Saturday, December 13, 2014

Augustine's On the Unity of the Church

Some of my first posts on this blog were about how closely Augustine’s beliefs regarding soteriology and Scripture lined up with contemporary Protestantism. I don’t remember why I was so interested in Augustine. It may have been because I used to discuss with RC’s on facebook pretty regularly, and you don't get very far in such discussions before hearing about the early church.

In any case, the latter post contained some quotes from Augustine’s “On the Unity of the Church,” which I recall had unfortunately (given what he seemed to argue in it) not yet been translated. At least, I could not find one online. Recently, however, I was notified that William Webster had posted both English and Latin versions of this treatise. So I decided to revisit my old post on Augustine's doctrine of Scripture to see if its thesis - particularly, that Augustine believed Scripture to be supremely authoritative, perspicuous, and the sufficient rule of faith - held up in light of Webster's translation. The categorization of the following quotes are pretty loose, as several could be included in other categories, but I think the result is clear.

Scripture as Supremely Authoritative

But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case. (Chapter 3)

I do not wish the holy Church to be founded on human evidence, but on divine oracles. (Chapter 3)

So that I not mention those Gentiles, who after the time of the apostles believed and came to the Church, but only those whom we find in the sacred literature (the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles and in the Apocalypse of John) which we both embrace and to which we both are subject, let them speak to us how they perished in the African dissension, for we received this not from the councils of arguing bishops, not from disputations, not from legal or municipal acts, but from holy canonical literature. (Chapter 12)

…if I do not wish to believe those examples cited by them, how would they convince me? Is it not in the Holy Scriptures, where they are read with such clarity that whoever receives this literature in faith cannot but confess those things to be most true? (Chapter 13)

Does it please you now if we bring forth this last charge of yours into our midst? "See," they say, "you adhere to the Church. How do we take it up if we would want to go over to you?" Briefly I answer, "You take it up in the same way as that Church gathers, as we find in the holy canonical books." (Chapter 21)

Scripture as Perspicuous

This I preach and promise, that we prize whatever is open and clear. If these things were not found in Holy Scripture, there would be no way by which things closed might be opened and obscure things clarified. (Chapter 5)

What do they say to this, they who so arrogantly call themselves Christians and so openly contradict Christ. We hold to this Church, we admit no human accusations against those divine utterances. It moves us greatly that our Lord, whom not to believe is sacrilegious and impious, in his last words spoken on earth, left this last saving evidence of the primitive church. For having said these things, he soon ascended into heaven. He wished to fortify our ears against those whom he had predicted in earlier times would rise up and say Look, here is the Christ. Look, there he is (Mt. 24:23). He warned us not to believe them. Nor is there any excuse for us if we believe them against the voice of our shepherd that is so clear, so open, so obvious that no one whether insensible or slow witted could say, "I didn't understand," for who wouldn't understand Thus it is fitting that the Christ suffer and rise on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). Who wouldn't understand You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. When he had said this he was lifted up and a cloud took him up and they saw him going into heaven (Acts 1:8-10). What is this I ask? When these last words are heard of a dying man who would go among the dead, no one says he lied, and he is judged an impious heretic who perchance makes light of them. So how do we flee the wrath of God if, either not believing or belittling, we spurn the last words of the only son of God, our Lord and savior, who would go to heaven and from there watch who neglects these words and who observes them and then would come to judge concerning all of them. I have the most obvious voice of my shepherd commending the Church to me without any ambiguity. I will blame myself if I should be led astray or wander from his flock which is the Church itself, through the words of men when he has especially warned me, saying, those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). See, his voice is clear and open. Having heard it, who does not follow him? How will he dare to say he is his sheep? No one tells me "O, what does Donatus say, what does Parmenianus say, or Pontius or any of them? No one agrees with the catholic bishops if they are anywhere by chance mistaken in holding any opinion contrary against the canonical Scriptures of God. But if they maintain the bond of unity and love and they fall into error, it will be done to them what the Apostle says if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you (Phil. 3:15). But now those divine utterances about the universal Church are so obvious that the heretics cannot rant against them unless out of perversity of mind or blind rage. (Chapter 11)

Those who are my sheep, says the heavenly shepherd, hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). His voice concerning the Church is not enigmatic. Whoever does not want to wander from his flock, hears it and follows it. His very faithful manager, a teacher of the Gentiles in truth and faith (1 Tim 2:7), because he himself [i.e. Jesus] speaks in him, says I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, because there is no other; unless some are confusing you and wanting to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let there be anathema upon him. As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let there be anathema upon him (Gal 1:6-9). (Chapter 12)

For this reason, if the evidence of the canonical Scriptures needs no interpreter, which commends the Church standing in communion with the whole world and you can find no such right for your separation in Africa established from the same books, you do not justly complain of persecution which the Church endures more gravely the more broadly it is spread and it bears all things in faith, hope, and love, not just such things which your Circumcellians and such other inflict on their members where they can but all scandals of various injustices abounding throughout the whole world, concerning which the Lord shouted woe to the world because of scandals (Mt. 18:7). (Chapter 20)

