared “these books are the Word of God and are to be included in the Canon of Scripture”?

 Mr. Slick will be quoted verbatim, his words appearing in black.  My responses will follow in blue. 

 “Roman Catholics often say that it was their church that gave us the Bible. They sometimes claim this when defending their "Sacred Tradition" so that they might support extra-biblical teachings such as purgatory, penance, indulgences, and Mary worship.”

 Well, that didn’t take long.  Only two sentences in, and we have a gross misrepresentation of the Catholic Church.  Sure, it can be said that this argument, that “the Church gave us the Bible,” is used to defend Sacred Tradition; after all, without Sacred Tradition, we wouldn’t know which books/letters to include in the Canon of Scripture.  I would even allow, after much clarification, that “purgatory, penances, and indulgences” are “extra-biblical”…even though that’s not quite true.  But to say, “so they might support…teachings such as…Mary worship” is an outright falsehood.  Catholics don’t worship Mary any more than Matt Slick worships his own parents.  But, that’s a whole different topic.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Slick is not reliable for presenting correct information and is prone to misrepresenting the Church.  Given his history and multiple corrections by Catholic apologists, I have no problem in saying that his act is deliberate.  Mr. Slick, did you intentionally misrepresent the Church, or was this in ignorance?

But let’s get back to the actual topic of where the Bible comes from, shall we? 

  “They often say that the only way the Christian church knew what books are to be included in the Canon of Scripture was because it was revealed by word-of-mouth in the early church, that is, by the tradition of the Catholic Church.”

That’s not actually true.  Nowhere does the Church claim that “the only way the Christian church knew what books are to be included in the Canon of Scripture was because it was revealed by word-of-mouth”.  Matt is misrepresenting the Church yet again, and making a false claim as to what the Church teaches about the Canon of Scripture.  The contents of the Canon of Scripture were revealed by God to His Church via the Holy Spirit, just as Christ promised (Jn 16:13, 14:26; Lk 10:16; Mt 28:19-20; cff. Acts 15:28; etc.).   

 “Unfortunately, this argument implies that tradition is superior to Scripture. Of course, we are not saying that the Roman Catholic church teaches that tradition is above Scripture. But when Sacred Tradition is claimed to be the thing by which Scripture is given, then tradition is inadvertently the thing that gives blessing and approval to the Bible. “

 Actually, our argument says that ALL of God’s Word, both written and oral, is equally important.  We do not discredit the spoken Word of God just because it isn’t written in the Scriptures.  In fact, the Scriptures themselves tell us to hold fast to BOTH the written AND oral Word (2Thess 2:15).  Is there a reason we should ignore that part of Scripture and discredit the spoken Word?  Is God not able to bless and approve the books He wants in the Bible by telling His Church, in a manner other than written form, which books He wants included in the Canon? 

 “Heb. 7:7 says, "But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater."  The unfortunate psychological effect of saying that Roman Catholic tradition is what gave us the Bible is that it elevates their tradition to a level far greater than what is permitted in Scripture. In fact, it is contradicted by Scripture:”

 Whoa!  Hang on a bit.  Did Matt Slick just say that God’s spoken Word, the "living transmission accomplished in the Holy Spirit" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 75-80), is “lesser” than His written?  I have a hunch he didn’t think this one through.  First of all, God’s *whole* Word is Jesus Christ.  And Scripture is clear that we are to hold fast to both the oral AND the written Word.  Further, it was by the "living transmission accomplished in the Holy Spirit" (Sacred Tradition) that the Gospel message was proclaimed to all the Gentiles until the written Word began to be written, little by little. 

Our “tradition” isn’t what Catholics claim gave us the Canon.  It is Sacred Tradition.  Matt can either admit he is misrepresenting the Church and its claim, or he can continue arguing what is known as a “strawman fallacy” (yourlogicalfallacyis.com).    Either way, his position is one based in deception. 

 “"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other," (1 Cor. 4:6).  The Bible tells us to obey the Word of God--to not go beyond the written Word (1 Cor. 4:6).”

 This is another misapplication of Scripture, but not as grievous as the one above.  There are many sources that delve into why this verse is misapplied by Mr. Slick.  Suffice it to say that this verse does NOT say that God’s spoken Word is in excess of “what is written”.  Remember 2Thess 2:15?  We have to “obey the Word of God” there as well.  In Matt’s use of Scripture, these passages contradict each other, and Scripture cannot contradict itself.  (Never mind the actual context of 1Cor 4:6…say, the REST of the chapter?) 

