Thursday, July 9, 2015

Challenges for Scripturalism

In the course of an email conversation, I mentioned to someone that in my opinion, the philosophy of language is, among other subjects I may address in future posts, one of the more challenging aspects of Scripturalism. He asked why I thought that, and the flow of thoughts that proceeded seemed long enough to justify the following post on the subject.

To begin with, what I mean by challenging is that while I see some ways in which to speculatively resolve some of the questions I have, I haven’t really fleshed those out, and while I could be wrong, nor do I expect to find that others have already done so. Rather, I think Scripturalists too often are content to give opponents enough rope with which to hang themselves by their own philosophies. Scripturalists are comfortable with the material Clark provides, and in many cases, the people with whom they discuss aren't equipped to construct well-argued critiques. Clark's answers come easy in these cases, but the comfort is ill-advised inasmuch as it prevents much needed philosophical development of Scripturalism.

Let’s take the case of language. The Bible uses hundreds of thousands of different concepts. Not all of these concepts are subjects of propositions within the Bible, yet we - meaning Scripturalists - appeal to them as if we can know them in an internalist, infallibilist sense. But I suppose the only way that works for Scripturalists is if concepts are in some way implicitly propositional or, similar to the way in which Clark theorized physical words tag thoughts, intellectual concepts tag propositions.

The question is if it is legitimate to believe we can know concepts because they are propositional. If so, then we can know quite a bit. If not, then can Scripturalists know Scriptural propositions, given that the verbs and predicates of what propositions are in Scripture are rarely subjects anywhere else? And even when these concepts are the subjects of propositions elsewhere, these propositions, I suspect, often entail verbs and predicates which are not subjects anywhere else. In that case, maybe we couldn’t know, in an internalist, infallibilist sense, anything. Here, I think, there is the possibility of a kind of transcendental argument for the idea that concepts are implicitly propositional. But I need to think about this some more. 

For example, an added consideration is that it doesn't seem we can know concepts if abstracted from propositions. All epistemic kinds of knowledge involve true belief, and truth is a character of propositions. Further, conceptual content seems dictated by context. More precisely, then, perhaps we can know tagged propositions to which Scriptural concepts connotatively refer. This could also help to explain how we can understand questions and commands. On the other hand, I have written several posts (here, here, and here) designed to make the point that if concepts continuously tag propositions in which the concepts in those propositions tag further propositions ad infinitum, meaning and, hence, truth and knowledge as well, become elusive. So I think there is a balance between tagging and intrinsic meaning that needs to be worked out here.

Another complexity relates to metaphysics. If many Scripturalists eventually come to accept, as I hope they will, a dualist or pluralist metaphysic such that concepts and propositions are not the only kinds of realities, but that these further correspond to other kinds of “physical” or “spiritual” realities, then the question arises as to the nature of the relationship between language and metaphysics.

Does truth represent these different physical or spiritual realities, are these instead patterned after truth, or is it some combination? Well, given that I think God can't metaphysically just be a set of propositions, that suggests 1) God isn't what He thinks [about Himself] and 2) God's self-knowledge is dependent on God's mind, since persons think, not propositions. Here, God’s self-knowledge – and thus all necessary knowledge – seems to have been determined by a non-propositional reality or, at least, the non-propositional aspect of the reality of God. This means, at least in the case of God’s necessary self-knowledge, that it is the nature of some truth to correspond to non-propositional realities and that it is not always the case that this correspondence is such that the non-propositional reality is patterned after the corresponding propositional reality.

Is that the case for all truth? And if so, do we need to have the non-propositional reality “in mind” – whether a sensory input or memory, a spiritual idea or intuition, etc. – when we think truth? In answer to both, I don’t think so. With respect to the latter question especially, it is prima facie implausible that Scripture would tell us of events we can only imagine and, therefore, couldn’t know. But explaining why requires wading into deeper waters, and I've only recently touched on any of this, and just barely, here, the second paragraph in particular:
Suppose we have an image in mind which has been caused by perceiving some object. It's possible that both the proposition we think (after which the visible object is patterned) is knowable to us, and it's also possible [and compatible with both direct and indirect realism] that the image we have in mind corresponds to that truth. It's possible if God knows that the proposition is indeed true and has been revealed as well as what images do and don't correspond to this truth, the one we have being among those which do - God doesn't need sensory organs to have images.  
If what image we have in mind matches [one of] God's, then it is connected with and so corresponds to that truth, regardless of whether we know such - on a Clarkian epistemology, we wouldn't, though this isn't problematic. That is, we don't need the image to know the truth to which an image (or, potentially, images) corresponds. We can, therefore, know propositions without possessing or connecting any corresponding non-propositional realities to them. 
Following the above remarks on a dualist or pluralist metaphysic, Scripturalists also have to recognize that there is a difference between the physical text of Scripture and the meaning of Scripture. This might seem basic, but I find lip service is sometimes paid to this distinction while the person simultaneously rejects that there even are physical qua non-propositional realities at all. Given this recognition, we need to ask what we have in mind when we talk about the philosophy of language. Are we talking about concepts and propositions, the corresponding physical words, or both? In this case, I'm talking about both. 

Now, according to Clark, we have physical words which tag meaningful propositions. And yet, Clark thinks words are arbitrary signs or symbols. If all words really were purely arbitrary signs, there would seemingly be no point in using them to communicate meaning. If a word has just as much possibility of being assigned one meaning as any other of the infinitude of possible meanings - as must be the case if truly arbitrary - then we could never have good reason to think any word corresponds to one meaning in particular. Our own attempts to communicate assume that we are at least in principle able to understand one another through physical coding of mental categories, how much more in the case of Scripture, a physical text the author of language uses to communicate? 

This leads to the question of whether the above line of reasoning leads to the idea sensation plays a justificatory role in the acquisition of internally and infallibly justified beliefs. I think not. Elsewhere, I have argued that beliefs can be externally justified when caused by a generally reliable process. I have also said sensation is such a process and cited Scripture to that effect. I think the idea that words are arbitrary signs would undercut reason for accepting externalist justification, as a belief in this idea would, for the above reasons, mitigate against reason for holding that sensations generally cause true beliefs with regard to understanding and communicating with one another. It at least begs the question as to why God would use physical words as a means of communication in functioning as secondary causes of beliefs.

Instead, suppose certain physical signs or symbols in Scripture non-arbitrarily cause us to understand and believe the meaning of divine revelation. Sellars' dilemma would be important with respect to the question raised in the last paragraph, because while sensation could be designed to cause certain beliefs, sensations nevertheless would not logically justify them, which is that with which internalist, infallibilist justification is concerned. Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified. So we can use physical signs and symbols to communicate or have communicated to us propositional meaning, but this doesn't require justificatory dependence on sensation in the context of infallibilist, internalist knowledge

As an interesting aside to end this post, if we suppose generally reliable causal processes are solely sensory-related, Sellars' dilemma exhibits a reason why a defense of externally justified beliefs presupposes internally justified beliefs. Any defense that sensations can externally justify beliefs must be premised on truth or truths. Suppose it is true "sensations can externally justify beliefs." We could not infer that truth from sensations, for sensations qua sensations are not true. So any defense that sensations can externally justify beliefs must be premised on something other than externalist justification, i.e. internalist justification. An externalist foundationalist might give up any pretense of defending his views - at best, he can merely repeat "I know externalism is true because this is externally justified (i.e. because externalism is true)" - but the apologetic tradeoff here is significant, not to mention whether he himself knows externalism is true or just whether externalism is true, to recall other posts in which I make the point self-knowledge is internalistic.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Everything is Everything

I’m a staunch Ironyc: everything is ironical. Objects, actions, various parts of speech – each of these individuals are sets, a congeries or combination, system or agglomeration, but at any rate a collection of ironies.

