Sunday, January 31, 2010

Modern Philosophy 5

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Pascal’s Wager. The following is my submission:

Pascal began his discourse by rhetorically complaining that one is born with a soul contained in a body in which finitude is intuited as natural such that one often finds that he need not believe anything more. To counter this apathy, Pascal mentioned infinity as a concept which we supposedly know exists, even though we are ignorant of its nature. Pascal used numbers as an example. There are an infinity of numbers, yet an infinity in number is not even nor odd, for it is unbounded; adding a number to infinity does not change its nature. Similarly, Pascal asserted we may know God exists – by faith, given that God is allegedly dissimilar to the “number” infinity insofar as He has no extension – without knowing what He is, per se. In fact, as a fideist, Pascal believed that God is, when attempted to be understood through reason, incomprehensible to men, as He by His infinite nature can have no point of similarity with us.

Christianity, claimed Pascal, claims its truth is beyond reason. Why, then, should one believe God exists? Firstly, Pascal chastised those who despise those who are upfront about having made a public profession one way or the other, for everyone – whether they admit to it or not – “wagers.” Everyone gambles – whether conscientiously or not – his life according to how he lives. Secondly, Pascal claimed that because reason has no stake in the wager, one’s gain or loss is weighted solely upon the maximal potential for happiness in one’s choice.

Having established the groundwork for his argument, Pascal proceeded to examine what one gains and loses in each respective case so as to determine how one should choose to wager – or, more precisely, what one should choose to believe regarding God’s existence. One’s gain if one chooses to believe God exists and act upon that belief is the potential of everlasting life and happiness, whereas one’s gain if one choose to disbelieve God exists is merely the potential to actualize whatever finite pleasures one desires. Hence, Pascal argued that, faced with this obligatory choice, one should choose to risk one’s finite life in order to gain at death infinite glory, an outcome which is as likely as the annihilation of the soul.

Pascal then particularly sought to rebut the idea that “because the state of the soul at death is uncertain, we should choose according to what is certain, viz. the certainty of pleasures we may only have if we disbelieve God.” Pascal noted that everyone risks a certainty – one’s life – to gain an uncertainty. The idea that the pleasures of this life are certainly within our grasp is illusionary, as one may die at any moment. Hence, one should stake his certain risk upon the best of all uncertainties, and that entails belief in God’s existence.

In order to believe, then, Pascal exhorted that one should learn how to believe from others who already do: by restraining passions rather than demand knowledge of proofs, by generally following their lifestyle, &c. All the while, one should continually remind himself that there is nothing of which he should be afraid, because he risks relatively nothing (which he mustn’t already risk) by following the wager, and, in return, he potentially gains something infinite in worth. Indeed, the only obstacles are one’s passions. No other “harm” can come from choosing to accede to “Pascal’s Wager,” and one even does seeming good works and avoids that which is commonly disdained.

“Pascal’s Wager” itself is an valid argument, but is predicated upon presuppositions with which many could find reason to argue. Because the “Wager” is not an epistemological argument, Pascal’s beginning remarks seem to function as an necessary prerequisite to his “Wager.” In other words, Pascal tried to show that one must be agnostic regarding God’s existence, for otherwise one could dissolve the force of the “Wager” by claiming that truth takes precedence to selfish motivations. While Pascal’s method is sound in theory, in practice it does not seem to work. For instance, if we know the nature of infinity doesn’t change – as Pascal writes – doesn’t that mean we’re not completely ignorant about the nature of infinity? Extrapolating, it seems Pascal confounded or misunderstood the difference between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. If one can apprehend God’s existence, the necessity of the “Wager” can only be necessarily persuasive to one who is, epistemologically speaking, a skeptic. Interestingly, one wonders how Pascal himself could have subscribed to theological skepticism, given that he in the same paper pointed to the Bible as a means of knowledge.

An obvious difficulty consequential to the “Wager” is one which Pascal does not address: whose example should one who accepts God’s existence follow? He specifically points out Christianity, yet the “Wager” could equally be used by Muslims, Jews, &c. A hidden premise seems to be that the reward the Christian purports is greater than all others, yet Pascal did not – and cannot, as one could posit an infinite number of alternative world-views – establish this. By logical extension, one must, therefore, make an arbitrary choice, and it seems Pascal’s anti-intellectualism has “proved too much” for Pascal’s taste.

Modern Philosophy 4

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Descartes' Meditations (fifth and sixth). The following is my submission:

In his fifth and sixth meditations, Descartes seeks to apply his epistemological framework to questions relating to the existence of material objects, the contingency of knowledge upon the existence of God, erroneous judgments which originate from sensation, and the various differences between mind and body.

Among that which Descartes perceived as true included mathematics. Descartes wrote that various theorems he had formerly intuited as true were, in fact, necessarily true, not due to his limited imagination, but because the nature of that to which the theorems pertain imposed upon his mind their eternality and immutability. A corollary Descartes constructed yielded a second argument for the existence of God: viz. Descartes could not conceive of a non-existent God because existence is a perfection, a truth imposed onto his mind. God’s essence – a perfect being – must therefore entail His existence and, as such, must exist. Since Descartes’ epistemological foundation is essentially grounded in the concept that God mediates this and all other knowledge to His creation, Descartes observed that all knowledge – including mathematical – is dependent upon God’s existence.

