Friday, August 7, 2015

Scripturalism: Epistemology and Apologetic

This reply is the continuation of a series of posts in which I have been discussing Scripturalism with Steve Hays. His most recent post is here.
To set the stage, by using the Cartesian demon I'm playing devil's advocate. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming a far more skeptical viewpoint than I myself endorse. But I'm doing that because I'm responding to Scripturalists on their own grounds. 
Mind you, I don't mention the Cartesian demon purely for the sake of argument. Thought-experiments like that demonstrate the limitations of proof. But that's only a problem if we equate knowledge with proof. 
I was ready to reply that Scripturalists don’t equate knowledge with proof before remembering there are some Scripturalists who have actually defined knowledge as justified true belief, where the justification in question is some kind of “account.” That could be viewed as a rejection of foundational knowledge in favor of knowledge requiring proof or evidence – it would be ironic if a professing Scripturalist for this reason admitted he couldn’t know Scripture because it is his posit. I doubt many Scripturalists are positists. Clark certainly wasn’t. Rather, I suspect these Scripturalists simply haven’t drawn this conclusion from the ill-conceived definition. 

And Steve’s right that the formulaic Scripturalist practice of always asking someone “how do you know?” and expecting the answer must either be some other premise or satisfy certain requirements (e.g. justification of the internalist and infallibilist variety) also indicates a confusion between apologetics and epistemology. But that’s a problem for Scripturalists, not Scripturalism. It is a prevalent problem, though.
To a great extent I think Ryan's argument is less with me than his fellow Scripturalists.  
That’s at least true with respect to self-knowledge and whether there are different legitimate forms of knowledge. I have experienced pushback from Scripturalists in the former case, and with respect to the latter case, I’m honestly not sure many Scripturalists are even familiar enough with contemporary epistemology to be able to articulate the nuances of the specific form of knowledge[s] to which they implicitly hold.

Also, I haven’t primarily been looking to argue my position against Steve’s. The main reasons I’ve been commenting on and replying to Steve’s posts is to clarify and test my own specific position and to show that apologetic discussions don’t always have to be about who’s the best sniper. I don’t usually post with readers in mind. This blog was and is intended for my benefit above anyone else’s. But at times, it helps to see that what I’m developing here can be defended with some effect elsewhere, not because I doubt it myself, but because I think it will help others.

Additionally, not everyone will always agree about various aspects within Christianity. That shouldn’t automatically breed group-think and an us-vs.-them mentality to the point you completely disregard everything someone else has to say. When you try to broaden a tent, you can’t have a sensitive, defensive disposition. That’s not to say conversations never get to the point where it’s just better for both parties to move on, but if you can’t even be decent to a fellow Christian, how can you expect to have any sort of pull with non-Christians?

I also like Steve. He’s always answered my questions, writes a lot of interesting material, and been nice to me.
I appreciate the concession, but in my experience, that's not garden-variety Scripturalism. Not even close. Unless Scripturalism can falsify the Cartesian demon, how can they prove that most of what they deem to be knowledge isn't delusive belief? How can they be certain? How do they know there's no Cartesian deceiver who's messing with their minds? Unless they can rule that out, precious little of what they believe rises to the level of the indubitable or indisputable. And if they can't, how is their position any signal improvement over the alternatives which they disdain? To say they that know it even though they don't know how that's the case is quite a comedown from the Scripturalism I'm acquainted with–past and present. 
I should have specified that in saying a Cartesian demon hypothesis needn’t cast doubt on the ability for garden-variety Scripturalists to know something, I meant to specifically refer to and was presupposing their agreement with Clark that “Not all knowledge is inferentially justified.” Scripturalists usually admit foundationalism – specifically, that some beliefs are known because self-justifying – even if in apologetic practice they sometimes proceed to contradict this admission or arbitrarily select who gets to appeal to it.

