Monday, May 4, 2015

Scripturalism, Occasionalism, and Kinds of Epistemic Justification

In recent months, I've written posts on internalism and externalism here and here. In those posts, I’ve either argued or cited arguments from contemporary epistemologists that internalism is 1) at least a precondition for a defense of an externalist view of epistemic justification and 2) tied to a Scripturalistic epistemology. This requires further development, but I wanted to examine whether externalism is compatible with Scripturalism. Can some beliefs we have be in some sense justified by virtue of having been caused a certain way - say, a way which was divinely designed to, in general, produce true beliefs? I believe they can be, but this would seem to require jettisoning the idea that all our beliefs are efficiently caused by God; that is, an unqualified occasionalism must be rejected. 

In my experience, occasionalism seems to have gained considerable ground among Scripturalists. I've defended the view myself, but as I've found myself increasingly changing my mind on quite a few metaphysical issues related to Clark, it doesn't shock me to be revisiting this metaphysical theory of causation. Formerly, I considered the view that persons are propositions, a two person theory of the incarnation, and the idea the one God is a genus to be defensible, if not true; now, I don't. And while I had changed my mind on necessitarianism once (toward favor of it), I'm now finding myself inclined to change it back (against it). So I don't deny I'm still sorting through these issues. Frankly, they are more complicated than most Christians deal with, Nevertheless, I think philosophic knowledge can be attained regarding these topics. However, this requires a critical - though not uncharitable - eye towards anything besides divine revelation, including Clark. I don't want readers to get the wrong idea; recent criticisms of Clark's metaphysical views ultimately stem from an appreciation of his work on the whole. But he wasn't the be-all, end-all of Christian apologetics. Neither am I, for that matter. Clark may or may not have been the deepest Christian thinker since Augustine - but Augustine made quite a few mistakes too. I think Clark would agree that whether one should accept a systematization of doctrine should depend on the resultant system, not the person who systematized it. This is why I, like Clark, don't mind opening myself to criticism. I often benefit from it.

Back to the topic at hand, Gordon Clark's clearest affirmation of occasionalism is found in Lord God of Truth (1994):
We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause, for only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well. Even the Westminster Divines timidly agree, for after asserting that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and that "no purpose of yours can be withheld from you" (Job 42:2), they add, "Although... all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes...." What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions. But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation. (pg. 27)
This comes toward the tail end of a section entitled "Causality and Causation." There are a few other points in this section that are of note. Clark says that "while Hume denied all miracles, there was a medieval Moslem who anticipated Hume's arguments against causality and concluded that every event is a miracle. Since no sensation can be the cause of another sensation, every event is immediately caused by God" (pgs. 24-25). I take it Clark is referring to Al G[h]azali, the occasionalist he mentions he agrees with a few pages later. This, then, is another explicit affirmation of occasionalism, and it identifies occasionalism with immediate divine causation.

Clark also outlines what he means by causation. Causes are always "temporally distinct" from effects (pg. 25). In the span of time between alleged causes and effects, however, "several things could have happened" that did not happen; for example, even though Archduke Ferdinand was killed, World War I could have conceivably been averted (pgs. 25-26). I guess this was written before Clark became a necessitarian. Given that, I'm not sure how he would have altered this section. Surely, he would have had to, as his arguments for occasionalism all hinge on the idea that something other than what did happen could have happened - as such, God must be the determinative factor of any event.

But even if necessitarianism isn't true, there isn't any reason to suppose occasionalism is true. For instance, would Clark argue that something could have intervened between regeneration and faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification such that the latter wouldn't necessarily occur given the former? At the time Clark wrote Lord God of Truth, would Clark have argued that there could have been a possible world in which the golden chain of redemption didn't hold? That regeneration only leads to faith due to divine fiat rather than anything entailed in the act of regeneration itself? Or take this example: is there no intrinsic connection between disobedience and punishment? That sounds like an Islamic theology of God. Come to think of it, Islam popularized occasionalism in the first place. Coincidence? Would Clark really have held that disobedience wasn't necessarily a mediate, secondary cause of punishment?

I don't think so. If he wouldn't, then that's two clear, biblical counter-examples to Clark's argument. In this case, to insist God immediately causes the latter events would beg the question, as the argument for immediate divine causation was supposedly derived from the idea that something else could have occurred between any two actual events other than what actually did occur. 

If, on the other hand, Clark would have conceded that these latter events were only such due to divine fiat, it would be ironic that Clark changed his mind from a kind of metaphysical hyper-possibilism to necessitarianism... a necessitarianism which seems to eliminate any need for occasionalism anyway. There is already a necessary connection among all events, so any earlier event could justly be called a cause of a later event.

