Sola Scriptura and the Gay “Marriage” Debate: How Protestant Theory Concedes Too Much

Sep 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Protestant defenders of traditional marriage unwittingly concede too much in the gay “marriage” debate. They correctly argue for marriage as a divine institution, and for the absolute rights of the family as prior to and superior to any recognition by the state.  But the theory of rights and of law that undergirds their position in fact plays rather dramatically into the hands of their opponents.


Plato and Aristotle
From Raphael’s
The School of Athens, 1511

At stake in the debate are two conceptions of rights:

1)      Rights as arising spontaneously from the nature of the human person, discoverable by reason, and which should be recognized by the state

2)      Rights as essentially privileges ceded by an omnicompetent legislative authority.

The first conception derives from the classical, Thomist/Aristotelian doctrine of natural law. Law is something pertaining to reason. (S.T. 1.2.90.1) Human laws are just or unjust insofar as they derive from reason and natural law. (S.T. 1.2.96.4)

The second conception of rights is what we find in modernist philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who conceived of government not so much as protecting natural rights (like the right to liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), but as an omnipotent authority to which we cede the right to adjudicate disputes and to legislate in order to protect ourselves against the unbridled and rapacious aggression of our neighbor.

Ironically, the second conception of rights is one also held (unconsciously) by many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist shares the premise that law is simply something dictated by an omnicompetent legislative authority. (In this case – God, through the Holy Scriptures.) Consider the statement on gay “marriage” at the website of the National Association of Evangelicals:

Let’s go to the most basic question of all — who defines marriage? As Christians, we turn to the Bible as our authority. Quoting God in Genesis 2:24 Jesus said, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Changing the definition of marriage does not change what God has said marriage is to be. Just because someone faces west and calls the sun on the horizon a “sunrise” does not change what it is. A sunset is a sunset no matter what it is called.

There is an irony in this statement. The writer likens the definition of marriage to the definition of sunset. He correctly notes that the nature of a sunset does not derive from our statements about it. When it comes to marriage, however, he fails to draw the same conclusion. In this case, the nature of marriage proceeds not from the nature of the male/female relationship or the normal mode of procreation, but rather from divine fiat.

Based on this reasoning, the argument for traditional marriage is only as good as the argument for divine revelation. Unfortunately, traditional Protestantism offers no argument for divine revelation. In fact, it denies such an argument is possible in principle. Consider John Calvin:

 Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it -that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. (Inst. I.7.5)

Not all Protestant Christians share this doctrine, to be sure. But there is a strong tradition of “Divine Command Ethics” within Protestantism. This derives, in large measure, from Luther and his rather harsh assessment of human reason. In some of his more unguarded moments, Luther could even argue that irrationality was a mark of true religion:

But as He is the one and true God, and moreover incomprehensible and inaccessible by human reason, it is right, nay, it is necessary, that His righteousness should be incomprehensible. –Luther, On the Bondage of the Will

Protestant arguments for traditional marriage thus can play right into the hands of their opponents. The advocate of gay marriage can respond, “By your own admission, you have no principled argument. You appeal, instead, to a non-verifiable, interior religious experience to justify your belief in a divinely inspired law book. This is no basis for public policy in a pluralistic, secular culture.”

Classical Pagan and classical Christian philosophy, by contrast, have never shared this positivist conception of law. As long ago as Plato’s Euthyphro, philosophers have recognized the threat to freedom, dignity, and reason inherent in the idea that “a thing is good because God (or the government) says so.”

The greatest danger in the “Gay marriage” debate is that of unwittingly abandoning the classical conception of rights in favor of the modernist conception of rights. The long-term results of such a move are potentially disastrous.

A Comparison: The Civil Rights Movement and Natural Law

Advocates of gay marriage argue that we should “level the playing field” between homosexual and heterosexual couples in the field of family law. This ‘leveling of the playing field’ is presented as a matter of civil rights, comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, or even to the emancipation of the slaves. But, in fact, the cases are very different.

What was at stake in the Civil Rights movement and in Emancipation? In both cases, proponents advanced arguments for freedom on the basis of the integrity of the human person. In the classical conception, freedom, as a natural right, is something that proceeds immediately from man’s rational nature. Indeed, freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.

In classical philosophy, justice is commensurate with the nature of a thing. This why Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas could argue centuries before modern slavery that slavery was not a natural condition, and why the Popes began to condemn the modern slave trade from its inception. Slavery is not commensurate with the nature of the human person as rational (i.e., free). This is also why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could argue for civil rights on the basis of the integrity of human nature.

The civil rights movement in America (like the Declaration of Independence) was grounded thoroughly in the classical conception of natural rights. MLKs “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” argues explicitly from the concept of natural law. Appealing to classical philosophy, King argues “An unjust law is no law at all.”

The Gay Marriage” Debate:

Freedom, as such, is not at stake in the Gay marriage debate. No one is arguing about the rights of people to form judgments or to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” as they see fit. Rather we are asking about whether the state should privilege and especially protect those domestic relations that arise spontaneously from the nature of human sexuality (between parents and children particularly), or whether the state should seek to create those relations through legislation, without regard to the natural process of human generation?

What is not at stake? No rational opponent of gay marriage is arguing for Homo-pogroms, or even for enforcement of strict anti-sodomy laws. Nor is this particularly a debate about inheritance or hospital visitation rights. The substantive issue is the legal definition of family and of parent/child relationships. It involves the nature of the right that parents have to beget and raise offspring.

Gay marriage proponents suggest a radical and dangerous conception of freedom and right. In their view, freedom requires that the state define human relations in whatever way suits a constituency. It is not a matter of discovering, through reason, those relations that arise from human nature and of protecting their inherent integrity and dignity.  Thus, I have a right to someone else’s children (which is what is at stake in a debate about adoption) because I want them and the state cedes them to me.

If the state can redefine marriage and family to create “a right” (namely, the right to adopt another man’s children), then the “right” to marriage and children is not something that proceeds from the natural process of human generation and sexuality, but one that proceeds from the state.

There is also a whole different discussion that we can have about the sociological data on homosexual relations and child rearing, which is not irrelevant to the discussion. But I think the philosophical implications are primary. Catholic opponents of gay marriage initiatives believe that the gay marriage movement will ultimately threaten the protection of all natural rights by radically reconfiguring our legal philosophy in an even more positivist direction.

Conclusion:

Protestants and Catholics agree on the dangers inherent in the Gay Marriage debate. Both recognize the enormous threat to religious liberty, and to the integrity of the family. Protestants, however, do not recognize the dangers inherent in their own public policy statements. The secular retort to defenders of traditional marriage is that our position is grounded in prejudice, convention, and appeals to ancient holy books. Unfortunately, this charge is entirely true as applied to strict Sola Scriptura Protestants. Furthermore, traditional Protestant apologetics has no reasoned response to this charge apart from evangelism.

Catholic philosophy does not fall prey to this charge. Catholics clearly believe in divine revelation, but they do not restrict moral reasoning to the data of revelation. Instead, they hold that reason and revelation both affirm the normative status of traditional marriage.  To all who care about this debate, therefore, I appeal. Reconsider the wisdom of classical Christianity. You know in your bones that there is a reasoned response to secularism. I leave you with the words of Protestant historian Mark Noll:

Whenever evangelicals in recent years have been moved to admonish themselves and other evangelicals for weaknesses in ecclesiology, tradition, the intellectual life, sacraments, theology of culture, aesthetics, philosophical theology, or historical consciousness, the result has almost always been selective appreciation for elements of the Catholic tradition. Whatever Protestants may think of individual proposals, methods, or conclusions proceeding from any individual Catholic thinker, the growing evangelical willingness to pay respectful attention to the words and deeds of a whole host of Catholic intellectuals, beginning with Pope John Paul II, makes an important contribution to better intellectual effort.7

73 comments
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  1. Thanks David.

    This is why, as I argued in “Two Questions about Marriage and the Civil Law,” defending the legal recognition of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman need not be imposing one’s religious views on others (where by ‘religious views’ I have in mind something involving supernatural revelation); it can be based on the natures of things as knowable to human reason by its natural power.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. I think that most Protestants would balk at the suggestion that God arbitrarily chose marriage to be between one man and one woman and that states have the ability to create rights. Most Protestants wouldn’t have the vocabulary to state Natural Law, but they would recognize it.

    What I think the heart of the matter is that since the Reformation, the state was made responsible for registering marriages, not merely recognizing marriages that were valid in the Churches eyes. There’s a huge difference. In the first marriage is a contract, and in the latter marriage is a covenant. Contracts can be broken, modified, and the membership of those contracts is arbitrary. Its up to the state to define the rules of contract law. Covenants on the other hand are bound by oaths to God and can only be broken by the death of one of the parties. All the state can do is to recognize that an oath has taken place and it has no business defining the laws of such oaths. In the contract law, *not* recognizing gay “marriage” is unjust. In covenants, recognizing gay “marriage” is unjust.

  3. David

    You said,

    “Not all Protestant Christians share this doctrine, to be sure. But there is a strong tradition of “Divine Command Ethics” within Protestantism”

    then you equivocate by saying,

    “Protestant arguments for traditional marriage…”

    “Furthermore, traditional Protestant apologetics has no reasoned response to this charge apart from evangelism.”

    You are not talking about Protestant arguments here. You are talking about shallow forms of Divine Command Ethics. You can be sure that there are a number of conservative Catholics that think this way as well. Your apparent concession that Divine Command theory is meaningless in light of how you go on to critique Protestantism.

    You would think that a site that is almost singularly focused on Westminster Seminary California and its spin on Reformed theology would have factored this in. You even have one of WSCAL’s own as an ally now! I think even Jason would concede that this argument would not have worked against what he presents in Dual Citizens.

    Finally, I do not take your snippets from Luther as demonstrative of Christian ethics. I’m truly puzzled that you take a historically situated metaphysical claim about knowledge of God from a polemical Protestant (who was not a systematizer) as proof of Protestantism inability to provide an answer to gay marriage. I expected more nuance from someone trained in history–Reformation history no less.

    Perhaps that nuance is there and I have missed it. Your quote of Noll gives me some pause, but then, I believe that Noll’s argument is a subterfuge to your own. Noll is saying that Protestants can learn from Catholics, and in fact there is a growing trend in Protestants learning from Catholics. This leads me to believe that Protestants are much more engaged and far less dependent upon a strict Divine Command theory ethic.

    [Postscript: One thing I will say is that Divine Command ethic is true. Apologetically, this is not always persuasive, but for those untrained in philosophy or apologetics, knowing that homosexuality is opposed to the Law of God is sufficient reason for their opposition to it. This is not a sufficient basis for an apologetic, but it is sufficient for the people of God to act in accordance with is]

  4. I think Protestants are in many cases willing to adopt arguments from natural law. However, I think that marriage is a special case, because any air tight appeal to pure reason in defense of marriage will also compel the view that contraception is immoral.

  5. Anil,

    Thanks for commenting.

    Just to clarify. I don’t think that Protestants believe in a Hobbsian state.
    Rather, they believe (implicitly) in only one premise of Hobbes’s theory: that law pertains to will (the divine will), rather than to reason.

    -David

  6. Ref Prot,

    I’m not sure how you think I equivocate.

    However, it seems your objection is to my claim that Divine Command Ethics is not a “princpled” response to secularists.

    Put this in context – If you ground divine command ethics in an inaccessible, interior experience (the witness of the Spirit to Scripture’s authority), and you deny that this experience is in any way verifiable by reason – this is to make an unprincipled assertion – at least in terms of what can be known rationally.

    –David

  7. David,

    You equivocate when you identify Divine Command Ethics as your target, acknowleding that not all Protestants hold to Divine Command ethics (most don’t) while proceeding to critique Divine Command theory as if it were equivalent to Protestantism.

  8. Hi RefProt,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    However, I don’t think I made the claim you impute to me. I offered such qualifications as:

    ” the second conception of rights is one also held (unconsciously) by many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.” – Note: Many – not all, and . . .

    “Not all Protestant Christians share this doctrine” And,

    “Protestant arguments for traditional marriage thus can play right into the hands of their opponents.” Note: [Some ] Protestants arguments CAN (not must) play.

    TO THE EXTENT that Protestants ground their public objections to gay marriage in a uniquely “Thus sayeth the LORD” type of framework – and TO THE EXTENT that this framework is supported and sustained by appeals to interior religious experience – then, to that extent, I argue, they are conceding too much to their opponents. When secularist claim that this is not a principled objection, the Protestant is hard pressed to prove otherwise – given that the primary support for the whole theory is something which is, by definition, beyond argument, beyond verification, beyond reason.

    Of course – not all Protestants take this view. I think I acknowledged that. (The FRC, for one, takes a natural law approach.) But in an admittedly cursory perusal of conservative Protestant sites, looking for public policy statements, I found enough evidence to sustain the charge.

    Also – respecting Luther – It should be obvious, I think, that my aim was not to provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of Protestant moral theology and its relationship to Luther’s anthropology – But still, don’t you think Luther’s anthropology is relevant to the discussion?

    Finally, rather than quibble over which Protestants hold what, don’t you think it would be more useful to engage the central claim of the essay? Namely, that replacing natural law theory with an interior-Spirit-witnessed-generated reliance on Holy Scripture alone may in fact play into the Secularist portrayal of those who reject gay marriage?

