No True Scotsman, anyone?January 13, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Anthony Horvath has a new post entitled “Dispelling the Myth that Christians Are Hopelessly Divided on Core Beliefs.” Now, I haven’t actually read the post yet, because I want to do a little experiment. I’m willing to bet, just based on the title, that Mr. Horvath is going to define “a true Christian” as one who agrees with him on the “core beliefs” of his faith. By definition, then, no true
Scotsman Christian could possibly disagree with him on core beliefs, because anyone who disagrees with him is by definition not a true Christian. The question is, will he take the long way around, by listing what he thinks the core beliefs are and then claiming that all “true” Christians agree with him, or will he take the shorter approach and just admit that this is the tautological argument he’s appealing to?
Well, let’s look at his post and see how prophetic I really am.
One of the main lines of attacks that skeptics have employed is along the lines of language. For example, ‘Intelligent Design’ should be a redundancy, but today evolutionists talk all the time about organisms being ‘designed’ but insist that design was done by natural processes. This gives them the advantage of being able to admit that the evidence of design is undeniable while simultaneously denying the obvious implication. They call this Science.
Hmm, ok, well I have to admit, I didn’t predict that an article about “debunking Christian doctrinal divisions” would begin with a rant about scientists using the word “design” without believing in Mr. Horvath’s “Intelligent Designer.” No doubt he’s also upset that members of the NOAA weather forecasting service also refer to the sun rising and setting, even though they don’t really believe that the sun revolves around a flat earth. Perhaps we should ban the use of naive and imprecise imagery in scientific discussions, even when they help get the general idea across, the way “sunrise” conveys the sense of the sun becoming visible above the horizon, or the way “design” helps convey the relationship between the cause and effect. I personally don’t see what good that would do, but…
This is but one example of how atheists equivocate on the meanings of words. Few words have been bastardized like the term ‘Christian.’
Ah, here we go. Before you can appeal to the “No True
Scotsman Christian” fallacy, you have to assert the existence of “false” Christians. Prophecy-wise, things are starting to fall into place.
I might mention here that there are two reasons why the divisions among Christians are inconsistent with the Gospel being true. In the first place, it shows that the Holy Spirit is failing in His alleged mission to maintain unity and doctrinal purity in the Body of Christ, the Church. Jesus’s analogy was that no one can rob a strong man’s house if the homeowner is alert and watching for burglars; you have to subdue the homeowner before you can rob his house. For Satan to be able to get in and sow dissention and succeed, he would have to first somehow subdue and bind the Holy Spirit, which he ought not to be able to do.
But the second reason, and the more important reason, why divisions are so devastating to the Gospel is that God does not show up in real life to tell us who the “true
Scotsmen Christians” really are. It’s all well and good to argue that men are to blame for the divisions in the Church, and that your own group has somehow been miraculously blessed with the privilege and responsibility of being the only ones to hold on to the True Gospel when everyone else fell away. But every group claims to be the group that held on to the One True faith, and that the other groups are the ones that have fallen away. In God’s continuous and universal absence, men have no choice but to pick whichever group follows the doctrines (or interpretations of Scripture) that seem right in their own eyes—a practice that even the Bible condemns as unwise. Because God does not show up in real life, the believer cannot know that his group is the right group. He can only know that his group is the one he agrees with the most.
While it is true that it took some time for the Christian community to clarify itself against a series of opponents, they did succeed in doing so. The creeds are the result of that process, and were completed no later than about 400 AD. After that, there was very little change in the meaning of the term until the Protestant reformation- more than a thousand years later- and even then the core teachings enshrined in the creeds are still upheld… to this very day.
That’s right. More than a billion Christians today uphold the same doctrines upheld in explicit terms since 400 AD and less codified terms since 50 AD.
Ok, so the “core beliefs” are those which were defined by the Catholic and Orthodox church councils of the 4th century–church councils that were called to try and resolve the serious and sometimes violent disagreements, over core doctrinal issues, that were splitting the Church at the time. Prior to the first Council of Nicea, for instance, upwards of 80% of the Church denied the deity of Christ, preferring the Bible-based arguments of Bishop Arius over the more mystical and philosophical arguments of Athanasius et al. It’s also interesting that these Council creeds assume that the Church hierarchy (i.e. the bishops, patriarch, and Pope) had the authority to pronounce such creeds as authoritative. There is no support here for such notions as sola Scriptura or the priesthood of individual believers. And none of the creeds declares any faith in the idea of salvation by faith alone–quite the contrary in fact.
The Church Councils were preoccupied largely with defining some kind of coherent, or at least official, doctrine of the Trinity. Few Christians today could even tell you the difference between monotheletism and monophysitism, let alone explain why the Church Councils declared them as heresies (centuries after the Council of Nicea had supposedly defined what the “core beliefs” of Christianity were!). The thing is, the reason why the Church felt it was so important to nail down what the Church’s core beliefs were is because the Christians were divided regarding these core beliefs. All we need now is for Mr. Horvath to tell us which “core beliefs” he considers the right ones to be, and I can count my prophecy fulfilled.
But Mr. Horvath continues with a detailed and well-documented argument that boils down to this: the “core beliefs” of Christianity are those beliefs expressed in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicean Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. In so doing, he has, I must concede, avoided the No True Scotsman fallacy. Almost.
The problem is, even though he can list billions of Christians who claim allegiance to these three creeds, he has only shifted the disagreement to the question of which interpretation of the creed is correct. Taken at face value, the things they say express doctrines about which there is not nearly the agreement that Mr. Horvath would like us to think there is.
The Apostle’s Creed, for instance, omits any overt declaration of Trinitarian doctrines such as the idea that Jesus was deity, as well as neglecting to mention what one must do to be saved. The Athanasian Creed, speaking of salvation, is quite clear that man is to be judged on the basis of works, and “they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” Meanwhile, the Nicean Creed exists in two different versions: the original version which holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (still held by Eastern Orthodox Christians today) and the modern Roman Catholic version, which holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from some kind of (sexual? procreative?) union between the Father and the Son (ewwww).
The Nicean Creed also teaches baptism for the remission of sin, and specifies that there is only one baptism–not a “spiritual baptism” (number one) followed by a water baptism (number two). The one thing all three creeds agree on is the geographical relationship between heaven, hell, and earth: heaven is physically located up relative to the earth, and hell is physically down. That is, the heaven where God dwells is a physical place up in the sky over the earth: the “core beliefs” of Christianity, as defined in the fourth century, require that Christians believe the old flat-earth, three (or more) layered model of the cosmos. If they don’t, that’s yet another division between the Christians of today, and those they call their spiritual forebears.
So yes, you can get a large number of Christians to agree that the “ecumenical creeds” do (or should) define the core beliefs of Christianity. The serious doctrinal divisions that exist between Christians, however, are about what the words of those creeds really mean. It’s no different than getting Christians to agree that the Bible is Scripture–that’s good as far as it goes, but having the same Bible hardly implies that all Christians have the same faith. Mr. Horvath did avoid committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, but he did that by deferring the question of what Christians really believe about those so-called “core beliefs.”
Oh, and by the way, neither in history nor in the present day has it been true that all Christians are Trinitarians. It so happens that the Trinitarians prevailed socially and politically, in terms of winning the biggest numbers, but unless one wants to argue that majority vote is what decides doctrinal Truth, unless one wants to claim that the “faithful remnant” is never truly faithful, then calling Trinitarianism the “correct” doctrine is still a case of No True Scotsman. I should have had more faith in my own prophecy.