Thursday, April 30, 2015

Apologetics and Epistemology

Recently, I was reading Gordon Lewis' summary and critique of Gordon Clark's apologetic in Testing Christianity's Truth Claims. Clark said Lewis' representation of his position here was done "better than any other critic" (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 394). Clark provides his own response to Lewis in that book. I just want to highlight a few points related to Clark's apologetic I think should be made clearer.

To begin his final section of his chapter on Clark - his "Evaluation" - Lewis writes: "Suppose for the moment that consistency is the sole test of truth-claims, as Clark asserts." (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119). Clark points out this isn't true. In one of his earliest books (originally published in the late 1940s), for example, Clark wrote: "While consistency is one of the basic reasons for adopting a world-view, from a more proximate standpoint the world-view must function as a practical postulate" (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pg. 42). For some reason, this tends to be an overlooked point. 

For Christians, apologetics serves a certain function: "to defend the truth of Christianity against the attacks of its enemies" (link). Attacks can come in different varieties and relate to different fields, but basically, they all question that Christianity is true or knowable. If an apologetic has nothing to say about these different fields and has no relevance to whether Christianity is true or knowable, it isn't practical.

The other point I want to make also relates to the function of apologetics. Lewis seems to make the mistake of equating Clark's "test[s] for truth" with how a Christian knows the truth. He mistakes Clark's apologetic for Clark's epistemology. Lewis writes:
Admittedly, Christianity's truth-claims cannot be proved by inductive evidence. But Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity, of all the systems men have known, is alone consistent. Notice what is necessary for Clark to establish that thesis. He must show the inconsistency of every other system in history and on the contemporary scene... On what grounds does Clark know that there could not be two or more consistent systems? He assumes that only one system could possibly be consistent. (Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, 1976, pg. 119, 120)
Note that the following isn't true: "Clark chooses to believe their truth because Christianity... is alone consistent." Rather, Clark chooses to argue their truth because Christianity is alone consistent. This is the difference between apologetics and epistemology. Apologetics consists in making arguments. This is not always so in epistemology - axioms are not known because they are the conclusion of some argument, they are known because they are self-authenticating. 

Clark has to argue for Christianity via logical consistency and practicality because, at the risk of stating the obvious, he can't know Christianity for those to whom he is engaging in apologetics. He could just say divine revelation is self-authenticating and leave it at that, but it is more persuasive (which is another function of apologetics) to additionally point out, when applicable, that an opponent's system 1) can't be self-authenticating if his system inconsistent or impractical, or 2) that his system is less coherent than Christianity is, in the case of something like Judaism.

Lewis seems to think that Clark's tests for truth are the basis on which Clark claims to know Christianity. That is really the only explanation for why Lewis would think Clark would have to sift through infinitely many systems before knowing that just one, Christianity, is consistent. But that interpretation goes completely against what Lewis himself stated Clark believed regarding the nature and knowability of axioms earlier in his summary. 

While "test[s] for truth" can serve as confirmatory evidences of Christianity, they shouldn't function as the ground of knowledge; divine revelation does. Elsewhere, I have called tests for truth necessary conditions for knowledge and the postulate[s] by which one claims to know anything the sufficient condition[s] for knowledge (link). The former are the means by which we make arguments for (i.e. apologetics) the latter (i.e. epistemology). 

Again, apologetics should include an explanation of the epistemology of the system one is defending. Any good defense of a system of knowledge should explain what that system says about how we can know anything. But that explanation and defense should not be confused for that actual process of knowing. In fact, apologetics is only possible insofar as we know the system we are defending is true in the first place (see here). 

