Thursday, May 30, 2013

Friendly Fire

I recently had an email exchange about Scripturalism with a Reformed blogger. Early on in this exchange, I defined philosophic knowledge as “a belief about which one cannot be mistaken.” Now, I don’t really see what is so controversial about this. Of course, I acknowledge[d] that “knowledge” can refer to other concepts and that opinions can be useful, but this definition seems to me to be the most relevant for apologetic purposes insofar as a denial of it leads to skepticism (link).

Apparently, though, my correspondent was not very impressed, calling it, among other things, “grad-school gibberish,” “gawd-awful,” and, my personal favorite, “the dumbest damned thing I have ever read an adult write.” And this was just in response to a definition. Keep in mind this is all by a fellow presuppositionalist, and I don’t believe I had written anything provocative.

Lately, it seems as if straightforward, rational discussion of differences is getting harder to come by. In my recent studies about the Trinity and epistemology, I’ve honestly had a much easier time staying on topic with Roman Catholics than I’ve had with many Reformed Christians. I’m not sure why that is. It could just be a string of bad luck, so to speak.

In any case, there’s a fine line between defending your ideas and just being defensive. There has to be some room for debate. When you come across someone whose ideas are different than your own, if you immediately cut them off or cut them down, you may fool them, but you won’t fool yourself. And to those who know better, it just betrays a lack of confidence. 

I’m sure anyone reading this can fill in the appropriate qualifiers to the above, so maybe it’s best to end this post how all debates should [implicitly] begin: recognizing that even while we may take strong positions on certain issues, we all have a lot to learn.

UPDATE: I just watched this video by James White in which he also refers to Trinitarianism as almost “untouchable.” While I’ve made some critical comments on White’s own Trinitarian views in the past (link) - and ironically have been immediately dismissed by some Reformed Christians for it - I appreciate his willingness to take to task someone like William Lane Craig for unbelievably erroneous analogies of the Trinity to... a Greek myth about a three-headed dog???

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Presuppositions of Van Til's TAG

I recently interacted at Pyromaniacs over an interesting post on presuppositionalism (link) to test a theory. In short, I was attempting to figure out whether the transcendental argument for the Christian God’s existence utilized by Van Til (link), Sye Bruggencate (link), and other “Van Tilian” apologists eventually requires an appeal to a self-authenticating divine revelation in order to be sound. Surprisingly, the two people who replied to me ended up agreeing with this. And this is not the first time this has happened (see posts 13, 15, and 16 here). Perhaps if the comment section wasn’t closed so quickly – and unfortunately, as I never got a chance to reply to one of the last posters who dismissively accused me of being a Unitarian and God-rejector while making elementary false dichotomies – there would have been others who would have stepped forward in agreement. The best thing to do in such situations occur is to shrug your shoulders and move on. And so, I’m going to reproduce what I consider to be the more relevant points I made from a few of the comments I left (refer to the first link for the full context):
I'm merely asking you to defend your proof. For it to be a proof, the Christian God must be the conclusion of an argument. The argument, or so I understand, is that because God is the precondition of proof (premise 1), and because proof is necessary (premise 2), God exists (conclusion). But a conclusion is only as true as its premises. I’m questioning how you came to know premise 1. 
This is, in rough form, the TAG I have in mind throughout this post.
The OP provides a practical argument for accepting first principles in general, but insofar as it intends to parallel the goal of Van Til, Sye, etc. - viz. to prove the Christian worldview in particular - I never understood why an atheist just couldn't respond: “Okay, so what is unique about your God (“the floor”) such that He (“it”) is the precondition for intelligibility, and why is this property necessary?” After all, in order to function as a “proof” for Christianity in particular, there must be something that distinguishes Christianity from infinitely many non-Christian worldviews.
The point of this comment is simple: to get the user of the TAG to identify what it is about the Christian God which makes him the precondition for proof or knowledge, and to understand why such a unique property is epistemologically necessary. Otherwise, an aforementioned premise 1 of the TAG is undercut, and the TAG itself will fail.
…a burden of proof is on you as well. For you are defending an alleged proof for [the Christian] God. It is not enough to just state that God alone is the very precondition for proof. That’s well and good, but that is, as it stands, itself an assertion in search of an argument. 
This is designed to explain why the user of the TAG is obligated to defend his premises. As I said in an above comment, as a proof, the conclusion of the TAG is only a good as its premises. If the premises are attacked, they need to be defended. Of course, as the user of the TAG will be presupposing God throughout his replies, it is to be expected that his defense will presuppose God as well. But an ontological presupposition is not necessarily an epistemological presupposition. The TAG clearly states that God is ontologically necessary for proof; the point is to find out if the TAG must also claim God (or, more precisely, God’s revelation) is an epistemological necessity as well. That is, it is just because God exists that proofs can allegedly be proffered - but will the substantiation of this eventually presuppose Scripture?
Now, if your answer to my question about premise 1 outlined above is just a deduction from Scripture, then I will ask you to prove Scripture. Eventually, you will hopefully see that something - God’s word, in fact - must be taken for granted without proof for the simple reason that we are not omniscient. Something must be self-authenticating, and whatever proposition[s] is or are taken as first principle[s] will be one’s alleged sufficient condition for knowledge. 
Now, both of the individuals I spoke to agreed that this is the case. And this would seem to be a point for Scripturalism, although on further reflection, I suppose there would still be some question as to whether Scripture itself has something to say about the hypothetical legitimacy of a separate, divinely sanctioned source of knowledge. In any case, though I could be wrong, I suspect the above agreement would be atypical if presented to most others who use “Van Til’s TAG.”

