Cor ad cor loquitur
"Heart speaks to heart" - John Henry Cardinal Newman

James White's Three-Ring Sophistry Circus: His Critique of my Radio Talk on Sola Scriptura

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Installment #2 of Bishop James White's multi-part series on his Dividing Line webcast (8-31-04), "cross-examining" my radio appearance on Catholic Answers Live, where I discussed Bible and Tradition, was "classic White" (to paraphrase one of his statements about me). Once again he showed that he scarcely even comprehends the arguments I was making, and consistently misrepresented the nature of the arguments, and what I would say each one demonstrated in favor of tradition and contrary to sola Scriptura. To show why would take far too much time (as is always the case with sophists). Suffice it to say that I think White's highly polemical rhetoric suffers from a marked lack of ability to grasp logical progression and the relationship of ideas and doctrines to each other, and he also clearly hasn't the slightest clue as to how analogical argument works.

Instead of descending into that bottomless pit of White's stubborn noncomprehension, I would like to take this opportunity to document yet again some of Dr. White's insulting rhetoric (in order to disabuse those who claim that he never does this). The following remarks are all direct citations from this webcast (starting from 5:20 on), except where indicated otherwise. His words will be in blue:

The response posted Saturday August 28th . . . is absolutely classic Armstrong: very long, very verbose, not a bit of substance [laughter].

. . . the man has no clue what he is talking about . . .

White proceeds to mock my decision to not engage his "arguments", implying that it is a hedge and a cover for inability. Then, remarkably (but typically for him), exactly one minute and 24 seconds later (at 9:03), he makes a very similar sort of reply with regard to Catholic "traditionalist" Gerry Matatics' arguments in his debates with Protestants:

He uses the same arguments that Eric Svendsen and I have run over him with before. We've refuted them. They're not sound arguments. But he keeps repeating them anyways because he figures we're not gonna be there.

Exactly. This is how I regard White's never-ending sophistry. It is refuted, and he repeats it as if he had never heard the rebuttals made frequently by myself and others. But when I refuse to keep refuting and refuting, it is because I am a coward, so he would have us believe. When White does it, on the other hand, it is because his opponent is an idiot. He always spins everything so that he comes out the victor, even if blatant double standards must be utilized.

The Dave Armstrong who speaks is very different than the Dave Armstrong who writes. And there's a reason why Dave Armstrong will not debate. He couldn't. He's not capable of doing it. There are people who are not. I understand that. But see the problem is, Dave Armstrong has always tried to make this argument, [mocking tone, suggesting my insincerity] "well, there's actually a great superiority to written debates and, uh, . . . " no, there's only one reason he won't do an actual debate, because he could never survive cross-examination. It's not possible. He couldn't do it. So, you know, it's been disingenuous all along to be saying it the way that he's been saying it.

So now I get accused of lying about my reasons for not debating White orally. This is ethically reprehensible, because I have made it clear from the very beginning of my interaction with him that my primary objection is White's sophistical tactics (which is common to virtually all anti-Catholic argumentation), but secondarily, that speaking is not my area of expertise; writing is. In our lengthy postal debate of 1995, the following exchange occurred:

Finally, I am delighted and (I think) honored that you are eager and "happy" to debate me in public. I love debate, but much prefer informal, conversational Socratic dialogue or written point-counterpoint exchanges to the mutual monologues and often antagonistic and disrespectful affairs which pass for "public debates." I am not particularly skilled as an orator and lecturer, nor do I have the requisite desire to participate in that type of forum. That said, I would not want to publicly represent the Church to which I give my allegiance, but would rather defer to someone with more abilities for formal debate than I possess, so that we are best represented.

I am pleased to report, however, that my friend Gary Michuta, another apologist who started our group called "Thy Faith," which puts out a magazine called Hands On Apologetics (similar to This Rock), immediately and enthusiastically accepted this challenge when I inquired about it yesterday. His phone number and fax are the same as my fax number: [deleted], and he can be reached at the following address: [deleted]. He eagerly awaits your reply.

[ . . . ]

Lest you think I'm trying to evade you, however, I am perfectly willing, able, ready, and eager to engage you in debate on any topic you so desire either by letter or in your newsletter (if the latter, I would require prior editorial consent . . .). I would demand equal space in your newsletter, so that the fair inquirer could make up his own mind. You've observed my debating abilities in this letter and other writings I've given you, so I think you'll agree that timidity and fear are not my reasons for declining public oratorical debate.

Your newsletter is just as "public," and probably reaches even more people than a one-night debate would . . . So, I eagerly anticipate your reply, and (I hope) request for whatever of my papers you would most like to debate.

Be that as it may, I again have to note that your high words sound, well, a bit "tinny," in light of your unwillingness to defend those statements in public debate. It is easy to hide behind a word-processor, Dave. You can always blow smoke in written debates -- of course, you can do the same in formal debates, too, but without as much ease, that's for certain. It surely struck me as strange that you would . . . end your letter by referring me to someone I've never heard of before to defend your position. You say, "My challenge to you is to refute my arguments therein and elsewhere." Again you challenge me to respond to an unpublished book that I've never seen. How am I supposed to do that, Dave? [it has now been in print for three years with no refutation yet from White]

. . . . . . your reasons for declining a public debate are left rather hollow. Perhaps you will reconsider your refusal? I have no idea who Gary Michuta is, what his position is, what he's written, what his background is, or anything else.

