Assume I’m a Molinist!

Why are these three points insufficient for human responsibility from an Arminian perspective?

Assume I were a Molinist asking the question!

  1. The possession of certain cognitive capacities that produce different acts given different states of affairs.
  2. Dispositional powers, which is to say the power to try to choose x rather than refrain from x or choose ~x.
  3. A “mesh” of first and second-order desires (desire to act and approval of desire to act) that are both intuitive and particular to choices in contradistinction to brute instincts, perhaps addiction and phobias too.

All three of those points are compatible with God’s eternal decree. Accordingly, how does a Reformed view of divine decree logically contradict moral accountability given that 1-3 would appear sufficient for moral accountability? To point to inability to do otherwise or the settledness of what a divine decree contemplates is a classic example of question begging. It’s merely to say compatibilist freedom is not libertarian freedom.

Strict Justice vs Pactum Justice and Union with Christ

Let’s consider afresh the relationship of pactum justice with respect to Adam in the CoW and how that relates to strict justice in redemption. With Adam the reward would’ve been disproportionate to the work.

The justice would not have been according to strict justice but rather according to an agreement to over reward Adam, a pactum justice if you will. The value of the work would not have been intrinsic (or of strict justice) value. No problem there I trust.

I do find that in redemption our reward though received by grace alone is according to strict justice. The passive obedience part of redemption, which for our purposes deals with our demerit, is more obvious perhaps, but I find that some who focus on active obedience have no place to ground strict justice with respect to our right standing before God. Let me frame the dilemma and then try to solve it, but before that I’ll try to address the easier part having to do with strict justice as it relates to Christ’s passive obedience and our demerit.

The one time sacrifice was sufficient payment to satisfy God’s strict justice. The divine nature was required so that satisfaction could be actually intrinsic to the work. Our demerit needed the incarnate Son of God to pay for the sins of His people, for one thing to keep his human nature from sinking under God’s infinite wrath. Christ being God could render God propitious and truly provide full satisfaction, a strict just payment for the sins of the many. That’s the more obvious part. No issues there I trust.

The dilemma:

The Son assumed the terms of the covenant that offered a disproportionate reward for works done as a human being. So, regarding the active obedience part, pactum justice cannot be avoided and strict justice obtained if our positive merit is predicated solely on Christ fulfilling the original terms of the covenant and we grant that those original terms were according to pactum justice. That would appear to be the implication of a position that limits our positive standing to that which we receive only by the active obedience of Christ. If the Son took on the terms of the original covenant and if those terms offered disproportionate reward via pactum, then it stands to reason that our right standing in Christ is not according to strict justice but only according to pactum justice (unless something beyond Adam’s pactum merit is added).

We should look at this from another angle:

Although the required work was essentially* the same for both Adams and, therefore, disproportional to the reward, in our receiving of the whole person of Christ and not merely His active human obedience in the economy of redemption we can find strict justice. In other words, by union with Christ we are by grace rightful co-heirs of the heavenly Jerusalem etc. Not by the Son’s human work only but by our union with the architect himself, a divine person who performed the works in the flesh by the Spirit. If we want to speak of our reward of all things in Christ being strictly just, then we need to abandon the notion of merely the imputation of Christ’s obedient-merit as a human and begin thinking in terms of Christ’s total perfection being imputed in union. (The Westminster standards do!) It’s the divinity of the Son that gives the worth and efficacy to his obedience, which cashes out as our receiving the Son himself. (WLC 38)

I fear this is eclipsed in certain quarters. Where do we ground strict justice if all Christ did for us was obey as the Second Adam in our stead as opposed to taking us into union with his divine self? We have by gracious adoption what the Son has by nature and we receive that inheritance in full union with Christ. Some constructs that emphasize active obedience fail to do justice to the implications of union with Christ – our receiving all perfections in Christ, which includes yet exceeds his human work of active (and passive) obedience. There’s not a strict one-to-one parallel to the first Adam, nor is there one in Romans 5.

Footnote:

*Of course Christ had a harder task. Adam had to be obedient in a world with the serpent but not in world with human disciples of the serpent.