I think, then, Steve’s point is better viewed as him using a typical Scripturalist apologetic against Scripturalism to show that how a typical Scripturalist will respond to that apologetic is not how the typical Scripturalist allows his opponent’s to respond (already granting epistemological differences). That’s a fair criticism, but then I think it makes more sense to say a Cartesian demon hypothesis is the “radical counterpart” to a radical apologetic rather than a “radical epistemology.” Of course, that’s not to say the epistemology isn’t in need of adjustment.
Scripturalism is a form of foundationalism. It views knowledge as an axiomatic system. You isolate and identify certain indubitable, irrefragable truths. You then draw logical inferences on the basis of these first truths. You relate them to other truths in a system of mutual entailments. 
Problem is, the data-base for indubitable, indisputable truths is very thin. Abstract "laws of logic." Abstract mathematical formulas. Self-presenting states like "I feel pain." Psychology and modal metaphysics.  
You can't extract Christian theology from that data-base. You can't extract Bible history from that data base. It doesn't yield contingent truths. Yet that eliminates the concrete created order. 
I’m not sure if Steve is saying we can’t extract Christian theology from Scripture or if he is implying that the “data base” of indubitable, indisputable truths can’t refer to Scripture. If the former, we can extract Christian doctrines from Scripture: the incarnation and divinity of Christ, the resurrection, a basic outline of Trinitarianism with various possible models, predestination, etc. If the latter, why not?

People can dispute that Scripture is indubitable or indisputable. But people can also dispute laws of logic and so forth. The question is whether in doing so, are they being inconsistent? Are they subverting their own ability to be internally and infallibly justified in believing anything? In the case of disputing Scripture, the Scripturalist says yes, they are. The conversation can then move on to whether we even need that kind of belief (on which, see here). 

Or the conversation can move to whether the Scripturalist can show that one who disputes Scripture is being inconsistent. The answer is he can in one sense and can’t in another. The reason for this is the same reason Scripturalists acknowledge the need to begin with Scripture: in formulating the TAG that we need an omniscient (and good, to reference a later question) communicator in order to have internally and infallibly justified beliefs, another point comes out, i.e. that the communication can’t be premised on something else, it has to be self-authenticating. 

It is in this sense the Scripturalist can show we can’t dispute Scripture while at the same time acknowledging he can’t show it: on the one hand, we’ve just provided a TAG which can be used to show Scripture qua divine revelation must necessarily be self-authenticating to avoid inconsistency; on the other hand, this argument must actually be internally and infallibly justified because derived from Scripture, if Scripture really is our foundation - and not just Scripture abstractly considered as divine revelation, but Scripture concretely and canonically considered. The argument, then, is only as good as the foundation, and this is why it can only serve as confirmatory evidence of Scripture rather than is what functions as an internal and infallible justification of our belief in it. 

But even this isn’t a problem when we recognize that not everything that is internally and infallibly justified is the result of proof. One may disagree with this, but then he bears the burden of proof. This goes back to the distinction between apologetics (what we can show) and epistemology (what we can know). The former services the latter, not vice versa. 
Cartesian skepticism isn't synonymous with global skepticism. Global skepticism is self-refuting. But you can't get much mileage out of that. Although it doesn't take much to refute global skepticism, the exercise doesn't leave you with much to build on. It simply eliminates the utmost extreme. 
This was a leap in the context of the post, but I think methodological doubt implies one holds to pure fallibilism, a position which in turn I think must reject we are internally and infallibly justified in any of our beliefs. I gather this is global skepticism about the sort of “knowledge” I find most useful in apologetic discussions. Global skeptics may also reject any other forms of knowledge, but the rejection of this form is unique in that I find it leaves us unable to defend our having any other forms. This is a bit of a tangent, so I won’t press further. I’ve discussed this more with Paul Manata, though in no great detail, here.
Ryan is welcome to take issue with where his fellow Scripturalists characteristically assign the burden of proof. He's reversing the onus. When the dust settles, I don't see that Ryan's position is different in kind from non-Scripturalist alternatives. Rather, it seems to be an eclectic synthesis of the best that the alternative positions have to offer. I don't say that as a criticism. I'm not the audience he needs to persuade. Perhaps he'll have more success with the up-and-coming generation of Scripturalists. 
Well, I’ve consistently argued why I think Scripturalists should rethink epistemological and metaphysical issues elsewhere on this blog, but I imagine someone with a little more standing in the Scripturalists community will have to acknowledge these facts before they get a fair hearing. I imagine that’s what will decide whether the label suits me.

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