Friday, December 13, 2013

Gordon Clark on Divine Simplicity

What is divine simplicity? It is the idea that God is not composed. He is without parts. What this means has been the subject of various interpretations. A few think it just means God is immaterial. Others think it means "God" is totally other, incapable of being classified. These definitions appear to make divine simplicity an apophatic doctrine. 

When I start studying a topic, I usually read through Clark's works, since I know I can expect some good thoughts if he mentions it. In this case, Clark consistently defined divine simplicity as the idea that all of God's attributes are identical. For instance:
The mystic view is that the doctrines are really false, colloquial accommodations to human limitations. But Anselm believed that God has revealed the truth and that this truth itself, not some ethereal negation of it, could be demonstrated. This must not be taken to imply that certain attributes cannot be denied of God. John Scotus had called God Sun, Star, Breath, and Water, only to empty them of all significance. Anselm keeps the significance and denies that these are attributes of God. But other attributes which are better than these belong to God. He is living, just, wise, powerful, and eternal. At the same time, Anselm is careful to point out that God is not wise or just by participation in a superior Idea. God himself is justice. That is what he is. As this line of reasoning applies to all attributes, so by them we know not merely what sort of being God is, but what God is. And is this not to know his essence, which the negative theologians said was unknowable? However, this concession, if it be a concession, must be made to negativism. Since God is one, without any composition, it follows that Justice is Life, Power is Eternity, and all attributes are the same. Obviously if Justice is God’s essence, and if God’s essence is Power, Just and Power are identical. Each attribute exhausts every other, “because whatever God is essentially in any way, this is all of what he is.” (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 204-205 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Augustus Toplady wrote, among other things, Observations on the Divine Attributes. The simplicity of God and the identity of all the divine attributes, used above to settle the relation between justice and sovereignty, Toplady expresses in the following words. “Although the great and ever blessed God is a Being absolutely simple ... he is, nevertheless, in condescension to our weak and contracted faculties, represented in Scripture as possessed of divers properties, or attributes, which though seemingly different from his essence, are in reality essential to him, and constitutive of his very nature” (p. 675, col. 1). Toplady, then, specifies “his eternal wisdom, the absolute freedom and liberty of his will, the perpetuity and unchangeableness, both of himself and his decrees, his omnipotence, justice, and mercy.” (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 134 – original date of publication: 1987)
It is very clear that by the end of his life, Clark held to this view. He refers to it obliquely in his last book:
It is the honorable view that all the attributes are identical in God, and sometimes visibly so in history for when God demolished the walls of Jericho, the single action was both an instance of grace and an instance of wrath. In greater generality, knowledge is power, omnipresence is omniscience, mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (The Incarnation, 1988, pg. 64)
But it is not so clear that he held it in his earlier years. The earliest reference to the sort of divine simplicity that some Christians hold to - for Clark never equated divine simplicity with Neoplatonic simplicity - is critical of it:
The notion of analogy begins quite simply and innocently in Aristotle. He notes that when we call a book a medical book, and when we call an instrument a medical instrument, and when we call a man a medical man, the predicate medical does not bear exactly the same sense in the three instances. The term is not equivocal, as is the case when we call Argos the dog of Ulysses and when we call Sirius the dog in the sky; but on the other hand, the term is not strictly univocal. It is analogical. 
This simple distinction was elaborated by the Scholastic and the Neoscholastics into a complicated theory, in which, it would seem, the original situation no longer serves as a solid basis. The motivation and intricacies of the theory are seen most clearly in the arguments for the existence of God and our knowledge of him. God, according to the Thomists, is an absolutely simple being: but a simple, eternal, and immaterial being cannot constitute an object proportionate to our human understanding. Simplicity and eternity are not factors in our world of experience, and therefore we have no positive concept of them. To say that God is eternal means nothing more than that God is not temporal. What eternity positively means remains unknown to the human mind. What man has in this instance may be called negative knowledge. 
Similarly, when we call God wise and when we call a man wise, the term does not bear the same sense. God’s wisdom is not distinct from his essence or his being; but the wisdom of man is. In general, there is no affirmation whatever that can be made of God and of man in the same sense. The reason for this impossibility is not only that the predicates do not bear the same meaning in both cases, but that, far more radically, the copula is bears two different senses. In God essence and existence are identical: What God is and that God is are the same. In every case other than God this is not so. Accordingly, when we say God exists and when we say man or dog exists, the term exist does not mean the same thing. Therefore, no term, not even the copula, can be used univocally of God and man. 
Now, if the only alternative to univocal predication were equivocal predication, knowledge of God derived by abstraction from experience would be patently impossible. When words are used equivocally there is no definite relationship between the meanings, and knowledge of God would be in a state similar to a knowledge of Sirius that would be based on an experience of Ulysses’ dog. To avoid this fatal difficulty, the Thomists are forced to find some intermediate between univocal and equivocal predication, and they appeal to analogy. Between Argos and Sirius there is no resemblance, but in the case of God, man resembles God, they say, though God does not resemble man. This resemblance permits us to attach some meaning to the statement God is, so that we are neither in complete ignorance, nor limited to negative knowledge, but have an analogical if not a univocal knowledge. Thus empiricism in its Thomistic form attempts to escape the limits of experience. 
There seems to be a very serious objection to this theory of analogy. Aristotle’s original analogies cause no difficulty. The term medical, whether applied to a man, a book, or an instrument, is presumably derived from experience. In all three cases there is a relationship to the science of medicine. And for this reason there is a univocal basis for the analogy. The term medical might univocally be defined as “having to do with the science of medicine”; and in this univocal sense the man, the book, and the instrument are all medical. Similarly, all the analogies of common speech have a univocal basis. The paddle of a canoe is analogous to the paddles of a paddle-wheel steam boat; it may even be said to be analogous to a screw propeller. It is so because there is an area of common or univocal meaning. The paddle and the screw propeller are both devices for using power to make boats move through the water. The Neoscholastics list and classify different types of analogy; some are more complicated than the preceding. For example, it might be said that the mind is to the soul as the eye is to the body. Here there is analogy, possibly between the mind and the eye, or possibly between two relationships. But no matter how complicated, or what type of analogy, an examination must discover some univocal element. The two terms must be like each other in some respect. If there were no likeness or similarity of any sort, there could be no analogy. And the point of likeness can be designated by a simple univocal term or phrase. The Thomists admit the likeness or resemblance in analogy; they deny the univocal basis. They transfer analogy from the status of a literary embellishment or pedagogical aid to that of a serious epistemological method. But this removes every real distinction between analogy and equivocation. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pgs. 216-218 – original date of publication: 1952)
Briefly, the argument is that 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. Why? 
Since God transcends the Good and the One, there is in him no distinction of genus and species or form and matter. God is not a supreme genus (in spite of Philo’s words that God is the most generic of all beings) of which other things are species, nor is he a species of some higher genus. This means that God cannot be classified. But if so, then God is unknowable, for all knowledge is expressed by classifying the subject term under the wider predicate term. We can know what a lion of camel is by classifying it with other mammals or other vertebrate animals. Without such classification we would not know what a lion is. Or, in different words, what a lion is, is the definition of lion; and according to Aristotle a definition is framed by identifying the genus and adding the specific difference. Now, unless a non-Aristotelian theory of definition be worked out, which Philo did not do, the conclusion will be that God cannot be defined and we cannot know what God is. Rather, one must speak of God as the Israelites spoke of the manna: They did not know what it was, and so they call it, what is it. More generally, all human knowledge is a matter of discerning likeness. To call a lion a mammal is to assert its likeness to many other species. Whenever we learn anything about a hitherto unknown object, it is by being told what it is like. But for Philo, God is unlike everything else. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 168 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Ignoring the question of whether there is a broadest class (e.g. "being"), Clark held that God cannot be known unless He can be classified. But there is no "wider predicate term" of which a simple "God" is a species, for in the case of a simple God, even "Being and Goodness are identical" (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 50). The point is that the identity of attributes with God prevents His participation in any super-class. That is, any predication of attributes must be tautologous. But the only instance in which that is the case for man is the proposition "man is man." God is obviously not man, and man is not God. So God is completely and totally unlike man... who is supposedly God's image. Thus, God or the divine attributes are words that signify we know not what, and it turns out we can't know God. This kind of divine simplicity, like Hegelian internal relations (link), is an extreme form of divine transcendence which leads to a denial that what we know can be univocal with what God knows. 