For example, take a popular proponent of this argument - Sye Bruggencate, who was mentioned in the post itself. I recently had the misfortune of witnessing Sye Bruggencate attempt to refute Scripturalism. Honestly, for a man whose apologetic method emphasizes logical argumentation, you would not expect to see Clark’s view so quickly dismissed with simplistic and common canards such as that empirical knowledge is necessary in order to even understand the Bible, let alone far-fetched objections like that one needs infallibilistic knowledge in order to obey a given command.

Then too I was initially presented with an argument in the comment section that the doctrine of the Trinity could function as a necessary and uniquely Christian tenet. But I argued that this line of reasoning too must, in the end, resort to Scripture:
Why one and three? Why not one and two or one and four? What about the personality of said God? Can all of His or their attributes really be deduced via reductio ad absurdems alone? 
Again, for emphasis, the Trinity would be *an* explanation of unity and diversity, not necessarily the *only* explanation... unless we resort to a self-authenticating divine revelation.
This is a good point too. By your own admission, then, belief in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is only a necessary condition for belief in Christianity. That is, there are non-Christians who believe the Trinity. But that means the Trinity isn't a sufficiently unique doctrine.
To summarize, apart from Scripture, there does not appear to be any reason to prefer Trinitarianism to Binitarianism, a Quaternity, etc. And further, if non-Christians can believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, as my correspondent smartly pointed out, then the doctrine of the Trinity turns out to be not so uniquely Christian after all. Something more would be needed to explain why such people are inconsistent. What, if not Scripture? On the other hand, if Scripture, then:
I see no need to appeal to Trinitarianism at all as an intermediary step if we can and must appeal to Scripture anyway. Scripture itself is the unique doctrine of Christianity which contains the set of propositions which by definition distinguish the God whose word it is from all else.
That is, Van Til’s TAG - TAGs in general actually - serve an important purpose, but they are not the crux of Christian apologetics. They specify necessary but ultimately insufficient conditions for knowledge. Indeed, how we even know they are necessary is conditioned on what our sufficient condition[s] for knowledge has or have to say about them. To conclude with a reply I made to a friend who had a question about the initial comment I left:
The floor analogy is good if it is meant to depict our need for first principles in general. We all [must] operate on one or more presuppositions. The alternative - for us - is infinitism, and that leads to a never-ending justificatory process, which is why it is self-defeating. So far, so good. 
And yet, this argument for first principles is itself only a necessary condition for knowledge. It isn’t a sufficient condition. For example, the idea that first principles are necessary doesn’t specify a theory of language, logic, or metaphysics. It doesn’t provide us with the means by which we come to know truth. But I argue these are also necessary for knowledge - infallibilistic knowledge, anyway. In short, this [true] argument about the need for first principles is mutually dependent with other necessary truths. 
We aren’t omniscient. We will never be omniscient. So we have to take something for granted, and whatever this is cannot be proved. Rather, it will have to be self-authenticating. This isn’t a problem, because the idea “all propositions require proof” is suspect to the reply that this assertion itself needs to be proved. In my case, God’s word is my first principle, and I view it as a and the sufficient condition for knowledge - to emphasize, it is sufficient, not merely necessary, although it does account for subsidiary necessary conditions like the ones mentioned above. But if God’s word is self-authenticating, it cannot be “proved” per se.  
We can invoke its self-attestation and internal evidences - such as its ability to account for the necessary conditions for knowledge I mentioned above - for it, and these are excellent apologetic tools, but the idea that something is self-authenticating is antithetical to the idea it can be proved. There is nothing, for instance, which could be used to demonstrate that Philemon is canonical other than that it is God’s word. How do we know it is canonical? Well, because it is. There is no higher authority or epistemic criterion by which we can judge it to be God’s word. 
Again, this isn’t a problem, but it’s also not a proof. For it to be a proof, it would have to be a conclusion of an argument. But the only way that Philemon could be proved as God’s word would be if there were one system of truth about which we had comprehensive knowledge. We would need to be omniscient to know the truths of Philemon are necessary truths, because there is no simple reductio ad absurdem we can construct against one who rejects it as God’s word unlike, say, reductio ad absurdems we can construct against those who deny logic or first principles (as Frank did in his post).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Clark on Self-Knowledge

