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Saturday, December 15, 2018


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Thanks for your post, Bill. Your interim and tentative answer seems to presuppose doxastic voluntarism (DV). If this is right, is it a matter of direct DV? Or indirect?

Your point that the final step is a matter of free choice supported by the intellect suggests indirect DV. Your references to “protracted and sincere effort” and to “reasoned mysterianism” also suggest indirect DV.

Pertinent question, Elliot. Thanks. I am a doxastic voluntarist in the sense that I think that the will is involved in the formation and maintenance of many, though not all, beliefs.

How would you explain the difference between DV and IV?

You’re welcome. In short, I’d say that direct doxastic voluntarism is the position that we have immediate control over at least some beliefs such that one can simply choose on the spot to believe a proposition without information from the intellect. Indirect doxastic voluntarism holds that we cannot simply choose to believe a proposition on the spot without relevant information. However, we can decide to engage in a course of study or acquire experience that furnishes the intellect with pertinent information. Informed by the intellect, the will can then freely choose to believe.

Analogy: I cannot just bench press 250 lbs. on the spot. But I can engage in a regimen of exercise and nutrition so that in several months I can hit 250. Similarly, one unfamiliar with a proposition cannot choose on the spot to believe it if it seems false. But after studying the matter, one can come to see reasons for accepting it and then, on the basis of those reasons, freely choose to believe it.

Christianity seems to presuppose at least indirect doxastic voluntarism. On the Christian view, we are commanded to believe certain propositions. Thus, we ought to choose to believe them. Assuming ought implies can, we can choose to believe them.

These seem to be commandments to believe:

Proverbs 3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart..."

Mark 1:15: “Repent and believe the good news!”

John 20:27: “Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (Indirect doxastic voluntarism? Jesus seems to be saying "Look at the evidence, then believe.")

John 14:1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”

"For some, churches and related institutions will always be necessary to provide guidance, discipline, and community. But for others they will prove stifling and second-best, a transitional phase in their development."


If the pathway to God was a gnostic journey away from community into private intellectual or spiritual bliss, that would be true. But that is not the religion of Jesus or the Apostles, who make communal interdependence an essential aspect (though not the only aspect) of our salvation. The primary symbol of the fulfilled Kingdom throughout the NT is not individuals on separate mountaintops "alone with the alone", but a communal feast. And, while as an introvert and intellectual I might find your vision appealing to my natural sensibilities, I know our Lord knows what is best for me, for us, better than myself.

Isn't it possible, even likely, that the unwelcome aspects of this to people are just the medicine they need?

Also, the question of whether Christians need the Church and the question of whether one particular jurisdiction is strictly and exclusively identified with that Body of Christ are logically distinct questions you appear to conflate here. That Christians are deeply dependent (under normal circumstances) on the Church does not automatically tell us where that Church is and isn't.


Are you referring to a distinction made in the literature? I doubt that anyone is a DV.


Your plausible response definitely helps bring into focus the issue. But going by the *doctor angelicus* himself, the pinnacle of felicity for us is achieved in the *visio beata* which is strongly reminiscent of a Plotinian participation of the alone in the All-One, ad rather unlike a communal feast.

The Platonic side of Xianity cannot be removed from it. I could quote Ratzinger here to back me up.

How would you define 'gnostic'? That term is too often bandied about in a pejorative way.

I don't see that I am conflating your two questions. But it depends on what those questions are. Are Anglican Catholics and Roman Catholics members of different "jursidictions" of the one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic church? Surely you think that the latter alone is the way to salvation and not some Mormon church or Protestant sect. Maybe I am not getting your point.

It is interesting to note that 'body of Christ' has both a literal and a figurative use. Applied to the Church, the use is figurative. Applied to the bread and wine at the moment of consecration in the mass, the use is literal.



Yes, the distinction is made in the literature. I don’t know how many DDVs are out there, if any.