People, for example, are what they aren’t - how obvious this is in the case of this very post! - and ironically, no two are what each other is. Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of ironies.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of ironies too. And those who complain also are as they aren’t, which is especially ironic.

Secularists like Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be ironies. But I will show what several of my critics ironically consider paradoxical; to wit, persons are ironies. The simple justification is this: in the Bible, God and men mock each other. That must mean both are capable of being objects of ridicule. So they must metaphysically just be objects of ridicule. Further, God cannot be an object of ridicule for what He is, only for what He isn’t. And when men are mocked, it must be for what they are not, which must mean they are being mocked for what they are. Of course, per the above, this exegetically proves persons are ironies.

Far from my making it impossible for God to mock human beings, it is rather my critics who do so. Their view of the self is that of some Spott-an-sich. But Leibniz, whose words we must absolutely take into consideration, suggests that the ego is a complex irony. This definition is ironic in essence, and God mocks it because he determined what it should not be. On the other hand, it is something that the person himself may not laugh at, at least in this life.

Now, there is a philosopher who has argued that “if a word meant everything, it would mean nothing.” Apparently, for this philosopher, everything means nothing. How ironic!

But let’s seriously entertain his view for a moment, as it applies to ironies:
If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning, and this is to say that it has no meaning at all…Here then in the conclusion: The predicate ironical can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception. Dreams are ironical, mirages are ironical, the square root of minus one is ironical. These statements, however, are meaningless; they tell us nothing about dreams and the square root of minus one…Anything is ironical, so far as the term has any faint meaning at all. But it makes a great difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, or the square root of minus one. (link)
Perhaps this philosopher can riddle me this: if a thing's metaphysical makeup isn't ironical, how could God laugh at it? Why, that's like saying God could know what a thing is even if that thing's metaphysical makeup isn't propositional! And I'm pretty sure Leibniz wouldn't agree with that. Clearly, just because the predicate "ironical" - and we can throw the predicate "propositional" in for good measure - can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception doesn't mean these words are meaningless or mean nothing.

Transgenderism and Brain Activity

I've been discussing transgenderism recently. One argument that keeps making rounds is that some individuals experience brain activity which is more appropriately identified with the opposite sex than with their own. This allegedly validates said individuals identifying their gender, which is related to but distinct from sex, with the gender usually associated with the opposite sex. A few thoughts:

How is it that one sex has been classified as having certain brain activity and another sex has been classified as having different brain activity if there were supposed counter-examples (transgenders) in the first place? Is the argument that transgenders are outliers rather than examples of the range of diversity within each sexes' respective brain activity? Well, what is the basis for that argument?

Also, the extent to which transgender advocates are willing to argue that transgenderism is more commonplace than assumed is the extent to which this kind of evidence mitigates against their cause. The more commonplace you think transgenderism is, the less reason you have to say brain activity actually varies between the sexes.

If gender is a social construct, when did society construct the idea that brain activity determines gender? I must have missed that. 

Obviously, there is a public policy aspect to all of this. We're already seeing it in whether transgenders are allowed the use of opposite sex bathrooms. The reason we have opposite sex restrooms in the first place is the same reason we don't allow public nudity: it's an issue of public [in]decency.

Do we take people at their word? Or even after people are already applying arising "gender" issues to race, maturity, species, etc., are transgender advocates so naive as to think there won't be abuses - peeping Toms and the like? 

If brain activity really is a sufficient method for determining gender, will professing transgenders be made to verify themselves through brain scans in order for society to have to treat them as such, using opposite sex restrooms and the like? Will gender validation cards be dispensed, and gender policing enforced to ensure no systemic abuse occurs? Apparently not. But why?

I think advocates are afraid that brain scans wouldn't pass muster. Scans would leave out some people who come out as transgenders, and that would lead to accusations of intolerance or bigotry, which is the last thing such advocacy groups want. 

It's very convenient for secularists to be able to shift classifications to suit their public policy agenda at whim. They prefer to be able to broaden the tent than provide real boundaries. Again, as I said above, this eventually undercuts the evidence they will initially use, including brain activity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Aquascum, Developing Scripturalism, and Potential Rapprochement

It’s been nearly a decade since a short but well-constructed critique of Vincent Cheung's philosophy appeared. I’m referring to an article by a pseudonymous author, Aquascum, entitled Top Ten Reasons to Reject the "Scripturalist Package." This and a few of Aquascum’s more substantial papers are posted on the website of James Anderson, who apparently didn’t write them. 

On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter who wrote them. In polemical contexts in which two sides are presenting cases for the benefit of an audience, the arguments are more important than the arguers - and Aquascum makes some good arguments. In fact, I have yet to read a decent Scripturalist rebuttal. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough.

On the other hand, given how interesting and stimulating some of the material is, I would have liked it if I could know where else, if anywhere, Aquascum has written about apologetics. That’s a bit selfish, I suppose. As for why he didn’t write more, I gather that is because 1) he made all of the arguments he wanted to and 2) the person to whom his arguments were directed, Cheung, never really responded. Still, a recommended apologetic for Christianity, if not an actual presentation of one, would have been nice. As he said in his initial response:  
My primary concern is for those who read Cheung on Christian apologetics and somehow think his proposed method is a coherent one, worthy of imitation, and impervious to cogent rebuttal. It is not any of these...
I understand this concern, and I also understand a concern he might have had if he had further recommended an apologetic: Cheung et al. may have just focused on attacking that recommendation, making the apparent evasion of Aquascum’s criticisms less stark. But in consideration of people who Aquascum believed could be disillusioned of Cheung’s “invincibility” in one way or another, whether by unbelievers or intramural criticism - the latter being the light in which I believe Aquascum’s critique was intended to be read - I think such people really could have used some direction.

Additionally, I would argue, in apparent contrast to Aquascum (link), that applying reductio ad absurdum argumentation does require an epistemology on his part - namely, one which allows for use of that methodology. The legitimacy of assuming Cheung’s position for the sake of argument in order to discredit it must proceed from Aquascum’s “own premises,” whatever those may be. Aquascum might have replied that this begs the question in favor of internalism by requiring him to justify how he could legitimately use reductio ad absurdum argumentation. I will return to this point below. Of course, most of Cheung’s distinctives are problematic either way.

In any case, I decided to venture a few thoughts on Aquascum’s article. I don’t do this on Cheung’s behalf, I do it so that readers can see that Scripturalism needs to be developed beyond what Cheung (or Clark, for that matter) argues. Several of Aquascum’s points require familiarity with concepts in contemporary epistemology, which neither Cheung nor Clark discuss. I've been saying for a while now that Scripturalists should be taking contemporary epistemology more seriously, and a reason why becomes evident when reading these kinds of criticisms. Whether or not they touch one’s own particular formulation of Scripturalism, one should at least be able to understand the objections.

Aquascum’s ten reasons for rejecting the Scripturalist package are mostly summations of arguments he presents more fully in a few other articles, all of which I've read. I will reply in kind, noting that some of the responses I give are simplified recreations of arguments provided elsewhere on this blog, even while acknowledging that some of those arguments require further development.

A quick point with significant implications is that I think one can reject the "Scripturalist package" Aquascum presents without rejecting Scripturalism. Aquascum also seems to acknowledge this, as "Scripturalism" is but one of four other ideas he mentions which constitute this package.

For instance, while I would identify with Scripturalism, I don’t believe all things or even all [true] beliefs are immediately caused by God, although they are ultimately caused by God. Scripturalism doesn’t require and, as Aquascum points out, would in fact be incompatible with a thorough-going occasionalist metaphysic. So in my case, I see no reason to respond to arguments 5-7. Incidentally, I recently read some Scripturalists say Cheung doesn't deny secondary causation. I refer those Scripturalists to this post.