Because a perfect – omnipotent – God exists, Descartes claimed to know that, if nothing else, material objects possibly exist. But as Descartes believed that “all that we clearly and distinctly perceive is true,” in order to adequately justify the actual existence of material objects, he also believed that one must first examine ideas in one’s own consciousness in order to discover which are clear and which are confused. The imagination, writes Descartes, is the special exertion of the cognitive faculty whereby one contemplates some object. Because he claimed to be unaware of a means of contemplation of an object aside from sensation, Descartes asserted that the objects themselves probably exist materially.

Descartes then proceeds to reflect on whether or not the existence of material objects can be known with certainty. Reviewing his former reasons for accepting their existence, he explains that the vividness of sensation impressed upon him the idea that he could not have produced such thoughts and that he could not account for the seeming correlation between his body and feelings (e.g. hunger and stomach pains). But when he considered that he could simply be dreaming, could be deceived, or could even possess a subconscious sixth sense such that these imaginations were factitious, Descartes came to doubt the reliability of sensation. Upon constructing his philosophy, however, Descartes began to reexamine the validity of acquiring knowledge by sensation, and he claimed that God – who is by definition not deceptive – would indeed be deceptive if external objects did not exist, as Descartes claimed to clearly perceive that material objects exist. Moreover, as he was able to clearly differentiate one thing from another, although he knew he possessed a body, he also knew he was, in essence, simply a thinking thing. Still, he claimed that the conjoined nature of the mind-body relation is such that he should not doubt that there is some truth in the various perceived correlations between the mind and body. These are things Descartes claimed to be taught “by nature,” or by impulsive reactions to sensations for the purposes of self-preservation. Due to the finiteness of man and misuse of free will, however, these stimuli can actually hinder self-preservation, for upon further consideration the mind may understand that to follow the inclination is hasty or dangerous.

The question with which Descartes wrestles is: given His existence, why doesn’t a perfect God stop this? In order to answer this question, Descartes briefly compares and contrasts the mind and body. The mind – which is indivisible or unanalyzable – receives impressions from the body – which is divisible – via sensation. God could stop us from feeling pain et. al. by stopping certain sensations, but Descartes notes self-preservation would be hindered, as one wouldn’t know what could harm his person. Descartes observed, however, that the senses are more often reliable than not, and that his memory, understanding, and all other faculties are, when in agreement, able to discover the causes of judgment errors as well as means of prevention: because God does not deceive, what is clear is true, and what can, after careful consideration, be doubted should not be regarded as knowledge. This is Descartes’ epistemic criterion for knowledge.

The primary problem with Descartes’ reasoning is that his epistemic criterion is predicated on his own, fallible thoughts. He writes, for instance:

“I frequently considered many things to be true and certain which other reasons afterward constrained me to reckon as wholly false…will it be that I formerly deemed things to be true and certain which I afterward discovered to be false? But I had no clear and distinct knowledge of any of those things, and, being as yet ignorant of the rule by which I am assured of the truth of a judgment, I was led to give my assent to them on grounds which I afterward discovered were less strong than at the time I imagined them to be.”

If the only way Descartes can know that his perception is not clear is by a modus tollens argument – that is, “because this perception was wrong, I did not actually perceive with clarity” – then he has no grounds upon which to be assured that at some future point in time he will not perceive that his past perceptions were unclear. At best, he can know that his clear perceptions are possibly contradictory, which undermines his entire position.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Modern Philosophy 3

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Descartes' Meditations (third and fourth). The following is my submission:

Having believed that – through natural reason alone – he had established the certainty of his existence, Descartes begins his third meditation with the intention to show, if possible, what besides one’s own existence is indubitable. In his prefatory comments, Descartes mentions that the purpose of his third meditation is to demonstrate the existence of a perfect being – God – which avoids objections predicated on sensation.

While one may imagine or be deceived into believing in the existence of an external world, consciousness dictates that the particulars of one’s perceptions at least exist in the mind. Descartes uses this to argue that, given his classification of thought as pertaining to images, volitions, or judgments, judgment of ideas as innate, adventitious, or factitious is the point at which most, if not all, errors of the mind can be attributed. For instance, Descartes described his perception of heat as a spontaneous, external stimulus, but notes that he could possess a subconscious sixth sense whereby he produces such perceptions of heat “without the aid of external objects.” Such a hypothetical is representative of the difficulties which forced Descartes to admit he formerly – fallaciously – judged that other entities exist by “blind impulse.”

To circumvent these difficulties, Descartes, to demonstrate the existence of God, argued that ideas are effects which cannot be the product of an idea or existent whose capacity is not equal or superior to the idea itself, and that, since a chain of ideas cannot regress infinitely, a first idea must function as an ontological ground and “archetype” of all other, derivative ideas. Listing several ideas which may indeed be self-induced, Descartes arrives at the idea of a “substance [which is] infinite, [eternal, immutable], independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, [trustworthy], and by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created.” This idea, Descartes writes, is too perfect to have originated within his own mind, for, as he perceives that he is not infinite et. al., his apprehension of infinity et. al. must have been caused extrinsically. Moreover, given that any source from which this idea was caused would necessarily have to possess infinitude et. al. in order to be the first cause, God (the being which, by definition, possesses these – and possibly other – perfect attributes) must actually and objectively exist and have innately implanted this idea – or at least the potential for it – within Descartes, whom He conserves. Such an answer explains what perfection entails, how Descartes came to conceptualize it, and how Descartes knows his conception isn’t the result of deception. He ends his third meditation resolved to grow acquainted to reflecting only upon that which he certainly knows, viz. himself in relation to God.

