Monday, August 27, 2007

Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof

[Forgive the legalese, and do view "opponent" in the spirit in which it is meant.]

My wife regularly notes that we are where we are, the Reformation happened, cats out of the bag, so who are we to go back? She is warmed by the C.S. Lewis saying (I paraphrase) that ‘the closer we are to the heart of our respective positions, the closer we are to each other.’

Hers is a common position, but one that presumes that the burden of proof for convincing any one Christian of any particular truth contrary to that which is taught in their current state is on the party opposite. I am the defendant-Protestant, and if you claim the truth is in [Orthodoxy] [Catholicism], you have to convince me.

If this standard is true, it sounds something of a death knell to the ecumenist. Each of us stands behind our wall of happenstance, refusing to believe without some degree of strong proof that we are in the wrong camp.

Is it possible to invert this formula? Can I place the burden on myself? Could we say, “I am the plaintiff-Protestant, and am confident enough in what I profess to believe that I can bear the burden of proof over my opponents”?

Even if we appreciate on which party the burden lies, we have to settle what the standard of proof for this burden is. In the secular law, various standards are used. To prove a case in civil court, one generally has to convince a jury with a preponderance of the evidence that one’s case is right (that is, somewhat greater than 50% certainty that claim X is right). To convict one of a capital crime, the state usually must present evidence that convinces the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” of guilt.

Given the antiquity and obscurity of our primary evidence (the church fathers and scripture) in debates over the proper constitution of Christ’s Church, it seems that a discerning believer will never be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Doubt is a low standard to meet. If we place the burden of proof on our opponent, and use “beyond a reasonable doubt” as our standard, each will remain convinced (relatively) of the supremacy of his own camp, and the fortitude of his own walls.

Truth requires better than this framework though. Instead of drowning in complacency, shouldn’t one be able to prove to others by a preponderance of the evidence that their position is justified? A fabulous courtroom drama it would be.


MMajor Fan said...

Hi there. I continue to not see the reformation vs Catholic Church question for an individual as either a debate or a legal/evidence taking endeavor, though I understand your light hearted analogy. I also observe the deadly earnest in which some engage this question like it is combat.

My position is that if one is content where one worships, what is the problem? If one is serene and fulfilled in one's belief as articulated by that place of worship, why consider a change and more so, why attack those who are not there with you? Does not a person's soul know the truth and be serene with it? Does not argumentativeness come from a not admitted inner uncertainty? If the reformers feel they are right, why are they angry at those who sit in a different pew? Catholics do not spend all of their time grinding their teeth over the faith of their distant Christian brothers.

If the answer is that there is a lack of serenity and fulfillment in one's choice, or in the choice of one's brother or sister, what does that actually mean? That is the action of the Holy Spirit upon a person's soul. The Holy Spirit is the teacher and intercessor that all believe in. So is not disquiet the sign of the Holy Spirit's wings, urging one to move?

Acts 20: 22-24
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there. But I fear none of these, nor do I count my life more precious than myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry that I have received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God.

Thos said...

MMajor Fan,

“I continue to not see the reformation vs Catholic Church question… as either a debate or a legal/evidence taking endeavor… I also observe the deadly earnest in which some engage this question like it is combat.”

You approach the matter from a very different perspective than my own. Thank you for sharing. At the risk of confronting some of your statements (since I get the strong feeling you are opposed to opposition), here is my reaction.

If it is not a debate, what is it? Random House Dictionary on “Debate”: “a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints” or “deliberation; consideration”. If you mean the latter, we definitely have a debate, since someone had to consider and deliberate upon the issue at some point before people stopped obeying the Pope in Europe. If you mean the former, then you don’t see the “question” as one that should be mentioned in public. Fair enough, just so long as we're clear.

Regarding “legal/evidence taking endeavor”, I am reminded of someone close to me saying “you’re thinking of this like a lawyer.” Now here is a point to dispute (though in disputing it I will, almost certainly, be thought of as thinking like a lawyer, which I’m not, since I’m only a law student)! There is no such thing as thinking like a lawyer! Considering who has to persuade whom, or what evidence we allow into our discussion, or how we use and interpret that evidence is merely structuring thought. I prefer to look at it as thinking vs. not thinking, or thinking vs. feeling, or thinking vs. reacting (to an unidentifiable inner force).

I'll take this up when I discuss your thoughts on the Holy Spirit.

“My position is that if one is content where one worships, what is the problem?”

I’m not sure with which religious body you are affiliated, though I’d venture to guess you’re nominally Catholic, but this statement is gravely at odds with my understanding of Christianity. Christ did NOT (in my opinion) come to earth to tell us to be comfortable where we’re at! Apply this logic to the Jews facing the early converts (which they did in mighty debate): “But Peter, we’re quite CONTENT waiting for the Messiah, thank you.” Contentment is a poor diviner of truth.