But perhaps I am reading too much of this argument back into Clark. After all, Clark continues to repeat the above argument against Aquinas even after he explicitly affirms divine simplicity, so maybe Clark's own view of divine simplicity is significantly different:
Dr. Tozer writes, “The theological rationalists say your faith should stand not in the wisdom of man but in the Word of God. Paul didn’t say that at all. He said your faith should stand in the power of God. That’s quite a different thing.” 
Is it? I do not think it can be quite a different thing. The antithesis between word and power is strained, for Dr. Tozer seems to have forgotten Luke 1:37, “No word from God is without power.” Remember also that the words are Spirit and life (John 6:68). And though Dr. Tozer uses the epistle, he makes no mention of 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Christ, the Logos, is called the power of God as well as the wisdom of God. Power, wisdom, and word are identical, for in the simplicity of the divine essence all attributes merge. (What is Saving Faith? 2004, pg. 138 – original date of publication: 1972) 
Later works in which he still uses this argument against Aquinas' theory of analogy or cosmological argument for the existence of God include:
Aristotle had noted that an adjective or predicate, attached to two different subjects, does not always have precisely the same meaning. For example, the adjective medical does not mean exactly the same thing when one says “this man is a medical man,” as it means when one says “this book is a medical book.” There is, however, a relationship between them, in that in one way or another they both refer to the science of medicine. This relationship is called analogy. The two meanings of the term are analogical. 
Thomas developed the theory of analogy far beyond the simple observations of Aristotle, and it took on major proportions when the subject was God. Thomas held that the simplicity of the divine being required God’s existence to be identical with his essence. This is not the case with a book or pencil. That a book is and what a book is are two different matters. But with God existence and essence are identical. 
For this reason, an adjective predicated of God and the same adjective predicated of man are not univocal in meaning. One may say, God is good, and one may say, This man is good; but the predicate has two different meanings. There is no term, not a single one, that can be predicated univocally of God and of anything else. 
What is true of these adjectives is also true of the verb is, or existence. In fact, it is the nature of God’s existence that makes the adjective analogical. God’s essence and God’s existence are identical; hence existence for God means something different from existence for man. In the case of Aristotle’s medical man and medical book, though the two instances are not strictly univocal, yet the medical science to which the both relate is the same science. Here there is a univocal point of reference. But for Thomas there is no such point, for no term whatever has the same meaning for God that it has for man. If some area were common to both meanings (as the science of medicine in Aristotle), then this common area could be given a name and univocally predicated of God and man. But nothing is univocally predicated. Therefore existence means one thing for God but a completely different thing for man. Thomas still calls this analogy, but it is an analogy without any univocal basis. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pgs. 52-53 – original date of publication: 1973) 
Because Aquinas holds that God’s existence is identical with his essence, which is not true of any other object of knowledge, he must assert that no predicate can be attributed to God in the same sense that it is said of created beings. When both man and God are said to be good, or rational, or conscious, or anything, the words good and conscious do not mean the same thing in the two cases. If God is a mover and man is am over, the word mover does not mean the same thing. Not only so, but since God’s existence and essence are identical, the verb to be does not have the same meaning in the two cases. If we say God is good, neither the good nor the is means what it means in the created world. Hence when we say God exists, this existence does not mean existence in the same sense we use it for pebbles or marbles. Now, in a valid argument the only terms that can occur in the conclusion are those that occur in the premises. If some additional element is added in the conclusion, the syllogism is a fallacy. But the cosmological argument begins with the existence of a pebble or some sensory object that moves. It ends, however, with an existence that is different. Therefore the argument is fallacious. The different meaning of the word in the conclusion cannot be derived from the original meaning in the premises. (The Cosmological Argument, 1979, pgs. 2-3) 
Aristotle’s theory is clear and simple: The two things that make the analogy have a univocal element in common. The adjective medical applies to a book, an instrument, a person, and a school. They are all medical, but in different ways. Nonetheless there is a univocal element because these different ways all relate to the one science of medicine. Hence an argument in which the term “science of medicine” is used can be valid because the term can have precisely the same meaning in the conclusion that it has in the premises. Naturally if a term in the conclusion has a meaning different from what it has in a premise, the syllogism is a fallacy. Or, in other words, the conclusion of a valid syllogism can have no term that is not found in the premises with the same univocal meaning. 
But Thomas, though not Aristotle, violates this rule of validity. For theological reasons Thomas denies that God exists in the same sense in which everything else exists. God’s essence and his existence are identical. A stone’s or a man’s are not. But if this be so, the conclusion contains an element, an essential element, that is not found in the premises. Therefore Thomas’ argument is a fallacy. 
To be sure, Thomas tries to avoid this criticism. He assigns three possible relationships between two terms. They may be univocal; they may be equivocal (in this case the law of logic is violated); but they may also be analogical. He acknowledges that when we say God is wise and man is wise, the term wise is not univocal. In the case of a man, wisdom is not a part of his essence. In God, it is. Thus no name or quality can be applied to God and man in the same sense. This is true even of the term existence. The word is in the phrase “God is” does not have the same meaning as the phrase “Thomas is.” The verb to be or exist is different in the two cases. But because a strict application of this principle would make any knowledge of God impossible, Thomas says that the two meanings are analogical – neither univocal nor equivocal. But this assertion is entirely incomprehensible. Aristotle was right when he said that there must be a univocal element in all cases of similarity. Yet because there is no univocal element for Thomas, the existence of God in the conclusion is not the existence of the moving object in the premises. His argument is therefore fallacious. (Lord God of Truth, 1994, pg. 9-10 – original date of publication: 1986)
After extensive research, the only discernible difference I could find in these later commentaries is a subtle shift in phrasing that doesn't seem to make much difference. In previous expositions of Aquinas' view of divine simplicity, Clark would suggest or even explicitly say that "Simplicity entails the identity of essence and existence" (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 219-221 – original date of publication: 1957). In the above, however, we read: "Thomas held that the simplicity of the divine being required God’s existence to be identical with his essence"; "Because Aquinas holds that God’s existence is identical with his essence..."; "...Thomas denies that God exists in the same sense in which everything else exists." Clark shifted from saying the doctrine of divine simplicity itself entails that God's existence is identical to His essence to saying that Aquinas thought it did.

Did Clark really think that this could resolve the stated problem, viz. that the identification of the attributes prevents any kind of ontological univocism - and, therefore, epistemological univocism - between man and God? Did Clark deny that God's existence is identical with God's essence? I don't know. To my knowledge, Clark never addresses, let alone refutes, his earlier arguments against the Thomistic view of divine simplicity, neither does he distinguish it from his own. The fact that he calls it the "honorable view" in The Incarnation rather suggests he would have identified himself with Aquinas et al. But even if Clark would have denied that God's existence is identical with God's essence, I don't see how he could have maintained divine simplicity, for "God is existent" and "God exists" seem synonymous to me. But "existent" would be just another attribute which is identical to God['s essence].

[And before anyone points out that Clark thought "existence" was a meaningless word, that won't fly even if it were somehow relevant, which I don't grant. Clark talks about "the existence of God," "God exists," etc. some two dozen times in his books and even gives a sort of definition in Thales to Dewey: "For demonstration is knowledge, and there can be no known of the non-existent. The premises, therefore, must be statements of what exists or what is so, i.e., they must be true" (2000, pg. 101). This crux of debate cannot seriously be thought to rest on this.]