    It has been some time since I read Carl Henry on personal and social ethics, but years ago I studied his two textbooks on the subject as some length. And, I seem to remember that he had little patience with natural law or virtue ethics, and argued instead for a distinctly evangelical ethic, grounded in conversionistic-born-againism – leading to a unique reliance on Holy Scripture. Henry was brilliant, and made an articulate case for his position. But, nevertheless, it still reduced to the claim I am making. In the end, Henry argued for evangelism as the core to social ethics. (Nothing wrong with evangelism, mind you.)

    Thanks for commenting,

    David

  9. Refprot,

    Simply put, in general Protestants (Calvinists in particular) use the Divine Command ethic. I don’t see how this could be considered even slightly controversial. You yourself conceeded that you believe it too.

    Postscript: One thing I will say is that Divine Command ethic is true.

    So it was strange that you chided Dr. Anders for making the general statement that most Protestants believe it.

    On a personal and anechdotal note, I was Reformed and am now Catholic, and comparing the two, I would absolutely make the generalization that Protestants hold to the Divine Command theory and are nominalists, and that Catholics are not.
    I think the nature/grace thing comes into play here. If grace perfects nature, then the fact that God forbids gay “marriage” flows from, and is secondary, if you will, to the fact that the very nature of the creation itself (natural law) forbids it. In my experience, Protestants pound away at command, command, command, as their main apologetic, and butress it with natural law on occasion for good measure. Catholics pound away at the natural law argument, and see that (of course) revealed religion shows the same truths we know from that law.

    In my mind, I think of these 2 views as “what God said” (in revealed religion) on the Protestant side, and “who God is” on the Catholic. Ironically the Catholic way is more “universal”, and hits at the core. The Protestant way too often mimics the same old nominalism that just puts everything up for grabs, and is destroying civilization (imo). Because if X is wrong simply because Y says it is, that puts the wrongness as relative to the authority of Y. That is not a fundamental enough reason to believe.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  10. David,

    I do appreciate the qualifications that you make in your article. You do say that not all Protestants hold to Divine Command theory. But then, you title the article, “Sola Scriptura and the Gay “Marriage” Debate: How Protestant Theory Concedes Too Much.” I understand that there are certain trajectories within Protestant theology that offer a facile Divine Command theory ethic. But I’m also unaware of any Protestant that would outright reject a natural law argument against homosexuality and homosexual unions either.

    What my original post attempted to communicate is that there is not necessary connection between what you argue against (Divine Command theory) and Sola Scriptura or Protestantism. Do Protestants believe in Divine Command ethics? Yes. Do they use Sola Scriptura to substantiate their claims? Yes. Does this mean that Protestantism and Sola Scriptura only present evangelism as an apologetic ethic? No.

    The thing is, I think you acknowledge this. But if you do, then I think that this article ought to be retitled and retooled. I agree with the substance of the article. Let’s use natural law in our critiques of homosexuality and homosexual unions. Let’s also agree, however, that this is not a uniquely Roman Catholic convention.

  11. Refprot –

    But I’m also unaware of any Protestant that would outright reject a natural law argument against homosexuality and homosexual unions either.

    Sure you do. Protestants accept natural law arguments against homosexual acts because it affirms the divine command and that’s it. If protestants truly did accept the natural arguments than it would logically follow that they would reject sodomy for heterosexual couples (which not all do) and they would also see that contraception is immoral, which almost none of them do.

    In other words, at least to me, it seems as though protestants will accept natural law arguments only insofar as they support their own ethic.

  12. Hi RefProt,

    Hmm. I’m puzzling a bit over one statement in your comment:

    “There is not necessary connection between what you argue against (Divine Command theory) and Sola Scriptura or Protestantism.”

    To be sure, there are Protestants who believe in natural law. But what, exactly, does that do to Sola Scriptura in a typical Reformed context?

    Does one believe that natural law actually binds the conscience? Do you really believe that a rational consideration of human nature can yield normative conclusions – without reference to Scripture?
    If so, then do you really believe in Sola Scriptura? At least in a Reformed sense?

    As Brian suggested above – what is the typical Protestant justification for allowing contraception or marital sodomy? The (alleged) silence of Scripture on these issues. This suggests to me that in many cases there is a very direct connection between sola scriptura and the rejection of natural law.

    On the other hand, as there are Protestants who surely believe in natural law – what, then, of Sola Scriptura? Is this really consistent?

    Thanks again,

    David

  13. David,

    Yes, I do believe that a rational consideration of human nature can yield normative conclusions. This falls under the category of common grace in the Reformed system. This is actually Paul’s argument in Romans 1. Homosexual activity is “para physin.” Presbyterian scholar Robert Gagnon (http://www.robgagnon.net/) adeptly argues this point.

    I would want to know precisely what you mean by the phrase “without reference to Scripture.” I think it is understood that these normative conclusions can be derived from biblical data, even if Scripture does not “explicitly” condemn homosexual unions. Any natural law argument however, ought to be able to appeal to the biblical data to support its case, even if Scripture is not ground of the argument.

    I think that you do raise an epistemic issue that has been rehashed here time and time again when you ask about things like contraception, marital sodomy, etc. But in my research on contraception and homosexual unions, I have read Roman Catholics arguing from natural law (and conciliar documents!) that homosexuality and contraception are not a violation of natural law. I do not have the articles in front of me at the moment, but I do recall one where there was a back and forth between Robert George (and his co-author) and two other Roman Catholics who argued that same-sex unions were natural.

    All that to say this: natural law is interpretted (even within the Roman tradition). As such, natural law can be misinterpreted, even by those who claim fidelity to the Christian faith (even the RCC).

    Perhaps I am not understanding the tension that you see, so I’ll have to ask if you’d clarify where you identify the inconsistency of Sola Scriptura and natural law. I think the Reformed conception of common grace is sufficient to show the consistency. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  14. I’m not sure if CtC has article on this, but this article is an excellent example of how Protestantism has historically (and nearly universally) rejected Natural Law, and the devastating ramifications of that. This rejection of Natural Law flows not only from an incorrect view of Divine Revelation, but (as others have noted) from an incorrect view of anthropology, particularly after the fall of Adam. Total Depravity naturally precludes the use/faculty of Reason, and thus the very notion of Natural Law becomes nonsense.

    This is the key passage of the entire article (in my opinion): “Indeed, freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.” Since this statement would entail that man can recognize and can choose to do good, Protestants of the Lutheran/Reformed traditions have a hard time accepting it in light of Total Depravity. Thus, they must reject the very definition of freedom that Christendom has always understood, and replace it with a more positivist (libertarian) understanding of freedom.

    As Pope Leo XIII says in his immortal Encyclical On Human Liberty:

    Liberty, the highest of natural endowments, being the portion only of intellectual or rational natures, confers on man this dignity – that he is “in the hand of his counsel” and has power over his actions.

    One thing I think needs to be clarified though is that we should avoid giving the impression that Catholics rely on reason while Protestants rely on Divine Revelation. I’m just saying this because I can see some people reading this article and comments and thinking that. In truth, the Catholic position unites Reason and Revelation in one, and I think Leo XIII captures this perfectly later in the Encyclical:

    God it is who has made man for society, and has placed him in the company of others like himself, so that what was wanting to his nature, and beyond his attainment if left to his own resources, he might obtain by association with others. Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true

    This means that for Catholics, Divine Revelation buttresses many claims that already are to some degree plain by Reason.

  15. Hi RefProt,

    It seems that you are suggesting that natural law doctrine is true, and that our ability to derive normative conclusions from the natural law derives from common grace. Yes?

    If I have understood you rightly, then fine.

    But I don’t see how this squares with your earlier statement that divine command theory is true.

    These are incompatible moral theories.

    Also, I must confess I am not an expert on Kuyper or common grace, but my understanding was that common grace allows for a sort of sensus divinitatis basis for morals – an intuitive awareness from being made in God’s image – rather than a deductive awareness based on discursive reason.
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Whether or not you believe in common grace (which not all Reformed Protestants do), I’m not sure you can tease natural law out of this.

    Consider the Belgic Confession:

    “All the light which is in us is changed into darkness . . . Who can speak of his knowledge, since the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God? In short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves.”

    Thoughts?

    -David

  16. Hi David,

    I’ll comment more later, but let me clarify.

    I am in no way advocating DCT as the basis for ethics, particualrly in an apologetic context. Though, I do think that we agree, if God commands something, his people ought to obey it. Both a voluntarist and an intellectualist can acknowledge this, albeit, for different reasons (I’l just add that RC’s have been and continue to be on each end of the spectrum).

    I do believe that there are deductions that not only can be made, but deductions that should be made by humanity. This is why natural revelation is sufficient to condemn our sinfulness.

    Thanks for the discussion, David. Perhaps more later.

  17. What are some arguments one can show to Atheists and homosexuals that homosexuality is immoral?

  18. Mr David M. and Fr. Bryan (#9)

    Even Dr. Anders concedes that many Protestants are not in favor of DCT full stop. Now, if you disagree that if God commands something then his people should follow his command, then I would be more than willing to debate. That was all I meant by that statement and hopefully I’ve cleared that up. I assume that everyone can agree with that. It is not a substantive apologetic and it does not get to the questions of WHY God commands what he does, but any Christian ought to affirm this point (which is why I am assuming you do).

    This seems to be the question that you are getting at, which of course, you will find a myriad of opinions within Catholicism and without. It is simply hypocritical to point to Protestantism as the champion of radical nominalism. This was happening in the RC tradition and many Protestants held that something was good and true because of God’s nature as opposed to his command.

    This is fundamentally why I believe this article and the commentors sorely misunderstand Protestantism and some of the poorer arguments put forward by Protestants. This is not about voluntarism and to make it such (as David M & Fr. Byran seem to have) is to create a caricature that is unaware of the breadth of traditions within Rome and Protestantism. All of the Protestants I know believe that homosexual activity is against God’s created order, and not simply because God says so. It is unnatural because it goes against the way things were created (hmmm… that sounds slightly Thomistic).

    The crass form of the argument goes this way, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The underlying assumption of this argument, as it is understood by my Baptist, Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and (yes) Roman Catholic family and friends is that it goes against the created order.

    Fr. Bryan would tell me that my family and friends really do not believe that (I can assure you, Fr. Bryan, that you are wrong. I have been at these conversations after all). They really believe that its wrong because God says so and not because it goes against the created order. As I’ve been trying to argue though, this is overly simplistic and not fair to Protestantism.

    My time for writing this has run out and I must attend to other responsibilities. I hope to reconvene early next week. Thanks for the interaction.

  19. Hi RefProt,

    I think you affirming a natural law ethic, but I”m not sure. Merely to say something is immoral/moral based on God’s creation ordinance is not sufficient to get you all the way to an Aristotelian/Thomist view of natural law. So, just because some Protestants argue in the “Eve not Steve” vein does not itself constitute an appeal to natural law.

    Still – if you are, in fact, advocating natural law in an A/T sense – then wonderful. We agree at least on this much.

    But your substantive critique of my article seems to be that I suggest the rejection of this natural law ethic derives from something intrinsic to Sola Scriptura/Calvinistic Protestantism. If I read you correctly, you are saying that there is nothing in Reformed theology, per se, that precludes natural law reasoning. Do I understand you correctly?

    If this is what you object to in my article, then I would ask – haven’t you encountered this “The Bible doesn’t condemn it so it must be ok” reasoning before? And, more substantively, what of Calvin’s “apology” for Scripture and the regulative principle? When Calvin grounds his entire religious epistemology in something that he admits is insulated from rational consideration, what am I to make of that in relationship to natural law?

    As I’ve said – I grant that there are Protestants who believe in natural law. But do you really think the Protestant rejection of natural law is a complete historical accident, with no connection at all to Calvinist epistemology or anthropology? That seems like quite a stretch to me.

    Thanks,

    David

  20. Dear anonymous,

    The Thomist/Aristotelian view of morality is, roughly, this:

    An act is moral if it is freely willed and in accord with the dictates of reason.
    It is the end of reason to ascertain the truth about things – including their form (essence) and their end or purpose.

    Simply put – to use a thing in a manner not consistent with its final end or purpose is not a “good” use of that thing.

    Now the final end of sexuality is procreation. Therefore, homosexual acts – being contrary to the procreative function – are not the proper use of human sexuality.

    In order to reject this line of reasoning, you need to object to one of the premises and argue:
    1) Moral acts are NOT acts in accord with right reason, or
    2) Right reason does NOT ascertain the truth about essences or natures, or
    3) The final cause or end of human sexuality is NOT procreation.

    Most people who reject the natural law case against homosexuality attack #2 – and deny that there are essences or natures discernible by human reason.

    As it turns out, this is a very difficult argument to sustain. For more on that, I would direct you to a very able defender of the Aristotelian view of essences – Dr. Edward Feser.
    Try his blog: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/

    I hope this helps,

    David

  21. @RefProt (#18),

    The crass form of the argument goes this way, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The underlying assumption of this argument, as it is understood by my Baptist, Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and (yes) Roman Catholic family and friends is that it goes against the created order.