Now let this be enough; stop working with such texts. Everything of this type you have brought forward is either to our benefit, or that I might limit much of my own case, it is certain to whose benefit it is. But you willingly linger in obscurities, lest you be compelled to speak openly. Behold the Church. I ask, why are you passive? Behold the Church commended and announced, foretold and shown with so much obvious evidence from the Holy Scripture as we have heard, so have we seen (Ps. 48:8). Why do you delay how you might be gathered in? Why do you refuse to be thus gathered in, as the Church for which the one who cannot lie offers evidence gathers you in. Teach that which the canonical Scripture openly said that he who might be baptized among heretics was to be baptized in the catholic Church in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if you can’t teach this, teach to you own communion, that is to Donatus’ sect where you learned this, that some obvious and clear evidence is offered by the canonical Scriptures and I shall say that people should go over to you and that the heretics shouldn’t be gathered in any other way from how the church in which you are gathers them in, since it has been made clear by such evidence. Why do you rage, why are you disturbed? You do not find in the canonical Scriptures what we demand of you. What you are accustomed to say where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon (Cant. 1:7), you see what it is and how it does not benefit you. Do not then seek such things since even if the sect of Donatus were in northern regions which are opposite to the southern regions, he would say it was said of him Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great king (Ps. 48:2). Certainly the city of the great king is nothing if not the Church, and that doubtlessly means the Church rather than this where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon? But perhaps Marcion the heretic used that evidence who is said to have been from Pontus which is in the north. Again, if the sect of Donatus were in the west, he would say that this was said of him journey to him who ascends over the sun’s setting; his name is the Lord (Ps. 68:4). Perhaps he would say this is loftier to ascend over the setting sun than make it lie down at noon. These are mysterious, secret, symbolic; we beg of you something obvious that doesn’t need an interpreter.

And so I gather you in in the same way the offspring of Abraham gathers in in whom all nations shall gain blessing (Gen. 22:18). This would perhaps be mysterious, had Paul not revealed the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Thus I gather you in in the same way that that desolate woman gathers whose many children will be more than the children of her that is married (Is. 54:1), which would be mysterious had Paul not said that she is the Church, our mother, to whom it was said the Lord who redeemed you, he will be called the God of the whole earth (Is. 54:5); to whom it was said your land the whole world (Is. 62:4); just as that queen gathers, concerning whom it is said in the Psalms at your right hand stands the queen (Ps. 45:9) and to whom it is said sons are born to you in place of ancestors, you will make them princes in all the earth (Ps. 45:16). Moreover, that I not go on too long, I thus gather you in, just as the Church gathers through all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47), just as the Church gathers, which is a witness to Christ in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He gathers you in, who said this of the Church, who displays it with such words, lest anyone doubt about it. Thus, I gather you in, in the same way he gathers the wheat sown in the field which grew with the tares until the harvest; for they are the children of the kingdom, the field is the world, the harvest is the end of the age (Mt. 13:38-19). The Lord expounded it, it is the Gospel; these are the words of the Lord, they are clear. (Chapter 24). 

On this account, dearest ones to whom I am writing this epistle, hold to that command of the shepherd with a very firm and faithful heart who laid down his life for his sheep and now glorified and exalted sits at the right hand of God the Father saying those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (Jn. 10:27). You hear his most obvious voice not only through his law and the prophets and psalms, but also through his own mouth commending his future Church and in reading you will see these things which he foretold in the way in which they followed in order in the Acts and the epistles of the apostles, which complete the canon of the divine Scriptures. This is not an obscure speech in which they might deceive you whom the Lord himself foretold would say here is the Christ. There he is. Look! He is in the wilderness (Mt. 24:23, 26), as if to show where there is no great crowd; look! He is in the inner rooms (Mt. 24:26), as if to show he is in the secret traditions and teachings. You have the Church spread everywhere and growing to the harvest; you have the city, of which he who founded it said, a city built on a hill cannot be hid (Mt. 5:14). This is therefore one which is well known not in some region of the world, but everywhere. Sometimes it suffers these passing storms even in its grain so that it is not recognized in certain places; yet it lives hidden there. Nor can the divine speech be deceived since it grows up to the harvest. (Chapter 24)

But you, supported by so much obvious evidence from the law, prophets, psalms, the Lord himself, and the apostles concerning the Church spread throughout the world, demand of them that they show some clear evidence from the canonical books out of Africa that pertains to Donatus’ sect. It cannot be found in any way as I have already said that the Church, as they say and which is not true, was foretold to perish so quickly from so many nations, with so much evidence so exaltedly and doubtlessly and it was silent concerning that Church which they want to be their own which, as they contend, was to remain until the end. Be mindful of what was said to that rich man when he was tormented in hell and he wanted a message to be sent to his brothers from the dead: they have, he said, Moses and the prophets (Lk. 16:29). And when he said they would not believe unless someone from the dead was sent to them: if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead (Lk. 16:31). Moses said that in the offspring of Abraham, all nations shall be blessed (Gen. 22:18); the prophets said you shall be called my delight and your land the entire world (Is. 62:4) and all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord (Ps. 22:27). They did not want to believe in these and so many other so obvious pronouncements demonstrating the Church. The Lord rose from the dead and said that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. Those who had not believed Moses and the prophets did not also believe the Lord rising from the dead; what remains unless that they gain the torments of that rich man? You who are fleeing these while there is still time before you depart from this life, remain constant in the divine utterances so that you are not disturbed in this life and after this life you deserve to receive what was promised to the offspring of Abraham. (Chapter 25)

Scripture as Sufficient

But if you shout or read aloud from some other place, we do not admit, believe, or receive your voice after we have heard the voice of our shepherd through the mouths of the prophets, through his own voice, and through the mouths of the evangelists so openly declared to us. (Chapter 12)

All such things then removed, let them demonstrate their Church, if they can, not in the speeches and murmurs of African, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the epistles of whatever debates, not in false signs and prodigies, since we are prepared and cautioned against them by the word of the Lord, but in the precept of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the psalms, in the utterances of the one shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, that is in all the canonical authority of the holy books, and not such that they might gather and cite things that are spoken obscurely or ambiguously or metaphorically which anyone might interpret according to his own opinion as he wishes. Such things cannot be properly understood and explained unless first those things that are said most openly are held with a strong faith. (Chapter 18)

