Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I think most who have spent any amount of time studying philosophy will have come across philosophical skepticism, the idea that certainty, knowledge, and/or truth is impossible. It is one of the more persistent positions in history. But most people either know or can easily understand that it's also self-defeating. By definition, one can't know that philosophical skepticism is true.

A similarly prevalent claim one will hear, especially in discussions with agnostic atheists, is that the burden of proof is on the one making an assertion (e.g. God is known by His revelation as expressed in the Bible) to show that such is the case. While this is true, it is usually accompanied with confusion if the claimant is asked to give an account of his own worldview. I suspect that this is because the person doesn't understand the following: for one to suspend judgment (assent or dissent) regarding a given proposition is not necessary irrational; however, for one to suspend judgment on every proposition is necessarily irrational:

Clark’s emphasis on the importance of epistemology as a means to a cohesive belief system is warranted, for to any assertion pertaining to science et. al., the question may be "properly ask[ed], How do you know?" This poignant question... exposes as question-begging statements and actions which advocate a so-called suspension of judgment...

Advocating the suspension of judgment on all matters is as self-defeating as asserting philosophical skepticism. And even abstaining from making assertions while commanding or asking questions is a form of question-begging, for as Augustine noted in De Magistro, when one does these things, he is actually attempting to teach another something, i.e. what he wants to be performed or what he wants to be answered. Even merely acting without speaking requires an answer to the problem of suicide. A thinking creature cannot avoid epistemic concerns.

Christians need to recognize when an opponent is attempting to stall or divert attention away from having to explain his own worldview. Ignore rabbit-trails and press the point.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Standing on Straw Legs

Here's a recent post by Called to Communion. Ironically, instead of constructing a successful analogy to sola scriptura, the OP inspired an argument against Roman Catholicism.

On the one hand, the RC magisterium is perspicuous. On the other hand, the Scriptures which the apostles wrote - yes, the same apostles who RCs argue constituted the RC magisterium in Acts 15 - are not perspicuous.

Is the RC magisterium necessarily perspicuous or not? If not, then how can one determine which teachings are and are not perspicuous? If so, then why isn't Scripture perspicuous?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's The Point?

I wanted to expand on something I mentioned a few posts ago:

It is conducive to an unbeliever's understanding to refute his worldview by employing a necessary precondition of knowledge, like logic, rather than simply quoting Scripture. The more cognitive dissonance one can create in an unbeliever's mind, the better.

I've been writing a few posts as of late about why I think those who make knowledge claims must presuppose an omniscience source for them. In most if not all cases, I've structured the arguments for this from the perspective of epistemic and logical necessity. But as I'm a Scripturalist, one might wonder why I don't simply cite passages of Scripture which entail divine omniscience and illumination and leave it at that. After all, given my first principle, Scripture, any argument I make must follow from it anyways. So why not make the simple argument and leave it at that?

While I do not accept classical apologetics as philosophically sufficient, I understand the appeal of a methodology which forces another to accept a logical conclusion or abandon belief in a proposition, especially a proposition which can be called "intuitive." The problem is that an opponent to theism in general or Christianity in particular can without any problem retreat to a fallback position by denying what he previously believed.

The point of epistemic apologetics is to cut off all retreat. Either the opponent accepts the necessary conclusion or remain hopelessly mired in self-contradiction. In the latter case, I simply just tell him that he accepts the conclusion until he recognizes that he cannot resist without appealing to the necessary conclusion.

Now, God has communicated with His people. Christians know that the truths which Scripture conveys are necessary. But the manner in which these truths are illustrated to be necessary may, as I alluded to in the other post, affect the opponent's willingness to accept the conclusion. It may lead to cognitive dissonance. At least, this is what I suspect.

