Archive for the ‘Fallibility’ Category

Understanding Human Judgment

November 17, 2010

Human judgment frequently operates at a subconscious level. Many of the judgments we make are not the result of conscious, deliberate thought. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to consider how human judgment works.

Human judgment is the application of a standard of judgment to an object of judgment. One example is the judgment of whether one is permitted to proceed through an intersection. Having already judged that there is an intersection ahead, and having judged that the intersection is controlled by a signal, one may make a judgment about whether the signal permits one to proceed through the intersection.

The government normally aims to make this an easy judgment. Traffic lights are supposed to be perspicuous. Thus, rules for interpreting traffic lights are simple and widely distributed. Additionally, the facts that are needed to be known in order to arrive at a correct judgment are also made plain.

In making the judgment about whether one is authorized to proceed through the intersection, one must interpret the traffic laws and one must interpret the light signal, and one must make a comparison. At a fundamental level, the traffic laws are typically written in a very easy to understand way, such that if the light is red, one is not authorized to proceed, and if the light is green, one is authorized to proceed.

For folks with good color vision, this makes it easy to figure out whether or not one is authorized to proceed. One interprets the color of the lights, one applies that to one’s interpretation of the rules, and one concludes either that one is authorized or not. For folks with color blindness, this process may be a little more challenging, since they may need to use something else (such as the intensity or location of the light) to deduce the color of the light. Yet most people are still able to regularly come to a correct conclusion about whether they are authorized to proceed.

This is a relatively simple example. Human judgment can be a lot more complex in other cases. For example, judging whether or not Benedict XVI’s latest “Apostolic Exhortation” is theologically correct may require one to make significantly more difficult judgments, both in terms of interpreting the standard (Scripture) as well as the object (the exhortation).

Thus, the thing by which we judge (“the standard”) is Scripture. The thing being judged (“the object”) is the teachings of the pope. In the process of judging the object by the standard, we must interpret both the object and the standard. Yet, we should not confuse the interpretation with either the object or the standard.

In other words, the true standard is the Scriptures, not our interpretation of them, just as the true object is the teaching of the popes, not our interpretation of them. We may err in our judgment due to an error either in understanding the standard or the object.

This may be easier to apply in the traffic light situation. While the red and green light situation may seem to present relatively clear rules, folks sometimes interpret the law in ways that they find convenient. Normally folks do not interpret the rules to make stopping for red optional, but perhaps they will interpret the rules to suggest that if the light is just turning red and they can make it through without inconveniencing anyone, this is ok.

Alternatively, sometimes people make mistakes about the object. For example, in a city where the lights are placed horizontally rather than vertically stacked, a colorblind person may erroneously think that the order of lights is left to right rather than right to left, and consequently may make an incorrect judgment.

Getting back to the example of judging papal teaching, both types of errors are possible. It is possible to misunderstand (for a variety of reasons) what the Scriptures say about a particular subject, and it is also possible to misunderstand what the pope is saying on a particular subject.

Advocates of Rome are fond of saying that appeals to Scripture are appeals to one’s interpretation of Scripture. This comment confuses the issue of the standard and the application of the standard. Interpretations of Scripture (and of the object) are involved in applying the standard, but the standard is Scripture.

This is a significant distinction because the interpretations of the standard are able to be corrected by appeal to the standard. Thus, we can legitimately correct someone’s misinterpretation of the traffic laws by appealing to what the traffic laws actually say. Likewise, we can legitimately correct someone’s misinterpretation of Scripture by appealing to what the Scriptures actually say.

The same is true with respect to the object. We can point out that the light is actually green (not red), as people are wont to do at intersections by honking their horns at the stopped driver in front of them. Likewise, in theological discussions we can point out that our critic has attributed a position to us that is not our position. Thus, while his interpretation of the standard may be correct, his interpretation of the object is not correct.

Understanding human judgment, we can more easily answer the objections of Rome’s adherents who attempt to persuade us to exercise human judgment in favor of them and/or their church, while complaining about our use of human judgment when it leads to conclusions that are contrary to their position or that of their church.

– TurretinFan

An Argument for Fallibility, not Against Infallibility

April 20, 2010

Yes, while in Malta the pope himself fell asleep during Mass (link to report – caution, some of the advertisements do not comply with Reformation principles of modesty). This doesn’t, in itself, prove that the pope is fallible. It’s certainly not a disproof of infallibility. It is just more evidence that he’s a normal human being.

Likewise, the comparison between the Steelers handled a crisis and the way the Vatican handles a crisis does not, in itself, prove either that the Vatican is fallible or that the Steelers are a better institution (I’m not a big fan of either institution)(link). However, it is evidence of fallibility and, indeed, corruption within the Vatican.

However, both of these stories (like my own previous note regarding typos in the on-line English version of Rome’s canon law) help to demonstrate to the ordinary reader that Rome’s leadership is not something supernatural. They are men – and like other men they are fallible, sinful, and so forth. Their fallibility isn’t proved by their humanity, but it is evidenced that way.