But there is a better reason for thinking Clark originally denied divine simplicity. And that is because he originally denied necessitarianism:
The precise issue of dualism or pluralism must be supposed to have been settled by the rational necessity of some kind of unity. It is interesting to note, however, that few of the Greeks consistently maintained a monism. Plato had three independent principles. Aristotle failed to end up with a unified world, because each individual substance was a composite of matter and form, and these two were irreducible; for even if matter did not actually exist separately, pure form does. Possibly the Stoics were more successful. But the Neoplatonists, who are ordinarily regarded as the most insistent on unity, hide a dualism as basic as that of the Manichaeans. For aside from the difficulty of understanding how the One could produce multiplicity, there is the existence of that unreal Darkness in which the light of the One shines forth and is finally extinguished. If reason demands unity, then, it seems only the noble Parmenides was rational. But now the problem of the world must be considered from another angle. 
The Christian view of things also seems to resemble a dualism: At least the world and God may be called two “substances”; neither one is the substance of the other. But actually Christianity is more successfully monistic that Neoplatonism was. God alone is the eternal substance, the independent principle; apart from the creation of the world nothing exists besides him. This underlines the essential and controversial elements of the Hebrew-Christian doctrine. First, as Creator, God is viewed, not as an undifferentiated One that produces a world by necessity, but as a living mind who with foreknowledge creates voluntarily. Plotinus explicitly denied will to his One; but will is one of the most prominent aspects of the Biblical Deity. Second, precisely because God is Creator, the world is called into being by divine fiat alone: There is no pre-existing matter to be formed or organized; there is not even a Darkness or Void out of which or into which the universe is created. And third, this implies that the world had a first moment and that its past history is finite. 
It was this last point that Augustine thought needed special defense against the previous philosophies, for whatever their differences were, they all agreed that the world has always existed. If Plato’s Demiurge formed the world-soul and organized chaotic space, it is nonetheless an eternal activity; Aristotle explicitly maintained that motion never began and will never end; the Stoics indeed gave the present world a finite history, but they made it one of an infinite series of worlds, a view strangely adopted by Origen also; and of course the emanation of the world from the Neoplatonic One is a necessary and eternal process. The view that the world began has its only source in Biblical revelation. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 186-187 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Considerable criticism has been directed against the notion of an arbitrary Deity. He is castigated as an oriental, irrational despot. Though the term oriental might be a symptom of racial prejudice, the accusation of irrationality is evil in any language. It is universally recognized that a man who act arbitrarily or irrationally is ignorant, stupid, or irresponsible. In the case of man, however, there are entities and conditions which he does not control. Knowledge of these is required for rational action for the very reason that an action is rational because the conditions have been taken into account. But in the case of the Christian God there are no independent conditions; there are no superior Ideas to which he must conform. In fact, the characteristics of infinity, omnipotence, and liberty which Duns stressed, should have led him to deny the distinction between intellect and will in God and to come closer to the position that God is will. Intellect and rationality are clearly subordinate to things known, and there can be no things to know unless God wills to create them. Only one apparent exception can be mentioned. It might be said that God first knows himself, and this is what Duns actually maintained; and knowing himself first he ipso facto knows the range of infinite possibility; then secondarily, he wills to create several but not all of these possibilities. At the same time, however, God wills himself, wills to exist, eternally wills to beget the Son and send forth the Holy Ghost; with the result that self-knowledge and self-will become indistinguishable. Like Plotinus who denied that the One acted voluntarily, all critics of arbitrary Deity reject the concept of a living, personal God; and on the basis of an impersonal, blind, mechanical, involuntary world force, they understandably take issue with Christianity. 
Not only do they reject the notion of a living God, but all the more they reject the notion of a loving God. Duns stresses the love of God; and love, a volition, is clearly arbitrary. Even in human affairs it is often a mystery why one person loves another; we often say that there is no reason at all; or perhaps we say that Peter loves Heloise because of her pleasant qualities, failing to recognize that other persons have the same or even better pleasant qualities without attracting Peter’s love. This is more profoundly true in the case of God’s love for some men above others. All men are sinners and rebels before God; none has any merit before him or any claim to his grace; he has no respect for their persons; yet he elects, chooses, or loves some and not others. Of all things, love is the most arbitrary. The term arbitrary which these critics apply to God is, of course, loaded. A Christian in more honorific language would speak of the sovereignty of God. In working out his plan, God shows wisdom and reason, in the sense that the means are perfectly proportioned to the ends. But the end, as end, cannot be a means to anything further; and as Aristotle said that one can deliberate about means but never about ends, so the Christians would say that God’s end is a matter of sovereign choice or will. Otherwise, there would be no universal teleology and, to skip several steps in the argument, the absence of moral principles for man would make the choice between life and suicide irrational. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 229-230 – original date of publication: 1957)
While in the former context Clark is only distinguishing his view from Neoplatonic simplicity, he prefaced his comments in the latter section, a summary of Duns Scotus' thought, with a recognition that this impacts whether or not he could agree with Aquinas' theory of divine simplicity:
The general principle is that natural motion, even though the term motion is not properly applicable to God, precedes voluntary motion. Therefore, God’s first act is to know himself, naturally or necessarily, and this knowing is the eternal begetting of the Son. Thus an intellectual act precedes all volition; from which it follows that God is not to be defined simply as omnipotent will. Whether God’s simplicity is violated by attributing to him both intellect and will is another question; at least Duns agrees with Thomas in making nature and intellect supreme in God. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 228 – original date of publication: 1957)
Now, I still think it is far from clear that necessitarianism and divine simplicity mutually imply one another. I do think the latter implies the former (p -> q). And what Clark points out seems to suggest the same, for he is arguing that a denial of necessitarianism (~q) implies (->) a denial of divine simplicity (~p). But Clark had already said he thought creation isn't necessary, so given this and his criticisms of Aquinas' view, there appears to be good evidence that "early Clark" denied divine simplicity. If not for the second and third paragraphs in the following, I should say it was obvious:
On the assumption that God created man in his own image, it cannot further be asserted that God is totally other and unlike. Though God’s thoughts are far above our thoughts, though God is infinite and man finite, and even in spite of the intellectual blindness due to sin, a revealed religion must assert that man can know God. The extent of this knowledge, however, is a matter of dispute. Every so often an individual or a group has espoused some form of irrational mysticism, has replaced knowledge with a trance, has reduced religion to an emotion, and has limited speech to confusing illustrations and analogies. More learned than this in appearance perhaps, but not greatly superior is negative theology, which asserts that we can know that God is but not what God is – i.e., we can know the existence of God but not his essence. Knowledge of God’s existence is to know that God is; knowledge of God’s essence is to know what God is. But if we do not know what God is, we do not know what we are asserting the existence of. God becomes merely an unknown object. And why anyone should worship an unknown object, or how anyone could adjust his conduct to such, is hard to explain. Apparently allowing for greater positive knowledge is the position that the attributes of God can be known, but not God himself. That God is righteous and merciful is no doubt true; other attributes may similarly be asserted; but the God or essence that has these attributes, i.e., the substance to which these attributes attach, is said to remain in impenetrable darkness. 
The discussion of these and other solutions has been attended with considerable confusion, arising both from the difficulties of the problem itself and perhaps even more from ambiguities in terminology. If the existence or Being of God is considered apart from and prior to the essence and the attributes of God, these latter, after a chemical analogy, take on the aspect of added elements, and this seems to compromise the alleged simplicity of the divine Being. But even if simplicity should not require the identification of existence and essence, such an identification is necessary to avoid reducing the existing God to an unknown object, for the what must exist and the that must be known. The distinction between substance and attributes is also difficult. Substance is a synonym for essence, is it not? But what are attributes? And what is their relation to essence? Are not attributes predicates which are distinct from the subject or substance to which they attach? Yet, if the attributes are not the essence, are they unessential? Would the essence of God remain unchanged in itself, if one of the attributes were taken from it? Would God be what God is, if omnipotence or omniscience could not be predicated of him? In fact, what is essence or what is essential other than the attributes? 
In addition to the distinction or the denial of a distinction between essence and attribute, the status of the attributes themselves has also been a matter of dispute. It has been asked, Do the several attributes have different definitions when applied to God, as they have when applied to men? Wisdom and power, righteousness and love do not mean the same thing in human affairs, but is there a real difference between them in the case of God? Or, are the attributes merely human ways of apprehending the manifestations of God’s activity? If the attributes are merely subjective, and perhaps arbitrary human representations, and the distinctions do not exist in God, then it would seem that knowledge of them would not constitute knowledge of God. Words ought to have definite meanings; and when righteousness, power, and love are made synonyms, they convey no definite thought. Such seems to be the result of removing objective or real distinctions from God’s being. Yet perhaps this skeptical conclusion does not strictly follow. God’s essence, to be equated with one attribute, could be omnipotence. Being omnipotent, God promulgates and enforces laws of morality. It is a function of omnipotence, but men may call it righteousness. Being omnipotent, God plans and executes the course of history so as to produce a chosen culmination. This too is omnipotence, but men may call it wisdom. Thus, though righteousness and wisdom are not distinct in God, they have points of reference in experience, are therefore distinguishable, and hence can be known. It cannot be objected that in this case God is not “really” righteous. Also, the one attribute of omnipotence is not an empty, indeterminate concept, and God is not reduced, as mystics sometimes reduce him, to a divine Nothing or celestial Void. 

Some of the difficulty in this problem is real and some is only verbal. Contemplation of the majesty and sublimity of God, of whom our knowledge is admittedly inadequate, often leads religious minds to a mystical and skeptical view of transcendence. But, as has been said, this is inconsistent with a revealed religion. Related to sublimity, though more a philosophic than a distinctly religious motif, is the simplicity of God’s essence. For Christians, however, the doctrine of the Trinity precludes a simplicity that would reduce God to an Eleatic or Neoplatonic One. And for Philo, who of course knew nothing of the Trinity, as well as for Christians, the Ideas in God’s mind rule out an utter unity. When God is conceived of as a mind, he may be the one and only God beside whom there is no other; but his mind need not be an immense blank or homogenous confusion. On the other hand, much of the difficulty is verbal because of an incomplete theory of logic. Some theologians seem to have no precise definition of the terms essence and attribute, and therefore the relation between them is nebulous. Aristotle made the substance or reality his first category and attempted to define property, attribute, and accident. He was not altogether successful, as a preceding chapter briefly indicated, but the Christian theologians, it must be said, did no better. When, as in the later Middle Ages, they consciously followed Aristotle, as in the Patristic and Protestant periods, it is hard to guess what they meant by these terms. Even the listing of the attributes falls into confusion. Are knowing and willing attributes? Are the Ideas in God’s mind attributes? How could on be able to answer these questions without knowing the meaning of the term attribute, without a developed theory of logic? And this is what has frequently been missing.(Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 169-171 – original date of publication: 1957)
A few things. First, notice that when Clark raises points that seem to be objectionable to divine simplicity, he uses words like "compromise" and "violate." It seems to me that one would only talk that way if he really thought what is being compromised or violated is true - or at least possibly true. Similarly, notice that when Clark objects that distinct attributes should have distinct meanings that he goes on to provide a potential line of defense for the advocate of divine simplicity. And third, he even seems to provide a positive argument for it: "even if simplicity should not require the identification of existence and essence, such an identification is necessary to avoid reducing the existing God to an unknown object, for the what must exist and the that must be known."

Still, I would lean more toward the interpretation that the above is not meant to be construed as an active defense of divine simplicity but rather like an inner dialogue in which Clark is playing out his thought process. For example, just because "the what must exist and the that must be known" doesn't imply the that is identical to the what - or if it does, it certainly doesn't imply that their can't be any distinction within the that/what in question. 

Instead, the whole point of the section seems to be summed up in the last paragraph, which states the need for clarity and thoroughness on the matter. He repeats that Christians shouldn't consider God to be transcendent to the point of epistemic vacuity a la the Neoplatonic One. And he does say that God's mind is not "an immense blank or homogenous confusion." Now, since Clark eventually tried to square divine simplicity with a multiplicity of propositional thoughts and denied that the result was similar to Plotinus' One, it cannot be assumed these statement imply Clark at this point denied divine simplicity (i.e. perhaps Clark was inconsistent all along). 

But this section occurs earlier in the book than his references to simplicity in Aquinas and Duns Scotus, so it also would make sense that Clark would preface his actual thoughts on the matter with some general discussion (cf. "alleged simplicity"). So more so on the basis that Clark recognized the tension between simplicity and a "free" creation and sided with the latter - since I really can't get a reading on whether Clark thought the argument against Aquinas's views applied to himself, though I think (sadly) that he probably just copied and pasted earlier material into later works, works which don't really touch on the subject of divine simplicity, without thinking through the implications of how it affected his modified position - I lean more toward the idea Clark denied divine simplicity.

Given all this, when and why did Clark change his mind? What defines "early Clark" as opposed to "late Clark"? From what I can tell, the change occurred some time between 1959 and 1961. In 1959, when Clark wrote Special Divine Revelation as Rational, he was still saying that simplicity entails the identity of God's existence and essence:
For Thomas Aquinas there are two ways of knowing God: First, the way of negative theology, which we shall not discuss; and second, the method of analogy. Since God is pure being, without parts, whose essence is identical with his existence, the terms applied to him cannot be used in precisely the sense in which they apply to created things. If it is said that a man is wise and that God is wise, it must be remembered that the wisdom of man is an acquired wisdom, while God has never learned. The human mind is subject to the truth; truth is its superior. But God’s mind is the cause of the truth by thinking it, or, perhaps, God is the truth. Hence the term mind does not mean precisely the same thing in the case of God and man. Not only these terms, but the notion of existence also, is not the same. Since God’s existence is his essence – an identity unduplicated in any other instance – even the word existence does not apply univocally to God and the world of creation. 
At the same time, Thomas does not wish to admit that the terms are equivocal. When it is said that playboys lead fast lives, while ascetics fast, the word has no meaning in common. Though the letters and pronunciation are the same, the intellectual contents in the two instances are utterly diverse. Between such equivocation and strict univocity, Thomas asserts that words may have an analogical use; and that in the case of God and man, the predicates are applied analogically. 
If, now, the analogical meanings of wise or of existence had a common area of meaning, that common area could be designated by a univocal term. This term then could be applied univocally to God and man. But Thomas insists that no term can be so applied. This in effect removes all trace of identical meaning in the two instances. But if this be so, how can an argument – the cosmological argument – be formally valid when its premises use terms in one sense and the conclusion uses those terms in a completely different sense? The premises of the cosmological argument speak of the existence of movers within the range of human experience; the conclusion concerns the existence of a first mover. But if these terms are not taken univocally, the argument is a fallacy. (God’s Hammer, 1995, pgs. 70-71 – original date of publication: 1959)