The purpose of fourth meditation was to show that “all which we clearly and distinctly perceive is true” and to discern more clearly the nature of error in reason. So doing, Descartes believed he could validly universalize the clear perceptions of his third meditations so as to refute any who object to his system.

In the beginning of his meditation, Descartes asserts that God has given him a mind which cannot be led to error if utilized correctly – that is, when Descartes keeps at the forefront of his thoughts himself in relation to God. Notwithstanding this assertion, Descartes affirms that he has indeed fallen into error, which seems to imply an impious conclusion: God has bestowed upon him an imperfect mind. Given that Descartes has declared omnipotence to be a perfect attribute – which God must, therefore, possess – Descartes considers why God did not grant him a mind incapable of being deceived or why God allows circumstances to be such as they are, knowing – as God is omniscient – Descartes will be deceived. In essence, Descartes is pondering theodicy.

In reply to own query, Descartes strong-arms such criticisms by providing a blanket response: men are “not always capable of comprehending the reasons why God acts as he does,” nor is such an answer from God obligated. Nevertheless, Descartes offers an indulgent speculation: the idea that man possesses free will, the capacity to choose contraries, appeals to Descartes, as he claims he cannot conceive of anything else which would more capably demonstrate his existence is imprinted with the image of his creator; this might, perhaps, be an allusion to the archetypal argument for God’s existence. Regardless, Descartes uses this to argue that one’s errors stem from one’s own lack of restraint over one’s autonomous judgments. Even if this were this not the case, Descartes states that God’s sovereignty or omnipotence itself functions as the ground for His authority, presumably because God’s purpose in conserving man does not necessarily find its telos in man.

Summarizing the results of his meditation, Descartes writes: “I can never be deceived, because every clear and distinct conception is doubtless something, and as such cannot owe its origin to nothing, but must of necessity have God for its author – God, I say, who, as supremely perfect, cannot, without a contradiction, be the cause of any error; consequently, it is necessary to conclude that every such conception [or judgment] is true.”

The third and fourth meditations provide significant answers to questions relating to the epistemological soundness of Descartes’ “superstructure” which I had after reading the except of his “Discourse on Method” and the beginning of his “Meditations.” If we accept the above summarization as representative of the justificatory basis upon which Descartes makes other claims, Descartes is able, by grounding his epistemology in the ontological existence of God, to purport a sound philosophy of language, a historical account of the means by which he comes to clear and distinct ideas (such as his own existence), and he avoids Hume's "is-ought dilemma" and problems which assume the reliability of memory. He is even able to rebuke the idea that a “deceptive demon has imprinted false thoughts of perfection onto his mind,” as Descartes claims to have clearly perceived a perfect, trustworthy God causes clear perceptions which cannot, by definition (due to origin), be erroneous.

That having been said, Descartes would have done better to realize the purpose of epistemological endeavors should ultimately be self-referential rather than for another’s benefit. The soundness of an epistemological foundation does not rest on the acceptance of it by one who holds an alternate first principle. The atheists who Descartes claimed would have to submit to his reasoning could very well reject Descartes’ epistemology on the basis that Descartes could be lying about what he perceives as “clear and distinct.” After all, they cannot know what Descartes truly thinks, for such reasoning already presupposes Descartes is external. Opining the rejection of his epistemology by atheists should not discourage Descartes; it should simply cause him, if he was honest, to content himself with the self-satisfaction of having demonstrated to himself that which is certainly true.

There are, however, questions Descartes leaves untouched, such as “which God is true?” Surely he opined a diversity of opinion on this matter, but he does not here proceed to a further examination. Also, with regard to his “free will defense” provided against the alleged problem of evil, if Descartes is autonomous, God’s knowledge must necessarily be contingent on actualization of Descartes’ will; as Descartes is a temporal creature, God could not be eternally omniscient. As both free will and God (who is infinite, eternal, immutable, and omniscient) are said to be “clear… conceptions,” atheists could falsify Descartes’ first principle by reducing it to absurdity; hence, Descartes should simply discard the notion of free will, as it is not indubitable.

This implies a greater problem: subjectivity. Descartes’ belief in a proposition inconsistent with his world-view as “clear and distinct” implies a general criticism: in order for a being to claim to know a proposition is indubitable presupposes that he knows it's truth is not contingent or, if it is, said being knows that upon which the veracity of the proposition is contingent. Descartes is admittedly fallible and finitely knowledgeable. Unless, then, Descartes’ grounds his epistemology in the source of God’s revelation – which would, in Descartes’ case, be the Bible – he will seemingly be continually suspect to this criticism.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Modern Philosophy 2

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Descartes' Meditations (first and second). The following is my submission:

“Discourse on Method” was, essentially, preparation for “Meditations,” an exposition Descartes considered to entail his philosophical superstructure. In it, Descartes purposes to prove the existence of God and the immortality of the soul by means of unprejudiced reason. He believed that while faith is sufficient for religious men, common, indubitable premises must be utilized against unbelievers so as to show them to be without excuse for any continuance in practicing moral relativism.