As for where Clark stated these points - that axioms are known because they are self-authenticating, not the conclusion of an apologetic, and that consistency isn't the [sole] means by which we know Christianity is true - a few quotes should suffice:
This disjunct faces two replies. First, it assumes that a first principle cannot be self-authenticating. Yet every first principle must be. The first principle of Logical Positivism is that a sentence has no meaning unless it can be verified (in principle at least) by sensory experience. Yet no sensory experience can ever verify this principle. Anyone who wishes to adopt it must regard it as self-authenticating. So it is with all first principles. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 47)  
Undoubtedly I hold that truth is a consistent system of propositions. Most people would be willing to admit that two truths cannot be contradictories; and I would like to add that the complex of all truths cannot be a mere aggregate of unrelated assertions. Since God is rational, I do not see how any item of his knowledge can be unrelated to the rest. Weaver makes no comment on this fundamental characteristic of divine truth. 
Rather, he questions whether this characteristic is of practical value, and whether it must be supplemented in some way. It is most strange that Weaver here says, “I must agree with Carnell,” as if he had convicted me of disagreeing with Carnell by providing no supplementation whatever. Now, I may disagree with the last named gentleman on many points, but since it is abundantly clear that I “supplement” consistency by an appeal to the Scripture for the determination of particular truths, it is most strange that Weaver ignores my supplementation. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 290)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Doctrines and Beliefs

I was discussing the perspicuity of Scripture with a few Roman Catholics recently, and the question of essential and non-essential doctrines for salvation was raised. What does one need to believe (or not reject) in order to be saved? Where does Scripture distinguish between what doctrines are and are not essential?

Clearly, there is no single, cookie-cutter evangelistic statement. There isn't just one, authorized way of communicating the gospel. That's why the summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is a bit long, the Philippian jailer is told one thing, the Ethiopian eunuch is told something else, the conversation Jesus had with the two men following His resurrection must have taken some time, and so forth. A variety of considerations naturally come into play which explain why different statements were made in each of these cases. But I don't see why this implies a problem for the Protestant. None of this implies Scripture doesn't distinguish between essential and non-essential doctrines. The statements in the above passages are consistent with one another and touch on univocal elements. 

A Protestant, to be consistent with Scripture as his ultimate rule of faith, could go through Scripture and find out what was preached when the apostles witnessed and what else in Scripture is said to be related to the gospel and salvation. He could try to compile a comprehensive list. This would make for a useful exercise, but given that the gospel can be communicated by various statements, it isn't necessary. One doesn't have to read the whole New Testament to be saved. The Corinthian church didn't have to have the "second" letter from Paul to know the gospel outlined in the "first." Knowledge of a few passages suffices, though the more you know, the better.

Protestants could also just suggest that one should believe all of Scripture - if one does this, there is no problem as to what is essential and non-essential. This response in particular strikes me as a bit implausible, though, for while all Scripture is useful, there are fundamentals which the apostles encouraged new believers to drink as milk and yet chastised other believers for not being able to move beyond. Don't be unreasonable in your expectations of a new believer's ability to understand meaty doctrine.

Obviously, we should believe all of Scripture, and all of Scripture is understandable. But Scripture is a complex communication of interrelated doctrines, some of which are implicit. Memorizing Scripture is one thing, systematizing all the inferences is another. Does any professing Christian claim to have attained this? Is to too far to assert that we don't have the capacity - now, at any rate - to believe all of Scripture at once? Does this not indicate certain content should receive priority when witnessing to an unbeliever?

This is all pretty standard, but it brings up another point. I've been advocating that Scripturalists update the subject matter of their arguments, and in the vein of continuing to do so on this blog, I thought I'd apply the distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs here. 

An occurrent belief is a belief one has, considers, entertains, etc. at a given time. A dispositional belief is a belief one would [or, to give a necessitarian spin to this (link), could consistently be imagined to] have under certain circumstances - say, if one asked a person a question about whether or not he believes some proposition.

So let's look at the discussion of essential and nonessential doctrines from a different angle. Does everything one could list that I "would" need to agree with in order to be saved actually need to be an occurrent belief rather than a dispositional one? The answer is negative. When a believer sleeps, he doesn't usually, at least in my experience, actively believe "Jesus died and was raised for my sins." He's disposed to believe that. And we don't become unbelievers when we [occurrently] think something other than "Jesus died and was raised for me." All of this also indicates that even a Scripturalist who sincerely believes that "a person is what he thinks" must take "thinks" in a dispositional sense, so he should have no problem accepting this distinction.

However, in these cases, the actual or occurrent belief that "Jesus died and was raised for my sins" had already occurred at least once prior to my sleeping or thinking about something else. A better question is: do all propositions relating to the gospel need to have been occurrent at some prior time in order for one to be currently disposed to believe all of them? I don't see why. The burden of proof would be on the one who believes this to be the case to explain why.