Still, this does nothing at all to address the fact that, without the Catholic Church saying so, Christians would not know what books and letters are to be considered the inspired Word of God.
How about, “Mr. Slick, without going “
beyond what is written”, please list for me the Canon of the NT.

 “Unfortunately, the problem with an elevated status of Roman Catholic church tradition is that it results in various justifications of its non-biblical teachings such as prayer to Mary, purgatory, indulgences, penance, works of righteousness, etc.  Because it has deviated from trusting God's Word alone, it has ventured into unscriptural areas.”

 Some of these things ARE Biblical.  But let’s pretend they aren’t and that Sacred Tradition is the sole source for these.  Why is that a problem for Mr. Slick?  Why is it a problem that God’s Word comes to His Church both orally and in writing?  Using this logic, can’t we just as well say that Christ never should have spoken in His ministry, and should rather have just written everything down?  

“Nevertheless, did the Roman Catholic Church give us the Bible? No, it did not.”

 I could actually agree with this.  The Church doesn’t claim to have given us the Bible as Mr. Slick understands "the Bible".  God did that.  And He did it via His Catholic Church, revealing to His Church which books/letters were to be included in the Canon of Scripture through the Holy Spirit, without writing down a table of contents for them to go by.   

 “First of all, the Roman Catholic Church was not really around as an organization in the first couple hundred years of the Christian Church. The Christian church was under persecution, and official church gatherings were very risky in the Roman Empire due to the persecution. Catholicism, as an organization with a central figure located in Rome, did not occur for quite some time in spite of its claim they can trace the papacy back to Peter.”

And a very simple and cursory study of Christian history will dispel this myth, even using non-Catholic historians such as J.N.D. Kelley.  Yes, the early Church was persecuted and gatherings were indeed risky.  Yet they still gathered and wrote and died for their faith.  And the religion was as Catholic then as it is today.  Is it a coincidence that the people who were dying for their faith were writing “Catholic” things?  Is it just a coincidence that we have no writings from Christians in the early years that contended against then-Catholic beliefs that are still held by the Catholic Church today?  The first Christians were all Catholic, and their written testimonies and martyrdoms testify to their Catholic faith. 

 “Second, the Christian Church recognized what was Scripture. It did not establish it. This is a very important point. The Christian Church recognizes what God has inspired and pronounces that recognition. In other words, it discovers what is already authentic. Jesus said, "my sheep hear my voice and they follow me . . . ," (John 10:27). The church hears the voice of Christ, that is, it recognizes what is inspired, and it follows the Word. It does not add to it as the Roman Catholic Church has done. Therefore, it is not following the voice of Christ.”

 And how exactly does this happen, Matt?  The Catholic Church gives a hearty “AMEN!” to Christ’s sheep hearing His Voice to come to know the Scriptures.  That’s how the Church decided the official Canon of Scripture.  So, without going “beyond what is written”, please tell me how Christians knew what God had inspired and how they pronounced that recognition, and whether their pronouncement of it is fallible, or infallible.  Recall that there was much controversy amongst early Christians as to which books should or should not be included in the Canon.  Which of them were right, and which were wrong, and how do you know?  And are you only “fallibly” sure about that?  In other words, might you, and they, be wrong?

 “Third, the Roman Catholic Church did not give us the Old Testament which is the Scripture to which Christ and the apostles appealed. If the Roman Catholic Church wants to state that it gave us the Bible, then how can they rightfully claim to have given us the Old Testament which is part of the Bible? It didn't, so it cannot make that claim. The fact is that the followers of God, the true followers of God, recognize what is and is not inspired. “

 And again, this misrepresents what the Church actually claims.

 “Fourth, when the apostles wrote the New Testament documents, they were inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit. There wasn't any real issue of whether or not they were authentic. Their writings did not need to be deemed worthy of inclusion in the Canon of Scripture by a later group of men in the so-called Roman Catholic Church. To make such a claim is--in effect--to usurp the natural power and authority of God Himself that worked through the Apostles.”

Actually, there was a great deal of contention about several books and letters.  There are “Gospels” and other writings that are not included in the current Cannon of Scripture that were purported to be from Apostles and their followers.  And the Church didn’t “deem worthy of inclusion” any of God’s Word.  That’s yet another misrepresentation by Mr. Slick (and a good reason not to waste one’s time at his website).  The Catholic claim that God worked through His Church to decide the Canon of Scripture doesn’t usurp anything.  It’s simply an excellent example of yielding to God’s authority, obeying His command, and trusting in what He promised.