Once these snares of delays have been laid aside let him show that the Church should be preserved in Africa alone with so many other nations lost or that it should be repaired and fulfilled among all nations from Africa. Let him show this that he not say, "it is true because I say this or because my colleague has said this or some colleagues of mine or our bishops or clergy or laity or it is true for this reason that Donatus or Pontius or somebody else has performed these or those miracles or that men pray to the memory of our dead or that these or those facts are relevant here or that our brother or sister has had some vision while awake or has dreamed some vision while asleep." Let these fictions of lying men or omens of treacherous spirits be removed. Or is it not true what is said, if some miracles of the heretics were performed we should be very cautious, because the Lord said that certain men would be deceitful who by performing some signs would deceive the elect, if that were possible. He adds vehemently, take note, I have told you beforehand (Mt 24:25). The Apostle also warns about this now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (1 Tim 4:1). Moreover, if anyone praying in memory of heretics is heard, not by merit of the location but by merit of his desire does he receive good or ill. Thus it is written the spirit of the Lord has filled the world (Wis 1:7) and a jealous ear hears all things (Wis 1:10). Many are heard by an angry God of whom the Apostle says God gave them up to the lust of their hearts (Rom 1:24) and to many a favorable God does not bestow what they wish that he might bestow what is useful. The Apostle said the same thing about the goad of his flesh, the angel of Satan, which he said was given to him to box him lest he become insolent from the greatness of his revelation three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me, and he said to me "My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Do we not read that some are heard by the Lord God on the peaks of the mountains of Judea, which heights nevertheless were displeasing to God so that the kings who didn't overturn them were found with fault and those who overturned them were praised? From this it is understood that the condition of the petitioner is stronger than the place of the petition. Concerning false visions let them read what was written that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of the light (2 Cor 11:14) and that dreams have deceived many (Sir. 34:7). Let them also hear what the pagans say was miraculously done or seen from their temples and yet the gods of the peoples are demons but the Lord made the heavens (Ps 96:5). Therefore, many are heard and in many ways, not just catholic Christians but also pagans and Jews and heretics given over to various errors and superstitions. They are however heard either by deceiving spirits who nevertheless do nothing unless they are allowed, God judging ineffably from on high what should be bestowed to each person, whether by God himself either for the punishment of wickedness or for the consolation of misery or for a warning to seek eternal salvation. No one arrives at that salvation and eternal life unless he have Christ as his head. No one can have Christ as his head unless he be in his body, which is the Church, which we ought to acknowledge just as the head itself in the Holy canonical Scriptures, and not seek in the various murmurs, opinions, deeds, words, and visions of men.

Let no one who is prepared to respond to me therefore set this before me that I don't say that I should be believed that the communion of Donatus is not the Church of Christ on this account, that certain men who were bishops among them were convicted by ecclesiastical, municipal, and judicial decrees of having given divine instruments over to the flames, or that in the judgment of the bishops, which they sought from the emperor, they did not maintain their case or that appealing to the emperor himself they even deserved a sentence from him against them or that there are such leaders of the Circumcellians among them, or that the Circumecellians commit such evil, or that there are those among them who cast themselves from precipices or sacrifice others to be consumed in flames whom they themselves burned or they force their slaughter upon unwilling men through terror and they seek so many voluntary and insane deaths so that they will be loved by people or that these drunken flocks of vagabonds mixed with wantonness bury themselves day and night in wine at their tombs and annihilate themselves in disgrace. May this crowd be the chaff and not judge the grain if they adhere to the Church. But they may not show whether they adhere to the Church unless from the canonical books of the divine Scriptures since we do not say that it should be believed of us that we are in the Church of Christ on this account that Optatus of Milevis or Ambrose of Milan or countless other bishops in communion with us commended that Church to which we adhere or that this Church was preached by the councils of our colleagues or that throughout the whole world, in the holy places that our communion frequents, so many miracles either of answered prayers or of healings are performed that the bodies of martyrs that lay hidden for so many years were revealed to Ambrose because they could hear many petitioners and a man blind for many years who was well known in the city of Milan received his sight at those bodies or since this one saw in a dream and that one heard in an ecstasy either that he should not go to Donatus' sect or that he should abandon Donatus' sect. Whatever such things happened in the catholic Church should therefore be approved of. Because they happen in the catholic Church, the Church is not therefore shown to be catholic, just because these things happen in it. The Lord Jesus himself, when he rose from the dead, offered his body to be seen by the eyes of his disciples and touched with their hands in case they nevertheless think they experienced some trick. He considered them more strengthened by the evidence of the law, the prophets, and the psalms, showing what was predicted earlier was fulfilled in him. So he commends his Church, saying that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. He asserted that this was written in the law, the prophets, and the psalms; we adhere to this commended by his own mouth. This is the evidence of our case, this the foundation, this the support. (Chapter 19)

…it suffices that we adhere to this Church which is shown by the most obvious evidence of Holy and canonical Scripture. (Chapter 22)

Why should I bring forth more things then? Whoever would think to respond to this epistle, let him search through the Scriptures and either let him bring forth clear evidence concerning Africa in which alone or from which alone Donatus’ sect is (which he cannot bring forth, since Scripture cannot be opposed to these clear citations we have brought forth) or if he seeks credulous followers of his suspicions or charges or slanders and he wishes to lead them to another gospel (but there is no other) and preach to us one other than what we have received, even if he were an angel from heaven, there would have been an anathema, since the devil, who also fell from heaven because he did not stand in the truth preached to man something other than what he had received from the Lord God, if there were an anathema upon man, these first parents of our flesh would not have fallen into the punishment of death nor would they have departed from that place of happiness. (Chapter 24)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Meaningfulness of "Existence"