Why? Well, unbelievers are inundated with claims by false religions who they have the word of God. While guilt-association of Christianity with these false religions is fallacious and inexcusable, it doesn't hurt to show that propositions entailed in a Christian worldview - such as an omniscient source of knowledge - are necessary by means [not mutually exclusive with the answer "because God said so" but] intended to highlight the foolishness of holding the contradictory in such terms that even the unregenerate mind cannot stand it. After all, some unbelievers see the stupidity of skepticism, and while it may be fashionable to taunt those who believe the Bible to be God's word, the more quickly a Christian can not only cut at the actual heart of an opponent's worldview but also at what the opponent himself perceives to be the heart of his worldview and by utilizing types of arguments (e.g. Socratic) the opponent is more likely to respect, the quicker the opponent will be forced to change his tactics.

There is something to be said for respect. If one can address an opponent with some level of what is commonly thought to be philosophical sophistication (think William Lane Craig), then an opponent be more willing to seriously engage or consider an argument, and the greater may be the benefit for other believers: renewed interest in apologetics, confidence that Christian beliefs can hold under scrutiny, etc.

UPDATE: After a little more reflection, I think what I am trying to say is that I want to marry the intuitive appeal of classical apologetics with the necessity of epistemic preconditions for knowledge. This would be done by showing that a proposition such as "One must have recourse to an omniscient source for knowledge" follows from multiple propositions within one's epistemic system. This is useful because while one may inexcusably deny one precondition of knowledge, if he acknowledges another - one[s] more commonly believed, like the laws of logic - then by demonstrating that "one must have recourse to an omniscient source for knowledge" follows from (or more precisely, is mutually conditioned with) the laws of logic, it would seem reasonable to suppose that one will be more inclined to accept what is entailed by what he understands to be a precondition for knowledge than he would if either 1) the premise in question was not a precondition for knowledge, in which case he would simply back off the premise (cf. classical apologetics), or 2) the precondition for knowledge in question was one which is not acknowledged to be intuitive (cf. the Bible is God's word).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Knowledge of Related Truths: Revisited

A friend of a friend is interested in apologetics and wanted to along the argument I presented in this post to her philosophy professor. I don't know whether or not he is a Christian, but here was his ostensible reply:

One of the problems I saw immediately in the argument was his use of “proposition”. A proposition is a component of an argument, He states: "Are all propositions related, or can a proposition be known to be true in isolation from all others?" A proposition cannot stand alone to begin with. There must be at least two propositions in an argument: premise and conclusion is the simplest argument. To stand alone it must be one of three things: a statement, a command or an exclamation. His questions at the ends of the first paragraph – can a proposition be known to be true in isolation from all others – makes his argument problematic from the beginning.

To be honest, I'm not even sure how this response relates to the points I made in the post, so I guess I'll just post a few thoughts:

I am in full agreement that propositions are only components of arguments. But knowledge is propositional. The nature of the object of our knowledge (propositions) is a separate issue from the nature of the justification of our knowledge (argumentation).

I also agree with the idea propositions cannot stand alone... that was a point of my post. That propositions cannot stand alone is instrumental to the argument I made, viz. ignorance of one proposition begs the question as to how one can know any proposition. The conclusion I drew was essentially that recourse to an omniscient source for knowledge is an epistemic necessity. In any case, I wasn't just asserting that as an isolated, true proposition. I clearly argued for that. So exactly how this is "problematic" needs to be explained.

As a side note, the idea that statements, commands, and/or exclamations can stand alone is vague. As I wrote in this post:

It is true that assent to the isolated statement “Jesus is Lord” does not necessarily mean that one knows its biblical meaning; he may be assenting to a falsehood. But the point is that one doesn't need to know the biblical meaning “in the context of all other propositions” in order to know what God knows. It is sufficient to know the infima species of the biblical subject “Jesus,” i.e. a minimal, finite number of propositions which would individuate “Jesus of Nazareth” from “Jesus of Strauss” et. al.

The English language is infamous for its imprecision, ambiguity. Take the professor's assertion, for example. What does "stand alone" mean?

