Archive for the ‘Karl Keating’ Category

"Catholic Answers" – Its Genesis

September 7, 2012

Patrick Madrid recently directed me to a story by Karl Keating describing how “Catholic Answers” was born.

According to Mr. Keating, it was born when he decided to print tracts and put them on the windshields of cars of a local Christian church that had similarly pamphleted the windshields of cars at his own, Roman, church.

Mr. Keating admits that he decided to publish the tracts under the name “Catholic Answers,” because – well – let me quote his own words:

Not wanting to reveal my identity or my home address, and wanting to leave the Fundamentalists with the impression that what I wrote was more than just one man’s opinion, I made up the name “Catholic Answers” (it sounded authoritative), and I rented a post office box on the off chance that someone might actually reply to me.

Such a frank confession of his motives is surprising – but what was even more surprising is Keating’s admission regarding how he responded to the people who wrote to the P.O. Box, asking for the catalog for “Catholic Answers.” He says he replied in this way:

I was surprised to find it full—and doubly surprised to find some letters were from Catholics, who said, “This is great stuff! Send us your catalogue!” I wrote back, saying, “I’m sorry, but everything is out of print at the moment.”


Responding to Karl Keating

January 17, 2012

My posts are timely, if nothing else.  Back in 1987, at the Bayview Baptist Church, Karl Keating engaged in a debate against Peter Ruckman.  Keating hasn’t done a lot of debates since then (that I can find a record of, at any rate), so perhaps despite the passage of 24 years, this reply will still be deemed timely.

After some pleasantries, Keating begins his presentation with an argument regarding inspiration.  He asks the question: “How do you know that the Bible is inspired?”  He then offers several options and tries to knock them down.  He identifies the following as inadequate reasons:

1. Cultural Reasons

2. Family Tradition
3. Inspirational – It Moves Me
4. The Bible’s Own Claim to Inspiration
5. The Holy Spirit Tells Me So

Before we get to Keating’s proposed alternative to these allegedly inadequate reasons, let’s consider his five “inadequate reasons.”  The first three reasons look a lot like straw men.  Maybe someone somewhere thinks that the Bible is inspired because it is inspirational, or because their family told them so, or because society deems the Bible to be important.  These, however, are hardly very serious arguments.

Exactly the opposite is the case for numbers 4 and 5.  The ideas that the Bible proclaims its own inspiration (and indeed it does) and that the Holy Spirit confirms that inspiration to us (and He does) are actually the historic Reformed and “Protestant” position on the subject.

Keating claims that these are “inadequate.”  Consider the implication, though.  The implication is that even if God himself tells you that the Bible is inspired, that’s not a sufficient basis upon which to believe that the Bible is inspired.  That implication borders on blasphemous.  What could be more sufficient as a basis than that the Bible claims inspiration and that the Holy Spirit confirms it?  Of course, there cannot be – but before we proclaim that dogmatically, let’s see if Keating has located something better.

Keating’s alternative is to provide his “spiral argument” (which I’ve previously critiqued here). 

The steps he proposes are as follows:

1. Look at the Bible as though it were a non-inspired book.
2. Discover the Bible’s historical reliability.
3. Discover that Jesus said he would found a church.
4. Conclude that the church must have the gift of infallibility.
5. Conclude that the church must have the look of the Roman church.
6. When Rome tells us that the Bible is inspired, we can know that it is inspired, because the church is infallible.

Keating calls this his spiral argument, but that may just be a distraction.  In addition to the question of circularity, there are at least two other problems.

First, we can adopt his (1) and (2) and then discover that Paul was a true Apostle of Christ and explicitly taught the inspiration of Scripture.  There’s no need to go to (3), much less to the rest of the series.

Second, even if we go to (3), there’s no teaching in the Scriptures that the church is or will be infallible, or even that “the church” will be in a position to speak as “the church.”  There’s nothing about the church (as described by Jesus during his earthly ministry, or otherwise throughout Scripture) that requires the church to be infallible.  Therefore, there is nothing to get us from (3) to (4).

To those two strong points, we could also add a weak third point, namely that (5) is likewise easily rejected.  The Roman church doesn’t look like the Apostolic church as described in the New Testament.  It doesn’t have a plurality of elders in every city.  It has a limited priesthood where the New Testament church had a universal priesthood.  Most significantly, it has a papacy, whereas the only head of the Apostolic church is Christ.