In Gordon Clark's article Atheism (1983), he wrote, under a subsection entitled The Meaninglessness of Existence, the following:
The idea existence is an idea without content. Stars exist-but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exists-but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something. For example, if I say that some cats are black, the sentence has meaning only because some cats are white. If the adjective were attached to every possible subject-so all cats were black, all stars were black, and all politicians were black, as well as all the numbers in arithmetic, and God too-then the word black would have no meaning. It would not distinguish anything from something else. Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information. That is why the Catechism asks, What is God? Not, Does God exist? 
This idea is found elsewhere in Clark's writings, especially later in his life:
The verb to be must always be a copula, and never the unintelligible verb exist… Ousia means being (a participial noun), reality, or definition... Ousia doubtless means “reality.” But not only are trees and rocks “real,” dreams are “real” too. They are real dreams. The number three is real. Everything is real, and thus the term has no meaning. (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 70, 79, 86-87)
The earliest precedent for this that I could find is found in Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973), although Clark had not by this point - as he does later, per the preceding quote - equated that which exists with that which is real, since he here contrasted the latter with the imaginary:
If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning, and this is to say that it has no meaning at all…Here then in the conclusion: The predicate existence can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception. Dreams exist, mirages exist, the square root of minus one exists. These statements, however, are meaningless; they tell us nothing about dreams and the square root of minus one…Anything exists, so far as the term has any faint meaning at all. But it makes a great difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, or the square root of minus one. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 41)
There could be other instances where Clark says something along these lines. I think these suffice for the following comments.

If "existence" were an idea without content - or if "[x] exists" is a statement in which the intended verb is without content - then the use of these words (or their equivalent parts of speech) wouldn't signify anything. They would be conceptually bankrupt, and any statement in which they are found would be unintelligible. It would be no idea at all.

But is "existence" meaningless? I don't think so, and it appears "late Clark" didn't either, as he used the word "existing" and "exists" to describe his own positions:
The possible views are these: There are three independent gods; there is only one God who appears and operates in three ways; there is but one Person who is God and Christ was his first creation; and finally there is one Godhead existing in three Persons. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 20) 
We reply that God’s act of will is eternal. Thus the begetting of the Son occurs, and the Son as a Person exists, by a necessity of the divine nature – the nature of the divine will. Later this theme may become complicated, or simplified, by the identification of the Father’s will, the Son’s will, and the Spirit’s will as one will. 
John Gill, otherwise so excellent, falls into this temporal trap at one place. “God exists necessarily,” he says, and this is true… (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 135-136)
One could argue he was only being inconsistent here, but there are dozens of previous instances in which Clark used some grammatical variant of "existence" in describing his own views. Further, in some of these places, Clark argues that people must presuppose the existence of certain things and further does so while referencing "meaning":
When now the theist speaks of theism as a practical postulate, he is not indulging in any “as-if” philosophy. He means that God exists and that one should conduct his daily life by that belief. It is called a postulate because it is an indemonstrable first principle and not a theorem derived from more ultimate premises. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 42-43) 
Certainly, the burden of proof lies on those who deny the propositional construction of truth. Their burden is twofold. Not only must they give evidence for the existence of such truth, but first of all they must make clear what they mean by their words. It may be that the phrase non-propositional truth is a phrase without meaning. (God's Hammer, 1995, pg. 35)
And this is only for Clark's uses of the variants of "existence." As "late Clark" equated "existence" with "reality" and "reality" with "being" and "definition," one could easily cite hundreds of cases in which Clark had previously (or even concurrently) argued for his own views using these words, suggesting he must have thought they had meaning. If Clark did indeed change his mind from one position to another later in his life, it was strange that he did not mention how such affected his own prior or concurrent use of said words.

Rather than view Clark as being inconsistent, I think it makes more sense to suppose that in the first trio of quotes in this post, he was just imprecise. The point Clark intends to drive at is that merely stating some subject "exists" gives us no idea as to the individuality of that subject. But this doesn't imply that "existence," "exists," etc. are meaningless terms, for what it does do is qualify the subject as capable of functioning as a subject. Such a capability or potential is necessary for there to be any discussion of what something actually is.

In a past post (link), following a quote by Clark in which he differentiated between denotative and connotative definitions, I argued:
Denotatively, the upper limit of classification can be said to be existence, reality, or being. These words are simply meant to encompass what “is,” viz. everything. Clark’s dislike of using these words as predicates stems from the fact that they can, in some sense, be applied to every subject. Because they cannot distinguish any one subject from another, they don’t really serve a useful connotative function: can anything fail “to be [real or existent]”? No. Everything qualifies ipso facto. This is why Clark considered himself to be a Realist. On the other hand, an exhaustive denotative list of everything is useful because knowledge requires distinctions and distinctions imply multiple subjects or material from which a hierarchy of classifications can be demonstrated, the total sum of which is just existence, reality, or being that an omniscience would know.
What the proposition "[x] exists" means, then, is just that it is possible for us to refer to x. Refer to x as what? Well, the answer to that question depends on what meaning x can bear or to what x corresponds in addition to its, at the very least, being a word, i.e. something we can say or see. But more importantly, the question misses the point, which is that if x means something concrete and can be individuated at all, it has to be possible for us to refer to x at all. x has to be classifiable in principle in order to be classified in particular.