I spent some time a few months ago trying to explain why I thought self-knowledge was compatible - necessarily so, in fact - with Clark's philosophy (see here, for example). So I won't repeat those arguments. But while I've already noted that Clark wrote things which support the idea he himself thought self-knowledge was Scripturally supportable (see here), I acknowledge he does appear to make statements to the contrary elsewhere (e.g. Modern Philosophy, 2008, pgs. 273-274). So I believe it will be useful to provide further support that Clark believed self-knowledge is attainable. Firstly, from Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 178-179:
Certainly no one can be happy if he does not have what he wants. The seeker for truth professes to want truth. The skeptic, therefore, cannot be happy; he cannot accomplish the aim of his life. Nor can his useless search provide any guidance for day-to-day living. The skeptics wish to act on what is probable; but if “probable” means only what seems good to a person at the moment, a man might commit the worst crime without blame, provided he thought it was probably good. But probability may mean something more. It may mean “approximating the truth.” The skeptics call propositions false, doubtful, probable, and plausible. Their basic principle, however, does not in consistency permit them to use any of these terms. A false proposition is one opposite to the truth. How then can one say that a proposition is false, unless one knows the truth? A doubtful proposition is one that might possibly be true; a probable or plausible proposition resembles or approximates the truth. But it is impossible to apply these terms without knowing the truth by which they are determined. One might well ask, Is it true that a foredoomed search for truth is wisdom? The skeptic would have to reply that he did not know. Is it probable that such a search is wisdom? Or with respect to everyday living, is it probable or doubtful that eating lunch today is wise? Again the skeptic could not know. A theory of probability must itself be based on truth, for if the method of determining the probable wisdom of eating lunch is false, the conclusion that it is safe to eat lunch could not be known to be probable. Without the possession of the truth, therefore, it is impossible to act rationally even in the most ordinary situations. 
Now, fortunately, truth is not only possible to attain, it is impossible to miss. There are some truths indubitably certain. Even sensation is not uniformly deceptive, and, more to the point, thought is not altogether dependent on sensation. For example, complete disjunctions, such as, either you are awake or asleep, and implications based on them, such as, if there are only four elements, there are not five, are unquestionably true. Similarly, the law of contradiction, which underlies all logical forms, cannot be disputed; and at this point it might be well to review Aristotle’s pertinent remarks. Furthermore, the propositions of mathematics cannot be doubted; nor is this science any more than logic based on sensory experience. Even if it were possible to sense a given number, such as three, ratios, divisions, and the other operations cannot be perceived. Things perceived by sense, rivers and trees, do not long endure; but that the sum of three and seven is ten endures forever. There never was a time when three and seven did not add up to ten, nor will there ever be a time. Such inviolable, eternal truths cannot be abstracted from a mutable matric. Nor can the given numbers themselves be so abstracted. Three – or, better, one, since the number series depends on one – cannot be perceived by sense, for every object of sensation is many, not one. Bodies have parts innumerable; at least they have three dimensions, a center and a surface, a right and left side; and therefore no body can be one. If, therefore, unity pure and simple is not an attribute of body, unity cannot be abstracted from body; for we cannot abstract what is not there. The truths of mathematics, accordingly, are grasped, not by sense, but by reason or intellectual intuition. And these truths are indubitable. But the most crushing refutation of skepticism comes when Augustine asks his opponent, Do you know that you exist? If he so much as hears the question, there can be no doubt about the answer. No one can be in doubt as to his own existence. “We both have a being, know it, and love both our being and knowledge. And in these three no false appearance can ever deceive us. For we do not discern them as things visible, by sense…. I fear not the Academic arguments on these truths that say, ‘What if you err?’ If I err, I am. For he that has no being cannot err, and therefore my error proves my being.” Thus in the immediate certainty of self-consciousness a thinker has contact with being, life, mind, and truth. 
Twelve hundred years later Descartes repeated the argument, Cogito, ergo sum; only Descartes, in order to appear original, altered its form and spoiled its force. Further, Descartes made this proposition the premise from which all other truths were to be derived. Augustine indeed derived many other truths, possibly too man, from this original certainty, but it was not the only original certainty. It is one case, a particularly obvious case, of intellectual intuition.
Self-knowledge is an epistemic necessity. It is an intellectual intuition, a concept which Clark elsewhere equates with "innate ideas" (Ibid., pgs. 127-128) or "indubitable truths" which "the human mind as such necessarily possesses" (pgs. 182-184). All of this falls in quite nicely with the argument that self-knowledge is a necessary yet insufficient condition for knowledge.