I also believe some kinds of “knowledge” can be fallible or can be justified on externalist grounds. So while I think some historic Christian doctrine can be infallibly and internally known by Scripture - a host of Christological doctrines quickly come to mind - I will forego further response to argument 10 for now. I also see no reason to respond to argument 2, except to note that Aquascum would have been more precise if he had said that Matthew 24:32 refutes, not Scripturalism per se, but an exclusively internalist and/or infallibilist epistemology. In Cheung's case, though, argument 2 is true, so I won't quibble too much about this.

I suppose acceptance of fallible knowledge and externalist justification also addresses arguments 3 and 4 insofar as I don’t believe infallibilism or internalism are "constraints" on knowledge, as if everything we can be said to "know" must satisfy the criteria of infallibilism and internalism. There are various forms or types or kinds of "knowledge." Of course, there is overlap: each involves true beliefs. But I would admit there is a middle ground between an arbitrarily held true opinion and infallibilist justification. I would also admit that God may have (and I think did) design certain secondary causes to effect true beliefs, which allows for externalist justification. It’s just a matter of teasing out the nuances of different meanings of epistemic terms with respect to their different contexts. Knowledge and epistemic justification don't mean the same thing in every context, nor do they need to. Aquascum knows this, many Scripturalists don’t seem to.

Rather than focusing on whether knowledge is solely or only infallible or internally justified, I think more relevant questions for me would be whether there are any beliefs must be known according to the prescriptions of infallibilism and internalism and, if so, what are they and how are they known. It is in answering these questions that I find a motivation for a qualified Scripturalism.

Now, whenever we ask whether anything "must be," a natural follow-up question is - for what? Must we ever drink and eat? Well, yes - to live. Must we accept the gospel? Yes - to be saved. Some people starve, and some die in sin, but the point is that in order to achieve certain ends, certain means must occur. 

So let's start with internalism. What ends do I have in mind when I say we must accept that there is internalist justification? There could be several contexts, I'll name two: apologetics and exegesis. It's one thing to have justification for your beliefs. Externalism is compatible with this, as in that case, what confers or grounds the justification of a belief isn't an intentional activity on the part of the believer. It's another thing to show you have justification or could have justification in holding some belief. That sort of justification is the result of a person's intentional activity and involves giving reasons or an explanation of what is[n't] or can['t] be known and how. 

Aquascum calls epistemological internalism "fairly implausible" and "disputable." Surely it is the latter. And I would agree that an internalist constraint is also implausible. But is internalist justification itself implausible? I don't think so. Nor, I think, should Aquascum think so.

Returning to my earlier statement that reductio ad absurdem argumentation presupposes an epistemology, Aquascum provides numerous reasons to reject Cheung's core beliefs. He doesn't just claim one could have justification for or could know this, he actually takes it upon himself to show that if we were to accept Cheung's position, we would have to reject it; hence, we should reject it. He presents reasons to reject the "Scripturalist package."

So doesn't reductio ad absurdem argumentation - or any argumentation, really - presuppose internalist justification? Apologetics is a defense of something. That defense consists of giving reasons for holding a certain worldview over against another. Aquascum is implicitly defending his own apologetic - thus, using his apologetic - in rejecting Cheung's. Aquascum views Cheung's apologetic as detrimental to Christendom. As such, his internal critiques are intended to defend Christianity, benefit readers, and, so it seems to me, to justify his conclusions about Cheung and what consequences should follow. This is completely understandable. But it would also be indicative of implicit acceptance of internalist justification.

Similarly, exegesis consists of giving reasons for holding one interpretation of Scripture over against another. One of Aquascum's papers is "How Mt 24:32 Refutes Scripturalism." In this paper, he exegetes Mt. 24:32. He makes a number of points about the text, all of which are intended to ultimately function as a justification of his conclusion that [Cheung's version of] Scripturalism is "self-referentially incoherent." That requires a certain interpretation of the passage. I think Aquascum's points are, in general, correct, but the point here is that internalist justification is not only plausible but also necessary for both apologetics and exegesis.

The issue of infallibilism is a bit more tricky. For I have already conceded that some knowledge can be fallible or merely probabilistic. That could extend to apologetics and exegesis. But let's see what can be said about this. For one thing, I do think infallibilist knowledge is possible - necessarily possible, actually. After all, the claim that "all [human] knowledge is fallible" would itself be fallible. It could be false. So even on purely fallibilistic grounds, infallibilist knowledge is necessarily possible.

But I think we can do better than that. If a pure fallibilist would admit infallible knowledge is necessarily possible, wouldn't he also have to acknowledge there is criteria according to which we could discriminate between fallible and infallible knowledge? The reason we wouldn't have infallible knowledge would only be because we couldn't satisfy the criteria. Then again, what of our knowledge of that criteria? If it were infallible, he wouldn't be a pure fallibilist. But if it were fallible, then he couldn't really acknowledge that there is any criteria according to which we could discriminate between fallible and infallible knowledge. Satisfaction of a fallible criteria would yield fallible beliefs.

Further, while I've argued pure fallibilism would necessarily entail that any belief could be false, such would seemingly include that necessary entailment! So in effect, pure fallibilism rejects necessity. It corresponds to pure possibilism in which everything and anything goes. In that case, everything could be true, could be false, could be both true and false, meaningless, etc. I don't see that this can be intelligibly defended, for any such defense would presuppose that concepts or propositions mean something definite. So either pure fallibilism is, as Aquascum would say, "self-referentially incoherent," or I've misunderstood what pure fallibilism is, in which case there would seem to be a case to be made for infallibilism anyway.

Now, clearly Scripturalism can't be defined how Cheung would define it per argument 1. But a rough, alternative definition of Scripturalism could be as follows: the belief that any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive with Scripture. I would primarily argue such on the basis of the problem of partial knowledge, about which I have written extensively (for example, herehere, here, here, and here, among others). These posts probably need to be updated to reflect subtle changes in my views. Either way, I could see a potential for epistemic and apologetic rapprochement along these lines, which is partly what motivated this post.

This leads me to a few final thoughts on Aquascum's 8th and 9th arguments, particularly 8a and 9a. 9b isn't a problem if 9a can be answered. Furthermore, 9b as well as 8b, 8c, and 9c seem to be directed at epistemologies with an infallibilist "constraint." So while I think Scripturalists who agree with Cheung could formulate cogent responses to a few of these scenarios, I don't see a need to.

8a and 9a respectively concern how a Scripturalist could know the law of non-contradiction or know himself. I think these are knowable in the same way internal justification and infallibilistic knowledge can be known. Here's what I mean: am I saying everyone needs to engage in apologetics and exegesis? No. Am I saying everyone possesses internally justified or infallible knowledge? No. Am I saying everyone knows the law of non-contradiction or himself? No.

But - and here's the point - are these ideas incompatible with Scripturalism? Or rather, are the contradictories of these ideas compatible with Scripturalism? Can one intelligibly defend a worldview which precludes internalist justification, infallible knowledge, the law of non-contradiction, or self-knowledge? No. But then, given such an answer, and given Scriptural affirmations of self-knowledge, the legitimacy of apologetics and interpretation of Scripture, etc. - given these things, is it not the case that Scripturalists necessarily could have internally justified, infallible knowledge, self-knowledge, or knowledge of the law of non-contradiction? I argue yes.

In addition to the aforementioned arguments for internalism and infallibilism, I've argued that self-knowledge is necessary in order to show one infallibly knows the canon of Scripture (here) and that self-knowledge can't consistently be denied (see here). Clearly, the law of non-contradiction can't be consistently denied. But I don't see how this would invalidate Scripturalism as defined above, not that I'm saying Aquascum intended to address that definition, obviously.