This would be very similar to how "early Clark" himself seemed to implicitly define "existence" at one point:
…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. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 102) 
In sum: reality, existence, and being - these nouns refer, in the broadest sense, to everything and anything (more words Clark had no problem using). To define or explain what these are, we would have to list out every possible subject, taking note of the fact these subjects have certain meanings (propositional) and refer to certain things (propositional or non-propositional). To call something real, to say it exists, for it to be - these verbs refer, in the broadest sense, to the principle according to which we could even formulate a list of everything and anything.

So the next time someone says "existence" is meaningless because it is applicable to anything and everything, just ask what anything and everything mean or refer to.

[Or come up with your own definitions of these terms.]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Scripturalism, Internalism, and Externalism

In one of my more recent posts, I mentioned the need for Scripturalists to focus on contemporary issues in epistemology, as there are a lot of interesting dimensions that have yet to but should be explored. To give just a brief example as to why, let’s briefly look at the current internalist-externalist debate. 

A fairly common explanation of internalism is as follows: “the epistemic justification of a person’s belief is determined by things to which the person has some special sort of access… things that are internal to the person’s mental life” (Epistemology: An Anthology, 2nd edition, pg. 408). Externalism is the denial of this thesis: one’s justification of his beliefs is determined by things other than his mental life to which he has cognitive access. [There are varying positions I am skipping for convenience, e.g. one in which internalism and externalism are collectively sufficient although individually insufficient conditions for justification.]

So, whereas an internalist, for example, might reflect on his own beliefs to examine whether they have been properly inferred from other beliefs or pass an epistemic test which a properly foundational belief would, an externalist might appeal to an aetiological explanation for why we can have justified beliefs: for example, our beliefs are justified when they have been caused in a certain way, as that which causes them either in general or even must engender true beliefs.

As such, externalists are sometimes said to view justification from a third-person perspective, where justification is just something persons have: given a person in such and such an environment or circumstance, he will be justified in believing x. Internalists, on the other hand, view justification from a first-person perspective, where justification is something persons can [additionally] show themselves as having: I am justified in believing x because I can cognitively access my mental state y, which is self-justifying (here the internalist would be a kind of foundationalist).

Now, while some Scripturalists like myself have argued for the necessity of self-knowledge (linklink, link, link, link, link), many Scripturalists and non-Scripturalists have denied that, on Scripturalist presuppositions, self-knowledge is possible. For two such examples in this past year, see (here and here). What does this have to do with the internalist-externalist issue?

For starters, if we rule out self-knowledge, do we have cognitive access to our own beliefs? Perhaps pragmatically, but not in an epistemic context, at any rate, which is the context in which the internalist-externalist issue is framed. So if we can’t access our own thoughts, then if our beliefs are justified, it obviously cannot be from an internalist perspective. That would suggest Scripturalists who deny self-knowledge must be externalists. But there are several individuals who have observed that Scripturalism and internalism are a package deal: link, link, link, and so forth. 

A point they make is that if an integral part of a Scripturalist apologetic is that if an individual cant show how they know x is true, then they have no justification for it, Scripturalists are implicitly arguing that internalism is true. But if Scripturalists reject self-knowledge, theyre hypocritically applying a standard to others which they dont even attempt to meet themselves. The result is sloppy apologetics.

Ironically, Scripturalists who deny self-knowledge would logically have a kind of unwitting affinity with the externalists of Reformed epistemology... whom some of those same Scripturalists have criticized. A pure externalist of, say, the empirical variety will face a meta-regress regarding how he knows that his theoretic scenario – reliabilism, proper functionalism, etc. – according to which men allegedly acquire knowledge is itself a product of that scenario. A Scripturalist who denies self-knowledge will face the meta-question of how he knows that he is a person to whom God has imparted knowledge of Scripturalism. 

Scripturalists who think they can side-step the force of this by humbly admitting that while they might not be Scripturalists or even be persons, Scripturalism as a system comes out unharmed need to realize that they’ve already effectively ruined for themselves any chance of knowing that from an internalistic perspective. Theyve as much as admitted they can show no basis for that belief, so whence the assurance? How are they better off than the empirical externalist who is sure that, while he may not be able to know that he knows his belief regarding reliabilism was reliably arrived at, at least reliabilism itself is unharmed?

This is why I’ve stressed the need for Scripturalists to read contemporary epistemologists and issues currently being debated. There is clearly room to improve Scripturalism, if not in revision, then at least in development. [For instance, if internalism is true, so much the better for my argument that we must have self-knowledge.]

And as for my thoughts on the merits and truth/falsity of internalism or externalism - since the above paragraphs were not designed to address that - I will save that for another post. I will only say here that I see no reason why we can’t say we “know” certain things in a looser, externalist sense and “know” other things in a stricter, internalist sense. But I do agree with Bonjour that 
...there is a clear way in which an internalist approach, in addition to being intellectually legitimate on its own, has a fundamental kind of priority for epistemology as a whole, so that externalist views, whatever their other merits, do not constitute satisfactory responses to... whether we have any good reasons to think that any of our beliefs about the world are true (and what form these reasons might take). (Epistemic Justification, 2003, pg. 39)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What is Saving Faith?

I think this conversation has convinced me that faith does involve trust, where trust is not mere assent. So saving faith is not just mere assent as many Scripturalists have it. It involves what many Reformed believers refer to as "trust."

But on a hunch, I don't think many Scripturalists are going to be very open to this idea until the point that persons are not mere propositions is also contested and demonstrated (as I have done here). When one sees that - that I, a non-propositional reality, assent to certain propositions one of which is that God the Father, another non-propositional reality, justifies or saves me - it follows that I am trusting the Father. As Ron says in that thread, I "rely upon" or depend upon Him.