Clark also grappled with the "immensely difficult" subject of self-knowledge in his commentary on 1 John. Note his resolution to it:
Here is the difficulty Hodge does not face. How can one know that his assurance is not a delusion?

But where there is true faith, the want of assurance is to be referred either to the weakness of faith or to erroneous views of the plan of salvation. Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience…. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards…. And never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt.
Hodge continues by listing five grounds of assurance – external, not internal grounds. But the reader must judge for himself whether or not Hodge has eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. In fact, while Hodge’s external grounds are exceedingly important, and usually underemphasized, ignored, or even explicitly denied in contemporary pietism, our text in John’s Epistle certainly seems to depend on internal factors and our mental ability to arrive at a correct psychological analysis of them. Does regeneration guarantee competence in psychology? It must be admitted, therefore, that these apparently simple verses are in truth immensely difficult. (First John, 1980, pg. 107) 
With some diffidence and reserve because of the complex difficulties, I suggest the following: By loving in deed and truth we shall know that we are of the truth. (Ibid., pg. 113) 
Assurance of eternal life can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer. Of course, as the negro spiritual says, “Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there.” With constant frequency people are assured of many things untrue. Indeed certainty increases in direct proportion to ignorance. The less educated a man is, the more things of which he is certain. If this obvious truth disturbs anyone, he should also realize that assurance is not essential to salvation. Different people have different mentalities. John Bunyan was so morbid he could hardly have had much assurance. With others more careless, doubts never arise. But if one knows, if one has a clear intellectual understanding that he believes, he should have legitimate assurance. (Ibid., pg. 161)
So not only is self-knowledge an intellectual necessity, it is a practical necessity. Here Clark argues - as I have - that self-knowledge is necessary for assurance of salvation. Assurance is a deduction, and as a theorem deduced is only as certain as the premise from which it is deduced, a knowledge or clear intellectual understanding of one's belief is requisite in order to function as legitimate grounds for assurance.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Clark, Scripturalism, and Textual Criticism

A recent question about what Clark thought of textual criticism prompted me to consult what resources I have access to. Of course, there is this article, which, while mostly containing actual instances of textual criticism, does make a few general statements, including, among modest disclaimers that "the present writer is not a textual critic" and that "textual criticism is a very difficult and delicate procedure, quite unsuited to the purposes of the present study and admittedly beyond the competence of the present writer":
Most Christians in this country know no Greek, but nearly all recognize that there are competing translations of the Bible. There is the King James Version of noble ancestry; there is the American and now the New American Standard Version; the New International Version; several versions that are more paraphrases than translations (all bad); the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible; and translations of all or parts of the Bible by individuals rather than by committees. Surely these different translations confuse the ordinary reader at several places. Can he find a basis for making an intelligent choice? Without guaranteeing infallibility, I think he can, sometimes.
Enemies of the Bible occasionally try to destroy the faith of believers by emphasizing the impossibility of discovering what the apostles actually wrote. The four or five thousand Greek manuscripts differ in many places. Once when I quoted a verse from John’s Gospel to a modernist, she quickly replied, “But how do you know that he actually said that?” By the grace of God, I was able immediately to shoot back, “How do you know Jesus said anything?” The other faculty members at the lunch table gave vocal evidence of a point scored. The modernist woman professor and missionary to India wanted to use some verses, but not others. But she saw then that if she insisted on her verses, she could not object to mine. At any rate the attempt to destroy Christian faith by an appeal to the difficulties of textual criticism has been based on considerable exaggeration.