And in the case that Clark would have held to this hyper-possibilism - which, again, I doubt, but would naturally lead to a rejection of a completely occasionalist theory of causation - other changes in Clark's system would be inevitable. I'll name a few examples.

While Clark rejected Kant’s preformation theory of knowledge (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 389), he accepted some kind of theory which posits innate ideas from birth, innate ideas which become intelligible once "the heat of experience is applied" (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 203). But what need is there for such innate ideas if God is always the direct cause of inputting belief and knowledge into one’s mind at will? He wouldn't even need to instill a rational faculty until he willed to impart these first beliefs; tabula rasa is not so easily dismissed after all, it seems. 

Or why defend traducianism so strenuously if the reality that Adam is or was our federal head has no intrinsic connection to the fact that Adam is our natural ancestor? Are our souls not even secondarily caused by our parents? Note what Clark says here:
Then when he comes to the transmission of inborn depravity, and the difficulty of thinking that God immediately creates sinful souls, he appeals to secondary and mediate causes, thus abandoning the idea of immediate creation... 
Berkhof begins with a short but very fair statement of traducianism, including some of its Scriptural support. He refers to only one verse in favor of creationism, namely, Psalm 104:30. But if this verse teaches creationism, it follows that the souls of all animals and all plants are also immediately created. Now, it is true that the Old Testament assigns both souls and spirits to animals, and if a creationist wishes to accept the point, he is consistent. Those who oppose the theory of traducianism in the case of human beings, but deny it of animals, are inconsistent. An interesting, if inconclusive, point. But it certainly keeps God busy creating... 
The third objection is not an objection at all: It is something that traducianists admit, indeed assert, and use as an objection against creationism. Berkhof says, “(3) It proceeds on the assumption that, after the original creation, God works only mediately”(198). This, however, is not precisely an assumption: It is an exegesis of Scripture.
Sounds right to me. But this not only contradicts occasionalism, it directly conflicts with Clark's earlier assertion that "secondary causes" in the WCF are conceptually equivalent to Malebranchian occasions.

Or what was the point of inscripturation, if the physical texts which correspond to eternal thoughts of God don't actually serve any secondary, causative function? One can argue that upon encountering such physical realities, God sometimes immediately causes belief in the corresponding propositional realities so that there is a some kind of correlation between the two events - even though God doesn't always cause the same response, questioning the legitimacy of even asserting a correlation - but why make matters so complicated? Why not just say that God designed physical realities in such a way that they generally cause, in the absence of opposing conditions (e.g. partially covering one's eyes while reading), certain beliefs? How is this even disadvantageous to Scripturalism? What's the advantage of occasionalism, other than that its meaning is easy to explain? Is that even an advantage, or just another indication of how lazy Scripturalist apologetics has, in general, become?

Or what about prophecies and insincere believers? When Scripture says that we can "know" that a prophecy has passed or failed, "know" someone by their fruits, etc., does it really mean that we can "make lucky guesses"? Do the authors mean we can have a true opinion of something... without having any reason for thinking that opinion is true? Does that seem like a likely explanation of what "know" means in those passages? 

But aside from these disadvantages of occasionalism, there are more tangible benefits to discarding the doctrine - again, at least as it is posited as a complete metaphysical explanation of the nature of causation. For instance, I mentioned above a possible synthesis of Scripturalism with externally justified beliefs. Why would occasionalism preclude externally justified beliefs? If God is the direct cause of all things, that would include disbelief in Him as well as belief. Most people don't believe in God, let alone various biblical doctrines, let alone all other disagreements of which only one position - at most - can be true. Roughly, the point is that a metaphysic which posits that God immediately causes all beliefs would preclude the possibility that our beliefs are justified because they have been caused by a process which is, in general, unreliable (insofar as it does not, in general, yield true beliefs). A rejection of occasionalism allows for the possibility of externally justified beliefs, which seems like a good way to interpret the sort of "knowledge" we can have regarding prophecies, the sincerity of others' professions of faith, and so on. We can't forget the commitment Scripturalism has to internalism, but this isn't problematic so long as we keep the distinction between types of justification in mind when we refer to certain beliefs as "justified" or "known." 

And speaking of internalism, this view isn't compromised by admitting there are secondary causes. To say some belief can’t be internally justified for no other reason than that it is caused in a certain way is a genetic fallacy. Scripturalists are (or, in my opinion, ought to be) doxastic foundationalists: in short, a belief is philosophically known only if appropriately inferred from other [internally] justified beliefs or if the belief in question is self-justified or self-evident, in which case it is foundational, a first principle, axiom, presupposition, etc. But it doesn’t matter whether such a belief was the result of secondary causation or directly mediated to our minds via divine causation. Ultimately, everything is caused by God. On internalism, the causal origin of the belief doesn’t feature into whether the axiomatic belief itself is self-justified, especially if the resultant epistemic system can provide an account of the means by which we know.

