Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Apologetics and Propaganda

My argument is this: If an idea is true, it can be expressed simply.

I came to this conviction when, under the weight of one simple and devastating defense after another, my intellectual reservations about Catholicism were shattered. That is,: my complex arguments against Catholicism were defeated by simple logic.

It has not occurred to me that I might have failed to grasp an argument of Protestantism which would prove its point, nor that I might not have been exposed to such an argument.

The reason for my confidence is that I've come to see that almost every Catholic, even the poorly educated populace, can give you a good reason why sola scriptura is false. But even the professional Protestant apologists can't make a decent argument for why it's true! The only arguments for sola scriptura that are even worth refuting are complex ones requiring lengthy discussion and based on a variety of questionable philosophical presuppositions. If something is true however, we find that it can be expressed simply and that it is expressed simply. If a doctrine like sola scriptura were true, a simple argument would have surfaced and blazed like wild fire across the lips of every Calvinist, Lutheran and Baptist so that even the snake handler could defend it.

But it does not follow that if something is simple it is true. There are many simple lies and the common form of this is propaganda. A modern example of a simple absurdity can be expressed in three words: "It's my body." So there is such a thing as truth evidenced by its simplicity: "Sola Scriptura is not found in Scripture" and such a thing as a lie disguised in simplicity: "man's real participation in salvation (merit) would rob God of glory."


Brooke H. said...

That's one of the things I have come to love about the Catholic Church: it's teachings are so simple that children can grasp them, yet so deep that you could spend a lifetime studying and never learn it all.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Very true Brooke.

Doc Rampage said...

I never even heard the phrase "Sola Scriptura" until a few years ago. It isn't too surprising that most protestants can't come up with a good defense to a doctrine that none of them has heard of. The two places that I've seen it used, here and on Maverick Philosopher, the doctrine that was being criticized looked to me like an absolutist straw-man doctrine, not at all what I was ever taught.

The defense of the actual protestant doctrine of the primacy of scripture over tradition is actually quite simple: we have the words of God and of men who God talked to directly in written form. Although there may be errors in translation and transcription, the relatively frozen nature of the text is a far more reliable guide to what God wants us to know than is a tradition that has been filtered through hundreds of generations of faulty humans, all with their own agendas and prejudices.

Isn't that pretty simple? Obvious, even?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Doc, long time no see - good to hear from you. The Catholic Church affirms a certain primacy of Scripture over Tradition as I argued here:

The difference between Protestants and Catholic doctrine on the subject is that while both hold Scripture inerrant, infallible, supremely trustworthy, etc., Protestants hold that the Scripture is our only infallible source of knowledge. Catholics believe the Church (AS CHURCH - important distinction) is also infallible. That is not to say that any member is - but that the Church herself is.

One of the problems with saying that the Bible is the only infallible source is that the canon requires a secondary source to affirm it - the Bible never speaks of itself and certainly did not come with a table of contents. So men had to compose the bible. If the Church wasn't infallible, she might have made a mistake in doing so. Then how can we have supreme trust in the Scriptures?

Doc Rampage said...

Thanks for the welcome, Tim.

As to the infallibility of the Catholic Church, there is a long and sordid history of its failures. I hope that you can understand why protestants view the many Catholic persecutions of protestants as not exactly the work of an infallible Church.

I anticipate that you will blame each historical atrocity and doctrinal error on individuals, saving the infallibility of the institution. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes can do evil things and have wrong doctrines that must be reversed at a later time, but somehow the institution as a whole can be infallible. Even if I accepted that rather stretched idea of infallibility, how at any given time, do we know that the person representing the Catholic Church right now is not failing? And how do we know that the Catholic Church is not right now going through one of their periods of doctrinal error? In the face of frequent "individual" errors, what good is institutional infallibility?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Doc -

Very reasonable questions. I would submit to you that the Catholic apology here is not a stretched view of infallibility - rather a narrower view of it. It is the skeptic who insists on a looser definition of infallibility and then judges the Church by those standards.

The Church knows exactly what she means about infallibility, and it may not be apparent to you or I how to determine exactly what qualifies, but the Church sees it as clear as day. If we ask her what she says about it, we'll find that when she says infallibility she has a narrow definition limited to very specific conditions.

Doc Rampage said...

Well, I'm sure they do. But that's not an argument you can give to someone who doesn't believe in them in the first place.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Right - this argument might not be enough to convince someone that the Church actually is infallible but it does demonstrate that she is at least internally consistent (regarding her teachings on infallibility I mean).