Then too there are a few places in Clark's other writings in which he mentions textual criticism:

God's Hammer (1995), pgs. 122-123:
The innuendo begins with the suggestion that attempts to explain discrepancies are (usually always) suspiciously twisted. Thus the mind of the reader is prejudiced against the truthfulness of the Scripture. The author hides the fact that the burden of proof lies on the critic to show that no explanation is possible. So many alleged discrepancies have by now been removed by archaeological discoveries that the person who accepts the Word of God needs no longer be terrified by the unsupported doubts of the unbelieving critic. 
There is also another flaw in the argument. The author suggests that there is no use discussing whether the alleged error was missing from the original until we have the original. This seems to betray a forgetfulness of textual criticism. The differences between the Greek New Testament which we have and the autographs are few in number and of slight consequence. Most of them are differences in spelling, or in word order, or in some small detail that does not affect the sense. To suppose that we are so ignorant of the original wording as this argument requires is to cast aside the whole science of textual criticism.
Ancient Philosophy (1997), pgs. 343-344:
In the case of Aristotle we are not dependent on fragments, for we have his complete works; we are perfectly familiar with the usages of his language; the only difficulty is textual, and whoever bases a skepticism on textual criticism asserts that not only nearly all philosophy, but nearly all history as well, before the Renaissance, is forever unknowable. This is a reduction ad absurdum. We can with tolerable certainty ascertain the exact wording of Aristotle; but to understand his thought we need also to know the arguments and discussions of previous men which were the motives to his solution. Are these unknowable? My answer would be, try and see. 
Of course there should be caution. Philological changes should be ascertained and if relevant taken into consideration. But a priori doubts with regard to the possibility of the problem do not provide the right approach. What is needed is a careful induction of the individual passages. If all of them are entirely buried in doubt and difficulty we are condemned to skepticism. But if the knowledge they give is slight, let us not for that reason despise it. Our conclusions may be far more limited than our desires, but I cannot consent to a complete skepticism. We must study each passage and in doing so determine the limits of our knowledge.
Readers should keep in mind, though, that this last reference was originally written in 1929, when Clark was in his late 20's and cannot reasonably be expected to have had his broader philosophy fully developed. With that in mind, there is not much I think we can learn from it in respect to what Clark thought about textual criticism in the context of Scripturalism.

Aside from that, the other references seem to coincide with the conclusion I came to in this post. In short, Clark's philosophy of language and knowledge is such that textual criticism was not likely to be a focal point, for textual criticism has to do with texts, texts have to do with physical objects, and physical objects are not sources of knowledge.

Textual criticism therefore falls under the apologetic category of "for the sake of argument." Obviously, this is not to say "there is no use" for it, simply that it cannot "guarantee infallibility." This cuts two ways: non-Christians use textual criticism to undercut a Christian's epistemology, and Christians can't use textual criticism as a basis for a knowledge-claim, though it could function as a basis for opinions; as Clark remarked in Karl Barth's Theological Method (1997), pg. 147, "Must not all people act on the assumption that their beliefs are true?" The question of how then we do know Scripture is a separate one, one which Clark went out of his way to particularly answer. From Modern Philosophy (2008), pg. 272, in response to those who asked him, "don't you have to read your Bible?":
Explicitly in I John the object is the truth or proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore, since words are arbitrary signs, whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of Scriptural verbs to which empirical apologetics refer do not support the role of sensation which presumably – though they are never clear on what this role is – those apologists desire to give it.
 To finish, once and for all, with the question “Don’t you read your Bible?” Abraham Kuyper in The Work of the Holy Spirit (I, 4, 57), beginning with a quotation from Geuido de Bres, says,
“That which we call Holy Scripture is not paper with black impressions.” Those letters are but tokens of recognition; those words are only clicks of the telegraph key signaling thoughts to our spirits alone the lines of our visual and auditory nerves. And the thoughts so signaled are not isolated and incoherent, but parts of a complete system that is directly antagonistic to man’s thought, yet enters their sphere.
 The analogy may still be too Behavioristic, but the main thought is sound.
The original autographs of Scripture and the copies thereof are texts, so according to Clark's epistemology, the reading or hearing of the message of these texts would merely provides the occasion upon which God mediates the propositional knowledge that the text signifies to our mind. God has preserved the signs throughout the various physical transcriptions. But even if not all individual copies precisely signify what the original did - and again, the person who alleges this must presuppose and therefore defend empiricism if this is supposed to be a death blow to Christianity rather than a mere opinion, though what Clark says in the God's Hammer quote above is sufficient regardless - that would not prevent God from illumining His people, for God does not need to rely on physical objects to communicate knowledge of truth to us.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sources and Means of Knowledge