The point is, there are several propositions which must be true in order for a worldview to be true. To recognize any of these truths as such implies one should be able to recognize the others as such, and in this sense the truths are mutually dependent. If I accept the law of non-contradiction, I should also be able to accept that there are fundamental principles of language. I couldn't know either one without its being possible to know the other. But the same goes for the point that there is a need for a person (or persons) who is omniscient to communicate with us in order for us to know - in an internalist and infallibilist sense - anything. Can one defend this without being able to internally justify anything, know oneself, know linguistic principles, etc.? No. That being the case, all it takes for something to be internally justified and infallibly known is for it to be compatible with Scripturalism and its contradictory to be incompatible with it. The law of non-contradiction and self-knowledge both fall into this category.

There is more that needs to be said. Scripturalist meta-epistemology in particular needs to be addressed. Much as Aquascum's first reply to Cheung was intended to be the first, not last, word on the matter, so too I consider the above to be an outlined development of Scripturalism and, at best, a beginning. But I think it's a much needed beginning.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

History, Epistemology, and Divine Simplicity

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post outlining Clark's take on divine simplicity. I concluded that despite very obvious incompatibilities with other beliefs he held, Clark came to accept the doctrine, at some point in his life, that God is identical to each of His attributes revealed in Scripture. 

A quick point before moving on: is there a reason numerous theologians find it so surprising that Clark would render John 1:1 as meaning "the Logic was God"? Doesn't this follow from divine simplicity? It's not as if divine simplicity is a fringe doctrine, plenty of Reformed theologians have held it. But in that case, how is it any stranger to say "Logic is God" than "God is logical"? On above definition of divine simplicity, the subject and predicate are identical, neither being subordinate to the other. God is love, so love is God. God is eternal, so eternal is God. If God and His individual attributes really are identical, these other seemingly odd subject-predicate reversals are just as true. So is the objection that God isn't logical? Is it really solely a matter of exegetical warrant, when Clark basically wrote a whole book about it? This is just something I've been wondering.

Moving on, in the process of reviewing a few critiques of Clark given by his contemporaries - Robert Reymond's The Justification of Knowledge, Gordon R. Lewis' Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, and Ronald Nash's contribution in Clark and His Critics - I expanded my reading a bit and was somewhat surprised to read that each of these men, all of whom Clark respected, rejected the theory of divine simplicity as stated above. Consider the following statements:
…the temptation to distinguish between God’s “metaphysical essence” and his “nonmetaphysical nature,” and to make the former more primary than the latter, should be resisted. 
On the other hand, it is equally necessary, when we declare that God’s being is identical to his attributes, to resist the error of some medieval nominalists, who held that God’s attributes are nothing more than words (Lat. nomina), so that the distinctions which they suggest are not really present in the one divine essence. For surely God’s eternality is no more identical with his knowledge, his knowledge no more identical with his power, his power no more identical with his omnipresence, and his omnipresence no more identical with his holiness than is our knowledge identical with our power or our goodness identical with our finite extension in space. God’s attributes are real, distinguishable characteristics of his divine being. (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998, pgs. 162-163) 
The divine unity revealed in Scripture is not like a mystical Neo-Platonic “One” beyond all categories of human thought. The biblical oneness does not rule out distinguishable attributes and persons. 
Church tradition sometimes made matters more difficult than necessary by claiming that, as simple, God can really include no distinctions at all – not between essence and existence, act and potential, person and essence, or anything else… 
Those who deny any propositional information about God either inconsistently claim to hold that God is ontologically one or, more consistently, find themselves tending toward the new polytheism (discussed below). (Gordon R. Lewis, Integrative Theology, 2010, link
The doctrine of simplicity is the belief that God is identical with His nature or His properties. Another aspect of the theory teaches that God’s essence is indivisible in the sense that God’s properties are not parts of God’s nature… 
Once we state that God’s essence has no parts, however, a problem arises. Human beings could never have knowledge of an absolutely simple essence… 
If human beings necessarily conceive God differently than He really is, is there conception of God not therefore false? 
…equating God with each of His properties entails that each of God’s properties is identical with His other properties. If A is identical with B and if B is identical with C, then A is identical with C. Clearly, then, if God is identical with His property of knowledge and also identical with His property of goodness, it then follows that the property of knowledge is identical with the property of perfect goodness. If each of God’s properties is identical with all of God’s other properties, the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that God has only one property. But this is mystifying, to say the least. While obviously there are many things about God that human beings may be incapable of comprehending, one of the things we do seem to know very clearly is that power and love and knowledge and mercy are not identical properties (Ronald Nash, The Concept of God, 1983, pgs. 85. 86. 94)
Apropos this last paragraph by Nash, I would like to highlight and expand on something I wrote in my previous post:
...if a simple God's essence is identical to His attributes, His attributes would be identical. In that case, none of those attributes could be univocally predicated of us, as we are not God. Further, we would not be able to know God, analogically or otherwise, as He knows Himself.
Note the impact of the impossibility of univocal predication on the subject of God and ourselves as knowers. We aren't, for example, eternal. But if, as divine simplicity entails, God's eternality is identical to God's knowing, knowledge, or being a knower of [any given] truth, then we couldn't univocally know what God knows without ourselves being eternal [et al.], i.e. God. I don't even really need to mention other epistemic difficulties divine simplicity faces, let alone more general theological problems. So I won't bother. 

But I do want to note that in reading through Van Til's A Survey of Christian Epistemology (link), I've found that for him, like for Aquinas, analogical knowledge is rooted - at least in part, as I still think an acceptance of Hegelian internal relations played a significant role in Van Til's acceptance of analogical knowledge - in divine simplicity:
If the theistic position is true, the that or existence of any finite “fact” depends upon the what or connotation. God has given that fact. If theism is true, connotation and denotation are identical in the case of the personality of God. The what of God is the that of God. It is this that furnishes the foundation for and is the ground of the necessity of analogical reasoning... 
And it is exactly because of our deep conviction that God is one and truth is therefore one, that we hold that there is only one type of argument for all men.
So God's existence is His essence and vice versa, and God is so simple that any truth He knows must be simple. Note too Van Til's replies to Buswell at the end of the book, in which he conflates 1) God having the possibility or potential to know and will in ways other than He has with 2) the idea God is incomplete in regards to His being. This implies Van Til subscribed to the idea God's will and knowledge are identical to God's being. These are all classic features of divine simplicity. 

Is it any wonder why such a metaphysic led Van Til to voice the complaint against Clark which he did? Divine simplicity naturally leads to the rejection of univocal knowledge between God and man. Again, Clark's metaphysical views need to be reexamined.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Correspondence, Dualism and Epistemology

I’ve received a reply to this post I wrote a few years ago on Clark’s metaphysics. Hopefully I can clarify some seeming confusion:
For Ryan Hedrich, the philosopher Gordon Clark was so wary of the potentially anti-Christian consequences of an empirical epistemology that he was forced to adopt an unusual metaphysics.
I don't see how Clark’s metaphysic as stated in the quote provided is unusual. It just shows that Clark was a dualist. He believed in physical and mental realities. This is well represented in the history of philosophy, and it shows that Clark didn't always (if ever) hold to propositional monism. Rather, "reality is complex" (link).

Clark often helps himself to terminology of non-Christian philosophers to make his points. I wouldn't say his use of “noumena” and “phenomena” were meant to specifically identify his position with Kant any more than Clark’s use of “infimae species” was specifically meant to identify his position with Aristotle. Clark defines noumena and phenomena as “things which do not appear” and “things that are seen,” respectively. That's as far as he goes.
Thus, Clark's epistemology appears to be a kind of Kantian representationalism. The human perceives a phenomenon which is a pale representation of a thing in itself.
Well, so far as Clark's epistemology itself is concerned, I don't know that this follows, although Clark himself may have thought so (though I doubt it). Either way, I've been working on developing Clark's epistemology. I note here, for example, that a correspondence theory of truth – some variation of which, I think, must follow from Clark’s dualism – doesn't imply a certain epistemology, but nor do I see that it implies a certain metaphysic, like direct or indirect realism, a point to which I will return below. 

