Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Servetus Maneuver

I love Star Trek. Specifically, I love the "Next Generation". I remember one of the earlier episodes in which Captain Picard, while on board his previous ship, the Stargazer, had been brainwashed into believing that he was re-living a past battle in which he was forced to destroy an attacking ship. During that battle, Picard came up with an unorthadox maneuver that would eventually be labeled, the "Picard Maneuver", a tactic that had no known defense. So while brainwashed and still aboard the Stargazer, Picard believed that the Enterprise was the attacking ship from the past and was preparing to repeat his patented maneuver. But as one may guess, the crew of the Enterprise did figure a way out of the whole situation and they went on to explore the galaxy happily ever after.

In like manner, non-Calvinists and unbelievers alike will employ the "Servetus Maneuver" whenever they are faced with Calvinist opposition. This tactic is often used as a last ditch effort when confronted with superior argumentation or, in place of an argument to begin with because everyone knows the "Servetus Maneuver" cannot be defended. Or, so the non-Calvinist assumes. The problem with the "Servetus Maneuver" is that those who employ it have great difficulty answering the question of just why the burning of Servetus automatically falsifies Calvin's theological viewpoints. The main thrust of this tactic is to paint Calvin as being as tyrannical and blood-thirsty as Vlad the Impaler himself, so that anything and everything about the man was just wrong. But even if it be granted that Calvin was a religous Hitler, the logical fallacy remains. The one employing this tactic is still left with refuting Calvin's views biblically. At any rate, both Steve Hays and Gene Bridges of Triablogue have recently addressed the issue of Servetus and everyone is encouraged to peruse their handling of this issue.

5 comments:

Joshua said...

Liked your post. Would you dare to visit mine?

pilgrim said...

I've had the Servetus argument brought by Roman Catholics who conviently forget that Servetus was only in Geneva after escaping imprisonment by the RC's and was slated to be executed by them.
(or by a RC state anyway)

The fatc he escaped their clutches somehow makes it okay to make their accustaions.

But the main point is made well here as to the connection between Calvin the man & Calvinism the theologies.

Dan said...

I enjoy your blog, even though I often disagree with you.

I will, however, agree with you on one point: It is a fallacy to reject an argument based upon a man or an expert (ad hominem).

However, the above mentioned fallacy is one which involves syllogisms: Joe Blow believes X. Joe Blow is a snot nosed brat. Therefore X is false.

The sad affair of Servatus is not one of syllogistic construct. Rather it is one of the correspondence theory of truth. One would expect that a devout Christian would strive to adhere to the whole council of God. In doing so, it is fair to expect the Christian life to demonstrate spiritual consistancy and coherance. Paul was addressing this type of truth when he cautioned us to 'watch our lives and doctrines closely and in so doing save both ourselves and our listeners'.

Under the correspondence theory of truth, the issue of Servatus is a valid objection. Even if he was the only one, it would sufficient grounds to examine the whole of Calvin's doctrine. It is even more appropos given that Calvin's example and teachings were used to justify the slaughter of approximately 800 Anabaptists in Europe, and the epulsion, tourture and/or execution of many Quakers, Baptists, and crackpots in early New England.

J. Matthew Cleary said...

Hi Dan,

"I enjoy your blog, even though I often disagree with you."

Thank you very much. It is almost flattering to think that someone who often disagrees with me would still like what I write!

"It is a fallacy to reject an argument based upon a man or an expert (ad hominem)...Under the correspondence theory of truth, the issue of Servatus is a valid objection.

Looking at both of these statements, it seems that what you grant on the one hand, you take away with the other. That is, you affirm the fallacy of arguing against someone's belief system based on that persons behavior only to turn around and affirm that Calvinism may well be false due to what Calvin did or did not do. Or am I misunderstanding you?

"The sad affair of Servatus is not one of syllogistic construct."

I'm not so sure. For instance:

1) Calvin believed in "Calvinism". 2) Calvin had Servetus executed for heresy. 3)Therefore, Calvinism is wrong.

Now, this mirrors your own syllogistic construct concerning "Joe Blow" and his beliefs. You affirm a fallacy in your construct but seemingly, you would deny a fallacy in the second. Again, am I understanding you correctly?

"Under the correspondence theory of truth, the issue of Servatus is a valid objection."

Well, I'm not familiar with what you refer to as the "correspondence theory" of truth so I can't say if it makes Servetus a valid issue or not. But it does seem to me that you are using this theory to argue that Calvinism is false. If so, then are you not forced to take the position that most, if not all Calvinists would do the same thing that Calvin did if given the opportunity? That, there is something in Calvinism that causes folks to want to go out and persecute people of differing views and even execute heretics?

"Even if he was the only one, it would sufficient grounds to examine the whole of Calvin's doctrine."

To merely *examine* Calvin's doctrine or, to refute it?

"It is even more appropos given that Calvin's example and teachings were used to justify the slaughter of approximately 800 Anabaptists in Europe, and the epulsion, tourture and/or execution of many Quakers, Baptists, and crackpots in early New England."

I cannot comment on this either since I am unfamiliar with the details of the events that you are describing. But I would ask who it was that justified these events by referring to Calvin's teaching and which of his teachings are specifically referred to.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Calvinist, and I oppose his theology and the man. I pretty much try not to bring up Servetus, to Calvinists, but am amazed at what I see as the 'Servetus Maneuver' among his supporters.

Maybe it keeps coming up, because Calvinist appear to be pulling a huge maneuver themselves. I would much rather hear people say he was wrong, and this act was wrong, and 'we don't condone it.'

Theology aside, but think this issue is valid in this context as well. Calvin made numerous statements concerning his actions, responsibility and was proud of the fact. These are a matter of record. He also stated on record that heretics should be killed, and those who disagree are guilty. (Heretics, who disagree with his interpretation of the Gospel.)

In response, I hear that Calvin himself was fleeing persecution... So ? In response, I hear... it was the times, not Calvin, now Calvin is a 'victim'. Servetus aside, Calvin stated boldly that heretics should be killed.

I learned that a monument was erected to Servetus and the errors of Persecution. I initially thought "well that's a right step"... but the inscription is certainly not an apology, but is more in honor of "Calvin the great reformer." I imagine any family of Servetus or other non-Calvinists sees that inscription as insult to injury, or "Servetus Maneuver"