[he had roughly the same qualifications then as now, and sure enough, White debated -- guess who? -- on the canon of Scripture at his last annual Long Island debate -- I'm glad he came around after 9 years]

As to your gratuitous swipe at my declining oratorical debate, this is a vapid accusation for the following reason: you falsely assume that public spoken debate is the only (or at least far preferable) kind of debate. Even after I told you that this was not my forte, desire, or preference (what's wrong with that? . . .), you persist in implying that I am scared to debate! As I anticipated {4-22-95, p.16 / 5-15-95, p.1} you would take my refusal as a product of fear rather than principle and preference. Well, writing is also debate, James. We are doing it right now (me writing and you reading this). Haven't you ever heard of Luther's debate with Erasmus on Free Will? Or Calvin's famous interchange with Cardinal Sadoleto? Are these not debates, according to you? And were Luther and Calvin "chickens" for not debating their foes publicly and with the spoken word? Pretty silly, wouldn't you agree, James?

. . . I will gladly take you . . . on by correspondence or in your newsletter on any theological topic (excepting NT Greek grammar!) at any time . . .

. . . in the spur of the moment at one of these (usually farcical) debates, I could never come up with the carefully-and tightly-reasoned responses which I have produced here as a result of hours of thought and work (I can't think of many who could, not even you yourself). Thus the audience might get the false impression that you have great reasoning at your command, whereas the truth is quite the contrary on major points under discussion, as I've clearly demonstrated (and only in your first three pages, yet!).

This is merely one example among dozens and dozens, of White's dishonest, sophistical style of "debate" (really ad hominem insult). This is what he does. And this is why I refused to dissect all his twisted, wrongheaded arguments in his critique of my radio appearance. I would rather deal with intellectually cogent, serious opponents. Remember, again, that he claimed that I have been "disingenuous" all along as to my reason for declining oral debates with him. I have not: I stated flat-out (in 1995, when we first met) that speaking was not my forte, and also that I objected to his sophistry in debate. This is not to say that he would automatically "win" any theoretical oral debate between us. For the folks who like rhetorical flourish and Clintonian sophistry and polemics and the mere appearance of strength, he would "win," but for substance and reason, I think I would prevail, hands-down, even though I do virtually no public speaking and White constantly does it.

As for cross-examination and my alleged fear, I have recounted the story more than once (and I can document all this if necessary) of how I was willing (a few years ago) to meet the good Bishop more than halfway and engage him in a live exchange: in his chat room. I suggested that if I could question him about anything for one hour, that he could then question me all night long if he wished to do so, and it would all be recorded on my website for posterity. The invincible, confident, unassailable Dr. White refused. Why? Well, he has never explained why.

If anyone, therefore, must be charged with cowardice and fear of cross-examination, I say it is White, since he didn't jump at the opportunity to question me all night long, to his heart's content. I gave him everything he wanted in exchange for one little hour putting him through the "grill." That prospect was far too terrifying for him to contemplate and accept, because he has everything all carefully prepared in his debates, and would freak out at a spontaneous exchange that wasn't all laid out beforehand. That would actually be a "real" conversation, and we mustn't do that! His sycophants might figure out that the man doesn't know everything!

And he continues to ignore my 36-page final reply in our written debate, which made mincemeat of his arguments, as far as I am concerned. He disagrees? Then he should put up or shut up and stop his lies about my supposed fear of his brilliant arguments and knowledge.

Another thing I find hilariously funny is White's long-running complaint about the lengthiness of my written replies. Yet when he finally arouses his intellectual confidence and "critiques" my radio talk, we find that over and over again he will play about 4-5 sentences of my presentation and proceed to analyze it with 10 or 20 times the amount of material. Thus, he once again commits the same act that he constantly decries when it comes to my refutations in writing of his material. This is very common with him. He claims that written debates suffer from this shortcoming. Yet here he tries to manufacture, in effect, a sort of "fake debate" with me giving a one-minute sound byte followed by 5 or 10 minutes of his uncomprehending rhetoric and sophistry. He is nothing if not two-faced and hypocritical, when it comes to dealing with Catholics. At least a real oral debate has strict time limits, and he couldn't get away with this fast one.

But back to his critique on The Dividing Line:

These are just your standard, lay-level, not really good arguments. They've been refuted many times . . .

A debate situation wouldn't be really good for Mr. Armstrong because he'd actually have to answer these questions . . .

As long as you don't allow anybody to cross-examine you . . . the first one to present his case always seems right, until his opponent comes along and questions him. That's what live debate allows to take place.

Perhaps, then, this accounts for White's refusal to reply to my 36-page final statement in our written debate, and a host of direct replies to his works in various papers. I fail to see why an oral cross-examination is fundamentally different than a written one. In both cases, the person must defend his position under scrutiny. White is a writer as well as a speaker, but he won't defend his writing.

This is the kind of argumentation that just leaves you going, "what are you talking about?"

The problem, of course, is that this is, quite seriously, one of the things I've said about Mr. Armstrong and about many Catholic apologists, from the very beginning. They don't do exegesis, and they don't know how to. Um, of course, I could argue that they're not allowed to.

And so on and so forth. Listen up for more condescending personal attacks and senseless imbecility next time, folks . . . If nothing else, I find it entertaining and very funny.