Of course, given that Thales to Dewey was written in 1957, that can always be taken as a cutoff date. Anyway, by 1961, it seems Clark changed his mind:
The quotations just made from the three authors might be taken to indicate that they favor the Thomistic primacy of the intellect rather than the Augustinian primacy of the will. They seem to say that the intellect invariably and automatically dominates the will. Calvin indeed said that it is the office of the will to choose what the understanding shall have pronounced to be good and that the will always respects its authority (Institutes, I, xv, 7). Now, there have been plausible Aristotelian arguments to the effect that the will automatically chooses what appears as good to the intellect. Freedom of the will from the intellect is thus repudiated. And possibly Calvin had this theory in mind when he wrote this section. But if we stress the unity of the person more than Calvin did and insist that intellectual assent is an act of volition as Augustine so broadly hinted, the radical distinction between will and intellect, necessary if one is to command and the other to obey, falls away. This bears also on the simplicity of the divine nature and will be referred to again in the last chapter. 
The primacy of the intellect, then, cannot be a power automatically exercised over the volition regarded as a separate faculty. This would violate the unity of the person. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 178 – original date of publication: 1961)
Readers should note why Clark changed his mind. It wasn't because he became a necessitarian. Even after he wrote this he maintained that creation wasn't necessary, at least for a while:
Christian theologians have commonly pointed out that creation as a voluntary act is incompatible with Hegelian philosophy. Hegel can very sincerely say that the world depends on God or the Absolute, and to this extent he sounds like a Christian’ but Hegel continues as no Christian can and adds that the Absolute conversely depends on the world. This mutual dependence is essentially pantheism. No single thing by itself, the Sun, the Moon, or John Doe, is God’ but the whole, not in its plurality but in its unity, is God. God and the universe are one reality. Barth’s rejection of this mutual dependence, of this reciprocity between whole and part, is clear cut: “God would be non the less God if he had not created a world and man. The world’s existence and our existence is no wise essentially necessary to God, even as the object of his love” (I, 1, 158) (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, 1997, pgs. 38 – original date of publication: 1963)
Of course, he changed his mind there too, but the cause and effect should not be switched. His views on divine simplicity is the cause. His change in views on necessitarianism was the - or an - effect. Likewise, Clark's ultimate theory that a person is what he thinks was an effect, not a cause. I do not think Clark mentions a particular theory until 1968 in his reply to Nash, and even then he only goes so far as to say persons are propositions, not that they are what they think. It doesn't appear he fully accepted the implications of a God who is pure act - and therefore is what He thinks - until after 1975:
Above the Soul is the Divine Mind, or World of Ideas. Were there no such mind, an explanation of human intelligence would be impossible. On occasion men withdraw themselves from the insistent sense impressions and impetuous desires of everyday life and give themselves over to the calm subject of geometry or some deeper philosophical reflection. Men may even go beyond reflection and enjoy beauty of union with the divine. Here men are in the realm of Ideas, far above the level of perception.  
Stressing the viewpoint of Plato’s Sophist, Plotinus makes it clear that the Ideas are not just a collection of hypostatized concepts, but are in truth a living mind. At this point, a modern student who has heard of Berkeleyan idealism, or a Christian who makes God’s decree dependent on God’s activity of thinking must take care not to misunderstand Plotinus. “Not by its thinking movement does movement arise. Hence it is an error to call the Idea intellections in the sense that upon an intellectual act in this principle one such Idea or another is made to exist” (V, ix, 7). Mind and its objects are not different, the latter inferior to the former. Mind is what it thinks.  
Philosophy, however, since its purpose is to discover unity, cannot stop with the Mind or World of Ideas because here duality still remains. There is a multiplicity of Ideas. In knowledge there are subjects and predicates. Unity requires a further ascent above and beyond duality, therefore beyond knowledge, to the ineffable One. Rational argument shows the need of postulating this One; but to be unified with it, man must leave reason behind and experience the One is a mystic vision.  
Four times during Porphyry’s study under him, Plotinus enjoyed this communion. This is a state in which ordinary consciousness is suspended. The soul no longer knows whether it has a body, and cannot tell whether it is a man, a living being, or anything real at all. Knowledge is somewhat like seeing sense objects on a cloudy day. In the vision a man sees the Source of the light that made knowledge possible, and he sees it directly in all its brilliance. This experience is not abnormal; it is the exercise of a faculty that all have but few use; he who has seen, says Plotinus, knows what I mean. (Ancient Philosophy, 1997, pgs. 286-287 – original date of publication: 1975)
No, the real root of Clark's change - in emphasis, if not in point of fact - is in his identification of God's intellect and will. This theme becomes more prominent in his later works:
Berkhof is partly correct when he says that God’s “knowledge is not like ours, obtained from without.... It is innate and immediate and does not result from observation...” (66). Certainly God’s knowledge is not obtained from without, as the result of observation. But some of our knowledge also is innate and therefore immediate. The difference is that all of God’s knowledge is innate and immediate. Indeed, God’s knowledge is God; and we are our limited knowledge. Then too when Berkhof includes the additional phrases, “intuitive rather than discursive...or from a process of reasoning,” he leads us into confusion. If God’s knowledge is not demonstrative, he must be ignorant of the Pythagorean theorem. He did not have to labor, as Pythagoras did, to discover the proof, but still it is a demonstrative proof and God knows the demonstration. Nor can we agree with Berkhof when in the same paragraph he maintains that some parts of God’s knowledge are and some are not “purely an act of the divine intellect without any concurrent action of the divine will.” This radical separation of the will from the intellect is destructive of the simplicity of the divine nature. And, further, it would seem to require alternating periods of time when the will was active and the intellect was not with other periods when the reverse was the case. This is inconsistent with God’s eternity. (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 98-99 – original date of publication: 1985) 
A. A. Hodges repeated emphasis on justice, and his manner of doing so, almost immediately produces the impression that he is subordinating God to some superior law of justice, thus impugning God’s sovereignty. This pinpoints the problem of absolute necessity. 
Such an impression is supported by Hodge’s later procedure. His early remarks on the governmental theory (58ff.) assert several times the intrinsic rightness of the moral law, and intrinsic rightness superior to the divine will: “He wills the precept because [italics his] it is intrinsically right.” Hence there seems to be something superior to the will of God. But before quoting Calvin to the contrary, one may ask whether Hodge only means that God’s will is subordinate to God’s intellect, and that therefore there is no moral principle superior to God. Such a reply, however, entails a distinction between God’s intellect and God’s will, so that one “part” of God is subordinate to another part. This, combined with the separation of the divine attributes, raises difficulties with the simplicity of God’s being. (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 100 – original date of publication: 1987) 
What is nature? Do we not speak of the nature of this or that? Then must we not speak of the nature of God, the nature of God’s will, the nature of God’s intelligence? Nature is not a constituent of anything. It is simply the thing’s characteristics. God’s nature, like a dog’s nature, is such and such because such are the characteristics of the god or of God. The nature is simply the way the dog or God acts. There is no nature that controls God’s will. As Isaac Watts once wrote, “Dogs delight to bark and bite, for ‘tis their nature to.” (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 128 – original date of publication: 1987) 
As previously asserted by the present writer, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross satisfied the justice of the Father. But now it should be clear that justice is one facet of sovereignty. There is no moral principle superior to God. I can say that there is no moral principle superior to the will of God. God’s will and God’s intellect are identical. Justice is what God thinks. To suppose that anything could have been otherwise is to suppose that God could have been otherwise than he is. (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 133 – original date of publication: 1987)
Now, clearly there is no instance in which God thinks something to which He has not assented, and assent involves the will. Likewise, I do not believe it makes sense to say that God wills unthinkingly. But I do not see that it follows God's will is identical to God's intellect, let alone His essence. There is surely a need to revisit the topic of necessitarianism, for early Clark makes some interesting points and later Clark some bad ones, both of which need to be addressed, at least if the view is to be defended. But that I will leave for another time, as I will questions that advocates of divine simplicity have for those who reject it (at least in the above sense that God's essence just is His attribute[s]).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scripturalism and Foundationalism

So much for that hibernation. I've been asked to elaborate on the following quote, most of which I provided in my most recent post (link):
We can ask why self-justifying reasons are self-justifying. If the traditional foundationalist has an answer, it seems like it must involve some metajustificatory feature. If the traditional foundationalist has no answer, it seems like the view has arbitrary foundations. (See BonJour, Structure, 30-3, for a similar argument.)  
However, the traditional foundationalist can argue that completely self-justifying reasons are not self-justifying in virtue of some metajustificatory feature, nor are they arbitrary. It may be that certain reasons have to be assumed to be self-justifying if skepticism is to be avoided. This is a rather familiar form of rationalist argument for the existence of a priori justification. Here, the main implication of these arguments is that there might be a way to non arbitrarily show that we need to take certain reasons to be completely self-justifying without requiring that there be a metajustificatory feature which makes those reasons self-justifying. What convinces us we need to take those reasons to be self-justifying need not make them self-justifying. 
This move does not seem to be available in the case of reasons that are self-justifying only to a degree. (pg. 544) 
Fantl draws a distinction between two types of foundationalism: traditional and metajustificatory. In both cases, what is under consideration is the justificatory status of basic beliefs, foundations, first principles, epistemic presuppositions, axioms, [insert favorite synonym here]. On traditional foundationalism, a basic belief is self-justifying; that is, one is justified in believing a proposition just because the proposition is true. On metajustificatory foundationalism, a basic belief is justified because of some feature the proposition in question possesses in addition to its own propositional content: its feature could refer to coherence, reliable deliverance, or whatnot. See pg. 540ff. for particulars.

Klein thinks a metajustification is a justification of a belief, "justifications designed to show that certain types of beliefs are acceptable even in the absence of another belief that serves as a reason... because they have some property, call it P, and beliefs having P are likely to be true" ("Human Knowledge and the Infinite Regress of Reasons," pg. 303; link). Note the word "likely." I'm not sure that metajustificatory foundationalism is committed to fallibilism, and Klein may have a different view of what metajustification is than Fantl, but given that Fantl thinks that metajustificatory foundationalism can satisfy the so-called "degree requirement," it's worth mentioning that metajustificatory foundationalism would be compatible with a fallible foundational belief.