In his summarization of his meditations, Descartes, in accordance with his method, outlined – in orderly fashion – the means by which he believed he could achieve certainty. Insofar as the synopsis pertains to his first and second meditations, Descartes asserted that one should firstly cast a skeptical eye on those things one holds to be true. So doing, that which is shown to be indisputable is made evident. The allegedly indisputable proposition for which Descartes argues is that mind which doubts self-evidently exists, whereby one is able to discern what the mind is in relation to the so-called body and that it is fallacious to assert that with death comes the annihilation of the mind.

In his first meditation, Descartes laid out his particular reasons for doubting those things which he formerly believed. Firstly, he was desirous of ridding himself of opinions which are uncertain. Descartes noted that because the senses sometimes convey to us deceptive information, one cannot be sure that any proposition said to be grounded in a sensation is not instead the result of insanity or dreaming. Even so, Descartes claims that it is sensible to suggest that what one perceives itself represents something (reality, one’s own imagination, etc.). Moreover, he argues that some principles apply in both reality and one’s own imagination – for instance, mathematics – in which case we know these things are certain. Given that others are sometimes in error when they think they are not, however, Descartes rhetorically questions how he can validly avoid such a dilemma. Upon consideration, he declares that what he has considered thus far are remarks which can at best only have a probability of being true, and for that reason they cannot be trusted. He concludes the first meditation defiantly, stating that the possibility of a virtually omnipotent and deceptive demon will not force him to judge that which is doubtful to be true.

In his second meditation, Descartes continues with the hypothesis that a demon is deceiving him. Descartes states that one thing of which he will never be convinced is that so long as he is conscious, he is some existent. The next question, then, is what “he” is. He begins by describing what he formerly believed he was: a man. Upon reflection, however, Descartes admits a certain circularity in language which would be infinitely difficult to explain the meaning of words with words. Passing from this question, he proceeds to ask what is or are the attribute[s] of the soul, and on this point Descartes is optimistic that he may also make headway into the question of his essence. So long as he thinks, he exists; hence, it is that differentiae which describe what he is: a thinking thing, a thing whose reflexive consciousness is not dependent on anything else. A thinking thing is, says Descartes, a thing that by nature “doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives,” as each of these refers to capacities which cannot be disassociated from thought. Descartes proceeds to discuss the essence of allegedly physical bodies, bodies which, even if they change, remain the same in essence. The difficulty in explaining the reason for this intuition is exacerbated by the problem of language, yet Descartes believed that one who seeks true knowledge should not doubt that common speech can adequately function for these purposes; hence, Descartes concludes that what is applicable to the essence of bodies is even more applicable to his own essence (which is certain), which is to say that because the essence of the mind is immutable, it is even more certain that it is immortal and independent from the body.

Descartes obviously did not believe that everything should be doubted, for if that were the case, he would have no means by which he could escape doubt. At best, Descartes would be inconsistent with his own demands, for he presupposes his method and logical principles. While his strict adherence to high standards of what constitutes as knowledge is admirable, this qualification may be problematic, as Descartes does not explicitly show how his method or logical principles are indubitable.

In fact, that Descartes purports that propositions should be indubitable – otherwise, he would doubt them – implies that one’s first principle(s) from which he deduces his system should also be indubitable. But Descartes fails to provide a criterion according to which a first principle – a proposition which is by definition not derived – is indubitable. The other case may be that Descartes is implying that the truth of any proposition is contingent on the existence and validation of prior premises. Because premises are also propositions, however, this would imply a justificatory process which cannot be completed, yielding self-defeating skepticism.

A related problem due to Descartes’ methodology is that he seemingly approaches the question of knowledge ontologically rather than epistemologically; because he has not clearly explained his first principle(s), throughout his monologue, it at least appears he begs the question by continually referring to a reflexive essence without justifying the means by which he knows such an essence exists. It is unclear as to whether Descartes’ claim regarding the existence of his essence is an indubitable resultant from a series of premises according to which the claim is supposed to be justified, or if Descartes is simply explaining the historical process by which he came to believe his first principle. If the former case is true, Descartes’ first principle(s) is or are unclear. If the latter case is true, Descartes is describing a historical process which he does not justify by his first principle.

A final noticeable problem is itself alluded to within the meditations: that of language. Descartes notes, when attempting to define what is man, that using words to define words does not explain how concepts are mediated to the conscious. He glosses over this problem, only to face it again when attempting to define a “thinking thing.” It may be the case that this and other problems are referenced by Descartes in other parts of his work, but these are what I perceive to be the extant problems inherent to Descartes philosophical system.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Scripturalism and Dialogue

Continuing with the examination of questions I am most often asked upon an explanation of my epistemological beliefs (see here and here), sometimes the questions are phrased in a question begging manner. For instance, when I explain that I reject empiricism, I am often asked why I even dialogue with people. After all, if I don't think the use of the senses are valid bases for justifying knowledge claims, what's the point? For all I know, I could be talking to a tree. Is the concept of dialogue the straw that breaks the Scripturalist's back? 

Firstly, as is fast becoming my motto: "every epistemological system stands or falls on the merits of its first principle[s]; thus, an argument against a first principle should be a reductio ad absurdem." At best, then, the above criticism merely shows me to be inconsistent in practice. In itself, the question doesn't imply anything about the first principle of Scripturalism. 

More importantly, however, the question is phrased in such a way as though it should be obvious that I am in dialogue, as though the idea I'm talking to a person is a brute fact. This is not so. If this claim is to have any force, the objector must explain the means by which he can [justifiably] know he is talking to me, and this inevitably fails. 