Of course, I'm not saying one shouldn't entertain actual thoughts about the gospel. Less trivially, we can't know who is disposed to believe what. We have to act based on what we believe to be the case. This bears on the question of whether we should preach the whole counsel of God. I sometimes hear the argument that Christians should just list a minimal amount of propositions needed to be believed for salvation. That way, the audience isn't exposed to what I guess the arguers would call unnecessary potential obstacles to belief. 

But in considering the above distinction between occurrent and dispositional beliefs, as witnesses, evangelists, and apologists of God's word, we only become aware that those to whom we are speaking actually were disposed to believe some doctrine when we actually confront them with it to see if they occurrently accept it, reject, or require clarification of it. 

If one rejects a non-essential doctrine, while that doesn't necessarily mean the person isn't saved, the situation bears correction and watching. Christians make mistakes, but they should be teachable. It helps when the so-called teachers aren't constantly accusatory and defensive, which seems to be the case in many apologetic discussions. But sometimes, disagreements are never settled. That's just a fact of life we have to deal with. Sanctification is a process.

To the main point. If one rejects an essential doctrine, that's how we know he wasn't disposed to believe it and how we know he can't occurrently believe the gospel. If he accepts the essential doctrine, then we would have prima facie grounds - and here, Scripturalism needs to update its epistemology to account for kinds of justified belief other than infallibilistic - for believing they already had the disposition to believe it. 

This point is relevant to cases where certain parts of the gospel may have been left unsaid in an evangelistic encounter, for even as, in that case, we could not have [as strong] grounds for believing that the audience became or were believers, for we would have no evidence of their dispositions toward what was left unsaid, God could know whether He had disposed them to believe. They could be saved after all.

Again, this doesn't discount or discourage us from activity, for we don't have access to this divine knowledge, assuming it is divinely known. We work with what we have. But that it is a possibility at all is of some note in a discussion about what must one "believe" to be saved.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Further Problems with Clark's Metaphysical View of Persons

I've explained elsewhere why Clark's metaphysical theory of personhood leads to his two-person theory of the Incarnation (here). This two-person theory is flawed because it is manufactured by an illusory problem that it doesn't even solve. If it is a problem for Jesus to be one person, is it not a problem that Jesus is one subject? Or if you can explain why the latter fact isn't a problem, don't you in principle have an explanation for why the former theory needn't be problematic?

I've also explained elsewhere why Clark's theory of persons would imply the unbiblical view that God is metaphysically dependent on creation (here).

Others have pointed out problems with Clark's theory (for example, see here).

I'm going to note a few more problems. But firstly, it isn't clear whether Clark consistently held the same metaphysical view of persons throughout his life. For instance:
Aristotle admitted that individuals cannot be known. Hegel’s fault, or one of them, was to make the concept rather than the propositions the object of knowledge. But a concept is as unknowable as an individual. “Pen” is neither true nor false. Only a proposition can be true. “The pen belongs to Herr Krug” may be true; it may be false; but a concept in isolation is not an object of knowledge. Truth always comes in propositions.  
Two quotations from Leibniz enforced the application of this principle to persons. In fact the citations will do double work. They will show that knowledge of a person is propositions (and thus they bear on what several of my critics consider paradoxical, to wit, persons are propositions), and at the same time they will bring home the lesson from Plotinus that knowledge of oneself is no easy, off-hand, immediate experience, but of all things immensely difficult...  
Far from my making it impossible for God to know human beings, it is rather Professor Nash who does so. His view of the self is that of some Ich-an-sich. Leibniz suggests that the ego is a complex definition, including the life history of the person, and no doubt his state in a future world as well. This definition is not unknowable in essence, and God knows it because he determined what it should be. On the other hand, it is something that the person himself does not know, at least in this life. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs 148-149)
On this view, persons are just propositions. Clark is here silent as to whether or not they are propositions they think, as he argued later in his life:
Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. 
This is true of the Trinity also, for although each of the three Persons is omniscient, one thinks “I or my collection of thoughts is the Father,” and the second thinks, “I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature.” The Father does not think this second thought, nor does the Son think the first. This is the qualitative theory of individuation, as opposed to the space-time theory: No two leaves in the forest are exactly alike, and Leibniz’ Alexander the Great is defined by his history. Even if trees could be individuated by space and time, the persons of the Trinity, as said above, could not; nor could human souls or other spirits.  
Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of propositions.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of propositions too. And those who complain are as they think. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 129)
The last paragraph does say that persons are propositions, but a problem is that it's a bit too fast. Thoughts don't have to be propositions. We can think about questions or commands, both of which Clark distinguished from propositions yet admitted are necessarily capable of being “understood,” “known,” and “intellectually grasped.” Clark argued that “every declarative sentence – in fact, even questions and commands – are examples of logic” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 24, June 1981, pg. 168). So then which is it? Are we (and the Trinity) merely sets of propositions, or are we also the commands and questions we think?