    I realize we’re in the realm of trading anecdotes here, but in my experience the “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” way of argumentation has been used to defend what is essentially a DCT ethical paradigm, not a natural law one. The underlying assumption in these conversations I’ve had has been that God created marriage between man and woman (Adam and Eve) – but that God could have done otherwise. Since he didn’t, though, marriage is normatively heterosexual rather than homosexual. And this way of thinking, of course, smacks of divine volunterism and, eventually, DCT.

    I don’t say there are no Protestant natural law thinkers, of course, but as a PhD student in Philosophy I’ve done a bit of research in this field and I feel confident I can say they’re a distinct minority (Grabill and J. Charles, among others, are the [admirable] exceptions). At least when I was considering Catholicism (still as a Protestant), my OPC elders and pastor (and the elders of another OPC church in CO) told me that Calvinism was fundamentally incompatible with natural law theory. This was the case (they said) because Aquinas’ view of Adam’s Fall left room for natural law-type reasoning whereas in Calvin’s view the Fall’s effect on natural man’s ability to reason was so significant so as to render the entire natural law paradigm hopeless.

    Maybe my former elders were the exception and maybe they weren’t, but at least in my experience I’ve encountered more thoughtful Reformed persons who subscribed to DCT rather than to natural law. In that vein, I didn’t think Dr. Anders’ article went too far of the mark at all.

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  22. Hello Dr. Anders,

    Thank you for your response.

    You wrote “Simply put – to use a thing in a manner not consistent with its final end or purpose is not a “good” use of that thing.”

    I once read somewhere someone raise the objection that if one walks on their hands then they are using their hands in a manner not consistent with its final end or purpose, yet we would not say that walking on one’s hands is immoral. So, how would we respond to such an objection? I ask because my sister is gay and I want to be prepared to answers any objections she might make if I use your argument.

    Thanks.

  23. Also, what would we say to a homosexual who says that the final end of the sexual organs is procreation but the organs can be used for homosexual purposes before the sexual organs are used heterosexually for procreation? How would we respond to that as Catholics?

  24. Hi, Anonymous,

    There is a difference between using something in a manner other than its natural end, and using it in a manner that frustrates its natural end.

    With respect to sexuality – consider that the sexual act includes both sex organs, and willful intention.

    If I deliberately intend to frustrate the procreative end of sexuality, with contraception, for example, then – by necessity – I am determined to see the fruitful use of sexuality as an evil (at least temporarily) to be avoided. Consider the difference when I engage in sexuality – and perhaps my immediate end is something other than procreation – but I am quite literally “open” to conception at any and all times. I am not intending to frustrate the natural end of sexuality. How differently will the fact of conception be viewed in each of these instances?

    With respect to homosexuality, I suggested above at least one way in which the desire to legitimate homosexual unions has profound ramifications on how the homosexual and the society that condones homosexuality must view fruitful heterosexuality and procreation.

    Thanks for commenting,

    David

  25. Wow, so many things come up when you discuss this one. It’s a great test case for the Catholic perspective on reason.

    At base, Catholic thinkers (i.e. those who objectively are, not just “claim” to be, faithful to the Church) do not rely on a theory of Christianity to guide their thinking, but an objective, living Tradition composed of people, events, documents and even artefacts (art, architecture, music) and historic objects (principally, I guess, the relics of the Saints)…

    Therefore Catholic reason is not afraid to use exactly the same terms and even the same criteria as those who oppose the Church’s teaching, and in fact, “it is only Christian men / Guard even heathen things” such as marriage (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ballad_of_the_White_Horse )

  26. Hi Anon,

    Also, in addition, the argument about hands versus feet is off the point.

    Feet have one main purpose: to walk on.

    Sure, you can train them to do a lot of other cool stuff, but you don’t need to stop yourself walking to do that, and usually, you will only do it in exceptional circumstances (e.g. if you can’t use your hands).

    Hands: what is their main purpose? It’s to support all the other functions of the person (including but not limited to bodily functions) by manipulating reality (“manipulating” is a word derived from the Latin for “hand”).

    If you use your hands for a function that can already be fulfilled by another part of your body, assuming it’s healthy and funcioning, but not primarily adapted for that need, for walking, say (see, I can even start from a more-or-less evolutionary perspective…) then you:

    a) make your normal functioning *way* less efficient by putting your hands out of action;

    b) risk harm to your hands and loss of functions to yourself and to help others;

    c) risk harming others through *way* less effective use of your hands and other body parts (e.g. your head is adapted for use in an upright position.

    It’s nice to ennumerate points like these fully because it shows, not just the absurdity of “partly-natural” law arguments, but also the common-sense nature of, you know, actual natural law…

  27. David,

    This article is rather unusual in that you don’t actually talk about the subject of the article (sola scriptura and gay marriage) until your conclusion, and even here is it just one mention. So I’m not sure exactly what to say about your conclusions about sola scriptura since there is no argument. But on sola scriptura, I will say that 1) since the doctrine of sola scriptura holds that the Scriptures are the only infallible standard for the Church (as that Church is defined within Scripture and then subsequently and secondarily practiced in the Church following the Apostolic era), and 2) by utilizing arguments from natural law and reason we are not attempting to promote an infallible source of authority outside of Scripture, 3) there is thus no challenge to the doctrine of sola scriptura by those Protestants who utilize natural law arguments against the arguments of those who promote gay marriage. But again I really don’t know if this addresses your concerns over sola scriptura because you have not stated these concerns, at least not explicitly.

    On natural law, as you allude to, there are a fair amount of Protestants who appeal to natural law arguments within the civil context. In fact I would say that within the Evangelical community you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would reject all such use of natural law. There is of course a certain skepticism associated with the use of natural law as an apologetic in many Reformed circles, but I would say that it is the extent of the use of natural revelation that is at issue. The details of the proper apologetic use of natural law and reason is an intramural debate among Evangelical and Reformed Christians. This is true even among those like Calvin whom you quote (and me FWIW) that believe that the Scriptures do not need to be proven, but can be appealed to presuppositionally.

    I’m perfectly good with using arguments from natural revelation against those who are trying to promote gay marriage or the homosexual life style as a cultural/civil norm. But as I’m sure you are aware, the homosexual community also likes to use arguments from nature. There are no shortage of arguments from the other side to promote same sex relationships as a natural balance to opposite sex relationships. Scientific investigations tell us that homosexual relationships are perfectly normal and natural, or so they would argue.

    I would also point out the many testimonies from ex-homosexuals as to the power of Scripture in overcoming homosexual addictions. There are certainly those who become convinced that homosexual relations are self-destructive and thus leave the gay lifestyle on evidence from nature and reason. But I don’t think we should discount the power of Scripture to convict and convince. Arguments from Scripture have a power to convince that arguments from nature do not. Scripture is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword, etc.

    I would finally note that an appeal to Scriptures is not an appeal to anything positivistic. When we appeal to Scripture we are appealing to the God who created this universe and who knows nature and man’s natural condition better than we can possible ever hope to know it. God created our natural world and thus an appeal to Scripture is an appeal to nature.

  28. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for commenting.

    There is an approach to the Gay Marriage debate – grounded in a certain construal of Sola Scriptura – that concedes too much in the present discussion. What is conceded, at least implicitly? A voluntarist ethic. Why is this a problem? Voluntarism or Divine Command Ethics can only serve as a rational basis for civil discourse if both sides agree on the source of revelation under review. But in the case of the Calvinist apologetic for Scripture’s authority, this source is “self-authenticating” only to the elect.
    Thus, there can be no rational basis for civil discourse between elect and non-elect.

    As we have noted multiple times in the combox – if some Reformed Protestants reject this construal of sola scriptura – well and good. I’m glad. I’m merely pointing out that the opposite tendency exists.

    Is this clearer?

    thanks again,

    David

  29. if some Reformed Protestants reject this construal of sola scriptura….

    David – My point here is that there is not ANY construal of sola scriptura by anyone. Sola scriptura is not at issue here because nobody (Catholic or Protestant) is suggesting that natural revelation provides us with an infallible standard.

    I think we can make some general statements about the tendency of Protestants vs. Roman Catholics to utilize natural law types of arguments. There is a certain skepticism of many Protestants as to the effectiveness of arguments from natural law. But as the case of Gerster, Sproul, and any number of Protestant philosophers (i.e. Platinga, Craig) demonstrate, we can only make general statements here – there is a wide variety of opinion among Evangelical and even Reformed Protestants on the appropriate use of natural law in apologetics.

    I would add that there is an analogous skepticism among Roman Catholics concerning the use of Scripture in apologetics (as with the case of Protestants and natural law, I’m just making a general statement here). From our perspective Scripture has a power to transform that natural law does not. We see wonderful examples of the remarkable power of Scripture in pagan cultures where the light of the gospel has never shown. Cultures engaging in all sorts of horrible crimes against God and nature are changed by the power of the Word (working through the Spirit and the Church of course). Can you imagine trying to convince a pagan culture as to the depravity of let’s say human sacrifice by use of natural law alone? It’s just not going to happen. But beyond the use of Scripture to change the human heart, there is a certain power that the Word of God has even among non-believers. C.S. Lewis speaks about this – as an atheist there was something oddly attractive to him about the Christian message as it shown through the works of various Christian writers. In the matter of civil law we see any number of examples of the US founding fathers making arguments from Scripture as to a certain course of action, with full knowledge that many of their listeners were not Christian.

  30. Hi Andrew,

    I really appreciate your thoughts on the transforming power of Scripture. That’s a great point.
    It’s one thing to say “such and such is against natural law.” It is another thing to actually change popular opinion on morality. Especially when moral reasoning is usually invoked only after the conclusion has already been decided on. To be sure, “The word of God is living and active – sharper than any two-edged sword.”

    But there are still a few issues here that I think are not unimportant that I do think are related to sola scriptura.

    I note that you and RefProt referred in a number of places to the apologetic use of natural law – as if the only point in using natural law was to convince people not already committed to the authority of the Bible. But, of course, that is not a natural law way of looking at natural law. Natural law is either real or its not. And, if it’s real, then it is actually binding on the conscience – whether or not we recognize the authority of Scripture – and whether or not it addresses moral decisions not mentioned in Scripture.

    But if natural law is not real then it would be completely illegitimate to use it in apologetics, because then it would be mere sophistry and rhetoric – completely dishonest.

    So the substantive issue is not whether it is appropriate to use in apologetics, but whether to use it at all – whether or not it is true.

    And, when you raise that question, you do get into the philosophical/theological construal of Sola Scriptura. At a very crude level, many Protestants reject natural law – performatively and implicity if not explicitly – by arguing, “Such and such is not mentioned in the Bible, so it must be licit.”

    Others reject natural law more explicitly based on a more sophisticated religious epistemology.

    It puzzles me that you would say one’s understanding of Sola Scriptura has no bearing on the understanding of natural law.

    Thanks again for your thoughts,

    David

  31. Andrew and RefProt,

    Please tell me/us your thoughts on this quote from the article: “freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.”

  32. David,

    Thanks for the article. Very interesting discussion. For what it’s worth, I think the fundamental disagreement between many (not all) Catholic moral theorists and many (not all) Protestant moral theorists is not at bottom a disagreement between DCT and A/T Natural Law. It is more fundamental than that, and I think the combox discussion so far bears this out. The deepest disagreement is not even at the level of ontology (voluntarism vs intellectualism), but is instead at the level of epistemology. Traditional A/T epistemology appeals to the reliability of the senses in putting the human intellect in touch with extra-mental reality through sense data generating percepts which are abstraced by the intellect as concepts, yielding a “true” knowledge of reality all “carved at the joints”, a knowledge of the very nature of things, including their capacities and an account of those things or behaviors which fulfill or retard those capacities. All of this (so the AT epistemic claim goes) being open to observation and testing by all human beings. As I am sure you know, that whole framework (of which I just provided a grossly simplistic gloss) has been worked out in very great detail within the scholastic philosophical tradition. The great advantage of the A/T epistemic approach is that all of its connecting steps, as well as the ontological cum moral conclusions which follow upon it, are in principle open to investigation and confirmation by any human being whatsoever.

    My sense is that few Protestants, even brilliant Protestant philosophers such as Plantinga and Craig, have a firm grasp of the depth and precsision of the A/T epistemic approach (which is why they often claim to be unimpressed by A/T conclusions, whether in natural theology or natural law). Both Plantinga and Craig, for example, uphold epistemic positions which, while very far from a simplistic “the bible says so approach”; nevertheless, at one point or another abruptly exit dialouge with the general human populace and fly to an appeal to principles of faith or properly basic beliefs which, by their very definition or explanation, are not shared by all persons (certainly not consciously – i.e. awareness that God exists, that the Scriptures are inspired, etc).

    What Plantinga does, and what most Reformed epistemologists do, is make an attempt (often brilliant and articulate) to show that their particular epistemic system is “as defensible” as anyone elses – i.e. that it is “warranted”, respectable, etc. But by the time one is defending the intellectual “warrant” for one’s beliefs, one has ceased working proactively shoulder to shoulder with each and every human being in mutually seeking the truth. Essays defending a position as “warranted” are already defensive. One has already parted company with the common herd, and begun an intellectual effort to circle the wagons around one’s own philosophical or theological foundations. That is a very different posture than the A/T – Catholic epistemic approach, which through a very carefully and painstakingly mapped out philosophical pathway, claims to be able to lead any man backwards from any of its claims in the area of natural law (or natural theology for that matter), through the underlying ontology and epistemology which ultimately support those natural law claims, showing each traceable step to be independently verifiable such that the claims in question simply must be true on pain of rendering extra-mental reality unintelligible per se.