Infallibility & The Canon

Proof for the reception of the canon:

Jesus promised to build his church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus also told his apostles that those who received them received Him. (Matt. 10:40) The implication is that the building project of the Lord was to be founded upon the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20) Consequently, the words of the apostles and Christ had to be received without error because Jesus promised to build his church upon them, which is now a matter of history given the passing of the apostles. Therefore, the canon is closed, lest the church has no foundation. The apostolic tradition was both oral and written (II Thess. 2:15) but only the written apostolic tradition has been providentially preserved. Accordingly, Scripture alone is what the church is built upon, which must have been God’s intention since Scripture alone is all he left us in keeping with Christ Jesus’ promise to build his church.

This simple argument has been met by Romanists from “Called to Communion” with resistance for two primary reasons. The claim is that the apostolic office in view in Ephesians 2:20 includes both the perpetual seat of the papacy and the oral tradition of the church. Let’s assume then that the unwritten tradition still exists even though it has never been produced. Jesus promised to build his church and we’ll say that he promised to build it upon both Scripture and unwritten tradition. (I of course would say that if Jesus promised to build his church on the unwritten tradition then he failed since there is no preserved unwritten tradition that the church has been built upon; yet for argument sake let’s assume the tradition is intact.) Whether we have the unwritten tradition or not has zero impact on the argument from “intent and providence” for the reception of the written tradition. Any preservation of the unwritten tradition does not undermine the reception of the written tradition. Now in a last ditch desperation Romanists will resort to saying that the texts in view are not just speaking about the teachings of Christ and his apostles (even oral traditions) as being the foundation of the church, but rather the texts mean that we are to receive for the foundation of the church the teachings of their alleged successors (the popes) both written and oral. In passing I’ll note that to have to receive the teaching of a pope 2,000 years after the teachings of the apostles and Christ would clearly deny the import of “foundation of the church.” But aside from the obvious, even if we grant the point, the reception of the written tradition through divine intent and providence is not affected by the Gnostic “exegesis” of Ephesians 2:20 regarding popes because a papal apostolic succession and the reception of the canon are not mutually exclusive premises. To “refute”” the Protestant position on the canon in a non-arbitrary, non-ad hoc fashion the Roman apologist will have to deny that Jesus had any intent whatsoever for the church to be at least partially built upon his written words and the written words of the apostles. To introduce Gnostic dogmas regarding unwritten traditions and the succession of bishops is simply to throw up Red Herrings in a sophist manner.

In sum, the Roman apologist needs to avoid the divine intent at all cost; for as soon as he acknowledges Christ Jesus’ intent to build His church “at least in part” on Scripture, he is then constrained to show why God’s intent could not have come to pass without an infallible magisterium (according to the same divine providence by which the rest of the eternal decree comes to pass). Since Romanists cannot possibly succeed in showing that God could not bring to pass the reception of the canon without an infallible magisterium, they are left no other choice (short of becoming Protestant on this matter) than to bring into question the divine intent. The Romanist does this through arguing by false-disjunction, introducing non-mutually exclusive premises to the promise of building the church “at least in part” on the canon; these Red Herring premises are intended to (a) establish a need for an apostolic oral tradition, and (b) establish a succession of infallible bishops. Yet neither a nor b undermine the divine intent to bring to pass the reception of the canon for the establishment of the NT church. Yet even allowing for those unjustified premises, Romanists cannot produce a sound argument to undermine the divine intent, which presuppose the necessity of bringing to pass the reception of the canon. They with the Satan can only say, “Has God said?”

With my Protestant brethren in mind, when it comes to the question of how we can know whether we have the Canon, I’ve never been comfortable with appealing to “criteria”. After all, even if we make apostolic authorship a criterion for NT canonicity, then several canonical books don’t qualify as such. Perhaps we include “close association” to an apostle as a criterion; then we can accept Luke, Acts, Hebrews… but then what about Barnabas? I also don’t think “attributes” of canonicity (or marks of divinity) gets us much closer to the thorny epistemic question at hand. Neither does apostolicity in my estimation. Indeed, those sorts of criteria may have been employed by the early church when pondering canonicity and there’s no question the Holy Spirit persuaded according the divine attributes of Scripture, but the means the church employed to ascertain and receive Scripture, and our criteria today for knowing we have the canon must remain distinct.