Knowledge is indeed propositional. Truth is indeed propositional. But truth is connected to non-propositional realities: "Phenomena come from noumena." If they weren't so connected, then we would have no means by which to even allude to non-propositional realities.

I probably shouldn't have referred to non-propositional realities by using terminology like “thing-in-itself” or “Ding-an-sich.” I can see why the author believed me to be insinuating some sort of Kantian metaphysic, when in reality I only wanted to highlight that Clark was a dualist. But I was just coming to realize certain elements of Clark's metaphysical views were wrong, such as that persons are the propositions they think. My goal was to show that persons can't just be the propositions they think, from which I hoped to buttress the dualism Clark elsewhere espoused. A more recent post of mine does a better job of exposing the problem with Clark's view of personhood (link)
However, Hedrich notes that later, in Clark and His Critics, Clark rejects the existence of an unknowable thing in itself. Instead, all knowledge is propositional. Humans know something if the propositional content of our minds corresponds with that of God's proposition. But are these two views really incompatible? Perhaps the Clarkian can believe that human perception of an object consists of a representation of a thing in itself, but that this representation, though possibly true, does not consist of knowledge, since the individual can never know for sure whether or not or to what extent his representation corresponds with a sensory object.
Precisely, except that it may be somewhat imprecise to say a representation is "possibly true." We can never know a representation qua representation is true; a representation as such cannot be true. Rather, I think it is more precise to say a representation (and I believe this is assuming indirect realism) is possibly connected to a given truth. 

Suppose we have an image in mind which has been caused by perceiving some object. It's possible that both the proposition we think (after which the visible object is patterned) is knowable to us, and it's also possible [and compatible with both direct and indirect realism] that the image we have in mind corresponds to that truth. It's possible if God knows that the proposition is indeed true and has been revealed as well as what images do and don't correspond to this truth, the one we have being among those which do - God doesn't need sensory organs to have images.

If what image we have in mind matches [one of] God's, then it is connected with and so corresponds to that truth, regardless of whether we know such - on a Clarkian epistemology, we wouldn't, though this isn't problematic. That is, we don't need the image to know the truth to which an image (or, potentially, images) corresponds. We can, therefore, know propositions without possessing or connecting any corresponding non-propositional realities to them. 

This is all a bit speculative, but it reflects my current thinking on the subject and illustrates how it is possible to reconcile dualism with Clark's epistemology. Of course, the issue of direct and indirect realism ought to be worked out if it can be, as should the question of how non-propositional realities perceived by means other than physical sight can be connected to truth.
The human's propositional thought concerning the object is certainly true if it corresponds with God's thought about the object, but the individual cannot be certain of its truth, and thus, it does not consist of knowledge. Sense-perception of phenomena is not propositional. It is for this reason that it is not knowledge. Perhaps Gordon Clark can be said to have a representational theory of sense-perception truth while a direct realist theory of knowledge. Thus, it might be said that, at least as far as sense-perception is concerned, Clark might be committed to a representationalist theory of truth, as well as a representationalist position of the contents of consciousness (this, of course, would be restricted to the contents of sensory truth).
I would hesitate to use phrases like "sensory truth" and "sense-perception truth," as well as hesitate to limit Clark's dualism to indirect realism, but I think I understand the intentions of the author and thank him for the chance to update my views on the meaning of correspondence between truth and non-propositional realities, and its [non]impact on philosophic knowledge, which I have been meaning to do for some time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Scripturalism, Occasionalism, and Kinds of Epistemic Justification

In recent months, I've written posts on internalism and externalism here and here. In those posts, I’ve either argued or cited arguments from contemporary epistemologists that internalism is 1) at least a precondition for a defense of an externalist view of epistemic justification and 2) tied to a Scripturalistic epistemology. This requires further development, but I wanted to examine whether externalism is compatible with Scripturalism. Can some beliefs we have be in some sense justified by virtue of having been caused a certain way - say, a way which was divinely designed to, in general, produce true beliefs? I believe they can be, but this would seem to require jettisoning the idea that all our beliefs are efficiently caused by God; that is, an unqualified occasionalism must be rejected. 

In my experience, occasionalism seems to have gained considerable ground among Scripturalists. I've defended the view myself, but as I've found myself increasingly changing my mind on quite a few metaphysical issues related to Clark, it doesn't shock me to be revisiting this metaphysical theory of causation. Formerly, I considered the view that persons are propositions, a two person theory of the incarnation, and the idea the one God is a genus to be defensible, if not true; now, I don't. And while I had changed my mind on necessitarianism once (toward favor of it), I'm now finding myself inclined to change it back (against it). So I don't deny I'm still sorting through these issues. Frankly, they are more complicated than most Christians deal with, Nevertheless, I think philosophic knowledge can be attained regarding these topics. However, this requires a critical - though not uncharitable - eye towards anything besides divine revelation, including Clark. I don't want readers to get the wrong idea; recent criticisms of Clark's metaphysical views ultimately stem from an appreciation of his work on the whole. But he wasn't the be-all, end-all of Christian apologetics. Neither am I, for that matter. Clark may or may not have been the deepest Christian thinker since Augustine - but Augustine made quite a few mistakes too. I think Clark would agree that whether one should accept a systematization of doctrine should depend on the resultant system, not the person who systematized it. This is why I, like Clark, don't mind opening myself to criticism. I often benefit from it.

Back to the topic at hand, Gordon Clark's clearest affirmation of occasionalism is found in Lord God of Truth (1994):
We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause, for only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well. Even the Westminster Divines timidly agree, for after asserting that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and that "no purpose of yours can be withheld from you" (Job 42:2), they add, "Although... all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes...." What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions. But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation. (pg. 27)
This comes toward the tail end of a section entitled "Causality and Causation." There are a few other points in this section that are of note. Clark says that "while Hume denied all miracles, there was a medieval Moslem who anticipated Hume's arguments against causality and concluded that every event is a miracle. Since no sensation can be the cause of another sensation, every event is immediately caused by God" (pgs. 24-25). I take it Clark is referring to Al G[h]azali, the occasionalist he mentions he agrees with a few pages later. This, then, is another explicit affirmation of occasionalism, and it identifies occasionalism with immediate divine causation.

Clark also outlines what he means by causation. Causes are always "temporally distinct" from effects (pg. 25). In the span of time between alleged causes and effects, however, "several things could have happened" that did not happen; for example, even though Archduke Ferdinand was killed, World War I could have conceivably been averted (pgs. 25-26). I guess this was written before Clark became a necessitarian. Given that, I'm not sure how he would have altered this section. Surely, he would have had to, as his arguments for occasionalism all hinge on the idea that something other than what did happen could have happened - as such, God must be the determinative factor of any event.

But even if necessitarianism isn't true, there isn't any reason to suppose occasionalism is true. For instance, would Clark argue that something could have intervened between regeneration and faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification such that the latter wouldn't necessarily occur given the former? At the time Clark wrote Lord God of Truth, would Clark have argued that there could have been a possible world in which the golden chain of redemption didn't hold? That regeneration only leads to faith due to divine fiat rather than anything entailed in the act of regeneration itself? Or take this example: is there no intrinsic connection between disobedience and punishment? That sounds like an Islamic theology of God. Come to think of it, Islam popularized occasionalism in the first place. Coincidence? Would Clark really have held that disobedience wasn't necessarily a mediate, secondary cause of punishment?