    I sometimes wonder if the attraction of DCT, or even detours toward stances like Plantinga’s “properly basic beliefs” don’t largely arise because so few leading Protestant thinkers have intellectual formation in the traditional philosophic approach which grounded Western thought until only a very few centuries ago.

    Cheers,

    Ray

  33. I should add, for clarification, that in my experience at least, there *are* Protestant intellectuals who generally understand and appreciate cosmological arguments such as the five ways of Aquinas and natural theology in general, or else the general notion of natural law with respect to things having concrete natures which determine what facilitates or else obstructs the fulfillment of those natures. Some have a grasp of the issues surrounding nominalism vs essentialism, etc. But not that many seem to really get the nitty gritty details of the epistemic theory which undergirds all that. That’s my impression anyway from personal reading and personal interactions – maybe its wrong.

  34. David (#30 – Mostly concerning natural law and sola scriptura),

    I’m afraid this thread has gotten lost in the more recent one from Jason, but there you have it.

    I note that you and RefProt referred in a number of places to the apologetic use of natural law – as if the only point in using natural law was to convince people not already committed to the authority of the Bible.

    Well yes it’s true that I’m only speaking here of natural law in terms of it’s use in apologetics. But I agree with you that it has a purpose outside of apologetics. I would say that, for example, David the Psalmist’s use of natural law was for the purpose if instructing and encouraging those who acknowledged God’s rule over this world. So natural law blesses and teaches us as believers. I hesitate to use the term “binding on the conscience” in reference to natural law because this phrase has a difference denotation and connotation for Protestants and Catholics . But I agree that natural law is real and has a distinct message for both believer and unbeliever. But for the purpose of the argument you brought up I was just looking at it’s use to challenge the unbeliever.

    And, when you raise that question, you do get into the philosophical/theological construal of Sola Scriptura. At a very crude level, many Protestants reject natural law – performatively and implicity if not explicitly – by arguing, “Such and such is not mentioned in the Bible, so it must be licit.”

    Natural law is mentioned in both OT and NT, but even if we were to raise issues of natural law not raised explicitly in the Scriptures I think we can do this without challenging sola scriptura. The key point on sola scriptura is that Scripture provides us with an infallible standard. There are other standards and many ways they are communicated. There are principles that we can derive from nature and philosophy and there are standards established by the tradition of the Church and current ecclesiastical governments. I believe these are all valid and intelligent Protestants aren’t likely to have substantial issues with them until these principles are raised to the level of Scripture. Roman Catholicism challenges sola scriptura by positing ecclesiastical principles which have the same effective level of certainty as Scripture. But Catholics are not saying the same thing about principles derived from nature.

    It seems to me that Catholic scholars often make too much of natural law, but I would say that same of many Protestant theologians like Sproul and Platinga. But I don’t believe that any Catholic or Protestant scholar is challenging sola scriptura by their use of natural law. No matter what lessons we might think we can derive from nature, these principles will always be subservient to those derived from Scripture (for Protestants) and Scripture/Tradition (for Catholics).

    Please tell me/us your thoughts on this quote from the article: “freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.”

    Nick – I’m OK with this given the context David provides. Both sides of the gay marriage debate ought to have the freedom to draw conclusions from the same set of data (nature in this case). So what happens when both sides appeal to the same body of data and come to different conclusions? I don’t mean to be totally skeptical about the use of natural law, only to point out its limitations.

  35. Hi Ray,

    I agree with your analysis of the situation. I think I alluded, obliquely, to this with my references to the Calvinist basis for appeal to revelation.

    For what it’s worth – I think we have to distinguish between Plantinga’s properly basic argument for belief in God and the more specific claim to have been illumined by the Holy Spirit vis-a-vis a particular interpretation of scripture, or the status of the canon. Plantinga’s view is that IF there is a God, then He probably reveals himself to people through this kind of intuitive awareness that we can properly basic belief. To point to that intuition is rational – for all the reasons Plantinga argues.

    But the same thing doesn’t hold in the latter case.
    There are no good reasons to assume that my claim to illumination vis-a-vis scripture interpretation or canonicity is more likely to be valid than someone else’s competing and contradictory claim.

    To illustrate – a Christian, a Muslim, and a Mormon might all be able to testify to a general belief (properly basic) in the existence of a God. But as soon as you start trying to differentiate the claims according to modes of revelation, the properly basic aspect breaks down, and claims to burning bosoms and illumination sound suspeciously like special pleading.

    This is one of the big problems with DCT based on revealed religions, imo.

    -David

  36. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It seems that we may agree on more than we disagree. If I understand you correctly, you are acknowleding the existence and utility of natural law – for more than just apologetics, but you caution lest it be elevated to the level of Scripture. You think Catholics and some Protestants sometimes make too much of natural law.

    If these are your sentiments, I think I could probably agree with them. I suppose the substantive issue we have not addressed is the one Ray raised above – and which was really a big point of the article. How does the Protestant epistemic framework influence Protestant use of natural law? And, how does this affect our public discourse, positively or negatively.

    Just this morning – here in Alabama – I was listening to a secular radio talk show. The host started pontificating on gay marriage by appealing to Scripture (and only to Scripture). Immediately following this, I listened to President Obama talk about the rights (and limits) of religious discourse in the public sphere.
    It was kind of eeriie. In both contexts, the unspoken assumption was that religious “values” are beyond rational consideration, and must be granted only a kind of begrudging tolerance.

    It seems to me that this is just what Pope Benedict is trying so hard to counter. He has repeatedly made it a priority to try to bring reason and natural law back into public discourse, and to make the case for morality on these terms. Now, you might think this is futile. And someone who really rejects natural law is bound to think it futile. But, my appeal is to those Protestants who DO NOT think if futile. Please – let’s advance the public conversation on this issue without merely thumping our Bibles because, I fear, that plays into the hands of our opponents.
    Thanks again,
    David

  37. David,

    You wrote:

    “I think we have to distinguish between Plantinga’s properly basic argument for belief in God and the more specific claim to have been illumined by the Holy Spirit vis-a-vis a particular interpretation of scripture, or the status of the canon.”

    I agree, I was over-glossing for the sake of brevity. Still, I am no fan even of Plantinga’s arguments with respect to belief in God as “properly basic” because that IF (“IF there is a God”) has no further shared epistemic roots. It lends rational credibility (in concert with his arguments about other minds, etc) to the theist conviction in the face of non-theistic criticisms. But what one is ultimately left with is that Plantinga (and other like-minded theists) claims to have an intutition (God-intuition) which others simply deny possessing. A wall is erected where the God-intuitor simply parts company with those who deny a similar God-intuition experience. The IF and other PBB arguments contribute toward lending “warrant” or intellectual cover to the claims of the God-Intuitor, but they don’t establish the fact of God’s existence on grounds which are common to all as rational animals per se. The AT approach does not share that limitation.

    Of course, I agree with the rest of what you say about epistemic warrant with respect to modes of revelation.

    Cheers,

    Ray

  38. An article which I think nicely ties in with this post and current discussion showing the sort of epistemic gulf which exists between non-theists and Reformed thinkers even given the very best Protestant epistemic defense, is this recent New York Times review of Alvin Plantinga’s latest work. The review is written by the famous and always thoughtful secular philosopher Thomas Nagel.

    The review is not only irenic, but includes sincere notes of admiration for the self-contained consistency of Plantinga’s position and argumentation (i.e. Nagel seems to acknowledge that Plantinga has a position which might be called “warranted”). Nevertheless, for the point I have been driving at, the following excerpt by Nagel stands out:

    “It is illuminating to have the starkness of the opposition between Plantinga’s theism and the secular outlook so clearly explained. My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith. From Plantinga’s point of view, by contrast, I suffer from a kind of spiritual blindness from which I am unwilling to be cured. This is a huge epistemological gulf, and it cannot be overcome by the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that we share, as is the hope with scientific disagreements.”[emphasis mine]

    Pax

    Ray

  39. Hello Andrew (re#34b),

    I asked how you understand the phrase: “freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.” You said:

    I’m OK with this given the context David provides. Both sides of the gay marriage debate ought to have the freedom to draw conclusions from the same set of data (nature in this case). So what happens when both sides appeal to the same body of data and come to different conclusions? I don’t mean to be totally skeptical about the use of natural law, only to point out its limitations.

    Before I get to your second half of your comment, I think it’s important you clarify the first half: So are you affirming man has a rational nature that is still ‘functional’ after Adam’s sin, such that the unbeliever can analyze the ‘data’ and even come to a correct moral position (on something like gay marriage)? If so, then this is a huge bridge; if not, then I don’t see how you could affirm Natural Law and the quote I gave.

    Now onto the second half of your comment. What is interesting about your response is that it could just as easily apply to Scripture. If two opposing views analyze some data and come to different conclusions, then one of them is (or even both are) wrong. This in itself doesn’t touch upon Natural Law’s “limitations”, for if it did then this would logically apply to Scripture having limitations when two opposing sides looked at a given verse and came to different conclusions. Limitations would only apply in so far as there wasn’t sufficient data to tell one way or the other: for example, Natural Law shows us that we as creatures owe the Creator some kind of worship, but NL does not tell us certain specifics, such as what day of the week.

    In the case of ‘gay marriage’, the proper use of Reason would preclude an ‘opposing’ side from looking at the data and coming to a different conclusion. This is because, as others have noted, Reason shows that the sexual faculty is ultimately tied to procreation, and for ‘one side’ to not recognize this would be to fail to even grasp reality/nature. So the objection you raise is not even a possibility (at least in this situation).

  40. Hey Ray,

    thanks so much for the Nagel quote.

    On that note, have you seen Nagel’s recent book Mind and Cosmos?
    Subtitle: “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”

    Interesting stuff.
    David

  41. to follow up,

    Nagel mentions suddenly believing the Nicene Creed.
    But, as I mentioned above, I’m not sure that Plantinga ever argues for Christian, Nicene Theism as properly basic, but rather for something more general. (“God is speaking to me” – whoever that might be.) How you get from a properly basic belief in “god” to Nicene Christianity is a different question, and one, it seems to me, that does not yield to concerns about proper basicality.

    Instead, you need to invoke the authority of the Church, or to some theory of interior illumination that would be hard to qualify as properly basic, because of its very specific content.

    -david

  42. David,

    Yep, Nagel’s newest book is fascinating because it undermines the whole edifice of physicalism/materialism/scientism which dominates modern academia, at least in Anglo-American analytic philosophy circles. Word on the street is that Nagel is leaning toward something like panpsychism – which is a significant shift away from the dominant reductivist view of matter, mind, etc. Now if guys like Nagel would give a sustained hearing to the epistemic and ontological framework which underwrite an AT philosophy of nature (PON) – without which the emperiological sciences which men like Nagel admire cannot proceed – then eventually, such philosophers *might* come to accept the meta-physics which necessarily follow upon the physics – including those metaphysical truths which underlay natural theology. In this way, it is possible that men can come to know the existence of God “by [use of] the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that [they] share”, without ever being asked to leap an epistemelogical gap in order to embrace a position for which they have no common experiential grounds for affirming – which is the kind of leap a non-theist would be asked to make in order to embrace even a properly basic belief in God according to Plantinga’s explanation of such a belief.

    You wrote:

    “I’m not sure that Plantinga ever argues for Christian, Nicene Theism as properly basic, but rather for something more general. (“God is speaking to me” – whoever that might be.)”

    In his book, Plantinga does not argue that Nicene Theism is properly basic – that’s true. I don’t think Nagel meant to imply that Plantinga argued that way (if he did, Nagel got it wrong). Nagel just knows that that is the sort of theism which Plantinga is committed to. I think Nagel understands that Plantinga’s notion of the existence of God being “properly basic” is indeed much more general. But for the sort of reasons I gave in #37, I think Nagel sees Plantinga’s intuition about the existence of God, even in a general sense (in the properly basic sense) to be as foriegn to his (Nagel’s) experience as would be a sudden conviction about specifically Nicene Theism. I think Nagel would maintain that even Plantinga’s properly basic intuition about God involves an epistemic gulf or rupture in shared experience between theists like Plantinga and naturalists like Nagel that “cannot be overcome by the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that we share”. Plantinga’s epistemic system leaves no further common ground to which he can appeal in order to lead men like Nagel to belief in God.

    Pax,

    Ray

  43. Ray and David,

    Regarding Plantinga and ‘properly basic’ beliefs, I wrote a paragraph about that in comment #22 of the Wilson vs. Hitchens thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  44. Bryan, well stated. Your comment recalled for me Feingold’s dissertation, and the intra-Thomist debate about elicited vs. innate desire for the vision of God (with Thomas arguing for an elicited desire, following on our discovery that there is such a being, “God,” which we do by perceptual, empirical means).

    -David

  45. Ray (re: 39 on gay marriage/natural law thread),

    So are you affirming man has a rational nature that is still ‘functional’ after Adam’s sin, such that the unbeliever can analyze the ‘data’ and even come to a correct moral position (on something like gay marriage)?

