Re: Hot, Steamy Triple XXX Action!!!--Corrected Version

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Posted by Eric Svendsen on December 27, 2000 at 18:13:16:

In Reply to: Hot, Steamy Triple XXX Action!!! posted by Eric Svendsen on December 27, 2000 at 18:04:20:

For some reason, all my em dashes and quotation marks became symbols in my last post. This should take care of it.

The way an issue is introduced has a lot to do with the amount of participation that issue will engender. Such was the intent of my Roman Catholic challenge issued over a year ago. An awful lot has been said in this forum about the $100,000.00 reward offered to the one who is able to escape the epistemological fallacies in the challenge. Do I even have $100,000.00? Just to set the record straight, as the president of a fast-growing computer-support-consulting-documentation-training corporation, I make over twice that amount each year. Yes, I have the means to pay. Would I have paid? The question is moot. The challenge was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek way (some of you were bright enough to see this; others were apparently not so bright) to expose a common but erroneous line of reasoning that permeates Roman Catholic apologetics today-and not simply by the amateurs (as some in this forum have suggested). Read virtually any book on tradition, authority and sola scriptura by the current crop of Roman Catholic defenders-listen to virtually any debate on these same issues-and you will find that even the most well informed Roman defenders fall prey to it. It wasn't that I was unwilling to pay up-it was rather that I knew the challenge could not be answered. It is impossible to answer because any RC who attempts it winds up arguing in a circle and using the very private judgment s/he says is illegitimate to use. The argument goes something like this:
RC Apologist: "Sola scriptura has resulted in 28,000 denominations, rendering it insufficient to act as the final authority in matters of faith. This is a direct result of everyone engaging in his/her own private interpretation of Scripture, which in turn results in complete chaos and doctrinal anarchy and uncertainty. How can you as a Protestant ever have doctrinal "certitude" (a word Scott Hahn made popular) since you can never be certain that you are in the right denomination, and hence in the truth? We Catholics have an infallible interpreter to tell us the meaning of Scripture, making us exempt from this kind of dilemma."
Evangelical Apologist: "But how do you know that you really do have an infallible interpreter? And how do you know that infallible interpreter is Rome?"
RC Apologist: "Well, because Matt 16 states that Peter is the Rock upon which the church is built, Matt 28 says that Jesus would always be with his church, and every other doctrine we have can be found in Scripture as well (or at least does not contradict Scripture). Moreover, the church fathers confirm that Rome held primacy early on in the life of the church. That's how we know that Rome is the true church."
Evangelical Apologist: "But how do you know you are interpreting Scripture and church history correctly? Especially in light of the fact that the vast majority of the fathers did not interpret these passages in the way you are suggesting, and that the vast majority of scholars and historians today disagree with your interpretation of these things."
RC Apologist: "Because the Catholic church is the one church founded by Jesus, that is what the Roman Catholic church teaches and she has never changed a single doctrine in 2,000 years of history."

In other words, in order to arrive at the "truth" that Rome is the true church and acts as an infallible interpreter of Scripture, the RC apologist must engage in the very private interpretation of Scripture and church history that he claims is illegitimate since it has resulted in 28,000 denominations. "Oooohhh," we are told, "but the Catholic church does not condemn ALL private interpretation; it does not condemn private interpretation that would lead you to Rome; it condemns only private interpretation that leads you somewhere else!" In other words, we are allowed to engage in private interpretation; so long, of course, as any conclusions we arrive at do not contradict what Rome has already said you must believe. It matters not that Rome's "interpretation" runs squarely against the plain meaning of Scripture, that it violates the context, and that it contradicts the established semantic range of words in the century in which the biblical writers wrote. It matters not that in many cases Rome's "interpretation" does not even qualify as a possible interpretation among acceptable interpretations of a given passage. In these cases we are assured by RC apologists that these are simply those "difficult" passages about which St. Peter warns us in 2 Pet 3:15-16, which according to 2 Pet 1:20 we cannot "privately interpret." And on and on it goes. It never once seems to occur to these apologists that unless we first accept the RC apologists' claim that Rome is the true church and the infallible interpreter of Scripture and history, we can never accept her interpretations of these things. Nor does it seem to occur to them

