Sunday, October 3, 2010

The perils of intra-Christian apologetics

Here is a fascinating post by my colleague Frank Beckwith.  I can certainly theoretically see the danger, though I am not sure that as empirical matter of fact it's that common.  I suppose the danger is a species of the general thesis that arguing for p can convince one's interlocutor of ~p or of even worse things.


D. A. Armstrong said...

Frank's problem here is that in arguing for P and convincing someone of not-P is considered a failure. However in Franks own case there are plenty of people who consider the belief P a heresy. Thus belief P is not only a wrong belief, but a condemningly wrong belief. Everyone has some wrong beliefs, but not everyone has condemningly wrong beliefs. Assuming Q is a contradictory premise of P. An evangelist could argue that belief Q is true to someone who holds belief P. If P is argued as false while Q is true and the listener is convinced such that not-P is true, but belief Q is false. According to the evangelist the change in belief has no effect upon a persons condemnation and thus the listener is still condemn. Or more simply put, some Evangelicals consider Catholics such heretics that even convincing them to atheism against the Catholic Church has a no change in the persons salvation. It is not a loss or any sort, but also no gain.

That said, I related as I consider Catholics to be Christians, but I consider Catholics to be wrong in regards to certain non essential beliefs. Yet, I have discussions with a former Catholic who considers Catholicism to be a heresy. We've debated this regularly.

Beckwith's post can only be considered if there is some common beliefs.

Alexander R Pruss said...

This assumes condemnation is all that counts. But getting at the truth is of intrinsic value. Let's suppose that S is a Protestant group which has such wacky moral views that being a member of S is just as likely to result in damnation as being an atheist. Nonetheless, I may still have two sorts of reasons for avoiding turning a member of S into an atheist.

1. Getting at the truth about important things is of intrinsic value. So when the member of S becomes an atheist, she still loses things of value, such as believing that God exists. These things may not be of as much value as salvation, but they are still of value.

2. It may still be that in the future it will be easier for a member of S to become Catholic than it would be for an atheist to do so. For while the member of S may not at present be receptive to Scriptural arguments for Catholicism, in the future she might well become so. But an atheist is unlikely to be receptive to Scriptural arguments for Catholicism without first becoming a Christian or Jew.

Tim Lacy said...

Intra-Christian apologetics is a highly emotional affair. Truth becomes a side issue if the listener is turned off by tone. In my experience, most intra-Christian apologetics fails at the fundamental level of tone. As the recent Pew Forum Survey discovered for us, one's faith choice is built---at least by half---on irrational/non-logical factors.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that tone is not the issue. Then the next issue is perceived objectivity on the part of the listener: do they feel you're giving all sides a fair shake? If so, they might come to your side if the evidence presented is merely neutral if they believe in your search process. - TL

Drew said...

I think it's so funny that you wrote an argumentative post challenging the legitimacy of non-Catholic Christian sects so soon after releasing this post on why it is not a good idea to focus on in-house debates.

As an Evangelical, I have no qualms about acknowledging that Catholicism is an absolutely legitimate denomination of Christianity.

I think Phil Fernandes had a good insight when he taught a course on debating Roman Catholics. He said that our goal should not be to get Catholics to leave their church.

I am all about setting aside our differences so we can engage atheists, liberals and members of other world religions in debate.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Hey, I didn't say I agreed with Frank. :-)

The things that unite us are extremely important. But some of the things that divide us are very important as well. The Christian's intellectual task is two-fold: (a) presenting the Gospel to non-Christians, and (b) deepening Christians' own understanding of the Gospel. Figuring out the truth in respect of the issues on which we differ is crucial to (b).

If we love God with all our minds, we will want to know the truth about him, since we will want to love him as he is and for being as he is. If Christ comes to be bodily present in the Eucharist as Catholics claim (and some evangelicals believe), it is important to believe that, as that is something we can love him for. If God is simple as Catholics claim (and some evangelicals believe), this affects many aspects of our knowledge of the God we love.