“Don’t let the Pelagian goo get on you” – James White
You have to admit, James White knows how to turn a phrase.
Dr. Flowers responds to this latest accusation of being Pelagian with a 15min video showing exactly how the accusation is fallacious and off-base.
The main point from the video I would like to carry over is this: The boogie man fallacy is a form of the Ad Hominem logical fallacy where the opponent of a position, in a “guilt by association” twist, attempts to associate the position with a known negative quantity and, simply by asserting that association, has provided evidence against the argument.
I would also like to propose a layer to White’s argumentation that more deeply affects those who take his rhetoric seriously: Fear Mongering. “Don’t get the goo on you” is a way of spreading fear of a viewpoint so that no one will get near it nor the person presenting it. Nobody wants goo on them. Nobody wants to be seen as dirty. In other words, “Don’t listen to anything this person says or anything about this topic or you will become disgusting along with them” Ooooooo <scary fingers>!
What this does is create Heresy Hunters whose minds are closed to reason. The Fear Monger creates the fear by regaling his audience with tales of terror of the boogie man and says “Be careful, lest their unclean thoughts make you unclean!” and then those who are made afraid must go around protecting themselves from the “wrong think” lest they be tainted by it. The Afeared must prove themselves clean by boisterous rejection of the Heresy.
Criticism and Response
This is what is going on with one commenter who, to their credit, took the time to watch the video and offer a critique. I will spend some time evaluating and responding to this critic because I think it is fascinating how effective this fear tactic is:
Notice the argument: the boogie-man fallacy is an acceptable tactic as long as the idea being attacked is actually scary ie. “damnable heresy”. What the critic misses is that the entire reason “boogie-man” is a fallacy is because even if an idea is scary is must still be rationally evaluated. One does not simply get to claim that an idea is scary and, therefore, just by claiming it, the argument has been rebutted.
The fear of “damnable heresy”, so defined by the Fear Monger, is so potent that, to the Afeared, the usage of any number of logical fallacies are OK as long as the idea is actually scary. Do you see the logical loop the Afeared is fixed in? Fear Monger says a Thing is scary so Thing is scary, and since Thing is scary, then the claim that Thing is scary is reason enough to reject Scary Thing.
The Appeal to Fear cannot be a valid argument because it’s not an argument, it’s an appeal. Appeals can be true or false, rational or irrational, and of course there are rational fears, but an argument must be rationally evaluated so that we can know if the fear is rational. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
The critic continues: (I’m quoting him in full to give him his due but skip down to the green)
The Fear Monger gives the Afeared a false narrative of the past so as to give validity to their grift. “Hey, if everyone has always been afraid of this idea, so should you!”. But, of course, this isn’t true. John Cassian never “coined” the term “semi-Pelagianism” or called himself one as the critic claims repeatedly.
This demonstrably false and I would hope the critic would begin an inventory of who it was that lied to him. An article from monergism.com simply labels Cassian a “Semi-Pelagian” while admitting him and his advocates called themselves “Massilians” (since Cassian was based in Marseilles, France) and were only later called “Semi-Pelagians”.
Indeed, the article seems to claim that the Council of Orange in 529 condemned “Semi-Pelagianism” but they never used that term nor, curiously, the terms “Pelagian” nor “Pelagianism”. Scholars Irena Backus and Aza Goudriaan from the University of Amsterdam, in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History note that Theodore Beza was the first to use the term in 1556. A term that has been retro-actively used to tar non-Augustinian theology ever since.
So, as to the claim who or when the term “Semi-Pelagian” was coined, the critic has been taught falsehoods.
The Afeared is so afraid of the object of the fear that even source material (as shown above) that shows the irrationality of their fear may be ignored.
I appreciate the critic’s willingness to see James White’s prideful dismissal for what it is; many are unwilling to say so.
In the above video, Dr. Flowers accurately acknowledges that we have barely any of Pelagius’ writings, and really only know what his critics claimed about his theology, and so our knowledge of his true theology is suspect. This is a defense of Pelagius, apparently. See, if you’re Afeared, you cannot allow even the appearance of a defense of The Scary Idea. Even if you’re attempting to be accurate to what the idea actually is…nope. Not allowed.
A few of Soteriology 101’s intelligent followers pointed out that it’s perfectly rational to acknowledge that source material for Pelagius is lacking and this critic doubled down:
That’s not what a primary source is.
What someone says you said is the definition of a “second-hand account”, especially if that person is your critic. That’s why I’m quoting this critic at length, because I don’t expect you to trust me to accurately portray his words.
The Afeared’s overall concern here is that being accurate to what Pelagius really taught would possibly make us able to say “Pelagianism isn’t really all that bad if we don’t really know what it was”, and that possibility is unacceptable because Pelagianism must be feared because the Fear Monger told me to fear it. The Afeared’s mind is closed by fear. They are not open to new information. Heresy Hunting is a necessary response to fear and it simply cannot be that perhaps some things aren’t as bad as the Fear Monger told me they are.
The fear even makes this critic re-define what a primary source is in order to maintain the appearance that the fear is rational! What a powerful force Fear Mongering can be!
See, having an accurate charge, an accurate argument, is not nearly as important as being as afraid of Pelagianism as we ought to be. Pelagianism is BaD and so it’s impossible that it is misunderstood. Don’t touch it, even to increase accuracy, or the goo might get on you!
Truly, I have compassion for this critic. All he did was faithfully read theologians he thought would tell him the truth. When an army of theologians are chanting the same thing “Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!”, it has an effect on you; the subjective experience of irrational fear, being closed to reason, and dismissive of scholarship. This is why I spend time combating bad ideas, they have a real world consequence for those that believe them.