“Direct doxastic voluntarism claims that people have direct voluntary control over at least some of their beliefs. Indirect doxastic voluntarism, however, supposes that people have indirect voluntary control over at least some of their beliefs, for example, by doing research and evaluating evidence.” https://www.iep.utm.edu/doxa-vol/

Apparently, there is a debate about whether or not Descartes was a DDV.



"The ultimate resolution involves the will, not the intellect. One decides to accept the Incarnation or one decides not to accept it. That is to say: the final step must be taken by the will, freely; which is not to say that the intellect is not involved up to the final step."

I agree with that, Bill, so would George MacDonald's father, I think, who advised George that "all a man can do is to choose what to believe." After study and reflection, etc.

I would suggest, however, that if one recognizes that one's Christianity/Theology is marked by a reliance on "mysteries", no matter how well thought-out that reliance is, then one should not use adherence to those mysterian beliefs as a badge of who is 'in' and who is 'out' of Christianity.
I have read repeatedly, for instance, that the absolute central fact of Christianity is the 'trinity'. If this group or that have chosen to believe that what is commonly referred to as 'mystery' is THE sine qua non of true faith, that group imho has put their choice in priority over the rather plain teaching of scripture - the 'triad', if you will, of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit - with no overblown Athanasian rhetoric thrown in.


I use gnostic here in the sense of a religious enterprise that sees salvation (or at least spiritual fulfillment) as dependent on accessing knowledge/wisdom/insight not available to common folk and marking one out as higher than them. Gnosticism is essentially elitist in orientation and stresses the intellectual over the volitional and practical. However, having said that, you are quite right that the term is over-used and too broadly used, so I am willing to drop it in this context. It is too much like "fundamentalist" in that regard, a lazy pejorative.

I agree that the individualist strain in Christian spirituality is valid and ancient, which is why I added the qualification above, "not the only aspect", when referring to the intrinsically communal aspect of Christianity. What I cannot accept is the view that the communal aspect, the Church, is an optional extra only needed by the spiritually weak, as a "second-best" choice. There is no biblical or patristic basis for that approach. Quite the contrary.

Also, while there is a point in our journey where God is our sole focus, the way to eternal life is through Christ, not only in Himself alone, but through Christ in our brethren (Matthew 18:17, 25:31-46, Ephesians 4:1-16).

Regarding "jurisdictions", my point is that accepting the necessity of the Church does not automatically imply accepting that only members of one outwardly-identifiable institution are in the Church. That question requires its own separate treatment. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Catholics give different accounts of the outward canonical limits of the Church Militant, but they almost all agree that people can be spiritually united to the Church despite being outside those canonical limits.

For example, none of them teach that an excommunication generally partakes of infallibility, such that the person or group excommunicated is absolutely guaranteed to have been "separated" justly, and thus truly outside the fold of Christ. Other factors also qualify the exclusivism often expressed in polemical theology. From an Anglican Catholic perspective, I have written this: http://anglicancontinuum.blogspot.com/2006/01/catholic-ecumenism-and-elephant-in.html.


I am not keen on dogmatists, and you and I agree that there is something absurd about sectarian squabbling and what is worse, the hurling of anathemas, holy war, and the like. It is not only morally abominable but insane to torture someone to death over some piece of abstruse metaphysics which is only marginally meaningful and may in the and be nonsense as old Carnap believed. And this is said by a man who is a metaphysician first, foremost, and always and who has a certain contempt for positivist knuckleheads like David Stove -- and Carnap, et al.

So I respect Protestants such as yourself -- which 'sect' by the way? --who find things like Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Divine Simplicity, etc. to be 'extra-biblical.' On the other hand, the Bible she does need interpreting and that is where the big bad Greeks come in, Plato and that other guy who studied under him.

I would say that a God who is not absolutely simple is probably nothing more than a Hebrew tribal deity/idol. That is a bold claim of course, needs arguing, etc.

Curiously, you may be able to make common cause with Fr. Kirby, Anglican Catholic, who fears that I may be a 'gnostic.'