What follows is a summary of what RC apologists want us to believe. It is an excerpt from my forthcoming book on Roman Catholic epistemological fallacies. The list itself was composed by Jason Engwer and in my opinion is spot on and priceless:
1. We can't understand the Scriptures apart from the interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church, but we must interpret the Scriptures ourselves to discover that the Roman Catholic Church has been given this authority.
2. Roman Catholic doctrine is valid regardless of whether the apostles or anybody living near the time of the apostles taught it. If a doctrine such as the Immaculate Conception or papal infallibility is not taught by anybody in the earliest centuries of Christianity, and there's no evidence that the apostles taught it, and many early sources actually deny it, the doctrine should be believed anyway on the basis of a vague and unverifiable "development of doctrine."
3. The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have been held all along by the Christian church, but it's unreasonable to expect Catholics to document this, because, after all, the beliefs didn't exist early on. They developed over time.
4. If the Roman Catholic Church teaches that a doctrine such as the papacy or transubstantiation has "always" been held by the Christian church, it's ridiculous for Evangelicals to expect Catholics to have to defend that claim. Instead, they should only have to defend the concept that something vaguely similar to the papacy or transubstantiation was believed early on. It's not right to expect Catholics to defend what their denomination teaches. They should only be expected to defend something that's vaguely similar to what their denomination teaches.
5. Even though Evangelicals advocate sola Scriptura, and they don't claim that the church fathers were "apostolic successors," they're just as responsible as Catholics are to show that their beliefs are in line with those of the church fathers.
6. Even if a passage of Scripture says nothing about governmental authority, a succession of Roman bishops, etc., it's reasonable to assume that the passage is referring to a papacy. It doesn't matter if the "keys" mentioned in this passage (Matthew 16) can be interpreted in a number of ways. It doesn't matter if this passage says nothing about governmental supremacy. It doesn't matter if the passage says nothing about a succession of Roman bishops. As long as a passage uses terminology into which it's possible to read a Roman Catholic interpretation, then all of the Roman Catholic Church's claims to authority are thereby validated. This only applies to passages about Peter and Mary, however. You can't read these things into passages about Paul or John, for example. But if we're dealing with a passage relating to Peter or Mary, then the sky is the limit as far as speculation is concerned. You can claim that Matthew 16:18 teaches a papacy, Luke 1:28 teaches an immaculate conception, Luke 22:32 teaches papal infallibility, John 19:26 teaches that Mary is Mother of the Church and dispenser of all grace, etc. That there are many other possible interpretations of these passages, and that there's no way to validate the Catholic interpretations, is irrelevant.
7. The Roman Catholic Church can err and contradict itself as much as it wants to (anti-Semitism, selling indulgences, Popes and councils contradicting one another, etc.), yet still be "Infallible Mother Church." If anybody brings up these errors, we need to either "put the past behind us" or realize that every error of the Roman Catholic Church is "unofficial." There's no definite, consistent criteria by which to determine which actions of the RCC are "official" and which are "unofficial," but it's generally a matter of anything obviously erroneous being "unofficial." So we must wait to see whether the Roman Catholic Church is correct on an issue before deciding whether the Roman Catholic Church is acting "officially." The Roman Catholic Church is acting officially only when it's correct. And since the Roman Catholic Church has always been correct every time it's acted officially, we should be impressed with this amazing record of infallibility.