However, I don’t think we’re consigned to skepticism or looking to an alleged infallible magisterium; nor must we conclude (as one Reformed popularizer suggested) that we have a fallible collection of infallible books. I’m grateful Dr. Kruger from RTS takes things in a dramatically different direction, but my disagreement is substantial if I understand his position.

Some basic premises all Reformed folk can agree upon:

  1. There’s a relevant distinction between what is true and what is known to be true. So, it is true that canonical books were Scripture prior to those books being widely known to be Scripture. Accordingly, the church didn’t determine the canon. Rather, the church recognized the canon and received it as such.
  2. Jesus placed his imprimatur on the Jewish canon (and not the apocrypha).
  3. Jesus promised to build his church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus also told his apostles that those who received them received Him. (Matt. 10:40) The implication is that the building project of the Lord was to be founded upon the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20)
  4. Consequently, the words or teachings of the apostles and Christ had to be received because Jesus promised to build his church upon them, which is now a settled matter. The church has its foundation lest there’s no church and Christ’s word failed.
  5. Therefore, the canon was received and is closed, lest the church has no foundation, contrary to Jesus’ intention.
  6. The apostolic tradition was both oral and written (II Thess. 2:15) but only the written apostolic tradition has been providentially preserved. Accordingly, Scripture alone is what the church is built upon, which must have been God’s intention since Scripture alone is all he left us in keeping with Christ Jesus’ promise to build his church.

In sum:

  1. It’s in the canon we find the divine intention to build the church upon the canon.
  2. Therefore, shouldn’t our confidence be based upon the divine intention contained in the canon, which presupposes the church would recognize and receive the canon in order that Christ might build his church? Also, in conjunction with that, shouldn’t our confidence be based upon God’s revealed ability to do all his holy will?
  3. Maybe we can even take the church’s recognition of the canon out of the equation to make the point even stronger. Even had the church not wanted to receive the canon, she couldn’t but receive the canon given the divine intention. (Of course Jesus’ intention was that she be guided by the voice of God testifying in Scripture through the Holy Spirit.)
  4. In a word, I’m more than hesitant and quite uncomfortable in going outside the canon to justify our knowledge that we have the canon.

The Problem of Induction

James Anderson offers a concise synopses of the problem of induction.

I recall as a child being struck by the fact that if a monkey were placed at a typewriter, the chimp would eventually type the works of Shakespeare given enough time.

Soon after becoming a believer it occurred to me that if the unbeliever were consistent with his worldview, which entails pure randomness, he would concede that up until the present moment he had been living in a random slice of time, not unlike that in which a monkey might type the works of Shakespeare. Yet he’d have no rational basis for assuming the future would be like the seemingly ordered past. Salt dissolving in water everyday, just like yesterday, would be as likely as Bonzo typing great literature given the assumptions of unbelief. Little did I know then, I was dealing with the age old problem of induction. (A problem for a non-Revelational epistemology and naturalistic metaphysic.)

But as any astute parlour game aficionado realizes, probability has no memory, (an insight I learned as a young boy from my father as I pondered discrete events). So, if black were to come up on the roulette wheel twenty times in a row, the odds of black coming up a 21st time would still be 50% (if there weren’t two green slots of 0 and 00 on the wheel, and assuming no other anomalies, like the wheel was rigged etc.). We oughtn’t think red is overdue or black is running a hot streak. Given the uniformity of nature, we may expect red and black to occur equally over time and with equal probability at each consecutive spin.

However, the unbeliever can have no such expectation if true to his espoused presuppositions. The unbeliever should no sooner bet on the future results of past science (e.g. a streak of seemingly consistent pattern of salt dissolving in water) than on the pure randomness of non-science, if he were consistent. Bonzo’s uncontrolled predictability is as dependable as the scientific method.