But how, then, is one to account for the Scripturalist's behavior? If I cannot know that I am in dialogue, why can it seem that way? If I am going to be consistent with Scripturalism, I must indeed admit I am opining any conversation; however - and this is the point - the purpose of epistemology is not so much a justification of one's beliefs to others as it is to oneself. Self-realized problems with various epistemologies or one's own epistemology may be introduced through the medium of opinion; I was reminded, for instance, of the issue of the canon when I opined a "C"atholic asked me about it (see above link). When one considers that one's opinions are the ultimate products of God, and that God causes everything for a reason, it is not surprising that Scripturalists should venture into alleged communication: to measure what is opined against God's word. Hence, when a question comes to mind through the medium of alleged dialogue, as was the case with the canon, I returned to God's word to answer the question, a question which, even if a "C"atholic did not ask me, still enabled me to grow in grace and knowledge of God, enabling me to glorify in His sufficiency all the more. And that is the chief end of man, is it not?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Johannine Corpus and the Canon

In my most recent post, I wrote:

"Historically, I believe the Protestant canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

A Roman Catholic on facebook asked me to exegete relevant texts so that he could better understand my position. As I here referenced John 10 as support for the contention that the Scripture itself explains the means by which a Christian comes to accept the canon of Scripture - which is a claim that many "C"atholics, in want of ammo against sola scriptura, argue is not the case - my response was as follows (edited):

"The Johannine corpus contain the passages to which I particularly refer. I believe I already mentioned John 10 in the conversation we’ve been having; 1 John 4:4-6 is another.

In John 10, Jesus is talking about the way in which He gathers His sheep. While this could easily rabbit trail into unconditional election or irresistible grace, I will try to stick to the topic. It seems John’s intention is to explain more specifically Jesus’ statements made in 8:42-47. The Jews who belong to the devil (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3) could not believe Jesus’ words – they did not possess the capacity – precisely because they belonged to the devil; equivalently, Jesus states that those not of God cannot “hear” His words. In accordance with Romans 8-10, the problem of the Jews wasn’t with their ears, per se, but with their minds, which were set on flesh (unregenerate). We come to faith by hearing God’s word, but it doesn’t profit our soul to hear the word if we don’t belong to God.

So much for establishing why I must be a regenerate to “hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd.” What remains is to connect this with why I historically (!) believe[d] the Protestant canon to be God’s extant word.

1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome [the spirit of the antichrist], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.
6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

It is not a little important that the context of this statement is surrounded by passages dedicated to expressing that which regeneration causes (righteous behavior – 2:29; obedience to God’s law – 3:9-26; knowing God and lives in love – 4:7-16; belief, love, obedience, and victory over the world – 5:1-4; safety from the devil and sinless behavior – 5:18), and that the most relevant one – knowing God – is found right after the passage in question. To be honest, I think these passages are rather self-evident: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us” is obviously a reference to the apostles. We know God because He regenerates us, so those whom He regenerates will listen to those whom He sent to be His messengers of good news. Moreover, the inverse is true, as we have seen: “whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” That is to say, only regenerates are capable of submitting to the words of God as conveyed by His messengers: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” One who is regenerate knows and submits God, His words, and His messengers because that is the very purpose of regeneration (Romans 8:7-9, 10:17, and 1 Peter 1:3)! Regeneration is the precondition for a lively hope, a prerequisite in order to “hear” God’s word and, so doing, come to faith. But our faith is not empty: it’s object is the propositions of the gospel, which necessitates the idea we can discern what the gospel is (and hence, as John writes, who the bearers of the gospel are).

Finally, returning to the gospel of John to tie these points together (even though I consider the matter already settled):

John 10:1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.


1. Jesus is talking about gathering His sheep (who were considered to be His sheep before they entered Him!).
2. He says the sheep will listen to the Shepherd alone. Question: how does a sheep know his Shepherd’s voice (i.e. that it is indeed His voice, the extent of His words)?
a. The sheep follow the Shepherd because they hear His voice (I can’t stress that enough, given the rampant existentialism in present-day “Christendom”).
b. The sheep follow their shepherd because they know their Shepherd (which parallels the above exposition of 1 John 4, also ensuring the regenerate the apostles were given the authority to act as the mediators of our Shepherd’s actual words)
3. The sheep will follow their shepherd (this submission is due to “irresistible,” regenerative grace).

Jesus is being perfectly clear. The sheep He is gathering will recognize and follow His voice because of the nature of the sheep and the Shepherd’s voice. I recognize[d] the Protestant canon as my Shepherd’s voice because as a regenerated sheep, I am able and willing to listen and submit to His word, whether or not communicated efficiently or through His prophets. I’m not a red-letter Christian; the application of this passage extends beyond Jesus’ “own” words to those whom God sent to communicate His word. All Scripture is God-breathed.

And as if this weren’t enough, Jesus has to reiterate His own statements to the Jews… again:

10:26 You do not believe because you are not my sheep.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Given what we’ve just read, these words are a neat summation of the topic. Those who don’t believe are not sheep (or if they are, they haven't yet been called); those who do believe are regenerated sheep, i.e. sheep whose Shepherd has effectually called them – sheep who know their Shepherd’s voice because He regenerates or makes them belong to Him, speaks to them, and causes them to know Him and His word by whatever means it is communicated to them.