The fact that the apostles and prophets had the Word of God was attested by true miracles, signs, and wonders. Christ’s own resurrection served, as one of its purposes, to testify to Christ’s divinity and the truth of his message:

Acts 13:35-37
Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.

And again:

Matthew 12:38-42
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

But the Roman magisterium is merely human. It lacks any supernatural manifestations of God’s favor. Benedict XVI cannot raise from the dead those who fall asleep during preaching as Paul raised Eutychus from the dead, indeed Benedict XVI himself falls asleep (we do not know whether it was during the brief homily or some other portion of the mass).

That fallibility is seen in practice in the heresy of mariolatry illustrated in two ways during Benedict XVI’s Maltese Visit:

Pope Benedict XVI said he was “pleased” to be able to pray before her image and presented her with a Golden Rose “as a sign of our shared filial affection for the Mother of God.”

He asked that she be prayed to as “Queen of the Family,” a title introduced by Pope John Paul II to the Litany of Loreto.

(source)(official source for those who don’t trust the media)

Notice the three ways in which idolatry, in the form of mariolatry, is evidenced:

1) The offering of a golden rose.

2) The prayers to her and encouragement of others to pray to her.

3) The exalted title “Queen of the Family” given to her and intended to be used in prayer to her.

There is no Scriptural warrant for such a title for Mary, and the headship of a family problem resides in the Father. Furthermore, the context of such usage is the following:

Contemplating this mystery, we confidently entrust all our families to the gentle protection of Mary, Queen of the Family and Saint Joseph her spouse.


And here:

58. The preparation of the engaged should be accompanied by sincere and deep devotion to Mary, Mother of the Church, the Queen of the Family. The engaged themselves should be taught to recognize that Mary’s presence is as active in the family, the Domestic Church, as it is in the wider Church. Likewise they should be taught to imitate Mary in her virtues. Thus the Holy Family, the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, makes the engaged discover “how sweet and irreplaceable education in the family is” (Paul VI, Discourse at Nazareth, January 5, 1964).


And perhaps most blasphemously of all:

Virgin of Nazareth,
Queen of the family,
make our Christian families
schools of evangelical life,
enriched by the gift of many vocations
to the priesthood and
to the consecrated life.
Keep intact the unity of our families,
today so threatened from all sides.
making them hearths of serenity and
of harmony, where patient dialogue
dispels difficulties and differences.
Above all, watch over those
who are divided and in crisis,
Mother of forgiveness
and reconciliation.


If one cannot see that to engage in such devotion to Mary is to derogate from the glory and honour of God, simply be looking at what is being said, I am not sure that any amount of further argument will prove it to you. Indeed, I think that for some people the only problem would arise if Mary were referred to as “God.” Anything short of that they seem to find acceptable, no matter how much worship is given her and power is ascribed to her.

– TurretinFan

Sola Scriptura Debate – Errata

June 3, 2008

I seem to have conflated Wycliffe and Tyndale in my opening post. (Image of Wycliffe’s Bible shown at right.)

I wrote: “The first English Bible was not published until the time of Wycliffe in the 14th century. Wycliffe received martyrdom for his troubles, and the papist authorities sought to destroy the copies of the Bible that he printed.”

The Wycliffe Bible was hunted by authorities, but while the papists dug up Wycliffe’s bones and burnt them, it was technically Wycliffe’s assistant Purvey (who completed the work) who ended up being martyred, Wycliffe himself dying apparently of natural causes (1384). Printed is also not be quite the right word. For, you see, the Wycliffe Bible had to be published by handwriting. Printed suggests mechanical reproduction.

Tyndale, on the other hand, provided the first truly printed English Bible. He was martyred in 1536 by strangling. His body was then, like that of Wycliffe his predecessor, burnt (in the case of Tyndale it was burnt at a stake).

The followers of Wycliffe, known as the Lollards, are a fascinating case study for those who vainly imagine that reformation of the Western church started in 1517 with a German monk complaining about abuse of indulgences.

Nevertheless, I somehow managed mentally to conflate Wycliffe and Tyndale in my opening post, much to my shame, and so I hereby publicly retract that erroneous passage in favor of:

“The first English Bible was not published until the time of Wycliffe/Purvey in the 14th century. WycliffePurvey received martyrdom for his troubles, and the papist authorities sought to destroy the copies of the Bible that he printedpublished.”

I’m not sure whether Mr. Bellisario will permit correction of my opening post, the deadline having past. Nevertheless, I hope he will, for I have no interest in spreading further the unsubstantiated claim that Wycliffe was martyred or the misleading claim that the Wycliffe Bible was mechanically printed (when, in fact, it was copied by hand).

One reader also noted that I had made the following simpler typo (shown corrected):

Usually the objection is more practical, though: how can we convince someone of hethe canonicity of Esther (for example)?

Mr. Bellisario has approved correction of that error, and so I have updated the post accordingly. These things go to show that, even with the aid of a computer, I am fallible. Thus, no one should trust what I have to say. The Scriptures, on the other hand, being the Word of God are infallible and inerrant. Therefore, we properly use them as our rule (canon).


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