I don't think so. If he wouldn't, then that's two clear, biblical counter-examples to Clark's argument. In this case, to insist God immediately causes the latter events would beg the question, as the argument for immediate divine causation was supposedly derived from the idea that something else could have occurred between any two actual events other than what actually did occur. 

If, on the other hand, Clark would have conceded that these latter events were only such due to divine fiat, it would be ironic that Clark changed his mind from a kind of metaphysical hyper-possibilism to necessitarianism... a necessitarianism which seems to eliminate any need for occasionalism anyway. There is already a necessary connection among all events, so any earlier event could justly be called a cause of a later event.

And in the case that Clark would have held to this hyper-possibilism - which, again, I doubt, but would naturally lead to a rejection of a completely occasionalist theory of causation - other changes in Clark's system would be inevitable. I'll name a few examples.

While Clark rejected Kant’s preformation theory of knowledge (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 389), he accepted some kind of theory which posits innate ideas from birth, innate ideas which become intelligible once "the heat of experience is applied" (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 203). But what need is there for such innate ideas if God is always the direct cause of inputting belief and knowledge into one’s mind at will? He wouldn't even need to instill a rational faculty until he willed to impart these first beliefs; tabula rasa is not so easily dismissed after all, it seems. 

Or why defend traducianism so strenuously if the reality that Adam is or was our federal head has no intrinsic connection to the fact that Adam is our natural ancestor? Are our souls not even secondarily caused by our parents? Note what Clark says here:
Then when he comes to the transmission of inborn depravity, and the difficulty of thinking that God immediately creates sinful souls, he appeals to secondary and mediate causes, thus abandoning the idea of immediate creation... 
Berkhof begins with a short but very fair statement of traducianism, including some of its Scriptural support. He refers to only one verse in favor of creationism, namely, Psalm 104:30. But if this verse teaches creationism, it follows that the souls of all animals and all plants are also immediately created. Now, it is true that the Old Testament assigns both souls and spirits to animals, and if a creationist wishes to accept the point, he is consistent. Those who oppose the theory of traducianism in the case of human beings, but deny it of animals, are inconsistent. An interesting, if inconclusive, point. But it certainly keeps God busy creating... 
The third objection is not an objection at all: It is something that traducianists admit, indeed assert, and use as an objection against creationism. Berkhof says, “(3) It proceeds on the assumption that, after the original creation, God works only mediately”(198). This, however, is not precisely an assumption: It is an exegesis of Scripture.
Sounds right to me. But this not only contradicts occasionalism, it directly conflicts with Clark's earlier assertion that "secondary causes" in the WCF are conceptually equivalent to Malebranchian occasions.

Or what was the point of inscripturation, if the physical texts which correspond to eternal thoughts of God don't actually serve any secondary, causative function? One can argue that upon encountering such physical realities, God sometimes immediately causes belief in the corresponding propositional realities so that there is a some kind of correlation between the two events - even though God doesn't always cause the same response, questioning the legitimacy of even asserting a correlation - but why make matters so complicated? Why not just say that God designed physical realities in such a way that they generally cause, in the absence of opposing conditions (e.g. partially covering one's eyes while reading), certain beliefs? How is this even disadvantageous to Scripturalism? What's the advantage of occasionalism, other than that its meaning is easy to explain? Is that even an advantage, or just another indication of how lazy Scripturalist apologetics has, in general, become?

Or what about prophecies and insincere believers? When Scripture says that we can "know" that a prophecy has passed or failed, "know" someone by their fruits, etc., does it really mean that we can "make lucky guesses"? Do the authors mean we can have a true opinion of something... without having any reason for thinking that opinion is true? Does that seem like a likely explanation of what "know" means in those passages? 

But aside from these disadvantages of occasionalism, there are more tangible benefits to discarding the doctrine - again, at least as it is posited as a complete metaphysical explanation of the nature of causation. For instance, I mentioned above a possible synthesis of Scripturalism with externally justified beliefs. Why would occasionalism preclude externally justified beliefs? If God is the direct cause of all things, that would include disbelief in Him as well as belief. Most people don't believe in God, let alone various biblical doctrines, let alone all other disagreements of which only one position - at most - can be true. Roughly, the point is that a metaphysic which posits that God immediately causes all beliefs would preclude the possibility that our beliefs are justified because they have been caused by a process which is, in general, unreliable (insofar as it does not, in general, yield true beliefs). A rejection of occasionalism allows for the possibility of externally justified beliefs, which seems like a good way to interpret the sort of "knowledge" we can have regarding prophecies, the sincerity of others' professions of faith, and so on. We can't forget the commitment Scripturalism has to internalism, but this isn't problematic so long as we keep the distinction between types of justification in mind when we refer to certain beliefs as "justified" or "known." 

And speaking of internalism, this view isn't compromised by admitting there are secondary causes. To say some belief can’t be internally justified for no other reason than that it is caused in a certain way is a genetic fallacy. Scripturalists are (or, in my opinion, ought to be) doxastic foundationalists: in short, a belief is philosophically known only if appropriately inferred from other [internally] justified beliefs or if the belief in question is self-justified or self-evident, in which case it is foundational, a first principle, axiom, presupposition, etc. But it doesn’t matter whether such a belief was the result of secondary causation or directly mediated to our minds via divine causation. Ultimately, everything is caused by God. On internalism, the causal origin of the belief doesn’t feature into whether the axiomatic belief itself is self-justified, especially if the resultant epistemic system can provide an account of the means by which we know.

Furthermore, the justificatory function of sensation or perception on externalism need only be causal, not logical. We don’t need to show our beliefs are justified externally in order for them to be, they just are because they are the product of a generally reliable causal system, i.e. a system which generally produces true beliefs – which makes sense, given divine providence. We also don't necessarily need to know what the causes of our beliefs are or whether such causes are divinely ordained as generally reliable in order for the beliefs themselves to have the status of being externally justified. All that matters is that they just are the effects of a generally reliable cause.

Now, what subordinate externalist schema we posit could itself be logically as well as causally justified. What we can internally know can lead to the idea that we externally know. But the point is that this proposed synthesis can in principle allow us to be in some sense (i.e. the externalist sense) justified in believing a person is an insincere believer, when summer is near, and so forth without requiring us to argue how we know it. If our belief is true, and if it was caused in according to a manner which God specifically designed to generally function as yielding true beliefs, then our belief is justified, even if we do not know such in the internalist sense. 

Again, externally justified beliefs are always subordinate to internally justified beliefs - thus, the latter establish limits to the former - but this does allow Scripturalists to account for certain types of knowledge in Scripture as well as the potential to expand apologetic impact by coupling it with other possibilities, like allowing that extrascriptural beliefs can be probilified by explanatory value and coherence. A few arguments against empirical knowledge may need to be qualified as solely applying to an internalistic and infallibilistic schema, but otherwise, the tradeoffs in rejecting a purely occasionalist theory of causation seem well worth it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Apologetics and Epistemology

Recently, I was reading Gordon Lewis' summary and critique of Gordon Clark's apologetic in Testing Christianity's Truth Claims. Clark said Lewis' representation of his position here was done "better than any other critic" (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 394). Clark provides his own response to Lewis in that book. I just want to highlight a few points related to Clark's apologetic I think should be made clearer.

To begin his final section of his chapter on Clark - his "Evaluation" - Lewis writes: "Suppose for the moment that consistency is the sole test of truth-claims, as Clark asserts." (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119). Clark points out this isn't true. In one of his earliest books (originally published in the late 1940s), for example, Clark wrote: "While consistency is one of the basic reasons for adopting a world-view, from a more proximate standpoint the world-view must function as a practical postulate" (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pg. 42). For some reason, this tends to be an overlooked point. 

For Christians, apologetics serves a certain function: "to defend the truth of Christianity against the attacks of its enemies" (link). Attacks can come in different varieties and relate to different fields, but basically, they all question that Christianity is true or knowable. If an apologetic has nothing to say about these different fields and has no relevance to whether Christianity is true or knowable, it isn't practical.