 “Fifth, the Scripture says, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God," (2 Pet. 1:20-21). “

 AMEN!!  If this isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.  This is exactly why Catholics don’t adhere to sola Scriptura…because “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”.  It’s also exactly why we recognize that God’s spoken Word is alive in His Church which is led by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus said, and just as this passage alludes to.  What Catholics DON’T do is assume that each of us is infallibly led by the Spirit.  We believe that Christ’s Church is, because Christ said it would be.  But we recognize our own personal fallibility, and so submit ourselves to Christ’s Church, the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (1Tim 3:15). 

 “The Bible tells us that the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the very nature of the inspired documents is that they carry power and authenticity in themselves. They are not given the power or the authenticity of ecclesiastical declaration.”

 AMEN again!!  (Sort of.)  But this still doesn’t tell us how we know WHICH books and letters are God’s Word to begin with.  No book or letter in the Canon of Scripture claims itself to be the inspired Word of God.  And many of them don’t appear to be written with the expectation that they would be considered such.  So, how do we really know, and are we only fallibly certain?  Mr. Slick has no answer for that.  Nor does anyone who adheres to sola Scriptura. 

 The Christian church as an earthly organization recognized the Word of God (John 10:27).”

 According to John 10:27, they recognized the SPOKEN Word of God.  This passage flies in the face of Matt Slick’s argument because it attests to the importance and permanence of God’s Word “voice[d]” through Christ, not written by Him.     

 “It didn't give us the Word of God.”

 But the Church DID declare, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which books/letters are to be included in the Canon of Scripture; and THAT is what the Church claims.   

“Also, it was the Jews who gave us the Old Testament. [Snip/paste, to include a repetitive claim at this point].   Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church did not give us the Old Testament. The Jews did. How can the RCC claim that it gave us the Bible when it did not give us the Old Testament?”

 Which Jews, and which version of the Old Testament?  The Greek/Hellenist Jews who had the Septuagint (the current OT Canon used by the Catholic Church)?  Or the Pharisees/Hebrew Jews who rejected Christ and rejected the Deuterocanon which the Greek Jews accepted?

 “The authenticity of the New Testament documents rests in the inspiration of God through the apostles--not the Catholic Church.”

 But how do we know which ones are to be included in the list of the New Testament documents?  How do we know they were inspired, or even who authored all of them?  What about the letters claiming to be written by Apostles and their disciples that are now considered apocryphal?  Matt Slick has no Biblical answer for this.

 “Finally, when the Catholic Church claims that it is the source of the sacred Scriptures, it is--in effect--placing itself above the Word of God by claiming that through its authority, we received the Word of God.”

 Except that isn’t what the Church claims.  The main basis of Slick’s argument, and the conclusion to his entire premise, is based on misrepresenting the Church.  This is deception on Mr. Slick’s part, either willfully or in ignorance.  Which is it, Mr. Slick?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Are “Free Will” and “God” Mutually Exclusive Concepts?

This is a snip from an on-going dialog with an atheist which focuses on an atheistic argument I had not encountered before: whether a theistic model for God is compatible with free will. As the argument goes, God [should He exist] is assumed NOT to have given “free will” to man according to the creation narrative in Genesis. Here’s a paraphrased summary of the position:

“If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, etc…then the following are true:
-He foreknew the fall and His act of redemption;
-He allowed His creation to reject Him;
-He "authored", (His Word via the hands of men chosen by Him to write them) what we know as the Scriptures;
-The "way" it was written is in His control;
-The way it's written communicates that God assumes reasoning powers we were supposedly not granted until later.”

The last statement in the hinge for this person’s argument. Since theists believe in free will, and since the Scriptures are written in such a way that shows we did not have free will, rather were coerced into the “fall”, then God cannot exist according to the theistic (Christian) model.

There are several things about this argument that may jump out, but one of the main things that I see is this: not all Christians believe in free will to begin with; think of Calvin’s double-predestination (determinism). So, from the start of it, even assuming that 'we don’t have free will' is not an argument for atheism. At most, it can only be an argument of why a person doesn’t like the God that [most] theists believe in, or an argument that we misunderstand our God.

Another point, which is the one I honed in on the most in our discussion, is the obvious contradiction in the claim. If Adam did not have free will, if he were coerced into doing something, how is it possible that he chose to do (eating the fruit) the exact opposite of what God was coercing him to do (NOT eat the fruit)?

My conclusion is that free will and God are mutually exclusive concepts.