Traditional foundationalism, on the other hand, is not compatible with fallibilism. For as Fantl notes, the question would otherwise arise as to why certain basic beliefs would be justified to a degree different than that of other basic beliefs. An answer can't fall back on a metajustificatory feature by definition (traditional vs. metajustificatory), nor does it make sense to ground the difference on a common quality, viz. that both propositions in question are true. So arbitrariness would seem to appear here. Hence we have Fantl's implication in the above quote that traditional foundationalism must take the only out given to it: deny fallibilism, i.e. the "degree requirement."

Regardless of whether metajustificatory foundationalism is committed to fallibilism, on the face of it, it looks as if Scripturalism is committed to traditional foundationalism anyway. As Fantl notes, defenses of and attempts to convince others that a proposition should be believed as basic and self-justifying need not be the grounds for our own belief that a proposition is basic and self-justifying. And yet our belief need not be arbitrary, for the proposition may need to be self-justifying if we are to avoid skepticism.

In the case of Scripturalism's sufficient (and itself necessary) condition for knowledge - the axiom of revelation - we cannot supplement its justification with some feature not inherent in the propositional content conveyed: "The Bible alone comprises the extant extent of that which men can know: i.e. divine revelation." Someone asks us how we know that, we answer that such is self-justifying. We can know it because it is true.

Now, the precondition of a self-authentic, omniscient communicator (linklink), for instance, can show why this sufficient condition must be self-justifying in order to avoid skepticism - hence, the sufficient condition is not arbitrary - but that does not make these subordinate preconditions for knowledge our grounds for believing our foundational axiom. The truth is just the reverse. Each of these propositions must be true - so the acceptance of one implicitly requires acceptance of the other - but our knowledge of the sufficient condition for knowledge must logically precede knowledge of subordinate preconditions (link). In fact, this is an implication of the aforementioned subordinate precondition: supposing a self-authenticating communication from one who is omniscient is a precondition for knowledge, we must have first identified and used that very communication to have established that very supposition. The importance of a subordinate precondition is that it can be as a reductio ad absurdem against the positions of people who don't agree with our epistemic foundation, not so that we can somehow provide a reason for or metajustificatory feature of our own epistemic foundation. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Contemporary Epistemology: Infinitism

In my break from blogging, I've read a lot about how contemporary epistemologists think beliefs can be justified. There are three typical suggestions as to how this can be done: foundationalism, traditional coherentism, and infinitism. The first says that a belief is justified if it 1) itself is or 2) is eventually inferred from a [justified] basic belief, a belief which is itself not inferred from anything else. The second says that the justification of a belief is circular: premises used to support an allegedly justified belief will actually evidence themselves as being premised upon on the very belief in question. The third says that beliefs require justification via a series of non-repeating, non-ending beliefs. There are variations within these frameworks - some say justified beliefs can be based on "unjustified" foundations; some hold to a non-traditional coherentism which actually turns out to be a sort of foundationalism - but in general, the idea that justified beliefs end somewhere, repeat, or neither end nor repeat are taken to be comprehensive alternatives to global skepticism, the conclusion that no beliefs can be justified.

Most contemporary epistemologists aren't global skeptics, so most contemporary epistemologists are obliged to defend one of the above structural theories. Historically, a usual point of departure for such defenses has been a quick dismissal of infinitism by arguing that an infinite regress is somehow vicious. But in the past 15 years, infinitism has experienced increasing support in the philosophic community. Each philosopher has his own specific emphases and disagrees with others on certain points, but among others, Peter Klein, Scott Aikin, David Atkinson, Jeanne Peijnenburg, Jeremy Fantl, and John Turri have defended it.

As is often the case, however, the proponents of a theory are often the first to mention its weaknesses, even if unwittingly. For instance, in "Modest Infinitism" (link), Fantl writes:
It is true that infinitism (on my construal) will give no answer to the question of what degree of justification is required for knowledge. But infinitism is not the only epistemic theory with this difficulty. Any fallibilistic epistemic theory will have trouble specifying a non-arbitrary threshold for knowledge. Certainty is too high a threshold (because the theory is fallibilistic), and any degree of justification less than certainty seems arbitrary. To solve this problem we might want to say that the degree of justification required for knowledge varies according to non-epistemic features of your situation. The degree of justification required for knowledge would thus be determined by context (for example, your stake in the belief being true). Whether one is tempted by a view like this (and it is open to the infinitist to adopt it), the difficulty infinitism runs into in setting a threshold for knowledge is not unique to infinitism and therefore cannot be decisive against it. (pg. 559)
While I have seen Klein, Atkinson, and Peijnenburg make the same appeal to pragmatic contextualization to specify the degree threshold, I have yet to see anyone specify how to non-arbitrarily choose it. So Fantl's conclusion is ironic, given that Klein and others principally reject foundationalism for allegedly requiring that one arbitrarily choose what to hold as a basic belief. Even more ironic is the fact that earlier in his article, Fantl explains how a foundationalist can avoid arbitrarity, an explanation which is strikingly similar to what I have argued on this blog regarding necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge:
We can ask why self-justifying reasons are self-justifying. If the traditional foundationalist has an answer, it seems like it must involve some metajustificatory feature. If the traditional foundationalist has no answer, it seems like the view has arbitrary foundations. (See BonJour, Structure, 30-3, for a similar argument.) 
However, the traditional foundationalist can argue that completely self-justifying reasons are not self-justifying in virtue of some metajustificatory feature, nor are they arbitrary. It may be that certain reasons have to be assumed to be self-justifying if skepticism is to be avoided. This is a rather familiar form of rationalist argument for the existence of a priori justification. Here, the main implication of these arguments is that there might be a way to non arbitrarily show that we need to take certain reasons to be completely self-justifying without requiring that there be a metajustificatory feature which makes those reasons self-justifying. What convinces us we need to take those reasons to be self-justifying need not make them self-justifying. (pg. 544) 
So Fantl himself has put a certain kind of foundationalism in a rather favorable light, only to reject it himself. Why? Because such foundationalism cannot admit of degrees. But interestingly, as often as infinitists [rightly] complain that foundationalists beg the question by using the concept of "warrant-transfer" to falsify infinitism - which I'll get to in a moment - here we see just the reverse; foundationalism is ruled out because it proves too much. Or, more simply, foundationalism is ruled out because it proves. But so what?

See, while there are discrepancies here and there among infinitists, one core agreement seems to be that all justification is probabilistic and, hence, provisional. This is an assumption prevalent among contemporary epistemologists, and infinitists have helped themselves to it. This has worked out nicely for infinitists in some respects.

For instance, it allows them to appeal to probabilistic support for beliefs instead of relying on a deductive inference by which one could see the inheritance of a truth value from one proposition to another. What would be so bad about such a transfer theory? What would be so bad is that infinitism has no place for it. Justification of a proposition can't be inherited from a reason whose justification is inherited from another reason whose justification is inherited from another reason ad infinitum, because then we have a sort of argumentative analogy to a moral theory in which, since there is never an end good, there can never be a method by which we could judge any so-called means to be good. Everything is an instrument to and for nothing with the relevant feature possessed intrinsically, so there is no means of determining that any one of the links in the chain actually possesses the feature. At most, there is only a series of conditionals: "if this is justified or good, then that is justified or good." And in the case of justification, even the justificatory status of these conditionals gets called into question.

Perhaps the above could be phrased better, but in any case, Klein, Atkinson, Peijnenburg, etc. have acknowledged the force of the gist of this argument, which is usually the point at which the objection arises that justification doesn't have to be construed as a transfer. Rather, it can simply "emerge" from a set of propositions. b probabilistically supports a, which is probabilistically supported by c, which is probabilistically supported by d, ad infinitum. The degree to which b probabilistically supports a can differ from the degree to which c probabilistically supports b (though each will by definition be more probable than not). So there is no strict transfer here. Furthermore, the degree to which a is justified is defined by the limit of a series of summed products, so justification has thereby "emerged" from a whole string of reasons. This seems to be the infinitist's response to foundationalism, and so far as a foundationalist accepts the principle that justification comes in degrees, he may find it hard to fight infinitism without hurting his own cause.

But here's where the niceness ends, because I don't see why the foundationalist should have to grant the probabilistic assumption in the first place. The only reason I have seen given for the rejection of infallibilism is that it rules out too much of what we want to say we know. But that's ad hoc, not an argument. On the other hand, Gettier cases provide an actual argument as to why there can be no such thing as fallible "knowledge" (in the epistemic sense).

Furthermore, just as I have yet to see an infinitist explain how he has non-arbitrarily chosen a specific threshold for "knowledge," I have yet to see an infinitist explain how he has non-arbitrarily assigned probabilities. Does the infinitist have a reason for his assertion that b probabilitistically supports a to degree n? When and how did his capacity to non-arbitrarily assign probabilities arise? How does one non-arbitrarily adjudicate a disagreement?

And then what about the mathematical principles which the infinitist utilizes? In many of Peijnenburg's and Atkinson's papers, they append mathematical "proofs" as to how the convergence and determination of the limit of an infinite series is possible. Are these proofs not infallible? Are there no necessary truths? Can what is probable be improbable? When we reject these things, are we not worse than admitted skeptics?

I haven't even mentioned the old finite mind objection - that we as humans can't hold an infinitude of beliefs and so can't be infinitists. There has probably been more written on this objection than any other. And yet even here, I think infinitists are being put on their heels a bit. Klein has said that the requirement that one actually believe an infinitude of propositions would reduce infinitism to absurdity, but the alternative he provides does not give us any assurance that the point at which we stop providing reasons for a belief is not the point at which the justification for our belief begins to dip below whatever threshold we've "established." In other words, another arbitrarity problem.

I think the popularity of infinitism has brought to light more problems than answers. Still, it is interesting reading, and I'll look forward to this book coming out next year. Until then, I guess I'll be satisfied with google scholar and the library. Ok, back to hibernation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gordon Clark on the Problem of Partial Knowledge

As a preface to this post, I've decided to take a break from blogging. I'm not sure for how long. I'd like to try to integrate some of the thoughts from my posts into a one-stop read for a coherent Christian apologetic, so I'll still be working on that if nothing else. But to be honest, every so often I just run out of things to write about that I find particularly interesting on which I feel I can make some sort of relevant comment. It takes some time for the motivation and creative juices to start flowing again.