I call this point weak, because if you have already concluded that “the church” must be infallible, you’ve conceded a point that you should not.  Indeed, on that hypothesis you would have nowhere to go – because there are no churches that look like the Apostolic church and also claim to be infallible (to my knowledge – at least).

– TurretinFan

Response to Nick Regarding Spiral Argument and Private Judgment

March 5, 2009

Nick has provided a response to my rebuttal of Karl Keating’s “Spiral Argument” (link).

Nick wrote: “I think you should distinguish between private judgment and a circular argument. Each of those terms correspond to different issues.”

That’s true. They do often correspond to different issues. The come together, however, because the spiral argument employs private judgment.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment involves looking at some data and coming to a personal conclusion. You are right to point out that everyone must engage in private judgment.”


Nick wrote: “A circular argument is when something that is trying to be proven true is in fact (re)stated as it’s own evidence/witness.”

That’s more or less the case. It could be worded other ways.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment, at least to some degree, is necessary and alright. A circular argument, which is not the same thing, is neither necessary nor alright.”

ok …

Nick wrote: “The “spiral argument” is not circular, but does require private judgment.”

I explained why it is circular in my original article. Unfortunately, your comment does not address the explanation found there.

Nick wrote: “Basing the Bible’s inspiration on it’s own testimony is circular and no different than what a Mormon does with the Book of Mormon.”

a) The reason why the Bible says that it is inspired is so that we will believe it. Any other reason for why the Bible says it is borderline irrational. The reason that the Bible makes statements is so that they will be believed, as can be seen for example, from John’s Gospel:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

b) Believing that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it, isn’t employing a circular argument. It’s not an argument at all. It’s a proclamation. The Bible proclaims the truth, and it can be believed or not.

c) If one calls that a circular argument, though, then – as I pointed out in my post, it turns out that similar circularity exists within the spiral argument.

d) The comparison to the Mormons is irrelevant. We don’t accept things based on whether Mormons reject them, and we don’t reject things based on whether Mormons accept them. Getting into what Mormons actually believe to dispute this is a waste of time that I won’t bother with, right now.

Nick: “When you said: “Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this “spiral” argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again.” This is a mixing of circular argument and private judgment.”

No, it’s not. It’s a comment that focuses on the advantage of a “smaller circle” if a “circle” must be used and if “private judgment” is bad.

Nick: “Catholics are not deriving Church authority nor Scripture’s inspiration from a circular argument, but we are engaging in private judgment.”

I explained how circular reasoning is used in the original article.

Nick: “We are looking at the historical evidence and coming to a conclusion.”

The Bible is itself the primary historical evidence relied upon. Why not just say, “We are looking at the Bible and coming to a conclusion”? I think it is partly because that is what “Protestants” are being faulted for.

Furthermore, the Bible (or equivalent evidence) as historical evidence doesn’t lead one to the issue of infallibility/inspiration. What I mean to say is that the Bible as historical evidence can substantiate a claim that Jesus told the apostles to found churches. Even if we assume (for the sake of the argument) that the Bible disclosed Jesus founding a single, globally-scoped institutional church, that doesn’t get us to infallibility/inspiration of that entity – and it cannot. The infallibility/inspiration is not, strictly speaking, a question of history.

Nick wrote: “We could be very wrong in our conclusion, either because the evidence is bad or we miscalculated, or both, but that is not at all the same as a circular argument.”

No, the circularity comes in as I stated in my original article.

Nick wrote: “The real issue is who can present the stronger argument and that usually rests upon who’s argument requires us to assume the least.”

One real issue is whether the Bible requires an infallible interpreter in order to be reliably understood.

Another real issue is whether the Bible anywhere teaches that “the church” is infallible.

The truth of the matter is the real issue, not the “strength of the argument.”

Nick: “An element of faith (private judgment) is certainly always present, but not all arguments are equal.”


Nick: “A Mormon accepting the Book of Mormon on ‘burning in the bosom’ is not as strong an argument as a Christian looking to historical evidence that the Scriptures were preserved (among other factors).”

There is some faulty parallelism here. The historical evidence of the Scripture’s preservation tells us that we know what it said when it was written. It doesn’t tell us whether the Scripture is inspired or not. Since the Book of Mormon was only recently written, that’s essentially a non-issue. There’s no historical way to investigate the golden plates claim to any earlier authorship date than Joseph Smith’s own life.