Molinist Counterfactual Backfires

Christian compatibilists and incompatibilists agree that man is morally responsible for his choices, and God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the same. Therefore, if man has free will, it must be compatible with God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. “It seems to me much clearer(!)” – and to the rest who desire to make sense of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) – to maintain that any true CCF must have as its propositional truth-maker God’s free and sovereign determination. The only other option, lest we deny God’s sole eternality by positing ungrounded CCFs, is that CCFs are necessary truths, like laws of logic that are grounded in God. In other words, unless we are willing to accept mysterious propositional dualism, we are consigned to accept some species of determinism with respect to necessarily or contingently true CCFs being reflections of God’s attributes or will respectively, the latter being more theologically sensible. In sum, since God’s foreknowledge is inconsistent with indeterministic freedom, we either are not free at all or else we are free in some other sense, a deterministic sense. If there is to be creaturely freedom, and if CCFs are contingent truths, then God knows them according to his free knowledge.

(Somewhat ironically, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, Middle Knowledge reduces true CCFs to necessary truths – true in every possible world that could be actualized (i.e. all real possible worlds!) – given that might-counterfactuals, which are contrary to would / would not counterfactuals and, therefore, never true, can neither be known nor actualized. [Obviously I reject the Molinist distinction of possible and feasible worlds. Though I entertain the distinction when considering modality of logical vs metaphysical possibility.])

Libertarian free will would destroy moral accountability, for how can pure spontaneity or agent causation (metaphysical concepts that detach influences, reasons and relevant history from willful actions) produce morally relevant choices? (More on that in a moment.)

Molinists like to point to Jesus’ rebuke of the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida as proof of God’s Middle Knowledge – for had Jesus performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon that he had performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon would have repented. The prima facie interpretation of the parallel passages is not that Jesus was revealing how others would have responded to those same miracles. Rather, the immediate inference is that inhabitants of Israel were even more hardened to revelatory truth than pagans (and will accordingly be counted more culpable on the day of judgment). It was a rebuke, not a nod toward Middle Knowledge. Yet aside from the obvious, let’s run with the Molinist interpretation and see where it gets us.

Consider possible world Wp with the exact same relevant state of affairs as actual world Wa up to time t, which is shared in both worlds. At t in Wp, Jesus performs in Tyre and Sidon the same exact miracles from Wa that he performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida at t. The result in Tyre and Sidon is repentance. If that is not causality, what is? Remove the miracles, no repentance. Introduce the miracles, repentance. Remove the miracles, no repentance. Introduce the miracles, repentance… Like a light being switched on and off, the miracles would have causally triggered repentance. If not, then what? Would the miracles have triggered (nebulous) agent causation? If so, how would that not entail divine causal determinism given exhaustive omniscience? The only escape hatch is that the miracles trigger nothing in Wp, which would only serve to highlight the morally irrelevant nature of libertarian free choices per the passing reference above. For what reason(s) would repentance obtain if not for the causal connection of the miracles?

Now of course, from a Reformed perspective, God could effect repentance and index such to immediate or secondary causes of either ordinary acts of providence or miracles. God freely knows all such counterfactuals. Notwithstanding, given a Molinist use of the alleged counterfactual in view, it proves too much. It either undermines the spontaneity of agent causation Molinism contemplates, or else it underscores the compatibilist premise that libertarian freedom brings to naught the influences, reasons and relevant history that make our choices ours, rendering them morally irrelevant, not unlike purely random movements.

Molinism, Dualism and Omniscience

At the heart of Molinism is Middle Knowledge (MK), God’s knowledge of true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) – i.e. God’s knowledge of what creatures would freely do under all sets of circumstances. Now, of course, Augustinians also believe that if there are CCFs, then an omniscient God must have knowledge of them. However, unlike Molinists, Augustinians maintain that such divine knowledge is only possible if causal determinism is true, which eliminates a need for middle knowledge – a knowledge of truth that cannot be appropriated either under God’s natural or free knowledge. (As I argue here, Augustinians should ground such counterfactuals in God’s free knowledge of what he would determine and not in God’s natural knowledge of what is necessary or possible.)