Clarify for me, but I assume you are referring to the prohibition of the "fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil"? Why would that suggest that we were not granted reasoning powers? Without those reasoning powers already in his possession, how would Adam (or Eve) have chosen to eat of [the forbidden fruit, despite being told not to? Seems to me that he must have had the reasoning power to make a choice...of his own free will. (Sounds like God was putting man to the test, if you ask me.)

When it comes to free will specifically in the context of Christianity, "reasonable choices" is a major component for me. No choice exists if one of the options is coercive. Free Will and coercive tactics are mutually exclusive.
As an example: In considering the best work-out strategy, I know my goals and how to reach them because I am working with a competent trainer whom I need for guidance. I am likely to make bad choices, and a good trainer will let me do that, then council me about the consequences. Eventually I will learn AND push, not to please my coach, but because it is the right to thing to do for myself and my goals. This creates a satisfying relationship between trainer and trained.

I can abort my workout if I want to because I know I will not be severely punished for doing so. That is free will. If threat of severe sanctions follows one of the choices, then that is not true freedom. It is coercion.

Finally the problem eventually comes down to this: What if I had no say in being thrust into a compulsory relationship with this trainer? In this scenario I have no say in who to trust (I am told this trainer knows all and I am to ‘do as told’...or else ). Immediately I am uninterested in the activity and the trainer. Had I been Adam I likely would have done no different than he did, if only to try and create some sort of situation where free will has a chance [*See End Note]. And I would fail because it has already been told to me by God ( if I am Adam ) that I have no choice if I want eternal life...I must agree to remain in this relationship or I will be punished, my ancestors will be punished ; thus perpetuating the lack of free will through lack of reasonable choice forever.

That’s only an excerpt from his scenario. I kept the “meat” of his statement here for context, and replied to the key points I saw. Since God had given a “severe sanction” (threat of punishment) should Adam “eat the fruit”, it was seen as coercion, thereby nullifying free will.

Lack of coercion is important. Free Will and coercive tactics are mutually exclusive.

Okay, let’s put the Genesis story in the context of a practical example: As God said “do not eat of the fruit”, so we have a civil law against crimes, (murder, theft, etc...). Are laws against crimes a coercive tactic which excludes a criminal from making a choice whether or not to commit a crime?

…satisfying relationship between trainer and trained.

You are likening God to a trainer, except that’s not what He is. Your trainer didn’t create you. Christians obey God because He created us…we are His and we owe our existence to Him, AND He knows what is best for us, AND He is our Father.

I can abort my workout if I want to because I know I will not be severely punished for doing so. That is free will. If threat of severe sanctions follows one of the choices, then that is not true freedom. It is coercion.

This is equivalent to "If I know I won't be punished, I am free to abort the workout". This will directly contradict the last statement of yours that I quote.
But why do you believe the “severe sanctions” are threats? “If you eat of the fruit, you will surely die.” “If you touch a flame, you will get burned.” “If you run the edge of a blade against you, you will get cut and bleed.” Those aren’t threats, they are warnings of real consequences to our actions. That’s not coercion, it’s someone who loves you trying to keep you from being harmed…knowing you have the freedom to choose that harm.

What if had no say in being thrust into a compulsory relationship with this trainer?

No one is thrust into a compulsory relationship. God created Adam and Eve. He told them what would happen if they chose to end the relationship (you will surely die) and then let them make their choice.  What would the preference have been?  To not be created, not be given life, and not be given a choice to live with or without God?

And I would fail because it has already been told to me by God ( if I am Adam ) that I have no choice if I want eternal life...I must agree to remain in this relationship or I [and my ancestors] will be punished; thus perpetuating the lack of free will through lack of reasonable choice forever.

This is a contradiction. Adam already had eternal life...he was created with it. If God’s warning [“threat” as you call it] took away reasonable choice, how in the world did Adam and Eve come to choose to sin? It makes absolutely no sense to say, “I was threatened NOT to do something, so I felt I had no reasonable choice but to do it!

At this point, my discussion partner and I began to examine what “Free Will” is, exactly. While he and I disagree on what constitutes “Free Will”, it still doesn’t make much difference to the overall argument. It is still plainly obvious that Adam and Eve, in the creation narrative, made a choice contrary to what they were supposedly coerced toward. There is no way around that fact.

Would you say then that the burden of the analogy is this: to present a plausible situation in which "number of available choices" and "quality of available choices" are revealed to be relevant to the concept of free will?

No, I wouldn't think so. For "number of choices", I would think it's enough that we can "do" or "not do" something, and which of those we choose is an exercise of free will.