But this “strength of the argument” issue is rather subjective. Some people find one argument strong (i.e. it persuades them better) and another weak – for others it is reversed.

Certainly, we could probably agree on certain defects that make arguments less persuasive in general. If reliance on private judgment is bad or if faith is bad, we can evaluate two arguments to see whether one of the two arguments uses “more” faith or “more” private judgment.

Nick: “Moving onto a specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, the canon of Scripture, each side must engage in private interpretation.”

Each person must exercise private judgment. It’s not necessarily a question of interpretation, as such.

Nick: “The ‘deciding issue’ is which side presents a more coherent case for why one canon is accepted over another.”

The deciding issue should be “which side is right.” The argument is the demonstration of that issue.

Nick: “Pointing to Fathers and Councils who share a particular canon is far more of an argument/evidence from which to based your private judgment on than claiming the various books give a inner conviction of their inspiration.”

The argument on the canon is virtually never “I have an inner conviction.” So, again, there is faulty parallelism being employed. I assume that you intend to address “Protestant” position from the context of your comment, but your comment doesn’t actually address the arguments used by “Protestants” regarding the canon.

Additionally, there is conflation of categories here. The ultimate answer to the question, “How do you know that Isaiah is canonical?” for the Reformed believer is that the Holy Spirit persuades him. On the other hand, the ultimate answer to the same question from the perspective of someone within Catholicism would seem to be, because Trent said so. But if we then pressed that issue back further, we start running into the same problem (if it is a problem), that some things are accepted by faith.

Nick wrote: “Again, a Catholic could be totally wrong when it comes to interpreting evidence, but that does not make it circular.”

That was never my argument in the original article.


No Escape from Circularity for Karl Keating

March 2, 2009

One common attack used by the apologists of Rome is to assert that a Protestant’s ultimate authority is private judgment or, as they sometimes pejoratively label as being “protestant personalism” or a person being his own “mini-pope.” Supposedly, this problem of private judgment is solved by referring to an infallible magisterium. In fact, however, the recourse to the infallible magisterium is just further application of private judgment.

This argument against private judgment can take various forms. One form of the argument is a syllogism in the form:

1. If God gave us a way to know the truth, that way would give us knowledge of the truth with reasonable certainty.

2. Private judgment doesn’t provide reasonable certainty, because reasonable people differ in the application of private judgment.

3. Therefore, private judgment is not the way God gave us to know the truth.

There are several problems with this argument. The number one problem is that it employs the fallacy of skepticism. The way that it employs the fallacy of skepticism is in establishing the minor premise, i.e. private judgment doesn’t provide reasonable certainty.

This is a logical fallacy for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is that private judgment is necessarily used to deny that private judgment provides reliable conclusions. If the conclusion is correct (i.e. that private judgment does not provide reliable conclusions) then the conclusion itself is not reliable since it obtained by private judgment.

Second, this is a logical fallacy in the sense of simply being a universal denial of knowability of information. That is to say, this argument lacks uniqueness. It is not particularly a criticism of the “Protestant” position. It is a modus tolens argument that can be applied mutatis mutandis to any epistemology.

Specifically, this same argument can be applied to the epistemology of Catholicism, because Catholicism too requires, at some link in the chain, one to use private judgment. This is illustrated in the attempt of certain of Rome’s apologists to escape the apparent circularity of Rome’s epistemology.

The apparent circularity is this:

1. The Bible is right because the Church says it is.
2. The Church is right because the Bible says it is.

There, the circularity is obvious. It is bigger than the circle of:

1. The Bible is right because the Bible says it is.

… but it is still a circle.

To try to escape this circle, some apologists for Catholicism use what they call a “spiral argument” that was apparently developed by Karl Keating, one of the more prominent apologists for Catholicism (although I cannot recall him debating anyone from the Reformed side of the Tiber river in a long time).

Here’s one presentation of the argument:

A Spiral Argument
Note that this is not a circular argument. We are not basing the inspiration of the Bible on the Church’s infallibility and the Church’s infallibility on the word of an inspired Bible. That indeed would be a circular argument! What we have is really a spiral argument. On the first level we argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired. This is not a circular argument because the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired) is not simply a restatement of its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable), and its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable) is in no way based on the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired). What we have demonstrated is that without the existence of the Church, we could never know whether the Bible is inspired.