Enough about that. Building on The Gordon Clark Project and a post I wrote a while ago (link), I believe the following illustrates how one can present the argument that an omniscient person is a precondition for knowledge by means of Clark's writings. There is a broader context in which I could have placed these quotes - namely, Clark's thoughts on necessary conditions in general - but I didn't want to over-complicate this clear line of thought:


A system of philosophy purports to answer certain questions. To understand the answers, it is essential to know the questions. When the questions are clearly put, there is less likelihood that the answers will seem irrelevant to important issues. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pgs. 19-20)

A proposition can be judged ridiculous only if it contradicts some exceptionally well-established truth. If nothing has as yet been established, Descartes’ demon cannot be known to be ridiculous. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 32)

The more the various subjects are studied, the more their interrelationships will be seen. Indeed, the breadth of philosophic discipline as opposed to the narrow specialty of a single science depends on these manifold and intricate connections. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pg. 109)

This is a constant trouble with philosophic subjects. One hardly begins a topic before one discovers that another matter calls for prior attention. We are always being pushed back or forward, until it seems impossible to solve any one problem without solving all. Omniscience is the prerequisite, and omniscience is hard to come by. (Gordon Clark, Modern Philosophy, 2008, pg. 28)

What follows if it is true that psychological analysis presupposes a “complete knowledge of the psychological possibilities of life”? It would follow, would it not, that historical analysis also presupposes a complete knowledge of historical possibilities. In short, it would be impossible to know anything without knowing everything.

Such a Platonic or Hegelian requirement of omniscience is a serious philosophical problem. It is not to be dismissed thoughtlessly. The meticulous scholar, J. H. Hexter, in his Reappraisals of History, castigates historical relativism as a fad and insists on the “rudimentary distinction” between knowing something and knowing everything. But he omits all philosophic justification for this distinction.

Undoubtedly this distinction must be maintained, if a human being is able to know anything at all. Make omniscience the prerequisite of partial knowledge, and partial knowledge vanishes. But Bultmann, like Hexter, offers no help: less help, in fact, for Bultmann lets the requirements of omniscience stand. (Gordon Clark, Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pg. 334).

Now, where the Ideas are important, everything is related to everything else. To use a crude example, the explanation of a desk lamp would require explanations of desks and lamps. The desks would then lead us into carpentry, labor troubles, kinds of wood, forestry, and governmental conservation. An explanation of lamps would include the laws of electricity, and so on forever. In fact, before one could understand a desk lamp, one would have to understand the universe.

This stress on the interrelations of everything with everything can be developed in two directions. One may argue: Since we know this one thing, we can deduce everything else; or one may argue: Since we do not know everything else, neither do we know this. The first direction has appealed to Hegel, to Bonaventure, Augustine, and Plato. (Ancient Philosophy, 1997, pg. 145)


But though there may be Ideas of some sort, when Plato leaves mathematics for politics the plausibility of reminiscence vanishes. The slave boy was easily able to remember the square on the diagonal, but neither the Athenians nor the Syracusans could remember justice, not even with the lengthy stimulus of the Republic.

Justice, of course, is a matter of ethics and politics; and more will be said about ethics later. But the definition of man as a two-legged animal without feathers is another case where reminiscence did not work too well. The difficulty is that, after one grants the existence of suprasensible Ideas, sensation stimulates different notions in different people. Whether the subject is justice or piety or the planetary spheres, Plato had to reply on procedures of ethics and science that cannot be completed.

The failure of Platonism to descend from Heaven to Earth, or, if you wish, to ascend from Earth to heaven, leaves the theory ineffective. Man before birth may have been omniscient, but here below the Platonic cave in which man is a prisoner actually has no opening. Platonism therefore cannot be accepted as the solution to our problem. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 30)


That relations are internal, and especially that the truth is the whole, are themes hard to deny. Yet their implications are devastating. So long as you or I do not know the relationships which constitute the meaning of cat or self, we do not know the object in question. If we say that we know some of the relationships – e.g., a cat is not-a-dog and admit that we do not know other relationships – e.g., a cat is not-an-(animal we have never heard of before) – it follows that we cannot know how this unknown relationship may alter our view of the relationship we now say we know. The alteration could be considerable. Therefore we cannot know even one relationship without knowing all. Obviously we do not know all. Therefore we know nothing.

This criticism is exceedingly disconcerting to an Hegelian, for its principle applies not merely to cats, dogs, and selves, but to the Absolute itself. The truth is the whole and the whole is the Absolute. But obviously we do not know the whole; we do not know the Absolute. In fact, not knowing the Absolute, we cannot know even that there is an Absolute. But how can Absolute Idealism be based on absolute ignorance? And ours is absolute ignorance, for we cannot know one thing without knowing all. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 153)

A further insuperable hurdle for rationalistic logic is a proposition’s meaning. The meaning of a sentence depends on its context. Logicians recognize this fact, but they identify the context as the totality of knowledge. Hence, as is all too evident with Plato and Hegel, one must be omniscient to grasp the meaning of even a single sentence. This obviously rules out all human knowledge. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 398)

William James

Reenactment of a thought is possible, nonetheless, because it can be separate from this immediacy without alteration. Not only so, it can be separated from other thoughts without alteration. Thus history becomes possible.

This self-identity of the act of thought has been denied by two extreme views. The first view is that of idealism, the theory of internal relations, the notion that everything is what it is because of its context. This makes history impossible. To know any one thing it would be necessary to know its context; i.e. to know the whole universe. Knowledge would thus be restricted to the explicit consciousness of the omniscient Absolutes; and Collingwood, though he may be Beckett, does not claim to be the Absolute.

At the same time, a second view, the view that all acts of thought are atomically distinct from one another, is as erroneous as idealism. This view does of course permit the detachment of a thought from its context, for really there is no context; there is only juxtaposition with external relations. A science is merely a collection of things known and a mind a collection of acts of knowing. (Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pgs. 225-226)

William James, in his A Pluralistic Universe stressed the disconnectedness of things. Wholes are to be explained by parts and not parts by wholes, he said; one group of events, though interrelated among themselves, may be unrelated to another group; there is no dominating unity – however much may be reported as present at any effective center of consciousness, something else is self-governed, absent, and unreduced to unity. In one place James denied the need of answering a question that many others have thought as important as it is difficult: “Not why evil should exist at all, but how we can lessen the actual amount of it, is the sole question we need there to consider.” Of course, if a question is literally meaningless (such as, why is music oblong?) it is really not a question at all and does not need to be answered. But if a question is not senseless, by what right can a philosophy rule it out of court? Even if it were quite trivial, it should find its place and its answer in some minor subdivision of the truth. Then, too, one might ask how James discovered that some groups of events are unrelated to other groups? Or, more exactly, since he allowed “external” relations and denied only “internal” relations, one might ask how James could discover that something is absent from and unreduced to unity by every effective center of consciousness? In other words, did James have a valid argument for the conclusion that there is no Omniscient Mind whose thought is systematic truth? He may then be caught on the horns of the dilemma he tried to escape. Irrational chaos and Hegelian monism were equally repellent to him. He wanted to find a middle ground. But perhaps there is no escape from irrational chaos except, not exactly Hegelian monism, but a logical completeness of some sort. It would be surprising, would it not, if social stability could be based on incoherence, or even large-scale disconnectedness?

At any rate, the suspicion that the introductory questions are all related and that an answer to any one of them affects the answer to every other would accord with the theistic belief in divine omniscience. The discouragement, the reflection, the suspicion of the previous pages do not prove or demonstrate the existence of an omniscient God; but if there is such a God, we may infer that all problems and all solutions fit one another like pieces of a marvelous mosaic. The macrocosmic world with its microcosmic but thoughtful inhabitant will not be a fortuitous aggregation of unrelated elements. Instead of a series of disconnected propositions, truth will be a rational system, a logically-ordered series, somewhat like geometry with its theorems and axioms, its implications and presuppositions. Each part will derive its significance from the whole. Christianity therefore has, or, one may even say, Christianity is a comprehensive view of all things: It takes the world, both material and spiritual, to be an ordered system. Consequently, if Christianity is to be defended against the objections of other philosophies, the only adequate method will be comprehensive. While it is of great importance to defend particular points of special interest, these specific defenses will be insufficient. In addition to these details, there is also needed a picture of the whole into which they fit. This comprehensive apologia is seen all the more clearly to be necessary as the contrasting theories are more carefully considered. The naturalistic philosophy that engulfs the modern mind is not a repudiation of one or two items of the Christian faith leaving the remainder untouched; it is not a philosophy that is satisfied to deny miracles while approving or at least not disapproving of Christian moral standards; on the contrary, both Christianity and naturalism demand all or nothing: Compromise is impossible. At least this will be true if the answer of any one question is integral with the answers of every other. Each system proposes to interpret all the fact; each system subscribes to the principle that this is one world. A universe, even James’ pluralistic universe, cannot exist half-theistic and half-atheistic. Politics, science, and epistemology must all be one or the other.

The hypothesis of divine omniscience, the emphasis on the systematic unity of all truths, and the supposition that a particular truth derives its meaning or significance from the system as a whole does not imply that a man must know everything in order to know anything. It might at first seem to; and Plato, who faced the same difficulty, tried to provide for two kinds of knowing so that in one sense a man might know everything and in another sense not know and learn a particular truth. At the moment, let an illustration suffice. To appreciate an intricate and beautiful mosaic, we must see it as a whole; and the parts are properly explained only in terms of the whole; but it does not follow that a perception of the pieces and some fragmentary information is impossible without full appreciation. Or to pass from illustration to reality: A child in first grade learns that two plus two is four. This arithmetical proposition is true, and the greatest mathematician cannot disprove it. But the mathematician sees this truth in relation to a science of numbers he understands how this sum contributes to phases of mathematics that the child does not dream of and may never learn; he recognizes that the significance of the proposition depends on its place in the system. But the child in school knows that two and two are four, and this that that child knows is true. Omniscience, even higher mathematics, is not a prerequisite for first grade. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pgs. 22-24)

The atheist who asserts that there is no God, asserts by the same words that he holds the whole universe in his mind; he asserts that no fact, past, present, future, near, or far, escapes his attention, that no power, however great, can baffle or deceive him. In rejecting God, he claims omniscience and omnipotence. In other words an atheist is one who claims that he himself is God; and the pantheist must be said to join him in the same claim. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pg. 38)

Is any proposition true in isolation? Would an atom by itself be the same regardless of how the rest of the world might change? There are plausible examples that it would not. Here is a rock that weighs six pounds. But if an astronaut carries it into space it weighs approximately zero. When he drops it on the Moon, it weighs one pound. The truth of these propositions depends of the relation of the rock to the other parts of the universe. No one is true in isolation. Obesity is cured by a trip to the Moon.