The point is that in assenting to what the Father says in His word, I implicitly trust or depend on the Father Himself. But since neither He nor I just are propositions, this requires that what mental state the word "trust" corresponds to is something other than mere assent. I can't assent to something non-propositional, at least not in the Scripturalist sense. But clearly I can rely or depend on (trust) something non-propositional.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On a Personal Note

I graduated as a public policy student from Georgia Tech recently, and a team of myself and three other students placed first in our field at the 2014 Capstone Design Expo. You can now request access for our research findings on urban agriculture through here if interested.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Future of Scripturalism Revisited: Contemporary Epistemology

In the past few years, I've written a few posts about how I think a Scripturalist epistemology can be plausibly and legitimately developed. These two (here and here) came to mind, although there might be others. When I write these kinds of posts, it’s in part a gentle nudge to Scripturalists that it’s time to take off the training wheels of Clark. 

It strikes me that when a Christian first reads and understands Clark’s theory of knowledge, the effect can be rather like when one first reads, understands, and accepts Calvinism through the likes of Sproul, Piper, etc. The result is an attraction to a sincere and seemingly successful attempt at Scriptural and logical consistency, an attraction magnified by contrast with previously encountered authors or belief systems which didn't seem to do the subject (soteriology, epistemology, etc.) justice. And this attraction naturally inclines one to defend said author or belief system. 

I mentioned Calvinism because that mirrors my own experience. To make a long story short, after I read Sproul's Chosen By God, I began to see God's word as something more than a set of historical facts that have had an impact on my life - a significant impact, but one I took for granted. In addition to that Christianity is right, I saw a way to understand why Christianity is right. I saw design, beauty, art, logic, God. I was interested, and with that interest came a desire to interest others. 

But given that I like to talk to people who don't agree with me, it didn't take long to find out that I would have to develop my understanding of Calvinism beyond the level of Sproul's presentation in order to convince many people as well as increase my own assurance of its tenability - which is fine, since as far as I recall, Sproul's book is meant to be introductory. That involved reading Scripture, other Calvinists, and other authors who disagreed with Calvinism. It also involved self-reflection, evaluating whether I could myself contribute any arguments for or against Calvinism.

When Scripturalists first read Clark, I think they usually similarly develop an affinity for his position and an appreciation for the man given the number of topics he was willing to discuss. Again, there is no problem with this. But if Scripturalism really is Scriptural, there is likely more to it than what one man has had to say about it. Even during his life Clark was happy to see other people try to find ways to strengthen what he thought was a sound, Christian epistemology, and certainly Scripturalism can be elaborated in light of scholarly epistemological issues that have arisen in the some 30 years since Clark died. 

Clark not only wrote about philosophers throughout history, he engaged his contemporaries. That's what Scripturalists need to be doing now. Objectivism isn't really scholarly, but John Robbins' book Without A Prayer is a fair example of the sort of applied epistemology I'm talking about. Robbins didn't seem to be parroting pre-established, stock arguments against Objectivism. I think he gave some good, original arguments. I appreciated that, which is why I didn't just recycle his arguments in a regurgitated, book report fashion when I wrote my own evaluation of Objectivism.

The point is that there are a lot of contemporary epistemological concepts Clark never talked about at length, and they're just as interesting as the ones Clark did talk about. To name a few:

Infinitism, coherentism, foundationalism, positism; internalism and externalism; occurrent and dispositional beliefs; doxastic and propositional justification; pragmatic, deflationary, coherence, and correspondence  theories of truth; infallibilism and fallibilism; warrant, proper function, justification, anti-Gettier case conditions; contextualism; closure; virtue epistemology; etc.

There are even more metaphysical and linguistic categories that Scripturalists since Clark - and Clark himself, for that matter - haven't really touched. On the other hand, here's what I don't think Scripturalism needs more of: [Lockean-like] empiricism is nonsense; analogical knowledge is nonsense; skepticism is nonsense; nihilism is nonsense. These are more or less true, and there's nothing wrong with pointing these out, but these points shouldn't constitute the extent of Scripturalism. They're points Clark and others have already made dozens of times. There's also nothing particularly Scripturalistic about these points. There are other, more pressing issues Scripturalists should be talking about, like what the meanings of knowledge, belief, truth, and justification are or should be - concepts basic to any epistemology but never really given a lengthy treatment by Clark in the context of alternatives, especially ones which have become more popular since his death.

My opinion: if Scripturalism is to have a bright future, Scripturalists need to start talking to and about people with opposing views that fall between the extremes of materialistic, empiricistic, skeptical atheism on the one hand, and Van Tilianism on the other. More often than not, that doesn't seem to be the case. In addition to explicating Scripturalism beyond the introductory level of, say, Crampton's Scripturalism of Gordon H. Clark - again, there's nothing wrong with introductory material, but at some point a position has to adapt to new challenges or be abandoned - that's a lot of uncovered ground.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

McTaggart's Paradox and Time

I recently read John McTaggart’s The Unreality of Time (link), a paper true to its name in that the author argues time is unreal. While very few philosophers agree with his conclusion, McTaggart’s arguments are not so easy to refute. He is exceptionally clear – clearer than most of his expositors, in my experience – and his influence on the metaphysics of time can be compared to and perhaps even surpasses that of Zeno’s influence on the metaphysics of motion. Even philosophers who disagree with McTaggart usually accept his basic distinctions and definitions between different ways in which people often attempt to relate events:

A-series: Past, present, future (tensed)
B-series: earlier than, simultaneous with, later than (tenseless)
C-series: an ordered set of events without direction (atemporal)

McTaggart summarizes the most obvious difference between the A-series from the B-series:

Positions in time, as time appears to us prima facie, are distinguished in two ways. Each position is Earlier than some, and Later than some, of the other positions. And each position is either Past, Present, or Future. The distinctions of the former class are permanent, while those of the latter are not. If M is ever earlier than N, it is always earlier. But an event, which is now present, was future and will be past.

