Monday, August 3, 2015

Classifying and Clarifying Scripturalists and Scripturalism

I want to use a few comments in a recent post by Steve Hays (link) as a catalyst for some thoughts:
In my experience, Scripturalist epistemology is infallibilist and internalist.
I agree that this is the more logical position for Scripturalists to take - though not exclusively so - and that most if not all Scripturalist apologetics tends toward this position, but given the number that reject self-knowledge, I'm not so sure that many Scripturalists can be internalists. For these Scripturalists, there seem to be two possibilities (aside from accepting self-knowledge): 

1) Subscribe to a purely externalist view on which, say, divine occasionalism or illumination infallibly causes true beliefs, though from a first person perspective we can't know when this occurs.

2) Reject doxastic justification altogether in favor of Scripturalism being propositionally justified. "You can necessarily disprove me, because I and my beliefs are indeed necessarily fallible, but you can't disprove Scripturalism as such, because in itself it is infallibly true."

In the case of both 1) and 2), I don't see why they would bother defending Scripturalism even if they believe it's true:

In the case of 1), is their belief in Scripturalism caused by an infallibly reliable causative process? How do they know? Either the appeal eventually turns to internalism after all, or they have another sort of implicit regress (e.g. "I can know Scripturalism because my belief was infallibly caused, and I can know this previous statement because my belief in that was infallibly caused, and..." - ad infinitum) which is available to all kinds of externalists, not merely the Scripturalist variety. One could still hold to it as a theory of knowledge without inconsistency, but this theory of knowledge couldn't really inform Scripturalist apologetics the way Scripturalists usually suppose it can.

In the case of 2), is their belief that "Scripturalism is in itself infallibly true" infallibly true? If they answer yes, the appeal again must turn to internalism after all to explain how they know that, or else anyone else could merely assert the same of their own system with no apparent apologetic repercussions. If the answer is no, the Scripturalist must acknowledge that Scripturalism as a system itself may be false, at least for all they know. Either way, what rational motivation can the Scripturalist himself then have for defending Scripturalism over against any other belief or system? 

Back to Steve's post:
When Scripturalists appeal to the Bible, how can they verify that they are reading the Bible rather than hallucinating or dreaming about a "Bible" that's not the real Bible?  
Doesn't this pose an intractable dilemma for the Scripturalist? His epistemology depends on having intellectual access to the word of God embodied in Scripture.  
But given his general skepticism, how can a Scripturalist be internally justified in his belief if he can't exclude the possibility that the "Bible" on which he relies might be a hallucination? And how can he rule that out, given his epistemology  
If he already had access to the Bible, that would be a benchmark. But he can't appeal directly to the Bible to prove that he's not self-deluded about his source of information, for that would be viciously circular. If he were self-deluded, if the "Bible" he relies on is a hallucination, rather than the real Bible, then that can't correct his delusion, for that's the very source of his delusion! 
In most discussions with Scripturalists, here's how I think replies to Steve or others using the same reasoning as Steve roughly play out: 

Scripturalist: The Bible isn't ink marks on a page. It's the meaning of the physical text, if there even is a physical text.

Steve: Is there a physical text, or are you an panentheistic idealist? If there is a physical text, do we come by the meaning of Scripture through it, or was inscripturation a pointless exercise? If we come by the meaning of Scripture through Scripture, then how can and do you know a sensible object like Scripture apart from sense experience?

Scripturalist: You can't criticize me without explaining how sensations can yield knowledge.

Steve: Your position is in question, not mine. Also, define "knowledge." Also, read this blog, there are plenty of places I address how sensations can be and were designed to yield knowledge.

And so on. Maybe this is too flippant, but in any case, I've seen this happen a few times elsewhere. These responses clearly just don't cut it. Instead, I think the last five paragraphs of this post provide a better answer to the charge of vicious circularity  - the second to last paragraph in particular:

//...while sensation could be designed to cause certain beliefs, sensations nevertheless would not logically justify them, which is that with which internalist, infallibilist justification is concerned. Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified. So we can use physical signs and symbols to communicate or have communicated to us propositional meaning, but this doesn't require justificatory dependence on sensation in the context of infallibilist, internalist knowledge //

The idea beliefs can only be justified autonomously or by other beliefs is doxastic foundationalism. This, I think, is the structure and nature of justification to which Scripturalists ought to hold in the context of internally and infallibly justified beliefs.

That our beliefs are caused by sensations and can be externally justified by them (non-doxastic foundationalism) does not mean that when we reflect on or attempt to show how we know those beliefs (internalism), our attempts to justify our beliefs must be sourced in or premised on sensations except insofar as sensations are in these cases acknowledged to be ontological preconditions for having acquired said beliefs in the first place. As ontological preconditions are obviously distinct from epistemic presuppositions - we ourselves would need to internally justify belief in the former by inference from the latter - there is no vicious circularity.

In a way, this means Steve is right. In the context of internalism and infallibilism, Scripturalists don't begin with Scripture qua Scripture, they begin with their beliefs about the revelatory meaning of Scripture. But I'm not sure this is a problem. 

I've recently had a few conversations about Scripturalism over at Triablogue (see here and here), and in the latter one Steve said he believed that some beliefs are infallible. I'm not sure that he meant this in the context of internally justified beliefs, but if so, I don't see how one can have internally and infallibly justified beliefs by starting with anything other than beliefs (except perhaps propositions, though this doesn't seem right), including our sensible encounters with a physical text of Scripture. 

Our senses can cause numerous false beliefs. Sense knowledge is fallible. Most importantly, I can't think of a TAG by which we can justify that sense experiences were what caused certain necessarily true beliefs we may have and recognize as such. This doesn't make inscripturation a pointless exercise, however, at least if we hold that beliefs can be externally justified.

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