The False God of Molinism

If God (eternally) knows that I would freely type this post under C conditions, then it is true that I would freely type this post under C conditions (otherwise God would and could not know it). For the Molinist, the truth that I would freely type this post exists without any truth-maker – a determining source of the propositional truth bearer: Ron would type Molinism post under C conditions. (Let that sink in, that MK contemplates some truths exist without anything to make them true.) That is because Molinists deny that free choices are causally determined. By denying causal determinism in this way, Molinist are unable to “ground” the eternal truth value of counterfactual freedom. Nothing or nobody makes CCFs eternally true. Molinists deny that God determines the truth value of CCFs and they also (rightly) deny that free moral agents retroactively cause eternal truth values after having chosen in time (or in another possible world). Consequently, Molinists admit that God knows certain truths that they believe are neither necessary nor freely and divinely determined. These truths are simply there, eternally existing alongside God and his divine will, (which, as I argue here, would make such would-counterfactuals necessarily true in all feasible worlds as opposed to contingently true). Like eternal holiness and the eternal divine will to send the Son, CCFs are uncreated abstract entities, not unlike divine attributes or God’s good pleasure. Obviously, such a philosophical construct denies the historic Christian faith by implicitly denying that God alone is from everlasting and the ultimate source of all things visible and invisible. It smacks at Dualism.

Another problem with Molnism is that it operates under the philosophical notion that creaturely freedom entails libertarian freedom. Libertarian freedom, or as it is often referred – libertarian free will (LFW), is a philosophical position that entails that free will is incompatible with causal determinism. We are asked to believe that for a choice to be free, it truly might not occur under the same exact circumstances in which it truly would occur. Therefore, God would somehow have to know that free choices would occur even though they truly might not occur. The problem with such a musing about metaphysical contingency is that God would know contrary truths, which is logically impossible! As long as it is true that I might (and might not) type this post, it remains false that I in fact would type this post. In which case, God could not know I would type this post, which limits God’s exhaustive omniscience.

Aside from the fact that LFW cannot be derived from Scripture – yet divine causal determinism can, LFW is too ambitious of a Christian position. For to subscribe to LFW is to affirm a species of theological dualism. Also, if taken to its logical conclusion, LFW leads to Open Theism, a heresy that limits God’s divine omniscience.  

Molinism & The Fixity of CCFs

A necessary truth is one that could not have been false. From an Augustinian perspective, a necessary truth is true in all possible worlds. In other words, from this perspective a necessary truth is true in all worlds that could be actualized.

I argue here that CCFs (counterfactuals of creaturely freedom) from a divine causal determinism perspective, being contingent truths, are best viewed as a matter of God’s free knowledge (as opposed to his natural knowledge). Whether person S would freely choose A or ~A in state of affairs C is up to God. Both choices as a matter of God’s good pleasure are possible given the same relevant state of affairs C. From within any possible world W, S would choose A in C is true in some possible worlds; S would choose ~A in C is true in all other possible worlds. As I wrote in that previous entry, “Given a state of affairs God could determine different resultant dispositions to act. Given an identical state of affairs, God could determine a fragrance or song from yesteryear to causally produce a disposition either to look at an old photo album, pick up the phone to call someone or something else. These alternative possibilities would not be indeterminate might-counterfactuals of libertarian creaturely freedom but rather intrinsic possibilities, part of God’s natural knowledge, from which God could determine and freely know any true CCF.”

From a Molinist perspective only feasible worlds can be actualized. Now allowing for that concession within Molinism – that some possible worlds are infeasible worlds due to libertarian freedom, then necessarily, true CCFs are true in all feasible worlds (i.e. worlds that can possibly be actualized into a reality within which instantiated essences could make those free moral choices), but need not be true in possible worlds that cannot be actualized (i.e. infeasible worlds that are impossible for God to actualize). If A would be freely chosen by S given C in one feasible world, that counterfactual would be the case for all feasible worlds, making the counterfactual a necessary truth. (Such fixity is not the case from an Augustinian perspective once we catalog CCFs under God’s free knowledge as opposed to God’s natural knowledge.) Given Molinism’s view of infeasible worlds, such counterfactuals would be contingent truths (might-counterfactuals) in those worlds, which is irrelevant to the fixity of CCFs in all possible worlds God could actualize (feasible worlds).