    Yes. I’m sure that you acknowledge that Protestants believe that man can analyze data rationally in the context of the sciences in general. Now in terms of theology, oftentimes Protestants get tarnished with the idea that we cannot understand anything about what God would have us to believe about Himself in terms of how He has revealed Himself in nature. But if we did believe this then that would do away with any kind of natural revelation.

    What is interesting about your response is that it could just as easily apply to Scripture. If two opposing views analyze some data and come to different conclusions, then one of them is (or even both are) wrong.

    Yes. And it could easily apply to Tradition as well. The problem that Protestants have with Catholics most fundamentally is that we cannot agree with the Catholic understanding of Tradition. But without getting into interpreting Scripture or Tradition, it seems to me that arguments from nature are the weakest of all.

    In the case of ‘gay marriage’, the proper use of Reason would preclude an ‘opposing’ side from looking at the data and coming to a different conclusion. This is because, as others have noted, Reason shows that the sexual faculty is ultimately tied to procreation, and for ‘one side’ to not recognize this would be to fail to even grasp reality/nature.

    But I’m sure you realize that from the perspective of the other side (not where I am coming from of course) procreation is a problem, not something to be fostered. Nature is being destroyed by unbridled human procreation the other side would argue. Homosexual relations is a natural balance again heterosexual relations. What is more clear form nature than they, or so they would again argue.

    In the history of dealing with cultures that glory in their sub-human behavior, what is our answer? How do we combat, let’s say, the practice of human sacrifice, something surely opposed to what you and I would agree with what God has revealed in nature? My observation is that cultures which have become immersed in such God and nature hating practices are generally not going to become convinced of the error of their ways by our appealing to nature. Here is where Christians appeal to Scripture and where Scripture demonstrates its power.

    So from my perspective there are times when we ought to make appeals from Scripture and times when we ought to appeal to nature (and times when we should look to Tradition). But when we appeal to Scripture we are doing so because we know that God has created that very nature that the Scriptures speak of, and when we appeal to nature we do so because God Himself calls us to consider nature’s witness of Him.

  46. So, we reason against gay marriage on the basis of natural law, right? If so, then how do we get around the state ceding children to the adoptive parents? It seems that following such logic would prevent adoptive parents from ever having any real right to the child.

  47. Some thoughts:

    Ironically, the second conception of rights is one also held (unconsciously) by many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist shares the premise that law is simply something dictated by an omnicompetent legislative authority. (In this case – God, through the Holy Scriptures.)

    I wonder how “Law” is being defined here. I know that there are many kinds of Laws such as moral laws, physical laws, judicial laws etc… I know that a law does not exists out of nothing. As a Christian, I believe that Laws exists only because God gave (e.g. moral) or designed (e.g. physical laws: law of gravity) them. Governments are ordained by God to enforce and respect these primary laws for the benefit of man thus judicial and social laws (albiet secondary) also exists — though it should be noted that these secondary laws’ existence is owing to God’s ordaining.

    Further nuance can be made for it seems that Dr. Anders also equates law with revelation. Revelation means to “make known” or “disclose”. Divine revelation then is God’s disclosing of Himself to his creation (angels and people) – His character, His Laws, His Ordinances, etc… The protestants in their systematic theologies distinguish this divine self-disclosure as “general” and “special/particular” revelation.

    General revelation refers to God’s self-disclosure in creation, providentially orchestrated history, and in human nature (i.e., conscience in conjunction with the moral law). Special revelation refers to God’s self-disclosure through providential intervention on individuals, nations and miraculous events then ultimately in Jesus Christ recorded for us in His inspired Scripture.

    On this point, I would like to say that what Dr. Anders say about the Christian viewpoint that -> “law is simply something dictated by an omnicompetent legislative authority (In this case – God)” -> is correct. Ultimately, Laws exists because God said it exists when He created this world out of nothing. But, incorrect in saying that this “law”/”revelation” is given only by special revelation (specifically the Scripture).

    In this case, the nature of marriage proceeds not from the nature of the male/female relationship or the normal mode of procreation, but rather from divine fiat.

    Divine fiat means God defining, making definite and distinct statement about something – in this case, marriage. Dr. Anders argues that the definition of marriage should primarily be defined not from “divine fiat” but from our understanding of the nature of the male/female relationship or the normal mode of procreation. I find it hard for a Christian to place primary emphasis on our definition of marriage based on our understanding of the nature of the male/female relationship or the normal mode of procreation rather than dependence on what God has to say about marriage. Our worldview demands that what God has to say about marriage is the way we have to perceive the nature of the male/female relationship not the other way around. It seems to me that Dr. Anders would rather place “divine fiat” last in his defense of the traditional marriage which is detrimental to our Christian worldview as I will explain later.

    Based on this reasoning, the argument for traditional marriage is only as good as the argument for divine revelation.

    The argument for marriage is only as good if our worldview is true where God exists and He reveals to us the design for marriage. I would strongly argue as a Christian that indeed the crux of the matter is divine revelation or “What does God say about Marriage”? We do not concede to the secularists worldview where God is out of the equation and that arguments are won based on human reason (a neutral ground of worldview where God may or may not exist to argue for what is right). Rather, we insist that the only worldview that will make sense in this world is the Christian worldview where God communicates His existence and sovereign rights through general and special revelations (divine revelations indeed).

    Unfortunately, traditional Protestantism offers no argument for divine revelation. In fact, it denies such an argument is possible in principle. Consider John Calvin…

    This is, unfortunately, false and a misreading of Calvin. If one reads the Institutes 1.7.5, it talks about the ultimate proof of Scripture being the Word of God. And, rightly, Calvin argues that there is no higher appeal that one can accept when God speaks! His claim is ultimate and His Word is unquestionable. When one accepts His Word, there is no other authority upon which we can appeal to than God’s Word. There is no more argument higher than God and as such the best proof for the inspiration of Scripture is God. He is the greatest witness of Himself and it is only God who can reveal it to us. This does not mean that second order arguments to ground our beliefs are non-existent for it is clearly stated by Calvin that these exist. One only has to read 1.8 in the Institutes.

    Protestant arguments for traditional marriage thus can play right into the hands of their opponents. The advocate of gay marriage can respond, “By your own admission, you have no principled argument. You appeal, instead, to a non-verifiable, interior religious experience to justify your belief in a divinely inspired law book. This is no basis for public policy in a pluralistic, secular culture.”

    The assumption of the argument is that the Christian should shift his worldview to a “pluralistic, secular culture” in order to make his case. The moment he concedes to the secularist worldview, he has lost his Christianity for to embark that journey is to deny the existence and authority of God upon which he relates, perceives and experiences the created world. Firstly, our “religious” experiences are not dismissable evidence. Indeed, we relate to the created world by our “experience”. And divine revelation informs our “experiences”. If God exists then our “experiences” and “encounters” with Him and his created world is legitimate.

    Second, the reason why our opponent denies our “experience” is because he can’t make sense of it. He is operating in a worldview where God does not exist and therefore can not comprehend what divine revelation looks like in his perception of being. Behind our opponent’s argument is the assumption that his “non-religious” experience justifies his belief in a pluralistic, secular culture — and this in itself is non-verifiable.

    The question I pose to Dr. Anders is “Why should we submit to a worldview of pluralism and secularism in order to make our case?” Surely, our “experiences” will not make sense in that worldview (as their “non-religious” experience will not make sense in our Christian worldview)! But that doesn’t mean that that worldview is correct.

    In classical philosophy, justice is commensurate with the nature of a thing. This why Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas could argue centuries before modern slavery that slavery was not a natural condition, and why the Popes began to condemn the modern slave trade from its inception.

    Aquinas argument can not make sense outside his assumption that the biblical narrative (a special revelation) regarding the fall (and sin) is accurate. His argument proceeds and grounded primarily from the biblical narrative that informs his understanding of the natural condition of man.

    Protestants, however, do not recognize the dangers inherent in their own public policy statements. The secular retort to defenders of traditional marriage is that our position is grounded in prejudice, convention, and appeals to ancient holy books. Unfortunately, this charge is entirely true as applied to strict Sola Scriptura Protestants. Furthermore, traditional Protestant apologetics has no reasoned response to this charge apart from evangelism.

    The real danger I see is when I see a Christian give up his worldview that God exists and God is the ultimate authority in defining marriage and that God speaks about marriage through His Word and accepts the athiestic secular worldview where “ancient holy books” does not make sense! If you believe that Christians are not ready to argue against this worldview then I think you are mistaken.

    Catholic philosophy does not fall prey to this charge. Catholics clearly believe in divine revelation, but they do not restrict moral reasoning to the data of revelation. Instead, they hold that reason and revelation both affirm the normative status of traditional marriage.

    Where else do Christian look for moral reasoning except “divine revelation”? Dr. Anders seems to advance the idea that “divine fiat” does not resolve problems. But that is only true in a worldview where the “Divine” does not exist. Because, if the “Divine” does exists, and if He spoke about marriage then all reasons submit to that “Divine fiat”! It is true therefore that “reason” and “revelation” both affirm the normative status of traditional marriage but misses the point of the relationship between the two. They are not equally primary to norm the status of traditional marriage. “Revelation” informs our “reason” (not vice versa) and our “reason” make sense in a world where “Divine Revelation” exist and can be reasonably understood by the created.

  48. The question I pose to Dr. Anders is “Why should we submit to a worldview of pluralism and secularism in order to make our case?”

    Hi Joey,

    I appreciate the comments. In response to your question – I agree with the premise – we should not submit to the secular worldview to make our case for Christianity. However, this is precisely what I think Protestants do, albeit at a very basic, subtle, and not-easily-recognizable level.

    The CLASSICAL (read – Catholic) Christian world view was one in which law and morality was conceived as an ordinance of reason and grounded in nature. The modern worldview (Protestant and secular) is one in which law is essentially grounded in will (either divine or human) and may or may not be intelligible on purely rational grounds.

    My point is that when Protestant apologists ground their whole worldview in interior religious experience, they are doing a very modern thing, and one that unwittingly plays into the hands of secularists.

    Thanks again,

    david

  49. David,

    The CLASSICAL (read – Catholic) Christian world view was one in which law and morality was conceived as an ordinance of reason and grounded in nature. The modern worldview (Protestant and secular) is one in which law is essentially grounded in will (either divine or human) and may or may not be intelligible on purely rational grounds.

    You seem to argue that law or revelation (it seems that you are equating the two) should be purely intelligible on rational grounds. Am I getting you correctly? You see, there are revelations which can not be perceived on “purely” rational grounds. God’s timelessness (as He claims to have no beginning or end). Another, His Triunity… I should correct you by stating that Protestants acknowledges that there are revelations which are intelligible on rational grounds (purely) but there are revelation which is accepted by faith (not contrary to reason).

    My point is that when Protestant apologists ground their whole worldview in interior religious experience, they are doing a very modern thing, and one that unwittingly plays into the hands of secularists.

    I don’t think Protestant apologist (especially reformed) ground their “whole” worldview in interior religious experience alone though such religious experience is not dismissed.

    Regards,
    Joey

  50. Hi Joey,

    How am I equating law and revelation?
    Clearly, I don’t think all special revelation is redundant. God reveals plenty of things that we could not know by reason alone. But the natural principles of morality are not among them.

    Natural law is something we can know apart from revelation.

    As to whether or not Reformed theology grounds its worldview in religious experience:

    The bedrock of Reformed theology is the authority of a self-attesting canon of Scripture.

    Everything I have read in Reformed theology says that the authority of this canon does not depend (though it may be supported) by arguments from history, ecclesial authority, or philosophy. Rather, it depends immediately on God himself, witnessing to the individual through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

    Now, perhaps you think I’ve misconstrued the data. But to me, that looks like hangning your worldview on interior religious experience. As an exercise, try articulating a Reformed world view while denying or ignoring the role of Spirit illumination in the life of the believer. Seems to me like Spirit-witness is the sine qua non of Reformed theology. Love to hear your thoughts on that.

    -David

  51. Hello Joey, re#49

    You said:

    Protestants acknowledges that there are revelations which are intelligible on rational grounds (purely)

    Can you give some examples of ‘revelations’ which a person (including unbelievers) can discern on purely rational grounds? For example, how would an unbeliever know whether contraception, divorce, and gay marriage were (or were not) sinful?

  52. Nick,

    That’s a typo. Should have read, “Protestants acknowledges that there are revelations which are intelligible on rational grounds (but not purely)” as I have argued earlier post.

    Thanks,
    Joey

  53. David,

    I just want to briefly respond to your comments to me above.

    Regarding Calvin of the RPW, I’m not sure I see any connection between natural law and the RPW. Perhaps I’m missing it, perhaps you could lay it out for me more clearly.

    To be clear, I affirm your first conception of rights,

    “Rights as arising spontaneously from the nature of the human person, discoverable by reason, and which should be recognized by the state”

    Are you aware of a Protestant who rejects this? The dots have not been connect for me here either and therein lies the weakness of the article in my mind. Thanks for your willingness to discuss, Dr. Anders.

  54. Hi Dr. Anders,

    How am I equating law and revelation?