Having choices is not the same as being free to choose. That freedom, the freedom to choose, requires the following qualities, simultaneously as far as I know: 1) Each choice must be avoidable; 2) The future must not be known with certainty.

Choices lacking these properties are still choices, options to be considered, but they impede the conditions required for free will to emerge. Their quality is of such low value in this regard that they negate free will.

He and I went back and forth clarifying what each of us meant, making sure we understood the other’s position, and summarizing our thoughts. We have discussed this further in a very minor way since my last response (below), and if more discussion occurs that will be of benefit, I will post a continuation.

I would argue that the distinction between quality of choice and quantity of choice is a necessity for determining the availability of free will when dealing with a reality generator like God.

If the supernatural reality described in the Bible exist then it negates any hope of humans have of reconciling the natural laws ( such as the elusive Grand Unified Theories ) that run the universe: they simply would not exist. Laws of Physics can only be negated if they are not laws. Otherwise they are just temporary conditions that exist by Devine will; totally and unalterably a part of this being's will rather than natural conditions which must exist due to natural laws.

Any being that can generate reality can invalidate logic ( on which all said laws must stand ) by altering the predisposing conditions and thereby inducing a state of being which has no familiar or relatable outcome: a man in the cognitive state described of Adam, just as one example, before he ate the forbidden fruit.

The idea of a reality which God created in which the choices presented are being equated with freedom of choice, and therefor free will, is very problematic for me. Free will does not seem to me truly possible in the Christian paradigm, so I would say that without God free will has a better chance.

My take-home summary on “Free Will”, God, and the overall argument is this:

-The argument regarding coercion [of Adam and Eve] isn’t valid because it refutes itself. The fact that Adam chose the opposite action of what he was warned against is evidence that he exercised free will.

-The observance of natural laws can take place in either viewpoint, theistic or atheistic, and there is no reason a person could not believe he could act against them merely on the basis that a Creator generated those laws. An argument that a Creator could only generate laws that could not be broken would be invalid because it’s circular, presuming both a definition of “law” and presuming the will/ability of a Creator.

-The atheist could say that ‘there is no such thing as a “natural law” in a theistic view’, but only on the basis that a theist would see them all as “supernatural laws”…all things generated by God being “supernatural”. But that’s a distinction without a difference. Regardless, this is neither an argument against theism, nor for atheism.

-There is no reason to view laws (of nature or physics) as “temporary”, nor would it matter if laws of physics were, from the theistic viewpoint. This is only problematic from a viewpoint based solely on a world that is infinitely-only-corporeal.

-There is no evidence, from either the theistic or atheistic sides, that God altered a law or predisposing condition, invalidated logic, or induced a state of being with no relatable outcome before Adam “ate the fruit”. Even if there were claims that He did, it would not be problematic to the existence of God; it would only be a reason to disagree with Him (which would necessarily require one to first concede that He really does exist).

On the issue of "qualities of choice", which define Free Will:

-For one quality, we agree: a choice must be avoidable to be freely made. The orthodox Christian viewpoint is that our choices are indeed avoidable, made or not made (we can "do" or "not do"); we are not coerced. God is the primary mover and creator, and we secondarily act to make a choice of our own free will. While God fore-knows our choices that we will make, foreknowledge is NOT causation.

-For the second quality, that "the future must not be known with certainty", I don't see why that must be a quality of free choice. This quality presupposes that man does not use his reason/intellect to make choices. That's the opposite of the orthodox Christian view, so it does not work as an argument against theism.
Choices lacking the second “quality” are still free choices that are made by free will, using reason.

*[End Note] To me, this statement sheds more light into this person’s rejection of theism than any argument he put forward. I’m no psychologist, and I may be wrong in what I am seeing here, but review this statement and then think about some questions, if you will:

I am told this trainer knows all and I am to ‘do as told’...or else. Immediately I am uninterested in the activity and the trainer. Had I been Adam I likely would have done no different than he did, if only to try and create some sort of situation where free will has a chance.”

If a person is immediately uninterested after being told to “do as you are told”, does that say more about the “trainer/activity”, or about a person who dislikes authority (i.e. every human that I know of)?

To say that, in such a situation, you would disobey just to create a situation where free will has a chance tells me two things: 1) You already had free will to begin with, otherwise it would not be possible to disobey, and 2) you are renouncing an authority figure because you don’t like to be told what to do/not do, or what your limits are.

Don’t we ALL, as humans, deal with this problem? This entire discussion isn’t an argument against theism or for atheism. It’s a complaint that God would create us, and then expect us to act according to a Will greater than our own, and hold us accountable when we do not.*