Although within Molinism S might (and therefore might not) choose A given state of affairs C, if S would choose A in C, then the knowability of that would-counterfactual must entail that the truth bearing proposition of the counterfactual be a necessary truth – one that would be true in all feasible worlds. After all, if that were not the case, then knowing state of affairs C (and the workings of S) would not provide the certainty God needs in order to know A would be freely chosen by S under circumstance C. 

Within an Augustinian perspective, God knows C would cause S to freely choose A or ~A by sovereign fiat. The outcome would be a contingent truth and as such could vary from W1 to Wn per God’s free choiceWhereas within Molinism, the outcome of S’s free choice given C, being divinely undetermined, is therefore mysteriously fixed as true and, therefore, a necessary truth for all feasible Ws as either always A or else always ~A. Ironic?

Given molinism, although S would A or ~A in C would be purely contingent metaphysically, the proposition that bears the true truth-value of the CCF would be necessary (being the same in all possible actualizeable worlds). From a molinist perspective, in every possible world that is actualizable, the counterfactual is consistently either true or false and, therefore, should be conceded as a necessary truth either of counterfactual S would A or ~A in C. But how can God not be the truth maker of a necessary truth? Brute facts are not facts.

In summary:

A necessary truth is one that exists in every possible world. And although Molinism upholds a theory of possible worlds that affords room for contingent CCFs (i.e. a would-counterfactual is false or true depending on the possible world in view), if we maintain as a redundant compound statement that (a) necessary truths are truths that exist in every possible world (b) that can possibly be actualized (i.e. a correct view of every possible world!), then the truth value of CCFs in infeasible worlds (worlds that are impossible to actualize), should be disregarded when evaluating whether a counterfactual is a necessary truth.

Molinism may not properly lay claim on CCFs being contingent truths. After all, given LFW, some “possible” choices would never occur regardless of the number of trials. Therefore, those counterfactuals should be deemed necessarily false because they are false in every world that could possibly be actualized. Zero possibility of occurrence is semantically contrary to actual possibility that A would occur or that A might occur.

Within Molinism only feasible worlds can be actualized; yet that semantic concession still must come with the price of considering all relevant CCFs – those CCFs that have a non 0% probability in identical circumstances – as necessary truths given LFW and MK.

At the very least, within Molinism the chasm between what is logically consistent (all possible worlds, including infeasible ones) and what is actually metaphysically feasible (true CCFs) is too vast.

Denial and Pre-commitments

An amusing illustration of interpreting evidence in light of precommitment has to do with a deluded man who thinks he is dead. The doctor tries to persuade the man he is not dead by getting the man to reason according to some other

proposition the dead man also believes, such as: dead men don’t bleed. Therefore, if when pricked with a needle by the doctor blood comes out of the deluded patient, the patient should abandon his belief that he is dead; or so is the doctor’s hope.

We might comprise a simple syllogism that the patient would readily embrace. 

1. Dead men won’t bleed when pricked 

2. I am a dead man 

3. I won’t bleed when pricked 

Naturally, when pricked the man bled. Perhaps naively, the doctor thought that after seeing the falsity of 3 his patient would abandon his commitment to 2. Of course he doesn’t. His precommitment to 2, being dead, is too strong. As the illustration typically goes, the patient adjusts his less consequential belief, in this case the major premise. Rather than admit he’s not dead, he is only willing to say, “I guess dead men do bleed.” 

Although the illustration serves its purpose, things are often much worse in real life. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon one’s perspective) people don’t readily adjust their beliefs like that. A person who is committed to 2 would not likely forgo 1 that quickly. He needs 1 to help convince him of 2. Sadly, people can cultivate denial without having to modify previous beliefs. With enough practice, people can become quite skilled in denial as it relates to commitment to false beliefs, especially when the beliefs strike at how one defines himself or herself. 