You said, “more so, why attack those who are not there with you?” I say, out of love. Thank you for quoting the Book of Acts. In that same book, did you notice Stephen debating the Jews so that they would accept the Messiah (Acts 6:8 ff.)? He loved them; they were worth debating for.

If you mean this comment internally to the church only, then we need to discuss ultimate truth vs. relativism. Yours is a relativistic view. It says that if I’m happy in my church and you’re happy in yours, then we’re covered. Unless you’re Catholic and believe that salvation is through the Catholic church, and that Church has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom such that it is able to proclaim sins pardoned. Or unless you’re Orthodox and have an analogous claim. Or unless you’re Oneness Pentecostal, and believe that God appears modally and most properly as Jesus and that those who haven’t been slain in the Spirit aren’t saved… There are many mutually exclusive beliefs within Christianity. To claim them all equally valid (so long as the participant feels contentment) is dreadful. Remember that Jesus said “I come not to send peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34).” Again, contentment is a poor diviner of truth.

Finally, you seem to believe that if one feels rest or unrest, one can be certain these feelings are from the Holy Spirit, and are clear and easy signals to follow. That Catholics don’t “grind their teeth” at Protestants (thankfully a fallacious statement, as I’d hate to think they don’t care; cf. Steve Ray’s blog, Jimmy Akin’s blog, Patrick Madrid’s writing, etc.) or that Protestants do grind ours means nothing. The more solid my convictions, the more I should be moved, out of love, to convict my brothers toward the truth. These errors are not irrelevant, but are tied to the forgiveness of sins, the dispensation of God’s grace, and the unity of the Faith (something Christ held precious; cf. John 17, “that they may be one as We are one”).


I have the simplest evidence to disprove your assertion that our feelings about whether or not to convert are from the Holy Spirit. Just this week I have heard from: 1) A Catholic who thinks he should be Orthodox, 2) a Protestant who thinks he should be Orthodox, and 3) a Protestant who thinks she should be Catholic. And I go to church with several 4) former Catholics who thought they should be Protestant. Therefore, either your claim that these feelings are reliably from the Holy Spirit is errant, or the Holy Spirit doesn’t really care where we worship, or what claims we make to the world about truth (nor does He care much for Christ’s High Priestly Prayer that I just quoted). I choose the former.

Joseph said...

There are many mutually exclusive beliefs within Christianity. To claim them all equally valid (so long as the participant feels contentment) is dreadful.

As you stated, this is not only dreadful but uncharitable ("charity", of course, being the English word of greatest quality to encapsulate the entire Greek sense of the word "love").

What you described above is one major face of false ecumenism. If one thing tests my patience it is this.

On the other hand, if one doesn't agree with me, I am in no position to pummel them into submission. I, like you, do not believe that we are all "O.K." as long as we feel good about ourselves. This life is a gift. We have been given a soul and body. We have until our last breath and the last beat of our hearts to seek Christ and persevere to separate ourselves from the world and enter into union with Him. All the while, we are assailed by invisible enemies that appeal to our concupiscence, using our pride to blind us and tear us away from this goal. This is serious. It's not about feeling good here on earth. It's a battle for eternity.

Most Protestants (and, though far fewer, many Catholics and Orthodox Christians) hold this view that we are alright as long as we love and believe in Christ. True, we can't fathom God's infinite mercy. But, if one finds the Truth and then consciously turns from it, one must wonder how God's mercy applies to them. It's serious business.

You are right about the mutual exclusiveness in different teachings and interpretations of the Mysteries of God and salvation in Christendom. No where do I find this more confusing than in the majority of Protestant ecclessial communities that apply the "invisible" Church theory. This is the greatest form of false ecumenism there is and the most hurtful simply because it applies a surety of salvation across thousands of mutually exclusive definitions of it. I may be accused of attacking a straw man here, but someone must convince me where this theory does not appeal to the "it doesn't matter how you worship, you're alright as long as you believe" concept. That is not the Gospel teaching.

Bob said...

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. (John 6:53 KJV)

Jesus, therefore, said to them, `Verily, verily, I say to you, If ye may not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and may not drink his blood, ye have no life in yourselves; (John 6:53 Young's Literal)

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53 NIV)

And Jesus said to them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, you cannot have any life in you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood [unless you appropriate His life and the saving merit of His blood]. (John 6:53 Amplified Bible)

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." (John 6:53 New American Bible)


I don't know about burdens of proof. Sometimes you just accept or don't accept what a person has to say.

Does ecumenism flounder on Truth? For good reasons, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church are closed communion. Communion stands as sign of unity. It means that you accept the Word when you receive the Eucharist.