A source of knowledge is something from which we acquire knowledge. Means of knowledge outline the process or processes by which we acquire knowledge from sources of knowledge.

If a person is to know what are the means by which he obtains knowledge, it is fairly obvious this must be accounted for by his sources of knowledge. The primary question, then, is what is or are one’s source[s] of knowledge. Whether this or these sources account for the alleged means of obtaining knowledge is only answerable after this primary question has been answered. It may turn out that whether a source or sources are able to account for the means of obtaining knowledge can help us sort through which of the various proposed sources of knowledge are viable, but first things first.

In other words, when examining a worldview, you have to start with the alleged source[s] of knowledge. What one claims as his sources of knowledge functions as his stated sufficient condition for knowledge (link).

Our ability to test such source[s] is limited to examining whether or not they are “self-consistent,” which encompasses multiple evaluative procedures that an apologist can undertake, including but not limited to answering if the source self-attesting, if it provides a theory of knowledge, language, metaphysics, and ethics, and if any of the answers it provides mutually exclusive.

But essentially, since we are not omniscient, we are never able to prove or externally validate everything we claim to know. Thus, our testing of an alleged sufficient condition for knowledge (i.e. the source[s] of knowledge) is limited to examining whether it satisfies subsidiary, necessary conditions for knowledge. Transcendental arguments, if you will. But this is not epistemologically fatal if - or, to be more precise, since - not all propositions are in need of proof in order to be known:
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. (Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy, pg. 46)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gordon Clark on the Precondition of an Omniscient Communicator

My efforts to compile a near comprehensive transcription of the positive epistemological views of Gordon Clark were recently completed - at least as far as what materials I am at present able to cover, anyway, including all of his books and, to my knowledge, most of his shorter articles - and this project has been paying off quite nicely.

For instance, I have long argued that in order for me to philosophically know anything, one precondition for this is communication from one who is omniscient (example). While the inspiration for this argument originally stemmed from a book Robert Reymond called The Justification of Knowledge, it turns out that Gordon Clark made much more explicitly relevant statements which lead to this conclusion. To share just a few of these:

Ancient Philosophy (1997), pg. 145:
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.
Historiography: Secular and Religious (1971), pg. 334:
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.

Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (1991), pgs. 245-246:
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.

Readers can consider this just a teaser. I actually already have in mind an outline for a more comprehensive article that would more fully utilize Clark's writings to show how this argument provides a really powerful motive for accepting many of his epistemic views, but I would like to see if I could get something like that published first.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Gordon Clark and Non-Propositional Realities