Downward trek…

As we saw, instead of being persuaded by blood from a pinprick, the person who is committed to being dead may feel the need to maintain his commitment to 1 too. If so, he will not adjust his reasoning as it relates to his major premise according to the evidence of blood. In other words, he will not deny his major premise and concede that dead men do bleed. Rather, he may “rationally” try to maintain 1 as he goes deeper into denial but in another direction. He can manipulate the evidence that is against him rather than adjust 1 according to his undeniable blood. From this posture he can dismiss the evidence in one of two ways. He can believe that it is blood, but not his blood, or else he can believe that red fluid came from his corpse but that it’s not blood at all!

We sadly see this sort of thing all to often in many areas of life. So to speak, there are people who don’t acknowledge and assent to the evidence of their own blood. They don’t adjust their thinking to allow for the reality of their own blood (e.g. “I guess dead men do bleed” or more hopefully, “I’m not dead!”) but instead they assent to the evidence, then manipulate and deny the force of the evidence itself. Both entail denial. One denies that dead men don’t bleed. The other denies either (a) blood or (b) that the blood is his blood.

We see this with theological beliefs as well. Let’s take Roman Catholicism and its adherents as our example but we could just as easily look at beliefs held by certain Protestants and their inconsistent practices.

Roman Catholicism stands or falls upon her claim of being the true church. If one RC doctrine can be shown to be false, Rome falls along with it. Again with a simple syllogism, like above, the goal is to expose the falsity of 3, which in turn undermines 1 or 2. 

1. The true church is infallible 

2. Rome is the true church

3. Rome is infallible 

If 3 is false, then 1 or 2 can be true but not both.

Yet if Roman Catholicism stands or falls upon her two claims of 1 and 2, then the falsity of 3 is sufficient to falsify her claim upon 2 but not the stand-alone proposition entailed by 1 (or even 2).

Like we did with the dead men won’t bleed syllogism, the theological physician might try to show a doctrinal error within Rome (thereby refuting 3) in the hope of getting her friend to abandon her position on Rome (particularly 2). But when confronted with doctrinal error within Rome rarely will a RC say, “I guess the true church is fallible.” Like the patient, they typically dig in deeper. 

In the face of even obvious error that exposes Rome’s infallibility claims as false, RCs typically deny something of the doctrinal propositional error under consideration rather than the lynchpin of 2. In other words, RCs deny their doctrinal error (some RC doctrine, p) as in fact RC error. They typically do this one of two ways. Either (a) the proffered error is regarded by the RC as the Protestant’s misinterpretation of Rome’s position; consequently the doctrinal proposition is false but not Rome because she doesn’t affirm it. Or else we see (b), the RC will claim that the doctrinal error is not error at all. An example might be useful. Rome errs by teaching p* justification is by at least some element of works. A RC who has been heavily influenced by evangelicals may deny Rome has erred on justification; instead she will assert that Protestants have erred in their understanding of Rome’s position on justification. Such RCs deny the truth of p*. They want their cake and to eat it too. Whereas a more devout RC, one who remains uninfluenced by evangelicals, will also deny Rome has erred, but instead she will assert that justification indeed does entail meritorious works. She affirms p* and (unlike the other RC) denies that p* is error. Both type RCs maintain 1-3. They differ in that they either deny the relevance of the evidence against Rome or else deny the direct falsifying impact of the evidence. They either deny the proposition reflects Rome’s teaching or else deny the proposition is false. They deflect and deny or else deny head-on. 

Full circle, rather than conceding dead men bleed, we can be left with other forms of denial – “that’s not my blood” or “it’s my red bodily fluid but it’s not blood.” 

If we substitute blood for false doctrine… 

The first RC scenario is analogous to, p* is doctrine, it’s just not Rome’s doctrine. The second RC scenario is analogous to, p*  is Rome’s doctrine, it’s just not false doctrine. 

Whereas beliefs have consequences, false commitments held tenaciously over time (often for self-preservation) can lead to devastating results. Beliefs spill over to all of life, especially core beliefs (or presuppositions).