I think the logic of such a list is irrefutable, and it nicely demonstrates the glaring double standard in which many (most?) RC apologists engage in these issues. Unfortunately, there are some prominent members of this list who have decided to engage in ad hominem attacks on my character, integrity, motives, etc., instead of dealing with the weaknesses of their own approaches (which is what the challenge points out). I am not familiar with most of those who have engaged in this sort of thing; and, quite frankly, their opinions of me mean very little. I am only concerned about those who are viewed as "major defenders" of the RC faith. I think it is fair to say that Mark Shea ranks among that lot. He, more than anyone else on this list with whom I am familiar, has spearheaded these attacks on me, and has been very dismissive of my views. As a result, I have challenged him to a public debate on this very issue-namely, epistemological foundations. If he is right, and my challenge was "silly and stupid" (repeated more than once in this forum), I think it reasonable to back it up in a public debate to see whether his objections will stand. What follows is an exchange that took place recently between Mr. Shea and me. I don't normally post private email; but the situation dictates it. Shea has attempted to humiliate me in a public forum behind my back. It is only fair that he be taken to task publicly:

I write:
Hello Mark,
I have seen my name mentioned quite a few times by you on the Catholic Convert board, mostly in reference to my epistemological challenge. I wonder whether you would care to engage me in a public debate on this issue, just to clear up some misunderstandings that I think you may be perpetuating about my views (perhaps unwittingly, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt). Is this something you'd care to do? If so, we can talk about a date and venue that works for you. Please let me know.
Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:
Thanks anyway, but as I've made clear repeatedly on Steve's board and elsewhere, I don't believe in debates.
Have a Merry Christmas!

I respond by excerpting quotations form Shea's posts regarding my challenge over the past few months:
* "The deep goofiness of such challenges" (October 06, 2000)
* "Bottom line: four posts full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Eric offers $100k to the winner. Eric shoots. Eric misses. Eric makes self referee. Eric declares self winner. Eric keeps the $100K. Yay Eric. Eric is invincible!" (October 06, 2000)
* "His reductionist admission which took it for granted that it's all about power and self-interest speaks volumes." (October 07, 2000)
* "If Eric want to be taken seriously, he should advance the argument without couching it in such stupid terms" (October 07, 2000).
* "Instead, he stupidly put this dumb "challenge" forward and made himself look as stupid as a Catholic who imagines he has overturned the Reformation by showing Jack Chick to be an idiot." (October 07, 2000)
* "The "challenge" distracted from the arguments. Further, the arguments themselves are barely worth refuting." (October 07, 2000)
* "Eric Svendsen: The Best Ethics Money Can Buy!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Eric is dismissive and gives verbose accounts of his dismissiveness. But the fact is, you and I know beforehand that the game is rigged. Eric is bound and determined, in advance of and in the teeth of all evidence, to arrive at the conclusion he arrives at, no matter what." (October 06, 2000)
* "Go back and tell your Master Eric that this "challenge" is one of the best things to happen to Catholic apologetics in many a day! *Please* urge him to keep boasting about how he remains unconvinced! It's too perfect!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Don't you--doesn't Eric--*see* what a deeply, incredibly *stupid* blow to anti-Catholic apologetics this "challenge" is?" (October 06, 2000)
* "Have you ever tried to point out to him how deeply stupid and damaging his "$100,000 challenge" is to his own case" (October 06, 2000)
And those posts are only a few that I selected from your posts over the course of only two days. I have found that those who protest this much over what they claim, after all, is "much ado about nothing" are in reality attempting to hide the fact that they cannot answer such challenges. I'm calling your bluff, Mark. You claim you don't "believe in debates." Am I to conclude that what you do you believe in are trumped-up, unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks that you are unwilling to defend in a public forum? Do I take it that it's not okay to hold a public debate where I have the opportunity to hold you accountable for misrepresenting my position and where I can press these points home to show that you really do not have an adequate answer for them--and where everyone listening can see for themselves which side holds up under close scutiny--but that it is perfectly okay (by you) to call into question the integrity, intellectual honesty and character of another person behind his back in a forum he isn't even part of? Is that your idea of a fair exchange of ideas? I'd think that a man who has engaged so freely in the nonsense you have above with such bravado and confidence and in a decidedly back-handed way should be willing to back all that up publicly in front of the man he has taken to task. I certainly am a willing (and eager) participant. How about it, Mark? I personally would love to see how your "silliness" argument holds up in a face-to-face debate. Are you willing to give it a shot? If so, I salute you, and I will immediately begin working out the details of date and venue. If not, then I suggest you refrain from this kind of nonsense in the future. Which will it be, Mark?
Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:
It's not my problem if you chose a silly tactic in an attempt to score a rhetorical point. It remains a silly tactic whether I debate you or not. You don't have $100,000. You never, under any circumstances whatever, had any intention of ponying up said cash. Making yourself judge and jury of whether you should pony up such cash and then loudly announcing that nobody had convinced you to do so simply made it clear that you are a more-than-usually self-interested opponent of the Church. The fact that you still don't seem to see that elementary point is now simply funny.
The fact remains that I don't believe in debates and am not interested. Your questions turn on the standard flat-footed rationalistic approach to the Faith which assumes a faithful Catholic must form his thoughts on the basis "That which is not forbidden is compulsory". Since the Church is, in fact, profoundly disinclined to define her dogma unless she has to, you imagine you are scoring a stunning rhetorical triumph by showing that Catholics disagree about a great many things. Me, I think it is one of the best things about the Church that orthodox Catholics "agree about everything. It is only everything else they disagree about." (Chesterton).
Bottom line: I think you whole set of questions is ill-conceived from the start and I deleted the challenge the first time it came to my computer because they struck me as tone-deaf to the catholicity of the faith. I haven't changed my opinion and still disbelieve in debate.

