James White has been active in the combox over at Stand To Reason--despite his dislike of comboxes (I guess he uses them when it suits him)--in connection with Frank Beckwith's recent appearance on that organization's radio program.
I was told he had reposted some of the material from there on his own blog, and I was thinking about responding to something he said, but then I ran into
It's amazing. Simply amazing.
The topic concerns a statement Frank made
on Stand To Reason that he had read documents from the Council of Trent back when he was in his twenties and then recently re-read them and was surprised by what he read. They did not say what he understood them to say based on his prior reading and what he had been told about them by others subsequently.
No big deal, right? People read something when they're young and green and then read it again years later and realize it didn't say what they thought it said or means something else. Happens all the time, right?
Not, apparently, to the mind of James White.
First, here's the quotation from Frank, transcribed from the broadcast, that White picks on:
If you read the Council of Trent...which, by the way, really shocked me. I expected to read this sort of horrible document, you know, requiring people to stick pins in their eyes, you know, and flagellate themselves, you know, and it turns out that there are things in there that are quite amazing, that the initial grace is given to us by God, in fact, there's a condemnation in there for anyone who says that our works, apart from grace...I mean, I thought to myself, I had not been told...I had been misinformed!
On his blog White poses the following questions:
1) How can a person be shocked by re-reading something they read twenty years ago. Is it your claim that you had completely forgotten everything you had read then? Or is it your claim that you were so completely prejudiced in your twenties that you could not even read the document in a meaningful fashion?
2) How can someone speak of "expecting to read" something in a document that they have already read? Are you claiming that your prejudices were do deep that you had actually made up in your mind things like "sticking pins in your eyes" and "flagellation"?
3) How can you find "amazing" things in a document you read twenty years ago? Did you simply not read it well enough to understand it then?
4) If you read this document, how is it relevant to claim that you had not been "told" the truth about it?
5) If you read the document, how could you be misinformed about its contents?
Finally, would not a perfectly fair minded reading of these statements lead any rational person to the conclusion that this was, in fact, your first reading of the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent? [emphasis added]
White is actually insinuating that Beckwith did not previously read the documents, despite his claim to have done so!
What possible reason would he have to lie about this? Or if the claim isn't that he's lying, why suppose that his memory has gone so wrong on this?
I think what "a perfectly fair minded reading" of Frank's statements would lead "any rational person" to the conclusion that he read the documents--or some of them--back when he was young and inexperienced in matters of theology and then, with a couple of decades of additional learning under his belt, he went back and realized that they were saying something different than he thought. In the meantime, what he had read about them from other sources had colored his understanding of them, and so reading what they really have to say--and now having the background to understand them properly--was an enlightening experience for him.
That kind of thing happens all the time with human beings. It's no big deal and nothing out of the ordinary.
If this, then, is what "any rational person" would be led to conclude by giving "a perfectly fair minded reading" to Frank's statements, I can only conclude that James White is either not a rational person or that he is not giving a fair reading to them (or both).
The way I see it, there are three options (in order of ascending probability):
1) James White is such a supergenius that he always reads every document correctly the first time and remembers it perfectly for decades, without allowing his view of it to be colored by what others have told him about the document (though if he's this kind of supergenius, why hasn't he noticed that other people don't work that way?)
2) James White is not a supergenius but assumes that he is, so that he thinks his first reading of any document is correct and he is so closed minded and incapable of admitting--even to himself--that he has been wrong that he never re-evaluates what a document says and thus has never had the experience of finding out that the document didn't say what he thought.
3) James White is irrationally going after Frank's claim out of a overweening desire to score points that prevents him from seeing what is blindingly obvious to "any rational person" and thus renders him incapable of giving "a perfectly fair minded reading" to the statements of someone whom he has chosen to controversially engage.