Let's forget about that for now. Let's say we are what we think - specifically, the propositions we think. But sometimes, we think falsely as well as truly. Clark admits as much himself, including the false propositions we think in our individual, personal definitions as well as the true ones: 
Therefore, since God is Truth, we shall define person, not as a composite of sensory impressions, as Hume did, but rejecting with him the meaningless term substance, we shall define person as a composite of truths. A bit more exactly, since all men make mistakes and believe some falsehoods, the definition must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks... Whether the propositions be true or false, a person is the propositions he thinks (The Incarnation, 1988, pgs. 54-55).
However, given Clark's statements that “No one more than I insists on the necessity of a single self-consistent worldview” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? 1990, pg. 111), doesn't that mean that, metaphysically speaking, we are contradictions? If there is a single, self-consistent worldview, any false thought we have must be contradictory to any true thought we have. The result is that either God doesn't know us or God is a dialetheist, which is about as far removed from Clark's "consistency" theory of truth (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs. 142-145, 290-291, etc.) as one could get.

Of course, if one bites the bullet and argues God doesn't have to know us, then Clark's whole motivation for persons metaphysically being propositions in the first place is gone. God either doesn't need to know us or, as I think, we don't have to metaphysically just be propositions in order for God to know us, for what we metaphysically are was determined by God to correspond to some truth which God knows.

Now instead, let's say we are just a set of propositions and disregard what it is that we think. We are a complex definition that God has determined, per the above exposition of Leibniz. In that case, mustn't whatever set of propositions God knows us to be, whatever set of propositions we are, be changeless - which would make us eternal - on pain of making God's knowledge change? As propositions, we must be the objects of God's thoughts; if we change, God's thoughts and knowledge must change. Most Clarkians don't believe God's knowledge can change, but the resultant implication goes much farther than this or even a corollary to a B-series theory of time called eternal creation; in this case, we ourselves would cease to be temporal. We wouldn't change. This is opposed to Clark's own beliefs, and, at any rate, clearly unbiblical.

But suppose we allow that the set of propositions we are changes, and so God's knowledge changes. I've argued elsewhere (without endorsing the view) that God could be eternally omniscient and yet have determined that His knowledge will change in accordance with changes in time. In fact, per the above quote, it seems Clark unwittingly admits this to be the case in the incarnation (“I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature”). [Lest anyone think Clark's change of view on the incarnation may have affected this, he says on pg. 55 of The Incarnation (1988): “Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex.”]

It would take someone extremely committed to Clark's metaphysic of personhood to goes so far as to admit God is temporal just to save it, for he would have to give up Clark's motivations for necessitarianism and divine eternality. Worse, however, I think this view leads to a kind of process theology or divine becoming. For if persons are propositions, the persons of the Trinity must be propositions. And if "the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y" is true at one time and false at another (corresponding to the time[s] at which He decreed we change as persons), does this not imply metaphysical change on the part of the Father? 

One would have to state that this proposition ("the Father is a knower of [person] x as [a set of propositions] y") isn't essential to or found in the complex definition of the Father at any time (and likewise the Son and Spirit). But then, this implies "the Father is omniscient" isn't to be found in the definition of the Father either, for the truth of this latter proposition hinges on the truth[s] of the former. And then by parity of reasoning, all the other divine attributes appear equally unessential, and thus one couldn't even say that "the Father (or Son or Spirit) is God (or divine)" is essential to their personhood. Clearly this has been ad hoc reasoning for more than a while now, so the view that persons metaphysically just are propositions is problematic too.