    You seem to use the terms “law” and “revelation” in the same manner. I have no problem about this. I just want to make sure I understand your terms correctly.

    Clearly, I don’t think all special revelation is redundant. God reveals plenty of things that we could not know by reason alone. But the natural principles of morality are not among them.

    Surely, special revelation is not silent about the natural principles of morality such that although some aspects of the principles are revealed via general revelations, there are explicit special revelations on how general revelations should be perceived. Marriage is spoken of and defined by God according to special revelations. We find God speaking about it in Scripture. Natural revelation is deficient to show that definition though reflects the design of marriage in the process of pro-creation. If special revelation is available to guide our “experience” and “analysis” about natural revelation, why then should we deprive the availability of such special revelation to argue our case of what marriage should be? We should not be in any way ashamed to argue that God designed marriage and this is what he says about marriage in the Scripture because the secularist worldview can not account of the existence of such “divine fiat”. As I’ve said earlier, if we argue on the same naturalistic assumptions of the secularist we are in turn giving up our worldview and assumes the worldview of the secularist. This, I think, is the most dangerous when we argue on the grounds of the secularists pluralistic, naturalistic, athiestic worldview.

    Natural law is something we can know apart from revelation.

    I don’t have a problem with this. General revelation is for all and is available to all. But is it sufficient to argue for the definition of marriage? The Christian answer is “no”. The one who designed marriage and what marriage should be is revealed to us through special revelation and our perception of the natural law should be shaped by what God said not by our mere observance of natural law. Therefore, since special revelation is not silent about marriage, the Christian should strongly argue(in fact primarily) that God’s authority to define marriage is ultimate.

    The bedrock of Reformed theology is the authority of a self-attesting canon of Scripture.
    Everything I have read in Reformed theology says that the authority of this canon does not depend (though it may be supported) by arguments from history, ecclesial authority, or philosophy. Rather, it depends immediately on God himself, witnessing to the individual through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Now, perhaps you think I’ve misconstrued the data. But to me, that looks like hangning your worldview on interior religious experience.

    I think there’s an underlying confusion on the above statement. The assertion above conflates two themes. One is the nature of the authority of Scripture. The other is how his creation (given the fall) recognizes the voice of Scripture.

    The Nature of the Authority of Scripture

    The bedrock of Reformed theology is God who revealed Himself through general and special revelation. The reformed recognizes that the only medium for special revelation today is the Scripture. Since it is God who speaks in Scripture its authority is ultimate. As God is supreme his commands, decrees and self-revelation is binding upon all the created. The authority of Scripture therefore is the authority of God. As God’s authority is not derived from the created, the same is true with His Word. If Scripture is God’s very speaking, it’s authority is self derived. Meaning, when God speaks he will not defend the trueness and authority of His Word but assumes that authority (Thus saith the Lord).

    How We Know Scripture

    Given our fallen nature, how then can we know Scripture? I think the reformed confession summarizes this well. Given the fall, man can only recognize Scripture by God’s redeeming man by illuminating his mind and convincing his being of the trueness and reality of Scripture. The witness of the Spirit may involve the use of history, individual experiences, ecclesiatical experiences, etc… but ultimately man’s conviction is grounded on the inward witness of the Spirit. And of course, the work of the Spirit is felt by us through our “life experiences”. There is no other means upon which we interact with God’s activity but by personally experiencing them. I find it very unappealling when co-Christians assume that we can know and experience truth apart from “the inward work of the Holy Spirit”. History, individual experiences, ecclesiastical experiences etc may only become effective arguments winning the conviction of fallen man unless the Spirit works inside us by persuading us in our experiences of the power, trueness and ultimate authority of His Word.

    In our worldview then, our Spirit wrought experiences of the divine is not dismissable. The secular worldview may dismiss it since he is operating in a worldview that denies the existence of God and that God can objectively reveal Himself and communicate to us. We should challenge the secularist that it is his worldview and his “experiences” of the created world that hangs without a foundation… How can logic exist, how can he argue that his definition of marriage is correct and ours wrong, how can he make sense of sadness and relationships and justice without borrowing from our worldview?

    I do not therefore deny that the inward work of the Spirit is a sine qua non for the Christian worldview. It is indespensible because our worldview demands it. The way we understand our experiences of this created world demands it. To relegate that divine activity as a side issue or as irrelevant and not foundational in arguing against our opponents is to relinquish our worldview. How then can we make sense of our arguments if we give in to the secularist demand to strip our worldview of the Divine and our encounters with Him in our life experiences? Our “experiences” therefore make sense because God exists and God communicates through His Scriptures. We need not give up our worldview simply because our opponents claim that this does not exist in his pluralistic and secularist worldview.

    Regards,
    Joey

  55. Hi Joey,

    You wrote:

    “but ultimately man’s conviction is grounded on the inward witness of the Spirit.”

    Yep. That’s what I’m talking about. Ultimately, the epistemological ground of reformed theology is the inward witness of the Spirit. That’s why Reformed theology does not provide an adequate basis for rational discussion with non-believers about the first principles of morality. At the end of the day, the Reformed theologian must say, “Well, if only you had the Spirit you’d see it my way.”
    This turns out to be a very egregious case of special pleading.

    -David

  56. Joey,

    I also want to clarify. I am not using law and revelation synonymously.

    By law (moral law) I mean that authoritative standard by which our actions are judged as moral or immoral.

    By revelation, I meant those things that God has especially communicated to us by Scripture or Sacred tradition – which includes things which could not, in principle, be known from reason alone.

    Clearly, there are many elements of the moral law that are included in revelation, but there are elements of the moral law that are not included in revelation (as I have defined it). And there are elements of revelation that do not pertain immediately to the moral law.

    -David

  57. Hi Dr. Anders,

    Yep. That’s what I’m talking about. Ultimately, the epistemological ground of reformed theology is the inward witness of the Spirit. That’s why Reformed theology does not provide an adequate basis for rational discussion with non-believers about the first principles of morality. At the end of the day, the Reformed theologian must say, “Well, if only you had the Spirit you’d see it my way.” This turns out to be a very egregious case of special pleading.

    Not so. The epistemological ground of the reformed is the worldview that the Scripture asserts. In which, God’s activity to reveal himself to fallen man is indispensable. So the inward witness of the Spirit is a divine activity that is not dismissed in arguing our case because the Christian worldview demands it. We do not, therefore, severe our argument from our worldview (a case that you are willing to make to argue agains the unbeliever). We would say that the inward witness of God involves using different instruments to bring fallen man to conviction of sin and acceptance of truth and righteousness. God can use logic, reason, rational discussions to accomplish His desire in redeeming us. It is therefore myopic to say that the Reformed does not engage in rational discussions against the arguments of the unbeliever because these Christians know that God’s inward witness may use all instruments available in His created world (both seen and unseen) including rational discourse. But we do not argue our case by compromising our worldview since for us our first principles involves the logic of Scriptural revelation about man’s condition and God’s activity. It is therefore inaccurate and grossly misleading that our final rebutall is, “Well, if only you had the Spirit you’d see it my way” — not in anyway — but that in the final analysis, after all the available arguments are laid out and the unbeliever remains unconvinced, we dare not wallow in fear or despair that our arguments did not convince our opponent for only God, in the final analysis, can redeem their minds and show them how their worldview hangs in midair without the foundational truth of Jesus Christ.

    Regards,
    Joey

    Regards,
    Joey

  58. Hi Joey,

    I’m not sure the following statement is coherent:

    “The epistemological ground of the reformed is the worldview that the Scripture asserts.”

    It seems to me that this equates to: “The epistemological ground of the reformed [worldview] is the Reformed worldview (i.e. the worldview that Reformed Christians think that Scripture asserts).

    Take “epistemological ground” to mean “how we account for our claims to knowledge.”

    To speak of “the worldview that Scripture asserts” is to make factual claims about the world that are in need of justification. One cannot point to the worldview to justify the truth of the worldview.

    Now, the Traditional Reformed response to this is to assert that the Spirit witnesses to the truth of the worldview – by testifying to the truth of the canon, by illuminating the interpretation of the canon, etc.

    I grant that Reformed Christians make all kinds of historical and exegetical arguments, but at every step these arguments are qualified, hedged, and shot through, and supported by the theory of Spirit witness. Hence, my claim that the Reformed worldview rests on interior religious experience.

    -David

  59. Hi Joey,

    I don’t want to start a pile on here, but I think, given the nature of this site, the current discussion is really important and truly foundational; so I would like to push for further clarification since I share Dr. Anders concern about the sort of epistemic approach you are advocating and which some (not all) Reformed Christians seem to share .

    You wrote:

    “But we do not argue our case by compromising our worldview since for us our first principles involves the logic of Scriptural revelation about man’s condition and God’s activity” [emphasis mine]

    What do you mean by the “logic of Scriptural revelation”? To have a revelation of any kind, one needs a Revealer. On what epistemic basis do you establish the existence of a Revealer? To simply stipulate that the collected codex of documents which Protestants call “Scripture” are “revealed”, front-loads the assumptions that a Revealer exists and that these particular documents, in fact, represent what He/She/It wishes to reveal to humanity. What are the epistemic grounds upon which those two front-loaded assumptions rest? It cannot be the simple existence of the documents themselves on pain of glaringly obvious circularity: “I know a Revealer exists and that these documents represent His revelation to humanity because these are the documents which contain the revelation of the Revealer”. Hence, if the mere existence of the Protestant bible is insufficient epistemic grounds for establishing that God exists or that the Protestant bible itself represents God’s revelation to mankind; then (unless one is willing to embrace unabashed fideism) one will need to appeal to some other foundation upon which to establish these two prior points before bringing in the Protestant bible as a “worldview template or framework”.

    This is why, as Dr. Anders has already mentioned, Reformed Christians generally appeal to an inward witness or illumination at least with respect to the inspiration of the Protestant canon (i.e. the notion that those set of documents are/were specially influenced by God in some way such that they constitute a form of Divine communication / revelation). Further, many Reformed, when pressed on the more fundamental issue of the epistemic grounds for thinking a Revealer exists in the first place, also appeal to an inward light or witness to that fact. And even though some Reformed intellectuals, like Alvin Plantinga, hold sophisticated views and developmental explanations concerning how a belief in God’s existence can be described as “properly basic”, or how such a belief is as epistemologically justified or warranted as other beliefs which non-theists accept; nevertheless, such views (I have argued – see #37,38,42 above) ultimately resort to a subjective claim about one’s awareness or intuition about God which others simply do not share, and for which there is no further common ground left for discussion about God’s existence (Dr. Anders and I may disagree slightly on this later point about Plantinga’s brand of epistemology – I am not sure).

    Still, the fact that Reformed Christians often utilize rational, historical, scientific and other forms of argumentation in defending their worldview, does not address the foundational epistemic problem concerning the two prior propositions which one needs in order to establish the Scripture’s credibility as worldview guide. As Dr. Anders indicated, those arguments are usually used by Reformed Christians to defend (not establish) the particulars of a “biblical” worldview whose supporting pillars (the two I have been speaking of) must find their epistemic grounding in non-biblical soil (for the reasons I gave above); and as far as I can tell, for the Reformed, that soil is ultimately a stronger or weaker, implicit or explicit, appeal to inward awareness, intuition, illumination, etc. An apologetic approach which attempts to show that there is nothing in the realm of logic or history or science or whatever which undermines or shows a contradiction in the propositions that God exists and/or that the Protestant bible is inspired, does not establish that either of those propositions is actually true. It is a negative, defensive apologetic, rather than a positive, constructive apologetic; because the focus is to show that one is neither irrational, nor a-historical, nor non-scientific in clinging to a Reformed theistic worldview – it allows one the satisfaction of feeling intellectually warranted in holding what one holds. But it does not establish the truth of those two foundational pillars of a “biblical” worldview; namely, that God exists, and that the Bible is His revelation. Even if one were able (which I highly doubt) to demonstrate that every other known worldview besides Reformed theism, entailed some inherent contradiction with respect to rational thought or discourse, or science or history, or whatever; one will still not have established the truth of Reformed theism. One will have simply established its coherence in light of current knowledge and in contradistinction with other competing worldviews – but truth does not follow from coherence, even if coherence is a condition of truth.

    The Catholic epistemic paradigm is much stronger than the Reformed because it claims that the existence of God can be demonstrated on epistemic and ontological grounds which all men must embrace if they would preserve the very intelligibility of the world itself. A demonstration which – given enough time and patience – runs its course without ever taking cover in any form of subjectivism, relying rather on the natural rational capacities which all men share from birth. With that demonstration in hand, further arguments from history, philosophy, science, etc can be brought to bear to show that there are excellent (even morally compelling) grounds for thinking that the God who demonstrably exists has communicated with mankind within the context of human culture, and especially within the stream and structures of Judeo/Catholic culture and history, including (but not limited to) the textual monuments which have arisen within and formed that cultural steam across 4 millennia. In all of this, the non-theist is never asked to join the Catholic in an interior intuitive leap; and that difference in approach, that willingness to pursue the truth with others without doing violence to their rational faculties is – I believe – what makes Catholicism such a powerful and potentially universal, cross-cultural, intellectual force.