(link to source) (Notice how, unlike Mr. Patrick Madrid, we’re not afraid to let the reader see the writings to which we’re responding.)

Let’s assess this argument. The core of the argument is:

1. [W]e argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history.
2. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded.
3. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired.

We could reasonably expand this argument to the following:

1. The Bible is an historically reliable document.
2. The Bible records the founding of a church.
3. The Bible indicates that this church is infallible.
4. This infallible church is the church headed by the pope.
5. This infallible church teaches that the Bible is inspired.

It could probably be expanded even further, but this is enough for the purposes of illustrating the problems with this supposedly spiral argument.

Problem 1: Private Judgment Vastly Multiplied

Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this “spiral” argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again.

First, one uses private judgment to answer the question of historical reliability.

Second, one uses private judgment to decide the meaning of Scripture as to whether a single, institutionally unitary church or many institutionally separate churches were founded.

Third, one uses private judgment to decide that this single church is taught as being infallible rather than as being fallible.

Fourth, one uses private judgment to identify this single church as the Roman Catholic church instead of, say, the Eastern Orthodox church or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Fifth, one uses private judgment to decide that the Roman Catholic church teaches that the Bible is inspired, as opposed to teaching that the Bible simply contains God’s word.

This is a vast multiplication of private judgment over, for example, simply accepting the Bible on historical grounds and then accepting that the Bible says that the Bible is inspired, or simply accepting the Bible’s claim of inspiration as true in the first and only step of the process.

If private judgment is inherently bad, the “spiral argument” uses more of it.

Problem 2: Bootstrapping Error

The Spiral argument attempts to avoid the obvious “jump” from nothing to accepting the Bible’s claim of inspiration by steps. But each (or at least several) of the steps are “jumps” in themselves.

There is a jump from nothing to accepting the historical method as providing reliable conclusions.

There is a jump from using the historical method to confirm the general reliability of the Bible, to accepting a particular historical account in the Bible.

There is a jump from accepting an account as historical to accepting the doctrine taught in the event as truth.

There is a jump from accepting the general idea that a church was founded to accepting that a particular church is that church.

If making jumps is bad, breaking up a big jump into several smaller jumps doesn’t solve the problem, it just distributes it.

Problem 3: Inspiration Smuggled Back In

In fact, the “spiral argument” is circular, because inspiration is smuggled into step 3 of my expanded formulation of the argument, or step 2 of the original formulation of the argument. That is to say, the teaching of an “infallible church” is accepted allegedly because the Bible as a historically accurate document is accepted. But the claim of infallibility is a theological claim, not an historical claim, and it is accepted either because of the authority of the Bible or the person speaking in the Bible.

Problem 4: Church Infallibility Smuggled Back In

Furthermore, the “spiral argument” has a second circularity, in that the infallibility of the church is smuggled back into the argument twice. It is smuggled back once in telling people which church to accept as “the church,” and again (more importantly) in interpreting Scripture as teaching an infallible church in the first place.

Specifically, the claim that the Scriptures disclose the founding of “an infallible church” requires loads of eisegesis – of reading into the text, rather than of obtaining teachings from the text.

Problem 5: Scripture Promotes Private Judgment

Worse (for Catholicism) than the issue simply being a matter of silence, Scripture actually encourages the use of private judgment. For example, the Scripture many times and in various ways encourages people to apply personal judgment to arrive at the truth. For example, the Bereans are commended for using private judgment and Scripture to judge Paul, and Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make one “wise unto salvation.” Furthermore, John tells us that his gospel was written so that we would believe it and have life through faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.


So, next time a person tries to tell you that the difference between Protestant interpretation and Romanist interpretation is that the Protestant makes himself his own ultimate authority, be prepared to challenge that deceptive claim. Everyone uses private judgment. If private judgment is inherently untrustworthy, the Roman position is actually worse off than the “Protestant” position.

Furthermore, while it might be nice to hand over one’s brain to the church, so that one doesn’t have to think about the meaning of Scripture, that’s just not how God ordained things. The fact that it would be convenient or handy doesn’t make it so.

Instead, God provided fallible churches with fallible elders over them. These fallible teachers are to teach the Scriptures to their people, but the unchanging Scriptures serve as the rule and measure of the Christian faith, with the fallible churches serving as guides.


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