It has several days since I submitted a comment to Vox Nova, the moderated blog where there had been an ongoing discussion on the traditional Catholic teaching of scriptural inerrancy, continuing a conversation that was sparked by a post on that topic published in this blog by Teresa. Mr. Wilson has commented here freely, and was comfortable letting me comment there freely…for a while. But after the discussion had progressed some, that changed.
Mr. Wilson took an interesting position that I certainly did not anticipate. He conceded that Pope Leo XIII, in Providentissimus Deus, “tried” to affirm the traditional patristic biblical inerrancy, but he failed, of course, because he left an “escape hatch”: the fact that the inspired human authors of scripture used language indicating that that they quite possibly believed something that we do not – geocentrism. They used sunrise-sunset language. The fact that we still use this language today doesn’t trivialize this “problem” with traditional inerrancy, in Mr. Wilson’s view. In my view it does. In Leo XIII’s view it does. But according to Mr. Wilson, I am wrong and so was the Pope. Here is the comment I submitted (never approved):
“But we can’t leave this aside, because the eminent persons of today who speak of the sun rising do so knowing (knowing in a loose sense) that the earth has changed position.”
And still they cannot help speaking of sunrises and sunsets, because that is how it appears to them, just as it appeared to Joshua that the sun was still. It WAS still – relative to Joshua as an observer with a particular inertial frame of reference. Kelly, you seem to be arguing that because we “know better” it is okay (not erroneous) for us to say what we know is false (since we do not not intend to affirm error), but the ignorance of the human authors of scripture cannot excuse them because they were using language that they thought to convey literal physical absolutely objective truth even though that belief was not what they were intending to affirm and was not the point (i.e. they are just as innocent as we are of an intention to affirm what we know to be an error). I, on the other hand, with Pope Leo, insist that if even we who “know better” can’t help but use the same sort of language, it is absurd to attribute error to the ancients for doing out of incidental ignorance what we still cannot help but to do in spite of “knowing better”, especially when they, at no time, affirm the literal truth of such appearance based language. You think that their ignorance indicts them, but our knowledge excuses us. I don’t think that makes much sense. If our knowledge does not make us more culpable for using language that we know to be literally false, how much less culpable are those who innocently use that language to make another point entirely. So you can go ahead and keep thinking that you are wiser than Pope Leo. I think your flailing around ridiculously looking for leg to stand on, but then, that, as Chesterton warned us about you moderns, is what you do – stand on your head kicking at the sky while accusing the world of being upside down.