Bill, I'm not a protestant, so I don't align myself with any particular strain of Protestantism, or Mormonism, or Calvinism, or fundamentalism, or any weirdism that I'm aware of.(The caffeine just kicked in and I made up the word 'weirdism' and I herewith graciously bestow it upon the world. :-)
I would push back a bit on the idea that the Greeks are needed to understand the Bible. The 'Greeks' are needed to understand some 'Greeks', however.
And good ol' St. Paul weighed in on things when he wrote:
"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness ." 1 Cor. 1.22-23
Not every Jew, not every Greek, of course.

Bill, you write: " On the other hand, if the best and the brightest of our admittedly wretched kind cannot see how a state of affairs is possible, then that is evidence that it is not possible."

Whom would you consider "the best and brightest of our kind", I wonder? Probably not Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Suárez, Descartes, or -- most notably -- Leibniz, who all considered the issue and did not see it as inevitably contradictory...

Also, one should distinguish "not seeing how X is possible" and "seeing that X is impossible". I concede that if the brightest thinkers saw that X is impossible, it would indeed constitute evidence that X is impossible; but deny that mere not seeing how X is possible constitutes any such evidence, if there is a reason to believe that the matter surpasses our intellectual capacities.

And as a matter of fact, the Church not only does not claim that one can see how Trinity or Incarnation is possible, but she takes it to be a revealed truth that a man cannot ever have such evidence. The claim of the Church is the latter one: that there cannot possibly ever be evidence of the impossibility of these doctrines -- i.e., that any purported argument showing that such a doctrine is incoherent is unsound (and can be shown to be so by human means).

It seems to me that you are neglecting this alternative: you seem to assume that we either see how something is possible, or we see it as impossible. But this is a false dichotomy, there is a tertium. For any doctrine is either evidently impossible, or evidently possible, or neither: and this is, I say, the case of Incarnation and other "mysteria stricte dicta" of the Christian faith.

You are defending a "reasoned mysteriansm". I find such position to be irrational, if it is taken not as a mere individual condition but as a human predicament. I think that it can be reasonable to believe (in deference to a (sufficiently evidently) reliable epistemic authority) some doctrine of which one also believes that it looks like evidently contradictory to him; but it is necessarily unreasonable to believe a doctrine of which one also believes that it inevitably looks like evident contradiction to any competent human thinker. This would call into question the validity of human intellective powers in general, which amounts to irrationality (even if irrationality is good, that that does not make it any more rational).

Fortunately, many of the most competent thinkers did not regard these mysteria as evidently contradictory.

Is Bill a gnostic?

well, I am not sure about the precise meaning of this epithet, but to me Bill appears as a strange amalgam of a rationalist and a fideist. The rationalist comes first and sets up certain rather strict requirements on the contents of faith -- so that everything that does not fit in comes out as "incoherent" or "incomprehensible". Then, entre fideist and says that we nevertheles are still justified in believeng these contents because we can justifiedly assume that our intellect is so incompetent.

To me, this puts too much confidence in our reason in the first stage and to little in the last. It seems to me that Bill is always too eager to conclude that there is an impasse, an insoluble problem, a contradiction etc. in a given particular case. In this, he seems to be putting waay too much confidence into his reasonings. The overall, habitual outcome of this is, however, the exact opposite: a significantly diminished confidence in the competence of our intellect as such. (This reminds me of the mechanism of how "misology" is generated, in Plato's Phaedo.)


Thank you for the excellent, challenging comments. I am very busy at the moment but I hope to respond perhaps in separate posts. So I am not ignoring you.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a short book "Escape from Reason" some years back, referring to what others called Aquinas' 'two-story' approach to the 'nature-grace' problem. Nature would be the ground floor, and grace the upper floor; nature had control over the shape of both floors. Schaeffer, as a Reformed thinker, saw that approach as ultimately very harmful, as nature tends to 'eat' grace over time: autonomy controls revelation.
Is that different than the 'one foot in both Athens and Jerusalem' stance? Is the 'control' one or the other, in the end? It's an old question but evergreen nonetheless.

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