Another example is a piece of canvas painted half red and half green – or any other two colors. Through these two halves of the canvas paint a stroke of gray, a mixture of black and white; but it will not be gray on the canvas. The single stoke of paint will be one color on the top half and a different color on the bottom half. Since everything seen has a background, its color is a function of its background. It is false to say it remains what it is no matter how the rest of the universe changes.

One further example. If there were no sense of sight, there would be no sense of hearing. If there were nothing hard, there would be nothing soft. If there were no animals, there could be no plants. The reason is that each of these terms expresses a distinction from its opposites. Sight is a form of non-hearing. Were they the same, we might have the term sensation, but we would not have two terms of different meaning. The terms “plant” and “animal” would not apply to different objects, if there were no different objects. There might be “living beings,” but no plants and animals. Similarly, there would be no living beings, if there were no non-living beings. This should be sufficient to dispose of logical atomism. (Modern Philosophy, 2008, pg. 175)

Augustine and Clark

Plato and Hegel constructed theories of knowledge which, if pressed to their logical extreme, imply that man must be either omniscient or completely ignorant. If every item of knowledge is so intimately connected with every other that its true nature cannot be seen except in its relation to all, then either we know all or we know nothing. Plato and Hegel both had a hard time escaping this dilemma.

Now Moses said, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). The Bible, therefore, both here and everywhere, assumes that we can know some truths without knowing all truths. Accordingly it is incumbent upon us to develop an epistemology in which the relationships are not such as to limit us to the disjunction of total ignorance or omniscience.

This epistemology may follow Augustine’s view that Christ is the light of every man: that is, mankind possesses as an a priori endowment at least the rudiments of knowledge, so that whenever anyone knows anything he is in contact with God. Or, the epistemology required may be more skeptical as to geometry and science and simply insist that God, being omnipotent, can be a verbal revelation make his truths understandable to me. (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 1991, pgs. 245-246)

Absolutism, and theism, too, hold that everything must be related to everything else in some way; there are no two things utterly independent, though in spite of Lotze, they may nonetheless be distinct. (Modern Philosophy, 2008, pg. 288)

One of the main points that the present volume wants to emphasize is the necessary logical connection of every proposition in an intellectual system with every other. (Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pg. 179)

…this entire volume has been insisting that everything is connected with everything else. (Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pg. 183)

A knowledge of geometry, a knowledge of anything, does indeed presuppose the possibility of detaching the given proposition from the several contexts in which it has appeared historically. Collingwood’s argument against idealism is irrefutable. If one must know everything in order to know anything, one can know nothing. (Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pg. 227)

Plato in his theory of reminiscence may have used a myth to describe the disembodied soul of man contemplating the Ideas directly. This might be taken to mean that each soul is omniscient. In the Christian system this is not needed. Perhaps I have said that truth is the whole; at least I have insisted that all truth form a consistent system and have their meaning as parts of that system. But this does not entail human omniscience. At first it might seem to, for the New Testament makes our contact with the Realities more intimate than Plato does. In Acts 17:28 we read, “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” This could be made to sound like pantheism, and indeed the apostle connects his own statement with a similar sentiment in a pantheistic poet. When I have dared to connect some of my views with excerpts from pagan philosophers, I have at times been subjected to severe censure from certain quarters. But the New Testament is clear: We live and move and have our being in God’s mind. The Old Testament also in Psalm 36:9 says, “In thy light shall we see light.” Therefore I reject Nash’s conclusion, buttressed by a quotation from Etienne Gilson, that “The problem cannot be avoided simply by saying that man is in contact with divine Ideas in the mind of man.” These words really misstate the situation, for our existence in the mind of God puts us in contact with Ideas in the mind of God, and not simply “in the mind of man.”

The scripture presents the relationship between the mind of God and the mind of man as a much more intimate relationship than is commonly believed. In 1 Corinthians 2:16 the apostle says, ‘we have the mind of Christ’ (Noun Christou echomen). On this verse Meyer comments, ‘Since Christ is in them…their nous, too, can be no mental faculty different in kind from the nous Christou, but must, on the contrary, be as ideally one with it, as it is true that Christ himself lives in them.’ See also Philippians 2:5, ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Of course these verse do not equate the person of Christ with our person, either pantheistically or existentially. Their meaning is that our mind and Christ’s mind overlap or have a common area or coincidence in certain propositions. Thus objections taken from the Parmenides are inapplicable to the New Testament.

Note that Christ’s mind and our mind only overlap: they are not coextensive. Plato may require omniscience, but Christianity uses revelation; and man knows only so much as God has revealed to him. In my publications I have never claimed more than a partial knowledge for man. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pgs. 144-145)

It cannot be charged with skepticism. If it is objected that it requires an impossibility, viz. that a man be omniscient, the reply is that its Hegelian form may involve such an impossibility; but this impossibility does not occur in the Christian system where an omniscient God makes a definite revelation to man. Hence, it is not necessary for a man to know everything before he knows anything. The subjective knowledge of any man depends not on his own complex of thoughts but on God’s system and on the fact of revelation. And contrary to what seems to be Dr. Buswell’s opinion, this is not at all inconsistent with God’s sovereign grace. (The Bible Today 42.6, March 1948, cf. pgs. 173-177.)

Models of Epistemic Justification: Coherentism (God) and Foundationalism (Man)

Now since it is the conclusion of a demonstration that we are trying to prove, and since it is proved by giving the premises, it follows that the premises of demonstrated knowledge are better known than the conclusion. If we did not know the premises, obviously we could not know the conclusion. The conclusion cannot be more certain than the premises on which it is based. The premises are the cause of the conclusion, and therefore they must be prior to it. And also, in demonstration, although not in every formally valid syllogism, the premises must be true. For demonstration is knowledge, and there can be no known of the non-existent. The premises, therefore, must be statements of what exists or what is so, i.e., they must be true.

Of course, there may be a chain of syllogisms in a demonstration, as there is in geometry. But the chain must have a starting point, and such a starting point must be, not only prior, causal, and true, but in particular primary and indemonstrable. It must be an immediate, basic truth. Nothing can be more certain than these basic truths, for if the least doubt attached to them, doubt would likewise attach to all the conclusions; and this would mean that science would be tottery. But the conviction of pure science must be unshakable.

In the nineteenth century it was commonly believed that science was as unshakable as Aristotle could have wished; but the prevailing mood of the twentieth century is that science is tentative, and that laws stand in need of constant revision. Therefore, the current objection to Aristotle is that the science which he describes is non-existent. The formal validity of syllogisms may possibly be foolproof, but their applications to concrete material, and more especially the premises on which they are based, are not completely beyond all doubt. To Aristotle this would mean that there is no scientific knowledge, as he defined knowledge. There was a similar difference of opinion in his day. Some said there is no knowledge; others said all truths are demonstrable. But Aristotle agreed with neither the one nor the other.

Those who denied the existence of scientific knowledge argued that demonstration is the only method by which something can be known. But demonstrations depend on premises. And if the premises are to be known, they too must be demonstrated. This leads on back in an infinite regress, with the result that the demonstration is never finished, or more accurately, never begins. Accordingly, there is no scientific knowledge. The other group also held that demonstration is the only method by which anything can be known; yet they held that everything can be demonstrated because proof goes around in a circle: Every premise is a conclusion, and there is a finite series in which the end and the beginning are identical. Aristotle replies that a proposition cannot be both prior and posterior as this view requires. Since the exact number of terms is irrelevant, they may be reduced to three and the absurdity becomes apparent. Circular demonstrations would be equivalent to saying that A is B; Why? – because B is C; Why? – because C is A; Why? – because A is B. With circular and infinite demonstration both ruled out, it follows that not everything can be demonstrated and that there must be first, indemonstrable truths.

A philosopher of a different school, Hegel for instance, would no doubt admit that the three-term circle is an absurdity; but he might argue that the exact number of terms is no so irrelevant as Aristotle thought. A bad circle is a little circle; but if a circle can be drawn so as to include everything, it is a beautiful circle. In a rational universe everything is implicated in everything else; and precisely for this reason a three-term circle is absurd: It fails to show the other relationships of A, B, and C. Hegel might even attribute some very small and very bad circles to Aristotle himself: He might ask, Is Aristotle’s reply anything more than a two-term circle, in which demonstration is possible because there are primary truths, and there are primary truths because there must be demonstration?

At any rate, against the two views, Aristotle asserts that not all knowledge is demonstrative. There must be primary basic truths because the regress in demonstration must end in these basic truths, and these are indemonstrable. Therefore, besides the scientific knowledge, which is demonstration, there is its originative source which enables us to recognize the basic indemonstrable propositions. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 101-102)

The substantive point needing discussion is whether the law of contradiction is the one and only test of truth.

Ideally or for God this seems to be the case. Since there is nothing independent of God, he does not conform truth to an alleged reality beyond truth and beyond him. Since there is no possibility of “vertical” (to use Carnell’s terminology) coherence, the “horizontal” test, or, better the horizontal characteristic of logical consistency seems the only possible one.