I respond by first quoting Shea and then addressing his point:
Anyone can have an opinion. The one thing that separates valid opinions from silly opinions is the willingness and ability to back them up in the face of opposition. Your silly arguments against my challenge, quite frankly, would not stand up in a public forum. You would look foolish and silly in front of (tens of) thousands who may listen to such a debate, and I firmly believe that is the real reason you are unwilling to submit them to a forum that would be taped and widely distributed to both sides. You have styled yourself as a defender of the Roman faith. Fine. Defend it, and defend it with integrity. As it stands, you have acted with dishonor and a lack of integrity and have opted instead to attack someone else's views as "silly" and "stupid" behind his back and without being willing to back it up. Again, I suggest that if you are unwilling and unable to back a statement that is intended to demean and belittle your opponent, simply bow out of this arena. Such a person has proven himself incapable of assuming the great weight of responsibility that is bound up in styling himself a defender of the faith, and is thereby disqualified from being taken seriously. Such "apologists" come a dime a dozen these days.
Eric Svendsen

Well, there you have it folks. I am and always have been willing to debate the best that Rome has to offer. I don't mind penning my views because I am willing to back them up in a public forum and submit them to close examination. But let me reiterate, I am interested in debating only the best because I don't want any charge from anyone to the effect that the reason the Evangelical side won such and such debate was because the Catholic side was represented by someone too uninformed to debate the issue. Consequently, I summarily reject any offer to debate amateur RC apologists (I just wanted in advance to save some of you the trouble of writing and asking for a debate). By "best" I mean someone who has been trained in theology, has written books on these issues, and who is at least apparently well-informed. Mark Shea has a reputation for these qualifications, and he is supposed to be one of the elite RC defenders today. Yet he is either unwilling or unable (or both) to submit his comments in a forum in which it would be very difficult for him to get away with the kind of nonsense he has been perpetuating about my views. I find that exceedingly distasteful and disingenuous. It is very easy to do armchair apologetics in which you simply refuse to be held accountable for your careless assertions. It is quite another thing to hold those same assertions under the microscope of an opponent who will be only too happy to point out their flaws. This, Shea is quite unwilling to do. I suspect I know why.

One more thing: I do not now, nor in all likelihood will I ever, become a participant in this forum. Written debates, in my opinion, are completely ineffective because they allow an opponent to obfuscate too easily. Don't believe me? Let's just test my theory. I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that most of the responses to this post will once again ignore the real issue and proclaim something like: "Aha! So he admits he wasn't going to pay the money!" Watch and see. Public debates, on the other hand, disallow these kinds of bad arguments to stand. My offer to debate Mark Shea publicly on any issue, anywhere and anytime will remain an open invitation. How about it Mark? You openly and publicly criticized my views. Are you willing to put your criticisms to the test? If not, how about doing us all a favor by refraining from stating your unsubstantiated opinions from this point on?

