Thursday, August 13, 2015

ECFs on the Father Alone Being Autotheos

I recently posted 74 pages of quotes by 20 early church fathers affirming the doctrine that the Father alone is autotheos or God-of-Himself. You can find the entire document here. I have a few quick comments on the project itself.

Firstly, I only searched for and copied passages which mention the Father as the first cause, the ultimate cause of all things, the cause of the Son or Spirit, passages which, for instance, identify the Father being without cause with His exclusive property of being unbegotten, etc. In other words, there are many more passages I could have quoted, passages which instead speak of, say, the Father's uniqueness in terms of origination, sourcehood, or beginning, or how the Son's or Spirit's being or existence is from, of, or otherwise derived from the Father. I just found it convenient to hone my search in terms of causation.

Further, I only researched books found on I am aware of at least one book not on that website which contained statements which would have otherwise qualified, but I did not intend for this to be comprehensive. That wasn't the point. The point of the document is simply to show how pervasive this doctrine was in the early church.

Any edits I made in the above document were either grammatical - in changing the font and type for better readability, some errors occurred and a few have probably been missed - or because newadvent includes Scriptural quotations not found in authors' original works. People are welcome to compare my edit to the online version, there is no significant difference.

Now, I don't usually research church history, but Sean Gerety rekindled my interest after recently peddling the same embarrassing canards on facebook he did when we discussed Trinitarianism several years ago, including this one:
I find it offensive that you think we're stupid, when even a toad could tell that no Trinitarian could ever write as you have: "The Son and Spirit are not “autotheos.” FWIW I'm not going to revisit this whole sorry affair, but suffice it to say you're not a Christian. You may not like Unitarian or Arian, but you is what you is.
Sean is now free to consider Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Hillary of Poitiers, Hippolytus, Irenaeus of Lyons, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Justin Martyr, Novatian, Origen, Rufinus, Tertullian, Theodoret, etc. as anti-Trinitarians and less intelligent than toads.

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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cartesian Demons and Infallibilist Justification

This post is a continuation of a few recent exchanges I’ve had with Steve Hays. My last post was here, his most recent post is here.
Most epistemologists and Christian philosophers don't think that our ability to falsify the Cartesian deceiver should be a condition of knowledge. If we are unable to disprove the hypothetical Cartesian deceiver, that's not a good reason to doubt our beliefs. That doesn't cast reasonable doubt on our beliefs. Indeed, it would be unwarranted to take that thought-experiment too seriously.
I agree with Steve here no matter which contemporary definition of “knowledge” is being used. Whether “knowledge” refers to “true beliefs,” “externally justified beliefs,” or “internally justified beliefs,” there is no need to disprove or falsify a Cartesian demon to “know” something. In the first place, proof or falsification pertains to internalist justification. And even on internalism – whether fallibilist or infallibilist – proof and falsification per se aren’t requirements for knowledge, let alone with reference to something like a Cartesian demon. Not all knowledge is inferentially justified, and not all inferentially justified beliefs need be thought of as the result of deductive reasoning. A Cartesian demon hypothesis needn’t cast doubt on knowledge; it just depends on what one’s theory of knowledge is. I don’t think it’s just my modified epistemology that can avoid this “distinctive problem.” It seems to me garden-variety Scripturalism can avoid it as well.

Where disproving a Cartesian demon would be more relevant is in the realm of apologetics. It’s one thing for me to know there is no Cartesian demon, it’s another to be able to show to someone else how I can rule that out. Do I need to be able to show there is no Cartesian demon to know it? No. But if I can show it, and if I can further make arguments which select for theism in general and Christianity in particular, that’s beneficial. There’s use for that. And in any case, while there are limits to what we can show, this only exhibits the limitations of apologetics, not knowledge.

Scripturalism is a theory of knowledge. More specifically, I’ve argued it ought to be formulated as a theory about a specific kind of knowledge: “any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive with Scripture” (link). With reference to apologetics, however (which I view as a more pragmatic enterprise), Scripturalists should feel free to utilize all sorts of arguments, not merely those which would constrain all knowledge to refer to internally and infallibly justified beliefs. Frankly, I admit many Scripturalists seem to be a ways off from understanding that.

Given all of this, there is one final question about the Cartesian demon which Steve’s post provokes. Can the Cartesian demon actually be disproved or falsified? Let’s see:
Take internalism. Suppose you have introspective access to your reasons. They seem to be good reasons. But how is that a check against self-delusion? Like LSD, the Cartesian deceiver is persuading you to mistake bad reasons for good reasons. You can't help but find these reasons to be convincing, even though they are deceptive reasons. 
For starters, a hypothesis of “deception” necessitates a distinction between truth and error. There is something about which we are being deceived; that is, we are deceived into erroneous rather than true beliefs. This idea in turn necessitates certain categories of logic and language. What is truth such that we can be said to be deceived with respect to it? This line of thought leads to further interesting questions. “Deception” also necessitates there being at least one thinking entity, and in the case of the Cartesian demon, two. 