I wrote a recent post in which I cited a few statements made by Gordon Clark with the intention of showing that at some point in his philosophic career – earlier if not later – he believed in non-propositional realities; these realities correspond to truths, but they are not themselves true per se. But since it was not the intention of that post to highlight this fact, I thought I would bring attention to it in this one, further citing one of what I consider the clearest evidences of this fact. In Thales to Dewey, pgs. 157-158, Clark writes under a subsection entitled “Alleged Sources of Pauline Theology”:
More recently the theology of Paul has been traced to some Eastern cults, to the Hermetic literature, or to the Greek mystery religions. 
The first of these possibilities depends on interpreting Paul’s account of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit in terms of a dualism of matter and spirit. This dualism may be ultimate as in the case of Zoroastrianism where two eternal principles account for the universe, or the dualism may be derived from some earlier unitary state as was usual in Gnosticism. The idea that matter or body is inherently evil and the spirit inherently good led to two contrasting types of conduct: Since the body is evil, one must live an ascetic life and mortify the deeds of the body; or since an inherently evil body cannot be sanctified, and since an inherently good spirit cannot become impure, one need not worry what his body does. Paul has never been accused of licentiousness, but he has often been misunderstood as teaching asceticism. That this is not Paul’s theory and that his theology was not so derived can be shown by several evidences. Obviously there is no ultimate dualism in Paul. One triune God is the sovereign principle of all. The Gnostic form of a derived dualism of body and spirit is also foreign to Paul’s thought. Undoubtedly he describes a moral struggle: Nearly every ethical writer does. The essential point is to identify the two antagonists. Plato said desire and reason; the dualist, body and spirit; Paul, flesh and spirit. By careless reading, the word flesh, which Paul uses in a derogatory sense, can be mistaken for body, but a little attention to Paul’s remarks makes it clear that he means, not body, but the sinful human nature inherited from Adam. Note that in the beginning God created man, male and female, and pronounced his creation very good. He commanded our first parents to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth. This is inconsistent with the theory that matter or body is inherently evil. When Adam fell, it was the result of a rebellious will, and not because he had a body. Secondly, the existence of evil spirits shows that spirits are not necessarily good; and the resurrection of the body, particularly of believers, is inconsistent with the theory that matter is inherently evil. Thirdly, when Paul lists the evil works of the flesh, adultery, and lasciviousness might possibly be taken as sins of the body, but idolatry, hatred, wrath, heresies, and envy are surely psychical rather than corporeal. Note, too, that Paul attributes to some heretics at Colossae a “fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18). Surely no one could see in this phrase an Epicurean theory of a material or corporeal spirit; and even if this perverse idea were accepted, it would ruin dualism.
Note Clark believed the authors of Scripture did not deny a distinction between matter and spirit. But matter is created, and creation is good. It is the mind and will rather than the body from which evil can result. As such, the idea Pauline theology could be rooted in the dualist’s antagonistic view of body and spirit is refuted. But all of this presupposes that “matter” and “body” are not being used equivocally, in which case they must refer to that which the dualist essentially has in mind.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Metaphysics and Correspondence

In a recent post, I noted that Gordon Clark believed in a distinction between words and ideas or concepts, the former of which correspond to or function as signs of the latter. As I said in that post, our knowledge of truths with correspondent images doesn’t require us to have these corresponding images as well; our knowledge is solely dependent on divine revelation. To elaborate, on the supposition that God has these images – here it must be pointed out that possession of images doesn’t require such to be derived from sensory organs, though by the same token it wouldn’t preclude it either – and also determined the relationship between these images and their corresponding [concrete] truths, His revelation of truths to us is sufficient. We don’t need to possess the images in addition to this, though our belief that we possess them may provide useful intellectual stimulation.

[This is just a personal opinion, but it might be speculated that not only are images useful in this subordinate sense, but it may perhaps be the case that upon glorification, all images we possess will definitely stimulate true thoughts such that we wouldn’t need God to constantly confirm them via special revelation. Of course, this possibility would have to first be divinely revealed in order for us to know it, if indeed it is possible. But my point is that Scripturalists don’t need to disparage images – or, more broadly, non-propositional realities – to faithfully promote divine revelation.]

Obviously, not all truths correspond to “images,” i.e. physical or corporeal realities. To take just one obvious example, the Father is invisible. But while we don’t have to know all truth-conditions in order to know a truth-bearer (i.e. divinely revealed proposition), it does seem we can delimit which truth-bearers can have a corresponding image: viz. truths in which the subject under consideration is a concrete or individual. There is no image which corresponds to the generic ideas “man” or “horse.” So being an individual is a necessary condition – though not a sufficient one, since propositions can also correspond to other propositions – for a truth to correspond to some image (or, for that matter, for a truth to correspond to some invisible intuition, as in the case of the Father et. al.).

On a related note, while I affirm some sort of correspondence (see here and the links therein) I’m still thinking through the logical priority of the correspondence: are images truth-makers or are truths image-makers? I was leaning towards the former, which is the usual position, but I think I conflated truth-makers and truth-conditions. The answer to the question may or may not impact how one answers the metaphysical problem of universals (Aristotelianism, Platonism, etc.). I’m not sure, so I’ll leave that for another time.