I will close on another note. I have seen some completely misinformed statements in this forum regarding degrees granted by CES (Columbia Evangelical Seminary). Those of you on the RC side should know that to the extent you demean a CES degree you also demean a Maryvale Institute degree-the school where Robert Sungenis is currently pursuing his Ph.D. Maryvale is not an accredited school. Even though this has been common knowledge on the Evangelical side for some time, Evangelicals have refused to sling mud. The mud slinging has unfortunately come solely from the Roman Catholic side. What follows is a joint statement agreed upon by Robert Sungenis and myself. Perhaps this will spell an end to the attacks from that side.

Eric Svendsen
Joint Statement Regarding Advanced Degree Programs

As apologists representing both the Evangelical position and the Catholic position we recognize the value of continuing education in ensuring high quality in the presentations, articles, books and debates that each of us may undertake. Unfortunately, due to ministry and employment constraints it is not always feasible to pursue a degree the traditional way. Yet this should not deter us from pursuing advanced studies from non-traditional institutions (i.e., institutions that use distance-learning as a primary means of study) which nevertheless have been recognized by credible sources as high quality institutions.

Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis is currently pursuing a degree from such an institution, Maryvale Institute. Although Maryvale is not officially accredited in and of itself, degrees pursued through Maryvale become eligible for validation by the Open University in Europe. the Open University was given a Royal Charter from the United Kingdom in 1969 to start its distance-learning degree program. The Open University states that it "...will ensure that the research degrees granted and conferred through sponsoring establishments are consistent and comparable in standard with similar degrees throughout higher education in the United Kingdom." This in itself does not absolutely guarantee the quality of the degree program, since the Open University also validates degrees pursued through lesser quality institutions in the U.S. (such as LaSalle University). However, having closely examined Maryvale Institute's advanced degree programs and having found them to be committed to scholarly excellence, we have no reason to doubt that any degree obtained through Maryvale Institute is a high quality degree. Each of the undersigned recognizes the validity of degree programs pursued through this institution unequivocally.

Evangelical apologists Eric Svendsen and James White both hold doctorate-level degrees from Columbia Evangelical Seminary. Although CES is not officially accredited in and of itself (as no entirely distance-learning degree program undertaken in the U.S. can be), CES has been highly acclaimed by experts on non-traditional degree programs, including John Bear, Ph.D. (Michigan State University), author of the book, Bears' Guide To Earning College Degrees Nontraditionally. Here are his comments regarding CES:

"In evaluating an unaccredited school, the two crucial questions that must be asked are these: who are the people behind it (and what are their credentials), and what is the quality of work being asked of, and done by, the students. On both of these criteria, in my opinion, Columbia Evangelical Seminary looks good. Fortunately, this is something that can be independently verified. Look at the credentials of Dr. Walston and his colleagues. And look at the work of the students. If this is done fairly, I think most people would agree that Columbia Evangelical Seminary is true to its mission statement, and offers its students both an education and a credential of which they can be justly proud."

In addition to obtaining a CES degree, Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen is currently pursuing a Ph.D. through Greenwich School of Theology, U.K.. GST is fully accredited through Potchestroom University, South Africa, and is officially recognized by the ODLQC (Open and Distance Learning Quality Council), U.K. Having closely examined these advanced degree programs and having found them to be committed to scholarly excellence, we have no reason to doubt that any degree obtained through these institutions is a high quality degree. Each of the undersigned recognizes the validity of these degree programs unequivocally.

Inasmuch as each of the undersigned has received a graduate degree from a well-known, accredited institution, and believe that ongoing, advanced studies is the primary means of achieving and maintaining scholarly excellence in our apologetics, we hereby fully recognize the scholarly quality of degree programs sought through the aforementioned institutions.

Finally, we deplore and denounce any attempt by our colleagues on either side to demean and denigrate any degrees granted from these institutions.

Eric Svendsen and Robert Sungenis

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