Steve at least in principle agrees TAGs are good (link). The initial point, then, is that the Cartesian demon cannot be as omnipotent as many skeptics would frame it. There are some things about which a Cartesian demon can’t deceive us. But then is the Cartesian demon the same as the sort Descartes had in mind? In his outlining of the hypothesis, Steve similarly notes: “[The deceiver] needn't be omniscient or omnipotent. A fallible deceiver could be the source of fallible beliefs, if our beliefs are dependent on that erratic source.”

Okay, but if there are necessary truths which we can recognize as such and show others, then in what sense is this sort of Cartesian demon a problem? We would seem to have internally and infallible justified beliefs after all. Naturally, this would be limited to a subset of our beliefs, and being able to show which of these beliefs qualify may further depend on a TAG or TAGs showing that it would be inconsistent to deny, say, a good, omniscient, self-authenticating communicator, but I think this is possible (link, link, link).

Now, Cartesian skeptics could reply that the demon could be deceiving us as to the necessity of all of these conclusions. But skeptics can say or ask a lot of things. Who cares? Bare assertions or repetitious questioning doesn’t constitute a substantial reply. And obviously, it’s not as if skeptics have privileged, objective, third-person access to what is and isn’t possible. They operate on their own sets of assumptions just as Christians do – only Christians can acknowledge their assumptions and remain what they profess themselves to be. Cartesian skeptics want to get away with climbing the ladder they hope to throw over. They can’t even ask questions without contradicting methodological doubt.

So much for Cartesian demons. Moving on to a different subject, I had written:
Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified.
Steve replied:
I think that's too crude or overstated. There are different kinds of sensory information. The sound of breakers isn't true or false. But the spoken word (a sentence) can be true or false.    
a) The spoken word is structured sensation that uses sound waves to encode and communicate ideas or propositions.  
b) Likewise, although sensations alone are neither true nor false, sensory input, in combination with ideas, can generate true or false beliefs.  
If I see a red rose, I can rightly infer that I saw a colored object. If every red object is a colored object, then that's a valid deduction.     
Now, it may not be possible to derive the principle that every red object is a colored object from sensory perception or induction. That principle may be intuitive or innate. That must already be in mind for me to draw inferences about the rose. But seeing the rose, in combination with that a priori truism or analytical truth, yields a new and true belief. 
I'm not so sure Steve and I are very far apart here, if at all. The first sentence of b) seems to capture the essence of my position. Our senses were designed to be secondary causes by which we form true beliefs. This causative process isn't arbitrary. It's not as if any old belief would normally be caused by a given sensation. Rather, sensations themselves are the product of interaction with our surrounding environment. That stimulus and our physical, divinely-created processing equipment yield non-arbitrary beliefs. 

My only point was that sensations qua sensations aren’t logical justifiers. We can say spoken sentences are true or false, but I would consider that a kind of metonymy (or some such literary device) which substitutes, for the intended meaning of the physical expression or manifestation, the actual meaning, which isn't physical.

Finally, I had written:
Our senses can cause numerous false beliefs. Sense knowledge is fallible.
To which Steve replied:
True, but the same can be said for reason and memory. Scripturalists need to get down from their high horse and join the rest of us at ground level. They stipulate an inhumane standard of knowledge. Finite creatures can't satisfy those godlike conditions. But why should we?
Not that I don’t appreciate the concern that we keep our heads out of the clouds, but if Steve would admit his demand is only fallibly justified from an internalist perspective, he must also have to admit the demand could itself be unreasonable, right? At the very least, the statement “finite creatures can’t” have beliefs which are internally and infallibly justified is itself, from Steve’s perspective, possibly false. Although that may not have been what Steve meant, I’m not sure what else “godlike conditions” could refer to. And if that is what he meant to refer to, why not continually look to see if that’s [demonstrably] not the case? If, for all we can know, it’s possible, what’s the harm in continually searching? I think the potential windfall exceeds the drawbacks.

Furthermore, I think there’s a relevant disanalogy between the fallibility of sensation and the fallibility of reason and memory. In a recent comment, I wrote:
…if infallibilist, internalist justification is possible in principle, and all our beliefs rely on memory - or even just beliefs relevant to forming infallibly, internally justified beliefs - I would suppose a transcendental argument could be constructed to defend against the idea all memorial beliefs are fallible in respect to justification. This could be a way in which memorial and sensory beliefs are relevantly disanalogous. That's why I'm interested in whether the actual believing of a proposition always, in human cases, requires memory. But this is just a suspicion.
To expand on this, how is it that our reasoning and memory could be, in every case, fallible? I can see how we could have two different sense experiences, or how we could have a different sense experience from someone else, which yield contradictory beliefs and therefore leave us unable to ascertain which of the two beliefs is true.

But I don’t see how this could apply to reason or memory across the board. If any beliefs we have are in some sense memorial insofar as our thoughts either reference memories or themselves occur over a span of time rather than an instant, and if our thoughts in every case depend on our implicitly, if not explicitly, following certain logical structures, then I think there is a path to internally and infallibly justified beliefs which isn’t logically founded on sense knowledge.

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.