In 1988, Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, published his most famous book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, the Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”. The book, and the organization Keating founded, Catholic Answers, were the results of Keatings’ efforts to counter anti-Catholic flyers that had been placed on the windshields of the cars in the church parking lot while the Catholics were inside attending mass. The book contains solid Catholic refutations of the myths, misconceptions and misguided thinking about Catholic doctrine that often permeates fundamentalist Christian circles.
In the book, Keating argues for the inspiration of the Bible by using what has become known as "the Spiral Argument” (TSA). Keating may have been drawing on the 1938 publication, Radio Replies Vol. 1, which contains a very similar argument for establishing how we may know that the Bible is inspired. The argument is a syllogism that begins by viewing the Bible in the same critical manner used to approach any other ancient text that purports to contain history and concludes with the Bible declared to be the inspired Word of God by the infallible Catholic Church. Needless to say, there is much ground to cover in between!
Over the years, many people have argued that the Spiral Argument is flawed and that it fails to prove what it sets out to prove. Very recently, in fact, this author was personally attacked for quoting TSA by Dr. Edwin W. Tait, a member of the Catholic Answers forum known as “Contarini”, in a thread found here.
Dr. Tait is an adjunct professor of New Testament history at Huntington College in Indiana, a member of the Episcopal Church, and, he describes his religious affiliation here at CAF as “Christian (currently seeking admission to the Catholic Church)".
After discovering that I had quoted TSA in response to another forum member’s question, Dr. Tait wrote:
Oh, no. Not this again. You have never been able to defend this. It’s a bogus, dishonest approach. Stop using it, for the love of God.
You are discrediting the Church every time you repeat it. I implore you to stop doing so. You will convince only the credulous, and you will persuade anyone with an ounce of critical faculties that the Church is a sham.
The argument is a joke to anyone who has any training as a historian. It is dishonest. I am going to keep saying this until you deal with my arguments or stop using it, or I finally give up on this forum.
Well, Dr. Tait, here’s your answer.
For the benefit of those who will join this discussion as well as those who just follow along, I will begin by posting the argument from Catholic Answers in full as well as Dr. Tait’s initial response to me when I posted it in the Sacred Scripture sub-forum. I will then begin to work my way through TSA line by line defending each as I go. Dr. Tait has expressed considerable doubt or disagreement with the historical evidence for Christianity, and his doctorate in history clearly gives him both credibility and the right to be heard on the subject at hand. In contrast, I am just a munchkin, an amateur Catholic apologist with no formal training or expertise at all. Dr. Tait is the professional and has all the credentials. But is he right? We shall see.
As seen in his quote above, I cannot be sure that Dr. Tait will engage in this discussion as he expresses some frustrations that have him on the verge of leaving the forum altogether. Further, I am not challenging him to a debate by starting this thread. I expect to hear from him, and I hope that he will allow us to benefit from his education. However, debating Dr. Tait is NOT my primary purpose. My real goals are to answer once and for all whether TSA is a valid means of determining the inspiration of scripture and to advance my own understanding of the historical evidence for our faith. This thread will be a work in progress as I strive to put the logical pieces in place.
A final word before we begin. I may lose this argument. Dr. Tait is a professional New Testament historian with more training and more resources at his disposal than I have. Or TSA may simply be flawed and indefensible. However, my faith as a Catholic in the inspiration of Sacred Scripture does not rest upon the syllogism. My faith is in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church which He promised to build upon Peter the rock. That Church speaks infallibly and with God-given authority concerning the Scriptures, and those facts, coupled with the unmerited grace of God, are sufficient for me to believe that the Bible is inspired. TSA is just a tool, an attempt to explain how we can know that the Bible is the Word of God, used by Catholic apologists when speaking with non-Catholic Christians and non-believers as we endeavor to help them understand our Catholic faith. If TSA is demonstrated to be fatally flawed or if I simply fail to defend it adequately, no one’s faith should be shaken nor should anyone presume that the Bible is not inspired. The Catholic Church declares the scriptures to be inspired, and that alone is sufficient.