As a Catholic, it was not something that the Church proved. For me, it was a submission of faith.

Flesh and Blood. It is not something which can be proved, this transcends mortal understanding. When the Word asked, "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:67), Peter replied, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) It's not because Peter understood, it's because Peter believed.

In these situations, asking about a burden of proof is treading on the wrong ground. I understand that Protestant denominations have a different interpretation of John 6. (Ironically, it is where the Catholic Church insists on a literal interpretation and the Protestants insist on a symbolic interpretation.) But it is a place where the question "What is Truth?" is a matter of "what I believe."

You accept what is handed down onto you whether it is a Catholic or Protestant tradition. You decide on the basis of conflicting authorities, how John 6 is to be read. It's no minor matter that can be papered over with false ecumenism. One or the other is Truth. It is a line drawn in the sand. You accept it, or you call the teaching too hard. That's the sort of decision you're making.

Peace be with you,

Thos said...


Maybe it’s the coffee I had this morning, but I find myself disagreeing with people today more than usual.

In your last two paragraphs, I think you said that John is a place where, FOR PROTESTANTS, the question of ‘what is truth?’ has been answered by ‘what Protestants individually believe’. Please clarify if I misinterpreted you. I think you then said that Christians accept, in the face of conflicting authorities, what is handed down to them in their particular upbringing, while only one answer can be truth. I think you then said I was papering over this fact with claims of false ecumenism.

Again, please correct me if my understanding of your last two paragraphs is wrong. I found your wording difficult to follow. That I papered over the truth that there is only one Truth is a failure to understand my post, or to read my clear response to MMajor Fan. I said to him, “There are many mutually exclusive beliefs within Christianity. To claim them all equally valid (so long as the participant feels contentment) is dreadful.” The obvious copmliment to this statement is that there is only one truth.

If you were saying that I use “ecumenism” to cover up disagreements about Truth, I disagree. Perhaps you were referring in that part to MMajor. I said in an earlier comment of Jesus’ prayer that we be one as He is One with the Father, “THIS IS ECUMENICITY!” It is oneness, and oneness is NOT (repeat NOT) AGREEING TO DISAGREE. Oneness is COMING TO AGREE, which is a PROCSES, which requires CONVINCING, which requires open DEBATE, which requires a recognition of burdens and standards of proof that (whether we recognize them or not) are part of the discernment process all of our brains go through.

You said, “You accept [John 6’s “eat of my flesh”], or you call the teaching too hard. That's the sort of decision you're making.”

I fail to see how this proves that I’m wrong in pondering burdens and standards in the decision-making process. You acknowledge there’s a decision to be made, I say that we all process thought under certain inherent burdens and standards. You would likely reply, “Sometimes you just accept or don't accept what a person has to say.” I say humans only accept it if the evidence is convincing enough to our particular standard. Let’s say for a minute ex arguendo that Catholicism is correct. I POSIT that most Protestants will not become Catholic unless they are convinced by evidence that is almost 100% certain (IOW, they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt). Therefore, they will fail at ecumenical progress (oneness). Recognizing and properly setting the burdens/standards construct in our minds is essential to this oneness.

Finally, (to end on a good note) you're right that the Spirit is key in all of this, and I hope that those who read me can understand that this is implicit in everything I say. Without prayerful consideration, and without a seeking after the Holy Spirit to guide us, anything bearing the appearance of ecumenicity (oneness) will be vacuous. Ultimately, that convincing that needs attain unto truth will have to be Spirit-lead/grace-fed. Without grace we are all hopelessly lost.

Bob said...

Hi Thos,

I'm afraid that I jumped in the thread without giving you enough context to interpret what I was saying. First off, I really was not in a debating mood, nor was I trying to prove anything.

RE: "what is Truth?"
In the case of John 6, I separated two traditions of belief or interpretation. One, the Catholic tradition, states John 6 is to be taken literally. The Protestant tradition has it taken symbolically. This interpretation has an impact on whether you accept the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist.

The two conflicting authorities are Catholic tradition (I would normally capitalize, as in Sacred Tradition) and Protestant tradition. I mean that which is handed down for you to interpret John 6. The people Protestants will listen to, or accept as authorities on the matter against Catholics who accept the authority of the Magisterium. I suppose that after being taught by an authority of sorts (perhaps his parents), a Protestant may or may not use only himself as an authority.

RE: false ecumenism and papering over Truth.
I accept that you are a sincere searcher of the Truth, and that you embrace ecumenism in a proper fashion. I did not intend to point that phrase toward your character or toward your efforts. I apologize for being ambiguous in my original post. A proper ecumenism realizes that there are significant differences in religion which cannot be papered over, and I applaud you for recognizing this.

In recognizing these differences, we come to a decision. In any debate, we have to be open to changing our minds. This openness is addressed by your burden of proof or standard of proof.