Does he mean that certain sentences can be written or said without need of elaboration or a context for understanding these sentences? That doesn't make much sense. Just as the statement "Jesus is Lord" is unintelligible if abstracted from a context in which the statement can be understood, if I command one to "obey God," he might reasonably ask what "God" I am referring to. I had better be able to appeal to a broader context.

Or maybe the professor means that these sorts of sentences require no epistemic justification? But how would that be relevant? Knowledge is propositional. Propositions are the meanings of declarative sentences. I can say "Joe was he who hit the ball" and "the ball was hit by Joe" and those two sentences mean the same thing. To know the proposition is to understand both sentences. Commands cannot be known, because commands have no truth value. "Obey God" is neither true nor false. It may or may not be true that "one ought to obey God." Furthermore, propositions can be conveyed via "exclamations" and statements," so I really have no idea what the professor means by "stand alone."

Regardless, it doesn't appear to me that the professor understood the argument I was making. If he really did understand it, I am disappointed he didn't write a clearer, more thorough critique. I don't mind being shown I'm wrong, if I am wrong. At the same time, I hope that the friend of my friend won't be so easily taken in by such a reply as this.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Future of Scripturalism: Epistemic Apologetics

I've written several posts on this blog about why I think omniscience is a precondition for knowledge (read and follow the links provided in this link). I haven't explained the full import I think this argument has, however, and a part of the reason is that I'm still turning it over in my mind. I think the last few paragraphs of Steve Matthew's latest review of Clark's A Christian View of Men and Things (link) provides a fine occasion for this discussion and some other points I've been meaning to address:

Clark tells us that if we can logically demonstrate that a system of thought has at least one contradiction in it, that system must be false. This is an application of what is called the coherence theory of truth, which holds that truth must be non-contradictory. Writing in his essay Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Gary Crampton says the following about the coherence theory of truth,

“Logic in the Clarkian view functions a a negative test for truth. It is an apologetic tool to show how a contradiction in any system (which all non-believing systems contain) disproves it as a valid system. Logical coherence is a very valid way to proof-text a system for its validity or non-validity. The fact that the Bible is logically consistent does not prove it to be true, but it certainly shows the non-believer that the Christian worldview is based on a system of truth that is logically coherent.”

In other words, we do not prove the Bible is true by testing it for logical coherence – we know it is logically coherent because God tells us in Scripture that this is the case, God is not the author of confusion (1Cor.14:33) – but we can disprove other systems of thought by exposing their internal contradictions. The Bible tells us the wisdom of this world is foolishness (1Cor.3:19). It is the job of the Christian apologist to make this foolishness evident.

Clark asserted inconsistency invalidates worldviews; on the other hand, Clark did not assert consistency alone validates a worldview. For example, compare what Gordon Lewis stated about Clark's position in Testing Christianity's Truth Claims (pg. 119-122) with Clark's response in Clark and His Critics (pgs. 399-403). I may reproduce the exchange in a different post, but one critical point is that Clark denied Lewis' claim that he, Clark, had ever asserted or implied that consistency is the sole test of truth-claims. Having read much of what Clark has written, I came to the same conclusion (e.g. points 3-7 here) before even knowing about this rebuttal of Clark.

To understand what Clark is doing, consider the following observation of a prominent, contemporary epistemologist (link):

The classic test for whether a condition for knowledge, say the truth of what is believed, is analytically necessary is whether or not it is absolutely inconceivable that someone has knowledge while failing to satisfy the condition. The test for whether a conjunction of conditions X is jointly sufficient for knowledge is whether we can conceive of X obtaining without knowledge.