The other point I want to make also relates to the function of apologetics. Lewis seems to make the mistake of equating Clark's "test[s] for truth" with how a Christian knows the truth. He mistakes Clark's apologetic for Clark's epistemology. Lewis writes:
Admittedly, Christianity's truth-claims cannot be proved by inductive evidence. But Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity, of all the systems men have known, is alone consistent. Notice what is necessary for Clark to establish that thesis. He must show the inconsistency of every other system in history and on the contemporary scene... On what grounds does Clark know that there could not be two or more consistent systems? He assumes that only one system could possibly be consistent. (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119, 120)
Note that the following isn't true: "Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity... is alone consistent." Rather, Clark chooses to argue their truth because Christianity is alone consistent. This is the difference between apologetics and epistemology. Apologetics consists in making arguments. This is not always so in epistemology - axioms are not known because they are the conclusion of some argument, they are known because they are self-authenticating. 

Clark has to argue for Christianity via logical consistency and practicality because, at the risk of stating the obvious, he can't know Christianity for those to whom he is engaging in apologetics. He could just say divine revelation is self-authenticating and leave it at that, but it is more persuasive (which is another function of apologetics) to additionally point out, when applicable, that an opponent's system 1) can't be self-authenticating if his system inconsistent or impractical, or 2) that his system is less coherent than Christianity is, in the case of something like Judaism.

Lewis seems to think that Clark's tests for truth are the basis on which Clark claims to know Christianity. That is really the only explanation for why Lewis would think Clark would have to sift through infinitely many systems before knowing that just one, Christianity, is consistent. But that interpretation goes completely against what Lewis himself stated Clark believed regarding the nature and knowability of axioms earlier in his summary. 

While "test[s] for truth" can serve as confirmatory evidences of Christianity, they shouldn't function as the ground of knowledge; divine revelation does. Elsewhere, I have called tests for truth necessary conditions for knowledge and the postulate[s] by which one claims to know anything the sufficient condition[s] for knowledge (link). The former are the means by which we make arguments for (i.e. apologetics) the latter (i.e. epistemology). 

Again, apologetics should include an explanation of the epistemology of the system one is defending. Any good defense of a system of knowledge should explain what that system says about how we can know anything. But that explanation and defense should not be confused for that actual process of knowing. In fact, apologetics is only possible insofar as we know the system we are defending is true in the first place (see here). 

As for where Clark stated these points - that axioms are known because they are self-authenticating, not the conclusion of an apologetic, and that consistency isn't the [sole] means by which we know Christianity is true - a few quotes should suffice:
This disjunct faces two replies. First, it assumes that a first principle cannot be self-authenticating. Yet every first principle must be. The first principle of Logical Positivism is that a sentence has no meaning unless it can be verified (in principle at least) by sensory experience. Yet no sensory experience can ever verify this principle. Anyone who wishes to adopt it must regard it as self-authenticating. So it is with all first principles. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 47)  
Undoubtedly I hold that truth is a consistent system of propositions. Most people would be willing to admit that two truths cannot be contradictories; and I would like to add that the complex of all truths cannot be a mere aggregate of unrelated assertions. Since God is rational, I do not see how any item of his knowledge can be unrelated to the rest. Weaver makes no comment on this fundamental characteristic of divine truth. 
Rather, he questions whether this characteristic is of practical value, and whether it must be supplemented in some way. It is most strange that Weaver here says, “I must agree with Carnell,” as if he had convicted me of disagreeing with Carnell by providing no supplementation whatever. Now, I may disagree with the last named gentleman on many points, but since it is abundantly clear that I “supplement” consistency by an appeal to the Scripture for the determination of particular truths, it is most strange that Weaver ignores my supplementation. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 290)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Doctrines and Beliefs

I was discussing the perspicuity of Scripture with a few Roman Catholics recently, and the question of essential and non-essential doctrines for salvation was raised. What does one need to believe (or not reject) in order to be saved? Where does Scripture distinguish between what doctrines are and are not essential?

Clearly, there is no single, cookie-cutter evangelistic statement. There isn't just one, authorized way of communicating the gospel. That's why the summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is a bit long, the Philippian jailer is told one thing, the Ethiopian eunuch is told something else, the conversation Jesus had with the two men following His resurrection must have taken some time, and so forth. A variety of considerations naturally come into play which explain why different statements were made in each of these cases. But I don't see why this implies a problem for the Protestant. None of this implies Scripture doesn't distinguish between essential and non-essential doctrines. The statements in the above passages are consistent with one another and touch on univocal elements. 

A Protestant, to be consistent with Scripture as his ultimate rule of faith, could go through Scripture and find out what was preached when the apostles witnessed and what else in Scripture is said to be related to the gospel and salvation. He could try to compile a comprehensive list. This would make for a useful exercise, but given that the gospel can be communicated by various statements, it isn't necessary. One doesn't have to read the whole New Testament to be saved. The Corinthian church didn't have to have the "second" letter from Paul to know the gospel outlined in the "first." Knowledge of a few passages suffices, though the more you know, the better.

Protestants could also just suggest that one should believe all of Scripture - if one does this, there is no problem as to what is essential and non-essential. This response in particular strikes me as a bit implausible, though, for while all Scripture is useful, there are fundamentals which the apostles encouraged new believers to drink as milk and yet chastised other believers for not being able to move beyond. Don't be unreasonable in your expectations of a new believer's ability to understand meaty doctrine.

Obviously, we should believe all of Scripture, and all of Scripture is understandable. But Scripture is a complex communication of interrelated doctrines, some of which are implicit. Memorizing Scripture is one thing, systematizing all the inferences is another. Does any professing Christian claim to have attained this? Is to too far to assert that we don't have the capacity - now, at any rate - to believe all of Scripture at once? Does this not indicate certain content should receive priority when witnessing to an unbeliever?

This is all pretty standard, but it brings up another point. I've been advocating that Scripturalists update the subject matter of their arguments, and in the vein of continuing to do so on this blog, I thought I'd apply the distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs here. 

An occurrent belief is a belief one has, considers, entertains, etc. at a given time. A dispositional belief is a belief one would [or, to give a necessitarian spin to this (link), could consistently be imagined to] have under certain circumstances - say, if one asked a person a question about whether or not he believes some proposition.

So let's look at the discussion of essential and nonessential doctrines from a different angle. Does everything one could list that I "would" need to agree with in order to be saved actually need to be an occurrent belief rather than a dispositional one? The answer is negative. When a believer sleeps, he doesn't usually, at least in my experience, actively believe "Jesus died and was raised for my sins." He's disposed to believe that. And we don't become unbelievers when we [occurrently] think something other than "Jesus died and was raised for me." All of this also indicates that even a Scripturalist who sincerely believes that "a person is what he thinks" must take "thinks" in a dispositional sense, so he should have no problem accepting this distinction.

However, in these cases, the actual or occurrent belief that "Jesus died and was raised for my sins" had already occurred at least once prior to my sleeping or thinking about something else. A better question is: do all propositions relating to the gospel need to have been occurrent at some prior time in order for one to be currently disposed to believe all of them? I don't see why. The burden of proof would be on the one who believes this to be the case to explain why.

Of course, I'm not saying one shouldn't entertain actual thoughts about the gospel. Less trivially, we can't know who is disposed to believe what. We have to act based on what we believe to be the case. This bears on the question of whether we should preach the whole counsel of God. I sometimes hear the argument that Christians should just list a minimal amount of propositions needed to be believed for salvation. That way, the audience isn't exposed to what I guess the arguers would call unnecessary potential obstacles to belief. 