Thus, B-series accounts of temporal facts don’t change. A-series accounts of temporal facts change. “Event X is earlier than (later than/simultaneous with) event Y” can, if it is a fact, be truly said by anyone at any time. On the other hand, the truth value of “event X is in the future” allegedly changes, if ‘future’ be taken as an irreducibly tensed fact. I say “allegedly” because McTaggart doesn’t believe there is a way one can consistently state such a change, which I will get to in a moment.

For McTaggart, the essential feature of time is unidirectional change. The C-series implies change, but not unidirectional change:

If the C series runs M, N, O, P, then the B series from earlier to later cannot run M, O, N, P, or M, P, O, N, or in any way but two. But it can run either M, N, O, P (so that M is earliest and P latest) or else P, O, N, M (so that P is earliest and M latest). And there is nothing either in the C series or in the fact of change to determine which it will be.

A series which is not temporal has no direction of its own, though it has an order. If we keep to the series of the natural numbers, we cannot put 17 between 21 and 26. But we keep to the series, whether we go from 17, through 21, to 26, or whether we go from 26, through 21, to 17. The first direction seems the more natural to us, because this series has only one end, and it is generally more convenient to have that end as a beginning than as a termination. But we equally keep to the series in counting backward.

In order to account for the possibility of real, unidirectional change (i.e. time), then, McTaggart argues the C-series must be combined with the A-series. Why not the B-series? Only A-series facts change, so only an A-theorist can account for change. This point is disputed by B-theorists, a point I may address in a future post since I would consider myself a B-theorist, but for now it is sufficient to note that McTaggart believed the A-series to be more fundamental than the B-series in that while we require the ability to temporally relate events by mean of both series (assuming time is real), the combination of the A-series and C-series can give us the B-series whereas a combination of a B-series and a C-series wouldn’t be able to give us the A-series.

With this groundwork, McTaggart has set up all the elements needed in order to prove that time is unreal: time is unidirectional change, and the A-series in which events objectively flow from the future to the present to the past is necessary in order for time to be real rather than a fictional creation of consciousness. Enter McTaggart’s Paradox:

Past, present, and future are incompatible determinations. Every event must be one or the other, but no event can be more than one. This is essential to the meaning of the terms. And, if it were not so, the A series would be insufficient to give us, in combination with the C series, the result of time. For time, as we have seen, involves change, and the only change we can get is from future to present, and from present to past.

The characteristics, therefore, are incompatible. But every event has them all. If M is past, it has been present and future. If it is future, it will be present and past. If it is present, it has been future and will be past. Thus all the three incompatible terms are predicable of each event which is obviously inconsistent with their being incompatible, and inconsistent with their producing change.

It may seem that this can easily be explained. Indeed it has been impossible to state the difficulty without almost giving the explanation, since our language has verb-forms for the past, present, and future, but no form that is common to all three. It is never true, the answer will run, that M is present, past and future. It is present, will be past, and has been future. Or it is past, and has been future and present, or again is future and will be present and past. The characteristics are only incompatible when they are simultaneous, and there is no contradiction to this in the fact that each term has all of them successively.

But this explanation involves a vicious circle. For it assumes the existence of time in order to account for the way in which moments are past, present and future. Time then must be pre-supposed to account for the A series. But we have already seen that the A series has to be assumed in order to account for time. Accordingly the A series has to be pre-supposed in order to account for the A series. And this is clearly a vicious circle.

What we have done is this -- to meet the difficulty that my writing of this article has the characteristics of past, present and future, we say that it is present, has been future, and will be past. But "has been" is only distinguished from "is" by being existence in the past and not in the present, and "will be" is only distinguished from both by being existence in the future. Thus our statement comes to this -- that the event in question is present in the present, future in the past, past in the future. And it is clear that there is a vicious circle if we endeavour to assign the characteristics of present, future and past by the criterion of the characteristics of present, past and future.

The difficulty may be put in another way, in which the fallacy will exhibit itself rather as a vicious infinite series than as a vicious circle. If we avoid the incompatibility of the three characteristics by asserting that M is present, has been future, and will be past, we are constructing a second A series, within which the first falls, in the same way in which events fall within the first. It may be doubted whether any intelligible meaning can be given to the assertion that time is in time. But, in any case, the second A series will suffer from the same difficulty as the first, which can only be removed by placing it inside a third A series. The same principle will place the third inside a fourth, and so on without end. You can never get rid of the contradiction, for, by the act of removing it from what is to be explained, you produce it over again in the explanation. And so the explanation is invalid.

Thus a contradiction arises if the A series is asserted of reality when the A series is taken as a series of relations. Could it be taken as a series of qualities, and would this give us a better result? Are there three qualities -- futurity, presentness, and pastness, and are events continually changing the first for the second, and the second for the third?

It seems to me that there is very little to be said for the view that the changes of the A series are changes of qualities. No doubt my anticipation of an experience M, the experience itself, and the memory of the experience are three states which have different qualities. But it is not the future M, the present M, and the past M, which have these three different qualities. The qualities are possessed by three distinct events -- the anticipation of M, the experience M itself, and the memory of M, each of which is in turn future, present, and past. Thus this gives no support to the view that the changes of the A series are changes of qualities.