Furthermore, the justificatory function of sensation or perception on externalism need only be causal, not logical. We don’t need to show our beliefs are justified externally in order for them to be, they just are because they are the product of a generally reliable causal system, i.e. a system which generally produces true beliefs – which makes sense, given divine providence. We also don't necessarily need to know what the causes of our beliefs are or whether such causes are divinely ordained as generally reliable in order for the beliefs themselves to have the status of being externally justified. All that matters is that they just are the effects of a generally reliable cause.

Now, what subordinate externalist schema we posit could itself be logically as well as causally justified. What we can internally know can lead to the idea that we externally know. But the point is that this proposed synthesis can in principle allow us to be in some sense (i.e. the externalist sense) justified in believing a person is an insincere believer, when summer is near, and so forth without requiring us to argue how we know it. If our belief is true, and if it was caused in according to a manner which God specifically designed to generally function as yielding true beliefs, then our belief is justified, even if we do not know such in the internalist sense. 

Again, externally justified beliefs are always subordinate to internally justified beliefs - thus, the latter establish limits to the former - but this does allow Scripturalists to account for certain types of knowledge in Scripture as well as the potential to expand apologetic impact by coupling it with other possibilities, like allowing that extrascriptural beliefs can be probilified by explanatory value and coherence. A few arguments against empirical knowledge may need to be qualified as solely applying to an internalistic and infallibilistic schema, but otherwise, the tradeoffs in rejecting a purely occasionalist theory of causation seem well worth it.

16 comments:

Luke Miner said...

In the pursuit of a common Scripturalistic epistemology, what would you say if I let "knowledge" stand for what you are calling "internalist justification" and "warranted belief" stand for what you are calling "externalist justification". Then, we could use infalliblist constraints on knowledge and justification but not on "warranted belief".

The biblical passages on knowledge would then be placed in these categories (and others) depending on the context.

Ryan said...

I think it is more useful to follow contemporary epistemologists here so that if we get our foot in the door of these discussions, we aren't already talking past them. Many contemporary epistemologists follow Plantinga in defining "warrant" as referring to that which suffices to turn true belief into "knowledge." Of course, "knowledge" here is usually of a fallibilist variety. One of the challenges for them is to explain what degree of probability is enough for knowledge and why. I haven't read much about this, though.

Luke Miner said...

I’ve read a good bit on Plantinga’s warrant, though I am no expert. I have an article on the backburner which shows mathematically that warranted belief (WB) reduces to skepticism unless justified true belief (JTB) is possible. This is similar to your view that fallibilist knowledge is impossible without infallibilist knowledge.

<>When warranted belief is confused with knowledge, we are essentially dropping the T in JTB and redefining the J.<> Why not keep knowledge as JTB (infallibilist) and use WB (fallibilist) to communicate this probabilistic inductive method? We can then say that Clark has warranted belief that his wife is the one next to him in bed, but that he has knowledge of the Scripture. I agree that this will still cause problems communicating with contemporary epistemologists, but that is because they more or less deny the possibility of infallibilist knowledge. We need terms to communicate our disagreement with this denial.

Ryan said...

I'll think about it some more. I'm looking into grad school as a philosophy major, so hopefully some of these issues can be clarified. Your proposal is reasonable, as is mine.

I don't know that Clark would have accepted any kind of fallibilist justification. This statement in Lord God of Truth suggests not:

"We can indeed entertain opinions about Columbus, and by accident or good luck they may be true; but we could not know it. Our dear pagan Plato, at the end of his Meno (98b) declared, “That there is a difference between right opinion and knowledge (ōrtheme) is not at all a conjecture with me, but something I would particularly assert that I knew." (pg. 40)

Luke Miner said...

I think if we reserve “knowledge” and “justification” for infalliblism, Clark would accept “warrant” as a useful word for forming useful opinions. After all, he has an historical methodology and a philosophy of science. At the end of the Hoover debate, he was asked how he knows he is a human in need of a savior. He answered that he rather thinks he is a human and applies this opinion by submitting to God’s commands to humans. He said, you don’t have to know what the ground is in order to till it. However, you at least need a warranted belief of what it is. If I told Clark he had warranted belief, I think he would have agreed.

That would be pretty cool if you could go to grad school for philosophy. I’d be jealous. What do you do for work? Wanna continue this by email? Miners11s11@gmail.com

Ryan said...

He has those things, but clearly fallibilist justification entails something more than an opinion which is true by luck or accident. It has a prescriptive method, if internalist, or description, if externalist, of why these beliefs, even though they don't rise to the level of reflective, infallibilist belief, are in their own right nevertheless distinguishable from unjustified or unwarranted opinions.

I'll email you about the rest.

Max said...

Do you reject the idea that all our beliefs are efficiently caused by God?