But I am not debating, particularly since I'm not willing to change my mind. In hindsight, it was poorly done, but the effort was to outline an important truth which can not be papered over without engaging in some serious sophistry.

For a Catholic, it is the Eucharist. It is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. Once you "understand" the Church's teachings on the Eucharist, then other teachings begin to fall into place.

I started with the topic of closed communion to highlight that this is an important topic. This also touches on the topic of oneness. A communion is one, and it's appropriate that Holy Communion is a sign of this.

Then I moved onto topics of authority and tradition. In John 6, this hits hard on the Protestant view. Did Jesus really mean it when He said we would have to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood? It should be obvious that I believe the answer is yes.

From the Catholic perspective, this is a hard teaching, but one which we accept. It's backed up by Sacred Tradition in the liturgy, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the teachings of the Church fathers. It's only because of my belief in apostolic succession, and that the Church preserved what was handed down to her in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, that I believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. It's not a burden of proof thing, it's a submission of faith.

I understand that Protestants view it differently, to varying degrees. If it's a hard teaching for Catholics, it's even more so for Protestants. They only have their exegesis of John 6 to determine whether Jesus was literal when He talked of eating His Flesh and His Blood.

I don't believe this is done by standards of proof or burdens of proof. I could be wrong. I think in the end, it's living flesh which transmits the living Word. As St. Francis says, preach the Gospel aways, if necessary use words.

I hope I've cleared some stuff up without confusing the issue too much.

Peace be with you,

Thos said...


Thank you for your most excellent and patient reply. I wish I had understood you this clearly early this morning. I was not thinking clearly, and no doubt, still hyped up on MMajor’s thesis… I think I now understand you clearly.

Your point (using John 6 as an example) that Protestants approach certain passages with our own tradition is well noted. I cannot refute this idea – it’s something I’m coming more and more to appreciate. I would normally opine that we all approach the text of Sacred Scriptures with our own “canon of interpretation” (another legal term, for those who aren’t nauseated by my use of them yet). I would then point out that John 6 (as you, Bob, already so well noted) is an example of where Protestants violate our own normal canon of interpretation. We prefer the figurative reading here to the literal (eat My flesh, drink My blood). I am convinced by your view and this example - Protestant tradition trumps Protestant “canon of interpretation”, all to ensure we remain firmly Protestant (lest the Bible should, at the end of the day, prove persuasively to point otherwise)!

After reading you more carefully, I think in some small way I was talking past you this morning – I agree with your premise, that you accept the internals of Catholicism after becoming Catholic NOT by being convinced on each issue, but rather THROUGH SUBMISSION in faith. Thank you for sharing this point, and I see a need to modify and clarify my own premise.

Not only must we be moved by the Holy Spirit to overcome whatever constructs (burdens and standards of proof) we have erected before entering the True Faith (where that may be, I will not answer on this Blog for some time, I think), but we depend on Him to sustain us, that we can believe the particular internal claims of that Faith.

For example, if I take the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead in isolation, I do need to be equipped to prove it (again, in isolation) to others, nor do I need to be convinced of its truth by sufficient proof-texts to any notional, mechanical degree (e.g., “clear and convincing evidence”). It is a subordinate, or internal, belief to my larger Christian (and currently Protestant) tradition. For this reason, I cringe at Protestant apologists attacking Catholics with the meaning of certain passage of the Scriptures – without “underlying common assumptions” that are in agreement, these subordinate debates will never be settled. Thanks again, Bob, for your patience with me. I hope you see fit to better and help clarify views expressed here (esp. by me) in the future!

Peace in Christ,

MMajor Fan said...


"Maybe it’s the coffee I had this morning, but I find myself disagreeing with people today more than usual."

I'd say you are disagreeing with what you are imagining and projecting people are saying. I can't even begin to understand what you think I'm saying.

MMajor Fan said...


"Thank you for your most excellent and patient reply. I wish I had understood you this clearly early this morning. I was not thinking clearly, and no doubt, still hyped up on MMajor’s thesis… I think I now understand you clearly."

Do I know you? You seem to have a lot of rage. And actually all I was saying is to be cautious of over heated debate. I suggest a Chill Out Novena.

Thos said...


Your statement that I "seem to have a lot of rage" marks the first time I have been criticized in my young blog. I'm sorry you feel that way. Rage is a "violent anger". I felt nothing of the sort, but more stupification at what I perceived to be your promotion of the relativity of Truth.

You said you can't even begin to understand what I think you're saying. I took the time to quote you, and then reply. If I have misunderstood statements like, "My position is that if one is content where one worships, what is the problem?”, which I took to be a clear statement, please let me know. I think the blog post comments area is an excellent place for such discourse and amplification.