Clark's use of logic as an elenctic apologetic implies Clark regards logic as a precondition for knowledge. Since he's right, by applying the test of logic to worldviews, those which are illogical can be discarded, as the do not satisfy a precondition for knowledge. However, this is not to suggest that consistency alone suffices as a precondition for knowledge. Clark noted in his response to Lewis that there are several competing theories of mathematics which are each consistent, or at least seemingly so. But what do geometrical systems have to do with epistemological systems? When Gilbert Weaver mistook Clark for thinking Bertrand Russell was consistent when, in fact, Clark's point was that Russell was only relatively consistent, in his reply to Weaver, Clark even admitted that even if he was unable to discover inconsistency in Russell, his limitations would not imply Russell was consistent (Clark and His Critics, pgs. 283, 291). Clark was clearly not a rationalist. However, he was rational insofar as he recognized logic to be a necessary precondition for knowledge. As Clark stated in this same reply to Weaver (pg. 290), he regarded Scripture as the sufficient precondition for knowledge of truth:

...I "supplement" consistency by an appeal to the Scripture for the determination of particular truths...

He states the same ideas elsewhere. For instance:

The initial implausibility of a thorough-going, all comprehensive system of axioms and theorems does not lie in the fact that it is a hitherto unrealized ideal. The implausibility rests on the contrast between the common opinion that the secular sciences are true, at least largely true, and the implication of Christian axiomatization that they are all completely false… the present point is simply that God is the origin of all truth. Then all truth is one and self-consistent. But if so, non-Christian systems of thought must be false... (Karl Barth's Theological Method, pg. 97)

Here, of course, Clark has in mind the Christian God who has revealed Himself by His word and thereby given His people access to the source of knowledge. Or, as I wrote in a recent post: "God can univocally communicate His eternal thoughts to man by divine illumination pertaining to what He has revealed in His word."

But in addition to conveying the true worldview, Clark also recognized the place of refutation in apologetics. It is conducive to an unbeliever's understanding to refute his worldview by employing a necessary precondition of knowledge, like logic, rather than simply quoting Scripture. The more cognitive dissonance one can create in an unbeliever's mind, the better.

This brings me to the point of my post: the more necessary preconditions of knowledge one can construct and utilize, the more quickly and efficiently a Scripturalist can create this cognitive dissonance by showing that an unbeliever's worldview fails to satisfy these preconditions. I think significant progress can be made in Scripturalist apologetics along these lines.

However, cannot all propositions in Scripture be considered necessary preconditions for knowledge if the theory that all propositions are related is true? It would seem so. But this is a good thing, I think. For one thing, it's a reason Jews cannot copy Scripturalism. But then, on what basis should a Christian choose from the sufficient precondition of knowledge (Scripture) various necessary conditions for knowledge (e.g. logic a la Clark)?

That all propositions are related doesn't mean all propositions are epistemically equal, so to speak, for some are entailed by, justified by, or deduced from others (etc.). While the claims of consistency in Scripture may not actually be falsifiable, they are testable by means of, say, logic. This is one of the more fundamental propositions by which we can test for knowledge. Rather than classical apologetics, which attempts to reason from common assumptions to God, then, this could be called epistemic apologetics, which aims to show what are the fundamental propositions without which knowledge is impossible.

Given that Scripture is the sufficient precondition for knowledge, Christians are already ahead of the curve in a search for these necessary preconditions for knowledge, for the sufficient precondition itself will already entail them. In addition to logic and divine omniscience - including what can be further inferred from those preconditions - I think language as a necessary precondition for knowledge is an avenue Scripturalists have yet to fully appreciate, especially in a practical sense. It is the responsibility of the Christian apologist to study Scripture to find them and learn how to appropriate them. Even one precondition is enough, as in Clark's case. At any rate, they can be distinguished but never ultimately abstracted from the harmonious system in which they are found (Scripturalism):

Axiomatization is simply the perfecting and exhibiting of the logical consistency of a system of thought. In view of Calvinism’s well known reputation for consistency, axiomatization and Calvinism should get along well together. The many theorems derived from the smallest possible number of axioms… And since the axioms, if there be several, depend for their meaning on their interrelationships, axiomatization would rule out the possibility of even a single axiom in common. (Karl Barth's Theological Method, pg. 95)