You may find the following short posts apropos:

Again, please recall that this discussion is meant to establish the historical reason I accept[ed] the Protestant canon. As you read in our previous discussion and the wall posts to [deleted] et. al., you should know that my first principle itself entails what the canon is, so I'm not reasoning circularly (i.e. I'm not arguing that my exegesis is a premise for my first principle, as that would mean my first principle is no longer my first principle); rather, this exegesis suffices to show that my epistemological “system” is self-affirming, or that I’m not just making up a canon arbitrarily."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alternate First Principles

After explaining my epistemological beliefs (see, for example, this post), for some reason, the following question I most often receive goes something like this:

"The Qur’an claims to be God-breathed. Why do you not consider those writings to be Scripture?"

My answer is twofold:

A. Historically, I believe the Protestant canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd

B. Propositionally:

1. The Qur’an is not referenced in Scripture, so I could not account for its existence – let alone its inspiration, sufficiency, consistency, &c. – within my world-view. Which brings me to point two:

2. Not only is the burden of proof on the one who asserts that the Qur’an is inspired et. al. to demonstrate its internal consistency (particularly, that it even claims to be these things), but the Qur’an also must have answers to relevant epistemological questions, such as how one comes to know the Qur’an in the first place. 

These epistemic tests, I have found, fully refute Islamists (or whoever) who try to "copy-cat" Scripturalism. Obviously, I won’t generalize this, as the primary point I try to make is that every epistemology stands or falls on the merits of its first principle[s] and that an argument against a first principle should be a reductio ad absurdem. My first principle is such that world-views other than Christianity are virtually de facto falsified (I say virtually because there is obviously some trivial derivation from my first principle to the conclusion). The objector’s proposed first principle – in this instance, “the Qur’an is God-breathed et. al.” – fails to answer the relevant epistemological questions. That this is repeatedly the case is not surprising.

Ephesians 5:6-7 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Modern Philosophy 1

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Francis Bacon's First Aphorisms (1-3, 11-31, 36-46), Galileo's Corpuscularianism, and Descartes' Discourse on Method (Part 1, 2, and 5). The following was my submission:

Galileo, in a letter to the Roman Catholic church, defended the idea that motion causes heat and rather than the idea heat is a quality intrinsic to an object. To bolster this assertion, Galileo argued that an analogy exists between heat and tastes, odors, colors, etc. insofar as “if the perceiving creatures were removed, all of these qualities would be annihilated and abolished from existence.” Our senses are thusly said to be subjective – as different body can be affected differently by one object – and relative to that with which we physically interact.

The problems with Galileo’s philosophy of science are vast, yet as it was not Galileo’s purpose to defend empiricism, it would be unreasonable to have expected a full explanation of his views. Still, Galileo’s fallacious argumentation at certain points in his exposition are not irrelevant to his conclusion. For example, Galileo states that he “cannot believe that there exists in external bodies anything, other than their size, shape, or motion (slow or rapid), which could excite in us our tastes, sounds, and odors.” At best, this conclusion is a result of a finite number of observations. The first problem is that the idea further observations cannot yield contrary, convincing data is question-begging. The second problem is that the very method by which Galileo purports to ascribe causation to motion is questionable, as any observation he makes would, at best, demonstrate a correlation exists between two observed events. There could, for instance, conceivably be an as yet unobserved cause for heat, just as there could be an as yet unobserved instance of heat without motion. Any protestation to the contrary encounters the third and final problem: even if Galileo stated motion causes heat within the context of specific observations, his assertion is a proposition which is predicated upon the supposition he has accounted for all possible unknown variables – such as optical illusions – which could bias his observation. As this supposition in turn implies omniscience and infinite knowledge, however, Galileo cannot state as fact any proposition unless either he is omniscient and infinitely knowledgeable or he has his account from a source which is. The burden of proof is on Galileo to demonstrate that to be the case, which he does not; hence, his contention that motion causes heat is unsound.

A generalization of this third criticism can also be applied to Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. Bacon was, as is evident from his first aphorism, an empiricist; that is, he believed all possible knowledge is and can only be derived from one’s experience with the natural world by means of sensation of particulars. His emphasis on the novel utilization of nature stems from the concept that increase in knowledge comes only by that means. Against contemporary skeptics and rationalists, Bacon argued that one can validly establish general propositions by gradual – inductive – steps. Bacon also indirectly implies science is not a matter of opinion when, in a rejection of the subjective nature of anticipations, he contrasts science with matters of opinion. He states that he is a guide to truth rather than a judge of it, as the only way to teach or guide men to that which is true is by showing them the relevant particulars in question. In light of Bacon’s belief that certainty can be achieved, he stated four “idols” – empty dogmas – about which men should be aware. In sum, these “idols” are intended to warn the reader to check the soundness of his motives, as man’s nature, temporary preoccupations, attraction to vanity, or presuppositions can unfavorably bias his observations.

In addition to the aforementioned problem inherent to empiricism, the most obvious objection to Bacon’s epistemological understanding is that the very “idols” he cites are double edged, for, while we only read a small selection of his work, Bacon does not explain by what method he purports to avoid those “idols” such that he can validly assert to have supplied help to the “authority of the senses and understanding.” In light of his conclusions – “the spirit of man is in fact a thing variable and full of perturbation, and governed as it were by chance,” “human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it…though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side,” etc. – any criticisms he makes against sophists on these grounds could seemingly be applied to him in a “tu quoque” fashion.

