Arguments from Fitness

In the combox for his post at Called to Communion on the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Bryan Cross writes in comment #38:

But theologically, who could possibly imagine that the perfect Son of God, and therefore the perfect Son of Mary (for if He was the perfect Son of God the Father, then in His incarnation He must be the perfect Son of His mother), who most perfectly kept the Command to honor one’s parents, would allow the sacred body of His mother from whom He took flesh, safe harbor and nourishment throughout His gestation and childhood, to be stolen away by grave robbers, eaten by worms, or divided into relics to be handled by men? Such notions call into question either Christ’s humanity or His deity. That is, if He let this happen to her, then either He wasn’t her Son, or if He was her Son, He wasn’t divine.

Reformed Protestant Andrew McCallum objects in #41:

That kind of Scholastic sort of reasoning is just the sort of thing that inhibits rather than encourages dialogue. Do you really want us to take a stab at answering it? I guarantee you that I could come with just as convincing sort of argument against the Assumption that you can for it if we divorce the argument from Scripture and history.

And again in #45:

I’m just skeptical of trying to reason from what might seem reasonable to one person. You might think that honoring Mary should mean that Jesus would not have allowed her to die or not allowed her to sin or not allowed her to be subjected to marital relations, or whatever else you might think is reasonable given Mary’s status. But one might equally well argue that because Jesus suffered the humiliations of this world that He would insist that His mother must do likewise and insist that she suffer the grave so that she could truly be the Mother of all humanity. I’m sure I could go on if I felt creative enough. The Scholastics were full of these kinds of arguments but from my standpoint they are meant to reinforce a belief that is already firmly held rather than provide a valid apologetic point. I just don’t think that such arguments, if we can call them arguments, have any place in the context of Catholic/Protestant dialogues. I understand they may have a certain devotional value to the faithful Catholic, but I don’t see that they can provide anything for the Protestant to respond to.

I don’t have time to participate in the conversation at CtC and so must be content with posting here in reply to Mr. McCallum.

Arguments of the sort to which Andrew objects are arguments from fitness, and I don’t think that Bryan intends his argument to possess the same demonstrative force as saying that because Socrates is a man and all men are mortal, Socrates is mortal. This latter kind of argument compels assent: if the premises are true and the conclusion follows, we don’t really have any choice but to accept the conclusion as true if we are intellectually honest. But Bryan’s argument from #38 (quoted above) is not like this. Rather, its purpose is to provide additional weight to the claim that the dogma of the Assumption is not contrary to reason.

It’s important to make this distinction, because it is impossible to provide a demonstration of the truth of the Assumption that compels assent. Truths of faith must be received with the assent of faith. Because it is impossible that one truth could contradict another, though, it is certain that no truth of faith is contrary to reason. So it is impossible that the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is contrary to reason, and Bryan’s argument in #38 (quoted above) is intended (or so it seems to me) to show that it is not unreasonable. Arguments from fitness have a more modest purpose than to compel assent; they are intended to show the reasonableness of their conclusions, and likewise (I think) to have some persuasive force. So I think that it’s worth pointing out two things.

First, Andrew’s objection to Bryan’s argument seems to be founded upon a misunderstanding of its purpose. It’s not intended to compel his assent in the way that a “normal” demonstration would because the Assumption cannot be demonstrated in that way. So the fact that Andrew can formulate other views of the Assumption that are likewise not contrary to reason does not imply that Bryan’s argument is invalid nor that the Assumption is contrary to reason, and it also doesn’t invalidate arguments from fitness. I am afraid that Andrew’s apparent dislike for them might be based upon a misunderstanding of their purpose.

Secondly, the fact that Andrew isn’t convinced by Bryan’s argument means nothing more than that it lacks persuasive force for him. This doesn’t mean that Andrew is intellectually dishonest, because Bryan’s argument isn’t intended to compel intellectual assent. But it also doesn’t mean that Bryan’s argument doesn’t succeed in what I take to be its larger purpose in advancing it, which is to show that the Assumption is not unreasonable. Andrew’s objection isn’t that Bryan’s argument is contrary to reason; rather, he claims that other reasonable views are possible. But Bryan’s argument wasn’t so much to rule out the possibility of other views as to show the reasonableness of the dogma.

Posted in Apologetics, Blessed Virgin, Called to Communion, Fides et Ratio

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