But we need not go further into this question. If the characteristics of the A series were qualities, the same difficulty would arise as if they were relations. For, as before, they are not compatible, and, as before, every event has all of them. This can only be explained, as before, by saying that each event has them successively. And thus the same fallacy would have been committed as in the previous case.

We have come then to the conclusion that the application of the A series to reality involves a contradiction, and that consequently the A series cannot be true of reality. And, since time involves the A series, it follows that time cannot be true of reality. Whenever we judge anything to exist in time, we are in error. And whenever we perceive anything as existing in time -- which is the only way in which we ever do perceive things -- we are perceiving it more or less as it really is not.

Andrew Turner summarizes McTaggart’s reasons for stating the A-theorist cannot consistently parry the charge that any event which has one temporal property like “past,” “present,” or “future” must have the other two (unless that event is the first or last moment in time, in which case it would still have two incompatible properties):

The ‘vicious circle’ argument: time is assumed to explain why ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ do not apply simultaneously.

The vicious series argument: a second time series has been introduced to separate these terms; but to separate these terms within this second series we need to introduce a third time series and so on. (link)

I found vicious circle argument is easier to follow than the vicious series argument (see McTaggart’s paragraphs 3-4 above). Recall that the A-series is supposed to explain how time is possible. But when the A-theorist is accused of saying that events are past, present, and future – which is inconsistent – he resorts to saying that no event is past, present, and future at the same time. The problem is that one cannot benignly appeal to time in order to account for the alleged A-series inconsistency if A-series is itself what is supposed to account for time.

I think the vicious series objection to the A-series is best presented by Michael Dummett (link). If we suppose that every event has more complex A-times than ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ which supposedly resolve the paradox, because each phase of complex A-times has two or more mutually exclusive properties which are applicable to the event, there is no stage at which the A-theorist can escape the paradox. For example, if we say that an event ‘will be past,’ ‘is present,’ and ‘was future,’ there is no contradiction. Here we have constructed a sort of second-level A-series. But this complex A-series implies other complex A-times such as ‘has been past,’ ‘has been present,’ ‘is past,’ ‘is future,’ ‘will be present,’ and ‘will be future.’ And McTaggart will argue that as in the first level, any event that has one of these properties has all of them. That is, any event is {past, present, future} in the {past, present, future}. Instead of three A-times, there are now nine; but some of these A-times are contradictory, so that these are predicated of events does not resolve the paradox but just pushes it to another stage. Obviously, an event cannot consistently be referred to as, for example, ‘is [now] present,’ ‘is [now] past,’ and ‘is [now] future.’ The A-theorist will say these are not properties possessed at the same time. But in so doing, he will merely be generating 27 complex A-times instead of 9 or 3. And since at no stage will the paradox be resolved – since several of these A-times would be contradictory if predicated of any single event – a vicious infinite regress is the result.

Prominent A-theorists have recognized that this paradox presents a real challenge and responded accordingly; viz. by denying that the past and future are real. William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, among others, have accepted presentism in part to attempt to block the thrust of McTaggart’s Paradox. Presentism denies the reality or existence of the ‘past’ and ‘future.’ A-theorists like Craig find experiences of an objective ‘present’ to be plausible and intuitive, warranting the defense of the A-series to such a purist extremity. But sometimes our intuitions, upon more rigorous examination, contradict one another. Paul Helm, in Time and time again: two volumes by William Lane Craig, finds this to be the case with the implications of accepting the “purist” A-theorist’s account of time:

By contrast Craig believes that A-theory presentism can handle change, since it takes the notion of having a property to be a present-tense notion. Any object only exists in the present, so the question of its possessing different properties at different times does not arise. Lewis claims that this proposed solution rejects the very idea of persistence (B, 192), but Craig, in responding that on the A-theory an object can be said to exist at times other than the present, appears to concede what is distinctive about presentism. If the A-theorist affirms chronal realism, it concedes its position. If it does not, where is persistence through time? On responsibility, one might ask about the reasonableness of holding someone responsible for what a person who no longer exists did. Is this not counterintuitive too? Why should I be responsible for the debts arising from spendthrift actions which no longer exist, whether these are the actions of my great-grandfather or of an earlier present me?

Furthermore, B-theorists have argued that presentist ontology either fails to provide truthmakers for past and future tense events or wind up caught in McTaggart’s paradox (link, pg. 101ff. and 160ff.); link, pg. 66ff.). Essentially, if the past and future aren’t real, how can we truly speak about them? Or if we can truly speak about them and in light of the idea that temporal becoming requires something other than the present from which a thing has become, how is it that they aren’t real and thus can avoid McTaggart’s Paradox? Especially in Craig’s case, these questions seem similar to those presented in the grounding objection to Molinism.

As for the theistic implications of a B-theory of time, which I would not push has been demonstrated in this modest post – though I believe it does at least put the onus on the A-theorist to explain how his position could be consistent – what it would do is establish that God’s knowledge is unchanging. It would not mean that God is Himself necessarily outside time. A B-theoretic would be a necessary but insufficient condition for divine timelessness. For instance, several B-theorists like Helm and Mellor believe causation is what can account for uni-directional change along the B-series. Causes are earlier than effects. But God is a cause of all things, in which case God could be in time – He or His creative activity would be the earliest of all events – unless further qualified in some respect such as by distinguishing between ultimate and secondary causation (cf. here).

While I haven’t satisfactorily related the philosophy of time to issues of divine timelessness, eternal generation and procession, the incarnation, and our own experience, then, I believe I’ve made some headway in understanding what time itself is and how it can accurately be modeled.