    Pax

    Ray

  60. Here, for example, is an interview with William Lane Craig, another well known Reformed intellectual (philosopher and theologian) concerning the problem of intellectual doubt. Not only do I find his response to verge on fideism; one can clearly see how an epistemic stance such as the one he advocates simply erects a wall between like-minded theists on the one hand, and all other persons who do not share a similar interior witness on the other – it is an intellectual impasse. It is difficult for me to see how this sort of advice serves the advance of the gospel within human culture. From an outsider’s perspective, how can it appear as anything other than a subjectivist circling of the wagons to protect or remain safe within a religious subculture – an escape from the so called “great conversation”?

    Pax

    Ray

  61. David,

    “The epistemological ground of the reformed is the worldview that the Scripture asserts.”

    It seems to me that this equates to: “The epistemological ground of the reformed [worldview] is the Reformed worldview (i.e. the worldview that Reformed Christians think that Scripture asserts).

    I am convinced that the reformed worldview is reflective of the Scriptural worldview especially on the divine activity of the Spirit that illuminates our thought processes. Let me know if you object to this.

    Take “epistemological ground” to mean “how we account for our claims to knowledge.”

    Ok. I understand your term. Although, for me it’s not only the “how” but the “what” and the “nature” of knowledge.

    To speak of “the worldview that Scripture asserts” is to make factual claims about the world that are in need of justification. One cannot point to the worldview to justify the truth of the worldview.

    The assertion of the last sentence need to be corrected. I would say all worldviews justifies knowledge through using the truth accepted of that worldview. You are infact doing it right now. You assert that one can not use one’s worldview to justify the truth of the worldview — this is infact, a “claimed” truth of your worldview that you are using right now to justify your worldview.

    Worldviews contains ultimate standards upon which knowledge is known. Therefore, it is not possible to not use your worldview to account for your worldview. You can not separate your worldview from the way you reason because your worldview contains the ultimate presuppositions of what you accept as true or false.

    Now, the Traditional Reformed response to this is to assert that the Spirit witnesses to the truth of the worldview – by testifying to the truth of the canon, by illuminating the interpretation of the canon, etc.

    I don’t think so. The Christian worldview accepts activity of the divine, the illumination of the truine God in order for fallen man to acquire true knowledge, as ultimate truth. The function of God’s illumination to the human mind is not an external “truth” used to justify the worldview but is one of the “truths” of the worldview. It is an accepted truth for the Christian that God via His Spirit illumines our mind and sustains it for knowledge. Do you have any problems accepting this truth, Dr. Anders?

    I grant that Reformed Christians make all kinds of historical and exegetical arguments, but at every step these arguments are qualified, hedged, and shot through, and supported by the theory of Spirit witness. Hence, my claim that the Reformed worldview rests on interior religious experience.

    Yes and rightly so. Christians should make all kinds of historical and exegetical arguments and never divorce it to the divine witness! He should not divorce his reasons from God’s activity of grounding the truths of his reasons when talking to the secularist or the naturalist… To do so is to abandon our worldview and our Christianity. As the truth of our worldview is expressed in the created world, Christians should not be ashamed of testifying that we experienced God’s activity. How else can you testify to the truth without experiencing it? You say, the reformed worldview rests on interior religious experience; but the fact is, all worldviews account for the truths of their worldviews by experience. The non-religious banks his appeal and claim that God and His Word does not exist simply because his non-religious experience (perspective) demands it. It is our duty to show the unbeliever that their experience of the created world is inconsistent and without foundation without God and His Word. Experience need not be divorced from rational thinking, from the law of non-contradiction, from divine revelations as though experience exists arbitrarily and can’t be accounted.

    So what’s wrong with the christian worldview, Dr. Anders? Can’t our worldview defend the definition of marriage and its sanctity? Do you have a problem making an argument against the unbeliever that your mind has been illumined by God to accept His truth rather than your own truth? Would you rely on your rationalistic understanding of nature and deprive yourself of Scriptural revelation when arguing our definition of marriage against the secularist? Why? How is this consistent with your worldview?

    Regards,
    Joey

  62. Ray,

    Hence, if the mere existence of the Protestant bible is insufficient epistemic grounds for establishing that God exists or that the Protestant bible itself represents God’s revelation to mankind; then (unless one is willing to embrace unabashed fideism) one will need to appeal to some other foundation upon which to establish these two prior points before bringing in the Protestant bible as a “worldview template or framework”.

    The epistemic ground for establishing God’s existence is the Christian God. This is the same ground for His Word. This is the Christian worldview. There is no argument that makes sense outside this presuppositions. Is it fideistic? No. Reason and faith are not hostile against the Christian worldview. Reason exists because of God. Logic exists because of God. God supplies logic and vice versa. God supplies our own sense perception and experience. The Christian worldview supplies the presuppositions of truth and falsity in order to know what is real or not, true or false. The existence of God is not proven by a set of laws “accepted by all” without assuming that He exists.

    The Catholic epistemic paradigm is much stronger than the Reformed because it claims that the existence of God can be demonstrated on epistemic and ontological grounds which all men must embrace if they would preserve the very intelligibility of the world itself.

    The reformed would say this too. However, if you mean to say that there exists a strand of presuppositions without assuming the existence of God to account for these presuppositions, then you are right. I don’t share your conviction on this.

    In all of this, the non-theist is never asked to join the Catholic in an interior intuitive leap; and that difference in approach, that willingness to pursue the truth with others without doing violence to their rational faculties is – I believe – what makes Catholicism such a powerful and potentially universal, cross-cultural, intellectual force.

    I don’t believe that Catholicism holds a copyright on the above statement. If you believe that the christian worldview believe that men are persuaded on the truth of God and His Word based on interior intuitive leap doing violence to their rational faculties, then you are simply mistaken. Further, the reformed never asks an unbeliever to join christianity… he appeals to them to be reconciled to God because He who has no sin was made sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him — I assure you, such appeal is not based on interior intuitive leap. This appeal involves personal experience which is not divorced from the epistemitic ground provided by God himself for his created world.

    Regards,
    Joey

  63. Joey,

    You wrote:

    The epistemic ground for establishing God’s existence is the Christian God. This is the same ground for His Word. This is the Christian worldview

    It is quite difficult to see how this is not entirely circular and question begging. Such a view is not the Christian worldview, but a very recent and narrowly defined form of fideism (or perhaps presuppositionalism given your later comments) which is peculiar to some Reformed theists Scholastic philosophers and theologians such as Aquinas and many others would have rejected it.

    You wrote:

    There is no argument that makes sense outside this presuppositions. Is it fideistic? No. Reason and faith are not hostile against the Christian worldview. Reason exists because of God. Logic exists because of God. God supplies logic and vice versa. God supplies our own sense perception and experience. The Christian worldview supplies the presuppositions of truth and falsity in order to know what is real or not, true or false. The existence of God is not proven by a set of laws “accepted by all” without assuming that He exists

    But this is a mere set of assertions without argument. Of course, I agree that reason and faith are not hostile to a Christian worldview. But showing that a Christian worldview is not contrary to reason is far from establishing that God exists or that the Protestant bible represents His revelation to mankind, or that no argument makes sense outside of these (fideistic?) presuppositions; or that reason, logic, perception and experience exist because of God. In all of these assertions, you are simply putting forward the existence of the Christian God as a presupposition – without supplying any epistemic grounds for so doing. Moreover, your assertions do not address the actual arguments I specifically gave showing the limitations and weaknesses of a presuppositional apologetic approach such as the one you advance here. Concerning such a view I wrote:

    An apologetic approach which attempts to show that there is nothing in the realm of logic or history or science or whatever which undermines or shows a contradiction in the propositions that God exists and/or that the Protestant bible is inspired, does not establish that either of those propositions is actually true. It is a negative, defensive apologetic, rather than a positive, constructive apologetic; because the focus is to show that one is neither irrational, nor a-historical, nor non-scientific in clinging to a Reformed theistic worldview – it allows one the satisfaction of feeling intellectually warranted in holding what one holds. But it does not establish the truth of those two foundational pillars of a “biblical” worldview; namely, that God exists, and that the Bible is His revelation. Even if one were able (which I highly doubt) to demonstrate that every other known worldview besides Reformed theism, entailed some inherent contradiction with respect to rational thought or discourse, or science or history, or whatever; one will still not have established the truth of Reformed theism. One will have simply established its coherence in light of current knowledge and in contradistinction with other competing worldviews – but truth does not follow from coherence, even if coherence is a condition of truth.

    You wrote:

    However, if you mean to say that there exists a strand of presuppositions without assuming the existence of God to account for these presuppositions, then you are right. I don’t share your conviction on this.

    Again, an argument which assumes a priori its own conclusion – no matter what type or number of premises are employed – begs the question, and is thus a bad argument. The classical proof for God’s existence as First Cause entails a conclusion which one reaches a posteriori after utilizing first principles and premises which require no a priori commitment to the existence of God per se. Presupposing God’s existence a priori renders any alleged proof for God’s existence fideistic, regardless of that proof’s internal sophistication. Or, if the existence of God is presupposed, not fideistically as proof of God’s existence, but rather as a means of showing that a Christian worldview is coherent; then such an approach amounts to a presppositional apologetic with the limitations I detailed above.

    You wrote:

    I don’t believe that Catholicism holds a copyright on the above statement

    I never said that Catholicism held such a copyright. I readily and happily agree that many non-Catholics also embrace a classical, non-presuppositional, non-fideistic approach to proving God’s existence.

    You wrote:

    If you believe that the christian worldview believe that men are persuaded on the truth of God and His Word based on interior intuitive leap doing violence to their rational faculties, then you are simply mistaken.

    The trouble is that most of what you have asserted concerning the existence of God would require a man to make precisely the sort of leap which you claim to reject.

    Pax,

    Ray

  64. Joey Henry said:

    The epistemic ground for establishing God’s existence is the Christian God. …. Is it fideistic? No.

    It is the very definition of fideism. I don’t know what I would change about your view to better show what fideism is.
    The concept of “Christian God” is not axiomatic, but is known by revelation. But even if you just meant “God”, your claim is still perplexing to me. How can X be the epistemic ground for establishing the existence of X? Even worse, how can this not be fideistic?
    I enjoyed rooting for Bahnsen and Wilson as they outplayed their opponents who were not familiar with presupositionalism, but even as a Reformed believer who wanted to believe it, I just couldnt see how it wasnt fideistic.
    Also, referring to this claim, you say “there is no argument that makes sense outside this presupposition”. I hear that alot form presuppositionalists, but do you really think that Aquinas does not make sense? He might be wrong, but if so, he is brilliantly wrong.

    Interesting conversation though. Feel free to ignore my laymans comment and respond to Ray. Peace-out.

    David Meyer

  65. Hi Ray,

    It is quite difficult to see how this is not entirely circular and question begging.

    I understand your objection to my statement. I do not deny the circularity of my reasoning. However, circular arguments are unavoidable when dealing with worldviews. This is because the criteria needed to separate truth from falsity, real and unreal is contained in the worldview. One can not argue outside of one’s own worldview otherwise there will be an infinite regress of reasoning. A person then appeals to his worldview to defend his worldview. Take for example, if our worldview states that the law of non-contradiction is the criteria for knowing existence, we can say that the law’s epistemic ground is the law itself (circular). We can’t argue otherwise because the means to argue the existence or non-existence of the law is to use the rules of the law.

    Such a view is not the Christian worldview…

    Why? Can you point me to a single Judeo-Christian in the first century who does not presuppose the existence of God and the self-authenticity of His Word to argue for the veracity of their witness? The Word of God begins with the ultimate presupposition, “In the beginning God created…” We don’t find our God proving His existense or identity to fallen man without appealing to Himself. I don’t see any follower of the Way arguing their case of the reality of the Messiah to the Greeks without pointing to Word of God as accepted truths. We don’t find them using discussing with anyone using neutral presuppositions.

    but a very recent and narrowly defined form of fideism (or perhaps presuppositionalism given your later comments) which is peculiar to some Reformed theists Scholastic philosophers and theologians such as Aquinas and many others would have rejected it.

    Aquinas was born in the 12th century (probably). Aquinas and the “many others” you can present as evidence are merely followers of the original Apostles. We have the writings of Christians in the first century. Tell me if my statement is a narrowly defined form of fideism when we take into account what the Prophets, Paul and Peter and Jesus has to say in this matter. Aristotle or Aquinas is not the ultimate standard for the Christian worldview.

    But this is a mere set of assertions without argument. Of course, I agree that reason and faith are not hostile to a Christian worldview. But showing that a Christian worldview is not contrary to reason is far from establishing that God exists or that the Protestant bible represents His revelation to mankind, or that no argument makes sense outside of these (fideistic?) presuppositions; or that reason, logic, perception and experience exist because of God. In all of these assertions, you are simply putting forward the existence of the Christian God as a presupposition – without supplying any epistemic grounds for so doing.

    I am not arguing for the existense of God and the Scripture as the Word of God (“Protestant Bible” in your terms) in this thread. I am establishing the ground rules on which these presuppositions are defended in the Christian worldview. What I am saying is that we need not deny our ultimate presupposition that God exists in order to prove that God is. Meaning the epistemic ground for arguing our case will have to assert our argument begins with our God who created the means for arguing our case and ends with Him. Is this circular? Yes. Is this circular reasoning a logical fallacy? No.