From reading your post I don't understand your opinion on secondary causes. It seems the idea of secondary causes was invented to avoid calling God the author of sin. I agree with Vincent Cheung, who said:

"I affirm the meaningfulness of so-called "second causes" only in the sense that these are the means by which God executes his immutable decrees; however, these second causes are not themselves self-existent, self-determined, self-caused, or self-powered. Rather, all so-called "secondary causes" are themselves immediately caused and controlled by God, and the objects on which these secondary causes supposedly act upon react in ways that are also immediately caused and controlled by God.

This is the only coherent and defensible position. When pressed, theological determinists who differ from this must rather quickly retreat into mystery and paradox."

Vincent Cheung, "The Author of Sin" (2005), p. 20.

Luke Miner said...

Max, thats the Cheungian view, but if one defines "cause" as Clark did, then secondary causes make perfect sense. For Clark, a cause is a purpose. Since both God and man have purposes, and since God is the one who purposed man to have purposes, secondary causes are the only possible explanation. So if I purpose to eat a cheeseburger, and if I eat the cheeseburger as a result of that purpose, I ate the cheeseburger because I purposed to eat it, but I got that purpose through a lengthy list of other causes which terminates in God's purpose.

Max said...

But many people have purposes that don't come to pass. How can a purpose be called a cause if it's not guaranteed to bring about a result?

Luke Miner said...

Max, I think that Clark's thought is that, while not all purposes are actualized, all actualized events result from purposes.

Ryan said...

"Do you reject the idea that all our beliefs are efficiently caused by God?"

If "efficiently" means "immediately" or "directly," yes. God doesn't tempt, for instance, so any temptation we have must have been caused by something else, although whatever that something else is will in turn have been ultimately caused by God.

Secondary causation is discussed in the Westminster Confession, it wasn't invented due to Cheung :)

Max said...

Then how do you answer:

"Theologians are fond of appealing to "secondary causes" to distance God from sin and evil. They say that God indeed causes sin and evil, but he does it only through secondary causes, and thus he indirectly causes them. However, this does not really distance God from sin and evil because, to begin with, each time God must directly make the secondary causes work the way he wants them to work, and he must directly make the objects supposedly affected by the secondary causes respond the way he wants them to respond. Otherwise, it would be as if we acknowledge a metaphysical principle or power that is different from God but that is as powerful as God, which is dualism.

As for Calvin's statement, although bread is designed to be in one sense a secondary cause by which God nourishes your body, God must still in a real sense directly cause the nourishment ...

Now, appeals to secondary causes are legitimate as long as it is correctly applied; however, if the intention is to distance God from the event or the effect (such as murder, rape, etc.) as a way to do theodicy, then the approach fails, because nothing can really distance God this way. It is biblically wrong and metaphysically impossible. Therefore, in this sense – in the sense that God is necessarily the author of all things – we must affirm that God is the author of sin. But we will add that this does not generate an apologetic problem, because there is no rational or biblical argument showing that there is anything wrong with it; rather, God and his actions are righteous by definition."

Vincent Cheung, "Commentary on Ephesians" (2004), p. 30.


"[Q.] Why do you think the Westminster Divines stated that God ordained whatsoever comes to pass and then also stated that God is not thereby the author of sin?

[A.] It seems that, like most theologians, they assumed that to cause evil is to commit evil; therefore, they had to distance God from evil. However, the assumption that to metaphysically cause evil is to morally commit evil is false, and rarely even mentioned or defended. It is taken for granted, but these are two separate issues. One deals with how something can happen at all, and the other deals with what moral laws God has declared to define what is good and what is evil. If he has not declared that it is evil for himself to metaphysically cause evil, then how dare men say that it is evil for him to do so?"

Vincent Cheung, "Sermonettes, Volume 1" (2010), p. 83.

Ryan said...

What would you like me to answer? Causing evil may not be evil. I agree. But if God says that He doesn't tempt anyone, then He isn't a tempter - some other, secondary cause is.

Max said...

Are you referring to James 1:13? James does not claim to speak in the name of God, nor as a prophet. So it does not prove God said this.

If God caused something to be created, then He created it. Now if He caused someone to be tempted, why is it wrong to say He tempted that person?

This is where I disagree with Cheung, because he believes the book of James is inspired, and tries to defend it (The Author of Sin, p. 5).

Ryan said...

You can't prove God said anything. That's a non-starter.

"If God caused something to be created, then He created it. Now if He caused someone to be tempted, why is it wrong to say He tempted that person?"

Transitivity. Creation is efficient or immediate, temptation isn't. Would you say the Father spat on the Son just because He caused that to occur?

Max said...

Well, God doesn't have a literal mouth, so some verbs cannot be predicated of God. To tempt seems like one of those verbs, so I stand corrected.