But in considering the above distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs, as witnesses, evangelists, and apologists of God's word, we only become aware that those to whom we are speaking actually were disposed to believe some doctrine when we actually confront them with it to see if they occurrently accept it, reject, or require clarification of it. 

If one rejects a non-essential doctrine, while that doesn't necessarily mean the person isn't saved, the situation bears correction and watching. Christians make mistakes, but they should be teachable. It helps when the so-called teachers aren't constantly accusatory and defensive, which seems to be the case in many apologetic discussions. But sometimes, disagreements are never settled. That's just a fact of life we have to deal with. Sanctification is a process.

To the main point. If one rejects an essential doctrine, that's how we know he wasn't disposed to believe it and how we know he can't occurrently believe the gospel. If he accepts the essential doctrine, then we would have prima facie grounds - and here, Scripturalism needs to update its epistemology to account for kinds of justified belief other than infallibilistic - for believing they already had the disposition to believe it. 

This point is relevant to cases where certain parts of the gospel may have been left unsaid in an evangelistic encounter, for even as, in that case, we could not have [as strong] grounds for believing that the audience became or were believers, for we would have no evidence of their dispositions toward what was left unsaid, God could know whether He had disposed them to believe. They could be saved after all.

Again, this doesn't discount or discourage us from activity, for we don't have access to this divine knowledge, assuming it is divinely known. We work with what we have. But that it is a possibility at all is of some note in a discussion about what must one "believe" to be saved.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Further Problems with Clark's Metaphysical View of Persons

I've explained elsewhere why Clark's metaphysical theory of personhood leads to his two-person theory of the Incarnation (here). This two-person theory is flawed because it is manufactured by an illusory problem that it doesn't even solve. If it is a problem for Jesus to be one person, is it not a problem that Jesus is one subject? Or if you can explain why the latter fact isn't a problem, don't you in principle have an explanation for why the former theory needn't be problematic?

I've also explained elsewhere why Clark's theory of persons would imply the unbiblical view that God is metaphysically dependent on creation (here).

Others have pointed out problems with Clark's theory (for example, see here).

I'm going to note a few more problems. But firstly, it isn't clear whether Clark consistently held the same metaphysical view of persons throughout his life. For instance:
Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be known. Hegel’s fault, or one of them, was to make the concept rather than the propositions the object of knowledge. But a concept is as unknowable as an individual. “Pen” is neither true nor false. Only a proposition can be true. “The pen belongs to Herr Krug” may be true; it may be false; but a concept in isolation is not an object of knowledge. Truth always comes in propositions.  
Two quotations from Leibniz enforced the application of this principle to persons. In fact the citations will do double work. They will show that knowledge of a person is propositions (and thus they bear on what several of my critics consider paradoxical, to wit, persons are propositions), and at the same time they will bring home the lesson from Plotinus that knowledge of oneself is no easy, off-hand, immediate experience, but of all things immensely difficult...  
Far from my making it impossible for God to know human beings, it is rather Professor Nash who does so. His view of the self is that of some Ich-an-sich. Leibniz suggests that the ego is a complex definition, including the life history of the person, and no doubt his state in a future world as well. This definition is not unknowable in essence, and God knows it because he determined what it should be. On the other hand, it is something that the person himself does not know, at least in this life. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs 148-149)
On this view, persons are just propositions. Clark is here silent as to whether or not they are propositions they think, as he argued later in his life:
Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. 
This is true of the Trinity also, for although each of the three Persons is omniscient, one thinks “I or my collection of thoughts is the Father,” and the second thinks, “I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature.” The Father does not think this second thought, nor does the Son think the first. This is the qualitative theory of individuation, as opposed to the space-time theory: No two leaves in the forest are exactly alike, and Leibniz’ Alexander the Great is defined by his history. Even if trees could be individuated by space and time, the persons of the Trinity, as said above, could not; nor could human souls or other spirits.  
Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of propositions.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of propositions too. And those who complain are as they think. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 129)
The last paragraph does say that persons are propositions, but a problem is that it's a bit too fast. Thoughts don't have to be propositions. We can think about questions or commands, both of which Clark distinguished from propositions yet admitted are necessarily capable of being “understood,” “known,” and “intellectually grasped.” Clark argued that “every declarative sentence – in fact, even questions and commands – are examples of logic” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 24, June 1981, pg. 168). So then which is it? Are we (and the Trinity) merely sets of propositions, or are we also the commands and questions we think?

Let's forget about that for now. Let's say we are what we think - specifically, the propositions we think. But sometimes, we think falsely as well as truly. Clark admits as much himself, including the false propositions we think in our individual, personal definitions as well as the true ones: 
Therefore, since God is Truth, we shall define person, not as a composite of sensory impressions, as Hume did, but rejecting with him the meaningless term substance, we shall define person as a composite of truths. A bit more exactly, since all men make mistakes and believe some falsehoods, the definition must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks... Whether the propositions be true or false, a person is the propositions he thinks (The Incarnation, 1988, pgs. 54-55).
However, given Clark's statements that “No one more than I insists on the necessity of a single self-consistent worldview” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? 1990, pg. 111), doesn't that mean that, metaphysically speaking, we are contradictions? If there is a single, self-consistent worldview, any false thought we have must be contradictory to any true thought we have. The result is that either God doesn't know us or God is a dialetheist, which is about as far removed from Clark's "consistency" theory of truth (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs. 142-145, 290-291, etc.) as one could get.

Of course, if one bites the bullet and argues God doesn't have to know us, then Clark's whole motivation for persons metaphysically being propositions in the first place is gone. God either doesn't need to know us or, as I think, we don't have to metaphysically just be propositions in order for God to know us, for what we metaphysically are was determined by God to correspond to some truth which God knows.

Now instead, let's say we are just a set of propositions and disregard what it is that we think. We are a complex definition that God has determined, per the above exposition of Leibniz. In that case, mustn't whatever set of propositions God knows us to be, whatever set of propositions we are, be changeless - which would make us eternal - on pain of making God's knowledge change? As propositions, we must be the objects of God's thoughts; if we change, God's thoughts and knowledge must change. Most Clarkians don't believe God's knowledge can change, but the resultant implication goes much farther than this or even a corollary to a B-series theory of time called eternal creation; in this case, we ourselves would cease to be temporal. We wouldn't change. This is opposed to Clark's own beliefs, and, at any rate, clearly unbiblical.

But suppose we allow that the set of propositions we are changes, and so God's knowledge changes. I've argued elsewhere (without endorsing the view) that God could be eternally omniscient and yet have determined that His knowledge will change in accordance with changes in time. In fact, per the above quote, it seems Clark unwittingly admits this to be the case in the incarnation (“I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature”). [Lest anyone think Clark's change of view on the incarnation may have affected this, he says on pg. 55 of The Incarnation (1988): “Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex.”]

It would take someone extremely committed to Clark's metaphysic of personhood to goes so far as to admit God is temporal just to save it, for he would have to give up Clark's motivations for necessitarianism and divine eternality. Worse, however, I think this view leads to a kind of process theology or divine becoming. For if persons are propositions, the persons of the Trinity must be propositions. And if "the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y" is true at one time and false at another (corresponding to the time[s] at which He decreed we change as persons), does this not imply metaphysical change on the part of the Father? 

One would have to state that this proposition ("the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y") isn't essential to or found in the complex definition of the Father at any time (and likewise the Son and Spirit). But then, this implies "the Father is omniscient" isn't to be found in the definition of the Father either, for the truth of this latter proposition hinges on the truth[s] of the former. And then by parity of reasoning, all the other divine attributes appear equally unessential, and thus one couldn't even say that "the Father (or Son or Spirit) is God (or divine)" is essential to their personhood. Clearly this has been ad hoc reasoning for more than a while now, so the view that persons metaphysically just are propositions is problematic too.