    Regards,
    Joey

  66. Joey, (re: #65)

    You wrote:

    I do not deny the circularity of my reasoning. However, circular arguments are unavoidable when dealing with worldviews.

    Circular arguments are avoidable, and are worthless, because they establish nothing. The position you are defending is fideism, and has been addressed in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective” article (see the first link in that article) as well as in the comments following. If you want to discuss presuppositionalism and circularity, please do so on that thread, so that this thread can stay on topic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  67. After thinking about this over the last few days, I had a question arise in my mind as to how this subject ties into one’s reading of Romans 1:18ff. It seems a volunteerist reading of this text render the argument Paul is making as unintelligible.

    For example, verse 19f says: “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities…have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
    Is this not a vindication of the Natural Law paradigm? If man lacks Reason (because of Total Depravity), then how does Paul’s assertion that they have no excuse make sense?

    Verse 21 gets kind of tricky though, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
    This could refer to believers or unbelievers. If unbelievers, then the idea their hearts became “darkened” entails there was a moment where these hearts were not (as) dark, which would correspond to a decline in the proper use of Reason the more one is engulfed in sin.

  68. You say:

    “Rather we are asking about whether the state should privilege and especially protect those domestic relations that arise spontaneously from the nature of human sexuality (between parents and children particularly)”

    What you are advocating in parsing this sentence, is a positivist reinforcement of the natural rhythms of human existence. And it is because of this dynamic in history, it is through Christianity, that positivist law garners credence. It is just blowback time.

    I do actually blame Martin Luther and John Calvin et company for giving over to the civil authority that which was primarily and hitherto a private institution. However, the Catholic Church suffers equal culpability (Council of Florence 14xx, Council of Trent 15xx). Because in the jurisdictions in which the Catholic Church held predominant sway over the civil authority, the Church-inspired civil law was also positivist and denying of those with whom it disagreed.

    The fact that is Catholic position, as evidenced in the Californian Prop 8 trial was whipped for irrationality. One cannot suggest with scrupulous coherence that the purposes of marriage is primarily for procreation when one marries those who cannot procreate. (Read the trial transcripts). It is not that there is no ‘natural law’ rational argument against same-sex marriage. It is that because the Catholic Church is beholden to a Magisterium that emphasized procreation, and that Magisterium cannot be disregarded without great detriment to the Church’s credibility, it hampers the ability to make more credible arguments.

    As a sola scriptura Christian, who believes that Scriptures ultimately conform to objective reality, as difficult as natural man can perceive that objective reality to be; the more solid argument against same-sex relations is that the natural proclivities of male and female can be demonstrated to be so radically different and that each sex is deficient in themselves to be and become a full measure of human. It is far more difficult for the same sex to satisfy in the other partner that which the other finds deficient in themselves. The dangerous proclivities within each same-sex partner are exaggerated by their confirmation in the other. (Think of one miser marrying another miser.) The Empirical evidence will demonstrate over the next decades more fully this reality, except that sociological science is so dishonest, partisan and prejudicial.

    Secondly, the state has no LEGISLATIVE right to regulate marriage (or church to COMPEL their belief) because inside of Christianity, marriage preceded church and state, and did not require the latter institutions for its creation or maintenance. (In the famous God and Caesar delineation, marriage belongs to God, but God directly). Outside of Christianity, that is under naturalist philosophy, the first pairing logically existed prior to social organization and state, and therefore did not require the latter institution for its creation or maintenance.

  69. Hi John,

    Thanks for the note. If I understand you correctly, you are arguing that homosexual relations are immoral because they are finally dissatisfying, not because they frustrate the procreative ends of sexuality. I’d have to get you to unpack that a bit more before I could respond properly. (I’m assuming that you have a more nuanced view of ‘satisfaction’ that mere sexual satisfaction, under which condition I think it would be hard to maintain your argument.) But, at first blush, I find your line of reasoning profoundly disturbing. It would seem to collapse into subjectivism, for what reason could be given for staying in an unsatisfying relationship, if there were no other objective standard?

    Your objection to the Catholic view of natural law is, I think, premised on a misunderstanding. Catholics do not hold that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be procreative. (Monty Python notwithstanding.) They hold, instead, that sexual intercourse is ordered to procreation. This is true whether or not a particular human being is fertile. Just as eyes are ordered to seeing, even if some person is blind.

    The key move in Catholic thought is to assert that the moral life is one in which we freely and rationally act towards people and things in a way commensurate with their natures, and in a way that respects the hierarchically ordered ends of human life. (So that doing something to damage my reason , like drunkenness, would be more serious than doing something that might damage my digestion, like eating too much hot sauce.)

    Acts of sexual intercourse are moral insofar as they respect the hierarchically ordered goods of the person, and the end of the sexual act itself.

    I also thin you misunderstand the Catholic position on state regulation of marriage. Since marriage is a natural good (one arising out of the nature of the human person), it is in society’s interest to protect the institution – legislating, for example, that dead beat dads are to be held responsible for the children that they bring into the world, and the women they leave to care for them.

    This does not mean that the state creates marriage. Far from it. You might as well say that the state creates life by prohibiting murder.

    Thanks again for your note. Hope to hear more from you,

    David

  70. Dear David:

    I am only going to only deal with the first critique. The issue about where the Catholic Church stands, in the past, in the present, even amongst different theologians amongst yourselves is of such complexity, that I doubt that this is profitable is the forum. There is still a very pronounced procreative hue in your catechism which starts to become rationally and psychologically incoherent the more one inspects the internal workings of your theology. Quite frankly, it would be too long winded and profitless to go into.

    Obviously, sexual satisfaction is not what I am speaking of; although considering the propensity of same-sex relationships to be very polygamous, because as many say in their own words, they easily get bored with the one they’re with; one could even make a case for that. I am obviously speaking about a psychological satisfaction, not in the subjectivist mode (although one cannot escape from that element), but in bringing about the full realization of being human.

    The argument begins with Genesis 1:27
    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

    Both male and female are in the image of God. Male and female are different. Therefore, logically male and females are incomplete images of God. You will find N.T. passages which talk about “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Christ, being human, one can substitute ‘being fully human’. (I know I am being looser with Scriptures and buttoning it down as I would in a full dissertation. However, I am trying more to provoke thought than proving every dotted i and crossed t.) The difference I have with my Evangelical brethren is that they speak of a complementarianism of roles whereas I think that we should be thinking of a complementarianism of natures to which roles emanate. (And the problem with the ‘role’ issue, is that it Biblical incoherent to suggest a hard and fast rule as to what constitutes male and female roles. Even speaking of natures is an issue of pronounced proclivities than strict lines of psychological attributes.) Where I also differ from most, is that we are to not only discover, appreciate and balance the psychological proclivities of the other spouse, but to incorporate those of the other into ourselves. This is a much more involved argument than I can place here.

    If you prove, not only Scripturally, which is valueless in a secularist society, but rationally and empirically (through both overwhelming historical anecdote and sociologically/psychologically) the immensity of the differences, you have a case of innate differentiation of the sexes. The feminists themselves have already spearheaded that argument, moving away from ‘sameness with differences culturally bound’ to more of an ‘innate’ nature; although like every nationalism, they celebrate the proclivities of their own gender while damning the other. (The best offence is to make your adversary eat their own words.)

    My argument is that the innate differences, though more of proclivity and are mutable, come from different psychological structures. And there are significantly different brain physiologies well documented. However, I am inclined to be dismissive of a one-to-one physiological-psychological relationship which the neuroscientists are speculating upon right now.

    The argument is that males and females are inherently incomplete and can only obtain that completion as they psychologically adopt some of those attributes found in the other. It is the metaphorical equivalent of one-flesh. One can observe the differences by consistent universal and historical patterns, not only in sexuality. The male inclination is to be more rationally centered. Females have little difficulty populating positions of management, but even in these times of coercive gender equality in jobs, certain professions, (computer science, engineering, philosophy, mathematics, the STEMs), which involve highly rational and systematic thought, males still have predominance which requires even more coercive measures to equalize. However, too great concentration on the rational side, at the expense of psychological side, has many downsides. The ancient Hellenists were a masculinist society, stressing the rational, denigrating the passionate and emotive. One could demonstrate that despite all their pretty books on political theory, they did not and could not govern themselves well because of their neglect and ignorance of the psychological workings of their souls. There have been contemporary writers who have made the argument that conservatives are more successful (politically and in policy), because the cool rationality of the Left makes their thinking defective in terms of governing a people.There are many examples. I am only trying to give a gist of the argument.

    Thus if male and female is different and incomplete; if incompleteness actually has detrimental effects; then same-sex relationships not merely do not satisfy that goal of becoming full measures of humanity and being comparatively detrimental; all other factors being equal; they may actually exaggerate the dangerous proclivities by confirming those of each other.

    This is not so much a subjectivist argument. However, because it involves the psychological, it is not readily and easily apparent as say physicalist, hard science endeavours. Because the soft sciences are highly dishonest, partial and political, it is a more difficult argument. We would have to use ‘objective measures’ to obtain indirect proof of the truth of what we are saying. They do already exist (i.e. nation-wide Norwegian/Swedish study where same-sex male ‘divorce’ is something like 60-70% higher than heterosexual and same-sex female is double the same-sex male (that was a very counterintuitive finding). It uses full national statistics in probably the more liberal of European states. Though same-sex unions are not called officially married, the idea that the label of marriage makes all that much difference as compared to the attitudes of the heart is absurd.

    I doubt that if this argument was totally unpackaged that there is much that even Catholic theology would find objectionable. I subscribe to the idea that the ‘laws of God’ are according to objective truth; which includes that truth within our psyches. When we violate those psychological ‘laws of God’, there are natural detrimental consequences; just as when we defy physical laws. I am not opposed to the theory of natural law. The problem lies that the complexity of existence makes it near impossible to obtain that knowledge to any great degree by rationality; not only because of the fallen nature but because of existential complexity and lack of omniscience of the mortal mind. Therefore, the necessity for Revelation. (There are obviously inklings of the Erasmus – Luther debate echoed here.)

    My problem is that the procreative argument via reason is a far weaker one than one of fundamental structural differences (in proclivity) in respective psyches of male and female that require the complement and incorporation of attributes of the other spouse.

    There abound many Scriptures that give support to this contention. However, because of the faith that Scriptures ultimately corresponds to objective reality, though sometimes we are not allowed to see it; my approach is to use all approaches on any given issue.

  71. Bryan,

    Circular arguments are avoidable, and are worthless, because they establish nothing. The position you are defending is fideism, and has been addressed in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective” article (see the first link in that article) as well as in the comments following. If you want to discuss presuppositionalism and circularity, please do so on that thread, so that this thread can stay on topic.

    Thanks for the note. The claim of classical foundationalist is that ciruclar reasoning is avoidable because of their concept of basicality. Withouth this concept the argument will simply encounter an infinite regress. Therefore, calssical foundationalist will say those things that are properly basic need no demonstration. This is part of your worldview where such basicality exists. I am not sure how you will defend your worldview without being circular at this point. For, if someone asks about the existence of these things which are properly basic in your worldview, then you simply have to appeal to such basicality to prove its existence. Since, it is not demonstrable, the classical foundationalist simply appeals to its self-evident nature and the assertion that not all knowledge is demonstrable.

    Since I am talking specifically of defending a worldview, and if that worldview contains the criteria upon which true or false, real or unreal is determined, there is no way one can assert a worldview without using the worldview. This is what I meant by circularity.

    Fideism can be construed in different ways. Fideism may mean that the validity of faith is not dependent on reason OR faith is invalide when there is reason and therefore they are hostile against each other. There are some tenets of my worldview that shares with fideism but not all of them. The Christian worldview can have faith without being irrational. Rationality, of course, is a word that can be understood in the lens of ones worldview.

    I have read your post and that of russ. I don’t want to rehash all the points made.

    Regards,
    Joey

  72. Joey (re: #70)

    The position you are proposing has been addressed in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” post, particularly in the comments there. If you wish to discuss this topic (of circularity, fideism, worldviews) any further, please do so on that thread, so as to allow this one to stay on topic. Thanks.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  73. Hi John,

    It seems like a bit of a dodge to say that the Catholic position is wrong, but too complicated to refute.

    Further on, you write:

    ” I am obviously speaking about a psychological satisfaction, not in the subjectivist mode (although one cannot escape from that element), but in bringing about the full realization of being human.”

    I’m not sure how you are distinguishing psychological satisfaction and subjective satisfaction, but your statement “the full realization of being human” has much more promise. This is the kind of language that has more of a natural law ring to it.

    Reading along, I come to this: “My argument is that the innate differences, though more of proclivity and are mutable, come from different psychological structures. ”

    I don’t disagree with that as a Catholic. In fact, if you read Casti Connubii and Arcanum divinae sapientiae you will find a discussion of complementarity that is not simply sexual.

    That being said, however, it is just incredible to me that you can talk about complementarity, human flourishing, the realization of ends embedded in us by nature, etc. and discount the procreative end of sexuality as in any way relevant to the discussion. Catholics don’t think sex is only procreative – its also profoundly psychological – but surely human sexuality is ordered, essentially, to procreation! Whatever other ends or effects it may have.

    Thanks again for writing,

    David

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