Descartes’ apparent humility in his opening remarks – he admitted he could be wrong – can disarm critiques from reading too much into Descartes’ thoughts. Descartes went so far as to suggest those who are unlearned or easily swayed into hasty reforms shouldn’t “strip away all the opinions which one has previously absorbed.” In general, however, as Descartes believed all men possess the capacity to reason equally well, he believed that his method, which follows four, uncompromising rules, could be helpful: essentially, one should accept only what is certain, completely analyze any problems, and conduct thoughts in an orderly and thorough manner. By this method, Descartes believed that one could increase his knowledge in all sciences, whereas he had previously doubted the validity of his traditions and customs, in part due to his academic study and in part due to the fact he believed that the ridiculousness of common beliefs in other cultures could very well apply to his own.

Despite his belief almost all philosophies have been somewhere espoused, Descartes defended his method on the ground that that ad populum arguments are fallacious, so on that account one needn’t concern oneself with the validity of the idea oneself should judge what is true. Moreover, Descartes also believed careful elucidation of a philosophy by one person is often more lucid than those constructed by several, which functioned to solidify his assurance in his method. He analogized the construction of a philosophy to the building of a house: a single architect will fare better than multiple, as there is no one to dispute with except oneself. As such, the architect is free to tear down and build up whatever he chooses, and can examine the foundations such that he knows when the structure is sound. He firmly believed that by this means he “would be successful in conducting [his] life better than if he built only on the old foundations and relied only on principles which [he] had been persuaded to accept in [his] youth, without having examined whether they were true.”

In an example of an application of his method, Descartes argued that animals and machines can be distinguished from humans, because neither will never be able to communicate as we do, and neither possess the capacity to reason to the extent humans do. Both would otherwise be able to initiate interaction with us. Hence, the soul of animals is not of the same nature as our own, so cannot be used as an excuse that an afterlife is nonexistent. Our souls, which are independent of the body, are not “subject to dying along with the body,” i.e. human souls are immortal.

Aside from the aforementioned problem of omniscience and infinite knowledge, a problem with his method is that, as Descartes admits, it could be wrong. The criteria according to which he evaluates propositions is seemingly accepted as axiomatic. If this be so, Descartes does not show how these criteria are internally consistent – that is, accounted for – within his world-view. At this point, he seems to fall into the error of accepting what is commonly supposed for no other reason than it is commonly supposed. The other problem is that when it comes to the actual application of his method, Descartes’ argumentation is rather sloppy. Differentiating between particulars in the nature of human and animal souls does not necessarily imply that our souls are different in toto; that is, the fact that animals do not have minds like ours does not establish our souls are not intrinsically related to our bodies. At most, it would establish our souls are not intrinsically related to animal bodies. Or, if these propositions were meant to be disconnected, Descartes fails to substantiate his conclusion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What invalidates baptism?

Notes on Thornwell’s The Invalidity of Roman Catholic Baptism:

The form of baptism is that by which the sacrament is distinguished from other instances of ablution with water. Only by adhering to the restrictions Christ placed upon the sacrament of baptism can we expect that the promises or grace attached to it will indeed take effect. That said:

The relations which an ordinance’s material elements sustain to the covenant of grace is essential to the ordinance itself, because the ordinance was instituted by Christ’s authority: if an ordinance is administered according to conditions other than those instituted by Christ, the administration is not sacramental by definition.

The correctness of the perception of the covenant of grace is also a necessary component to a valid baptism, as, for instance, one who invokes the names of the Trinity without believing in them – that is, in their co-equal authoritativeness et. al. – profane the sacrament. The administration of the sacrament is, in this instance, only analogous to Christian baptism, for there can be no Christian baptism wherein the essence of Christianity is not preserved. 

Finally, the intention of the sacrament is integral to its essence. The relation of the covenant of grace to the material elements is the very purpose of the sacrament, the very means by which grace is bestowed. A church which misunderstands the purpose of baptism voids the ordinance itself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The doctrine of perspicuity

Are those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation clearly propounded, open in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them?

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 Concerning [Jesus] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 3:1-2 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power... Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

Faith and repentance from dead works encompass that which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation. These are elementary teachings of God's word, given to the immature because:

1. they are not ready for mature wisdom or eloquence.

2. so that they would first learn to rest their faith in God's power.

In other words, God's word regarding the elementary teachings of Gods word - including that which is necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation - are of such a nature that even the immature can understand them, due to the clarity and lack of eloquence with which they are communicated (indeed, they cannot understand the more spiritual things). This is exactly the Protestant understanding of the doctrine of perspicuity.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gordon Clark's "Predestination" - Part 3

The Eternal Decree and its Execution

For God to know a given proposition is true apart from His own determination would necessitate a succession of thoughts in the mind of God, as God’s knowledge would be contingent on contingencies (viz. His creation). Such would deny His eternal omniscience; hence, God’s determination of all things is the only position consistent with His eternal omniscience. In fact, Scripture affirms that God causes all things [according to His good pleasure] (cf. Job 23:13-14; Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Isaiah 46:10-11; Lamentations 3:38; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11). He is active in effecting that which He desires, and everything that occurs is so according to His desire. While God can use instrumentalities or “second causes” to achieve His purposes as well as direct efficiency, the ultimate or first cause of all things stems from God’s direct, efficient, and determinative purpose. The extent of God’s proactive determination is borne out in specific cases as well as general testimony (cf. Deuteronomy 2:30; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Psalm 105:25; Isaiah 10:5-15, 19:17; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gordon Clark's "Predestination" - Part 2