Weaver correctly notes that I do not claim for human beings the ability to apply this test universally. In this sense it is a “negative” or, better, an incomplete test. For this reason it must be supplemented some way or other. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 287)

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)

One who believes in the unity of truth may still believe that the false system entails contradictions; but to prove this is the work of omniscience. (Historiography: Secular and Religious, 1971, pg. 370)

Implications: Self-Authenticity

How then could God show to a man that it was God speaking? Suppose God should say, “I will make of you a great nation...and I will bless them that bless you and curse him that curses you.” Would God call the devil and ask Abraham to believe the devil’s corroborative statements? Is the devil’s word good evidence of God’s veracity? It would not seem so. Nor is the solution to be found in God’s appealing to another man in order to convince the doubter. Aside from the fact that this other man is no more of an authority than the devil, the main question reappears unanswered in this case also. What reasons can this man have to conclude that God is making a revelation to him? It is inherent in the very nature of the case that the best witness to God’s existence and revelation is God himself. There can be no higher source of truth. God may, to be sure, furnish “evidence” to man. He may send an earthquake, a fire, or still small voice; he may work spectacular miracles, or, as in the cases of Isaiah and Peter, he may produce inwardly an awful consciousness of sin, so that the recipient of the revelation is compelled to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips.” But whether it be an external spectacle or an inward “horror or great darkness,” all of this is God’s witnessing to himself. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pgs. 182-183)

But if there is a revelation, there can be no criterion for it. God cannot swear by a greater; therefore he has sworn by himself. One cannot ask one’s own experience to judge God and determine whether God tells the truth or not. Consider Abraham. How could Abraham be sure that God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac? Maybe this suggestion was of the devil; maybe it was a queer auto-suggestion. There is no higher answer to this question than God himself. The final criterion is merely God’s statement. It cannot be tested by any superior truth. (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?, 1990, pg. 113)

Since it is easier to distinguish the difference between Christianity and Playboy’s obscenities than it is to distinguish Riemannian from Euclidean geometry, wisdom counsels us to rephrase the objection, to state what Dr. Montgomery intended to state, and then to answer what he meant but did not say. What he obviously meant was that a priori principles, since they are not based on evidence, are arbitrary; and if arbitrary, the a priori of Playboy is just as legitimate as the fundamental principles of Christianity. Now, there is a certain sense in which this is true enough. If neither set of principles can be based on evidence, and if both sets are regarded by their advocates as the starting point for all demonstration and argument, then obviously no one can support either set on anything more fundamental. This is simply to say that every system of thought must start somewhere.

Where then does Dr. Montgomery start? So far as I can understand him, he professes to base the truth of the Bible on archaeological and historical evidence. This evidence in turn is based on sensation or perception. Or, more philosophically, one may classify Dr. Montgomery as an Empiricist. As such he must hold that sensory experience is more reliable that a divinely-given revelation. He must hold that sensation is self-authenticating, and that the Bible cannot be self-authenticating. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 96)

The second half of the disjunction was: “or else the evidence is dependent on the proposed authority itself, and the revelation fails, in consequence, to win its credentials as a reasonable source of trustworthy propositions.”

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, pgs. 46-47)

Implications: First Principles

The demonstration of a proposition, such as any theorem in geometry, is completed only when it is referred to the axioms. If the axioms in turn required demonstration, the demonstration of the proposition with which we began would remain incomplete, at least until the axioms could be demonstrated. But if the axioms rest on prior principles, and if these too must be demonstrated - on the assumption that every proposition requires demonstration - the proof of our original theorem would never be finished. This means that it would be impossible to demonstrate anything, for all demonstration depends on indemonstrable first principles. Every type of philosophy must make some original assumptions. And if the law of contradiction is not satisfactory, at least these Heracliteans fails to state what principle they regard as more so. Nonetheless, though the law of contradiction is immediately evident and is not subject to demonstration, there is a negative or elenctic argument that will reduce the opponent to silence. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 88)

Logically the infallibility of the Bible is not a theorem to be deduced from some prior axiom. The infallibility of the Bible is the axiom from which several doctrines are themselves deduced as theorems. Every religion and every philosophy must be based on some first principle. And since a first principle is first, it cannot be “proved” or “demonstrated” on the basis of anything prior. As the catechism question, quoted above, says, “The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify Him.” (What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1985, pg. 18)

But what about these assumptions or axioms? Can they be proved? It would seem that they cannot, for they are the starting points of an argument, and if the argument starts with them, there is no preceding argumentation. Accordingly, after the humanist or theist has worked out a consistent system by arranging all his propositions as theorems in a series of valid demonstrations, how is either of them to persuade the other to accept his unproved axioms? And the question is all the more perplexing when it is suspected that the axioms were chosen for the express purpose of deducing precisely these conclusions. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pg. 26).

Basic worldviews are never demonstrated; they are chosen. William James and Bertrand Russell may believe in a pluralistic universe, but they can offer no demonstration of this, the most fundamental of their intellectual beliefs. The mechanist believes that all natural phenomena can be reduced to mathematical, quantitative equations, but he never gives a mathematical demonstration of his belief. So it is with every world-view; the first principle cannot be proved – precisely because it is first. It is the first principle that provides the basis for demonstrating subordinate propositions. Now if such be the case, the thoughtful person is forced to make a voluntary choice. As a matter of fact, the thoughtless person as well is forced to choose, though the necessity to make a choice and the particular choice made may not be so obvious. It is obvious, however, that a thoughtful person, one who wishes to understand, one who wants to think and live consistently, must choose one or another first principle.

Still it remains true that no demonstration of God is possible; our belief is a voluntary choice; but if one must choose without a strict proof, none the less it is possible to have sane reasons of some sort to justify the choice. Certainly there are sane reasons for rejecting some choices. One most important fact is the principle of consistency. In the case of skepticism inconsistency lies immediately on the surface. Explicit atheism requires only a little analysis before self-contradiction is discovered. Some statements of naturalism more successfully disguise their flaws. But all these choices are alike in that it is not sane, it is not logical, to choose an illogical principle.

Consistency extends further than a first principle narrowly considered, so that it can be shown to be self-contradictory in itself; it extends into the system deduced from the first principle or principles. The basic axiom or axioms must make possible a harmony or system in all our thoughts, words, and actions. Should someone say (misquoting by the omission of an adjective) that consistency is the mark of small minds, that he does not like systems, that he will act on one principle at one time and another at another, that he does not choose to be consistent, there would be no use arguing with him, for he repudiates the rules, the necessary rules of argumentation. Such a person cannot argue against theism, for he cannot argue at all. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 41-42)

No philosopher is perfect and no system can give man omniscience. But if one system can provide plausible solutions to many problems while another leaves too many questions unanswered, if one system tends less to skepticism and gives more meaning to life, if one worldview is consistent whole others are self-contradictory, who can deny us, since we must choose, the right to choose the more promising first principle? (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pg. 29)

The difference between naturalism and theism-between the latest scientific opinions on evolution and creation; between the Freudian animal and the image of God; between belief in God and atheism-is based on their two different epistemologies. Naturalism professes to learn by observation and analysis of experience; the theistic view depends on Biblical revelation. No amount of observation and analysis can prove the theistic position. Of course, no amount of observation and analysis can prove evolution or any other theory. The secular philosophies all result in total skepticism. In contrast, theism bases its knowledge on divinely revealed propositions. They may not give us all truth; they may even give us very little truth; but there is no truth at all otherwise. So much for the secular alternative. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 138-139)

Implications: Causes of Axiomatic Disagreement

You or I might be induced to accept the Bible by the testimony of the Church; but a Moslem would not. You or I might consider the matter heavenly, but the humanists would call it pie in the sky. The literary style of some parts of the Bible is majestic, but Paul’s epistles are not models of style. The consent or logical consistency of the whole is important; for if the Bible contradicted itself, we would know that some of it would be false. Personal testimony as to the saving efficacy of the doctrine impresses some people; but others point out that queer people believe queer things and find great satisfaction in their oddities.

How then may we know that the Bible is true? The Confession answers, “Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of the Scripture] is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit.”

Faith is a gift or work of God. It is God who causes us to believe: “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee” (Psa. 65:4).

Empiricism has been demolished. Unless, therefore, one chooses a Dogmatic first principle, one must choose skepticism and irrationality. Neither of these has anything to oppose to Dogmatism. Sanity therefore must be dogmatic. So much then for the status of the argument.

What now is the question to be answered? It is not, Shall we choose? Or, is it permissible to choose? We must choose; since we are alive we have chosen – either a dogmatic principle or empirical insanity. The question therefore, urged by atheist, evangelical Christian, and evangelistic Moslem, is, Why does anyone choose the Bible rather than the Koran? The answer to this question will also explain how a Christian can present the Gospel to a non-Christian without depending on any logically common proposition in their two systems.

Since all possible knowledge must be contained within the system and deduced from its principles, the dogmatic answer must be found in the Bible itself. The answer is that faith is the gift of God. As Psalm 65:4 says, God chooses a man and causes him to accept Christian Dogmatism. Conversely, the Apostle John informs us that the Pharisees could not believe because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.

The initiation of spiritual life, called regeneration, is the immediate work of the Holy Spirit. It is not produced by Abrahamic blood, nor by natural desire, nor by any act of human will. In particular, it is not produced by arguments based on secular and empirical presuppositions. Even if there were a common truth in secularism and Christianity, arguments based on it would not produce faith. What empirical evangelicals think is most necessary, is most useless.

Even the preaching of the Gospel does not produce faith. However, the preaching of the Gospel does one thing that a fallacious argument from a non-existent common ground cannot do: it provides the propositions that must be believed. But the belief comes from God: God causes a man to believe; faith is a divine gift. In evangelistic work there can be no appeal to secular, non-Christian material. There is an appeal – it is the appeal of prayer to the Holy Spirit to cause the sinner to accept the truths of the Gospel. Any other appeal is useless.

If now a person wants the basic answer to the question, Why does one man have faith and another not, or, Why does one man accept the Koran and another the Bible, this is it. God causes the one to believe. But if a person asks some other question or raises an objection, he will have to read the argument over again. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pgs. 100-101)


A sound epistemology cannot demand omniscience or complete freedom from error: Its aim is not to show that all men or any man knows everything, but that some men can know something. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pg. 210)

In view of this pragmatic dealing with history, its positivistic denial of universal law, of metaphysics, of supernatural interpretation, it may be permitted by way of anticipation to suggest the conclusion that, instead of beginning with facts and later discovering God, unless a thinker begins with God, he can never end with God, or get the facts either. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pg. 31)