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???


徐马可 said...


Nice post and easy to understand definition for common person like me.

I like your definition and it makes a lots of sense, have you ever thought about your definition in connection to a child like faith? (speaking positively as Jesus did)

A child will eat everything you give to him, and will trust you will hold him when jump from a high place. This kind of commitment to an adult seems to be the quality Jesus talks about.

When a child act in faith (eating something not knowing its safety, jumping down trusting you will hold him), is he acting through this philosophical knowledge, or he is acting through something else?

Ryan said...

What separates philosophic knowledge from opinion is that in which what puts his belief, trust, or faith (these are all synonyms). Typically, philosophers refer to "knowledge" as "true belief (trust, faith) plus justification or warrant."

For an infallibilist such as myself, justification or warrant is the grounds we have for our knowledge-claim. Given the definition of knowledge in the OP, the question then just is what do we cite as our justification or warrant. And this is where the differences between Scripturalists, other Christians, and non-Christians really start to show.

Scripturalists claim that the only justification or warrant for infallibilistic knowledge-claims is Scripture, because only Scripture comprises the extant extent of God's word. That is, we can only fail to be mistaken about beliefs which God has revealed. There are a variety of reasons why we think this, but that is the summary.

For Scripturalists, then, when it comes to knowledge, our trust in God isn't strictly parallel to trust in our parents. Knowing God and what He teaches really just is as simple as believing or trusting that His word is truth. That's all that's necessary. Knowing our parents, however, would also require divine revelation - at least when talking about "knowledge" in the philosophic sense. And this we do not yet have.

But there is some overlap. All knowledge is faith, but not all faith is knowledge. This just means a component of knowledge is belief, trust, or faith. And I think we as children can and do believe, trust, and have faith in our parents. We have definite opinions on these subjects. Insofar as we restrict discussion to belief, faith, or trust, the "child like faith" analogy between God and parents works fine. But I wouldn't consider this knowledge.

Hope that helps.