As predestination involves intention, and as the success of one’s intention is limited to one’s extent of knowledge, predestination is possible only to the extent that God knows His intentions can be fulfilled and that the particulars relevant to that which He is predestining will not deviate from His plan. The doctrines of creation, omnipresence, and providence establish God’s omniscience (cf. Psalm 139, 147:5; Jeremiah 23:24; Matthew 6:32; John 2:24-25, 21:17; Acts 17:24-28). Furthermore, as God is eternal (cf. Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Timothy 1:17) and unchanging (cf. Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), God’s knowledge is eternal (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11; Acts 15:18); that is, God does not learn (cf. Isaiah 40:13-14). He knows what is impossible (cf. Titus 1:2). He even knows counterfactuals (cf. Matthew 11:21) – knowing counterfactuals as such would be analogous to knowing that changing a variable in a given equation would yield a different answer than the given equation. God is infinitely knowledgeable, as to know even one thing presupposes that the validity of the proposition is not contingent on the truth of [infinitely many] other propositions. That God eternally knows that the purposes of His decrees – predicated on His good pleasure – will be effected (cf. Isaiah 46:10-11) also implies He must know that the means by which His decrees come to fruition will not thwart His decrees (cf. Isaiah 14:24-27; Romans 9:19); if God did not know all things eternally – proximate means as well respective ends – He would have no basis upon which to validly claim that means which He did not know could not possibly thwart His decrees. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gordon Clark's "Predestination" - Part 1


God created all things (cf. Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:13-16; Hebrews 3:4): heaven, the physical universe, and all things contained therein. This includes calamity (cf. Isaiah 45:7). In Hebrew, “calamity” denotes or is synonymous with “wickedness” approximately 50 times in the Old Testament, such as in Genesis 6:5. Essentially, the calamity of which Isaiah writes is “moral” (sin) as well as “natural” (hurricanes et. al.). This fits the juxtaposition between peace and calamity, as God creates moral well-being as well as natural (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27).

That God created all things logically means that He originally created – made or produced – by fiat, and we see that this is indeed the case (cf. Genesis 1-2; Psalm 33). While He created men by the dust of the ground, He created the dust of the ground by His spoken word. Any instruments He uses to create ultimately have their origin in God’s spoken word. God creates out of nothing in modern times too; see, for instance, that God creates new hearts in His people (cf. Job 14:4; Ezekiel 36:25-27). This is simply to say that throughout Scripture, when God is designated as the creator, the evidence points toward the concept of “fiat creation.”

This unique capacity may imply omnipotence (cf. Isaiah 40:26; Romans 9:19-23; Revelation 4:11). What is certain from these passages is that God created all things for a reason – His pleasure – and that it was His pleasure that by all things He receive glory, honor, and power (cf. Hebrews 2:10). By creating and maintaining all things for His pleasure, then, He is worthy of receiving glory, honor, and power (cf. Romans 11:36). Furthermore, that God is described as almighty or omnipotent many times bears relevance to predestination, for while it is possible God did not predestine everything He might have, it should be agreed that – due to His limitless sovereignty over creation – God possesses the capacity of predestining any possibility.

That God is the omnipotent Alpha and the Omega may suggest something about God’s purpose in creation: He and His glory is the ends of His own purposes (cf. Proverbs 16:4). Moreover, that which is explicitly said to give glory to God – say, salvation (cf. Isaiah 46:13) – is often times predicated on contingencies. The reality of salvation is predicated on the idea that men need saving. That God has purposed salvation for His glory implies that those He is saving are also purposed for His glory, that that which sustains men can also be said to be purposed by God for His glory – insofar as the sustenance is necessary toward the reality of that which is explicitly said to give God glory: salvation – &c.

Also, the connectedness between the church and creation is such that to understand the purpose of the church is to understand the purpose of creation, that purpose being the manifestation of God’s glory through the manifestation of His wisdom (cf. Ephesians 3:8-10, 20-21). All things have been created so that, through the salvation of the church, the heavenly powers might understand that wisdom of God which is deserving of praise and glory – a point which, as an aside, demonstrates the validity of supralapsarianism. Because the ultimate purpose of creation is the manifestation of God’s glory by the manifestation of God’s wisdom, and because this end is said to be achieved by the more immediate purpose of creation – i.e. creation functions as the means by which Christ could redeem the church so that God’s wisdom would be manifested – the teleological order necessitates that God purposed the redemption of the church logically prior to creation. More clearly, one could ask why God created all things [such as they are], and the answer would be “so that the church could be redeemed.” Why did God desire the church to be redeemed? So that His glory would become manifest through His wisdom. Or, recognizing that a purpose relates to an intention, one could equivalently state that God’s intention in creating all things was so that He could redeem his church, and that His intention in redeeming the church was so that His glory would be made manifest through His wisdom. This is precisely what supralapsarianism entails. The glory of God, a reference to His excellence, is what God means to display through whatever means necessary: whether by displaying His knowledge of mysteries and capacity to create (cf. Ephesians 3:8-10, 20-21), His power (cf. Romans 9:11-17; Exodus 33:15-20), His compassion, love, and wrath (cf. Romans 9:19-23), &c.