Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Infinitism: Transcriptions of Various Papers

Back when I was a public policy undergraduate and thought I might segue into a graduate program for philosophy, I was just beginning to learn the language of and popular topics in contemporary epistemology. I continued to use my free time (and probably time I ought to have been studying) researching and writing posts on this blog.

Typically, I would take on an annual "project," research whose content was more in depth and focused, and I've posted most of them. Some of these larger projects overlapped with my essay submissions for the annual TrinityFoundation contests. Others were various transcriptions, like a near comprehensive compilation of Gordon Clark's epistemological views from available publications at the time.

Another such project that I haven't posted until now was preparation for a literature review on infinitism that I thought could be used for a master's thesis and expanded, down the road, in a PhD dissertation. While I can't quite bring myself to call the university door entirely shut for me, I did apply once many years ago (using a polished edit of this post as my writing sample) and was rejected.

Thus, I don't know that I will ever return to the classroom as student instead of teacher. So to give myself some solace that my youthful energy did not go to waste, hopefully somebody finds useful my 1000+ pages of transcribed, collated philosophy papers on the epistemological concept of "infinitism," which can be found here. Each paper was found on google scholar, and while it may be missing a few of the longer, book-length treatments, I believe it is otherwise fairly comprehensive up until around 2011.

P.S. For those who are interested in the topic of infinitism in general, this book is excellent.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Podcast Update, Posts on Genesis 1:1-5, and a Small Tribute to Steve Hays

For those who follow, my friends and I will be starting our podcast again - completed episodes of which you can find here - on Peter Leithart's A House for My Name. Additionally, I recently posted a series of blogs from my notes for a men's Bible study of Genesis 1:1-5 at my church:

New Creation and the House of God

New Creation, the House of God, and Baptism

New Creation and the Church as the House of God

New Creation and Lights in God's House

I would like to dedicate these posts, and particularly the last one, to Steve Hays, Triablogue contributor who recently passed away. He did a great service not only for "the" faith but also my faith. I had mainly kept my blog bookmarked so I could continue to read his thoughts, which were always written at a machine-like pace with machine-like precision. Despite that comparison, he was always very kind to me, and I thank God for his willingness to encourage young men in particular. One light in this world has gone out, and let those who knew or benefited from God's work through him endeavor to carry on shining all the more brightly for what Steve did.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Gordon Clark and the Necessity of Internalist Knowledge

Almost 5 years to the day (where does the time go?), I wrote a post in which I addressed how I thought a consistent Scripturalist would have to stand on the question of whether the nature of epistemic justification is internalist or externalist. My initial leaning was towards access internalism, the idea that one's epistemic justification is something of which one can be aware of, reflect on, or is otherwise cognitively accessible. My own views have developed since then, as I now think some beliefs may be internally justified whereas others may be externally justified. In fact - if "justification" is as fuzzy a concept as some epistemologists think - one belief may be both! Still, I tend to agree with my initial suspicion insofar as consistent Scripturalists should be internalists with respect to some knowledge, at least.

But given the stated differences on this blog between my epistemological views and those of Gordon Clark, some might question whether those differences color whether I'm confusing what I think a "consistent Scripturalist" or "strict adherent" to Gordon Clark's epistemology would believe vs. what I think a consistent Christian would believe. In other words, am I fairly representing what Gordon Clark would have defended?

While that is not my primary concern in developing my own epistemological views, it is a fair question and, in part, a reason why I've decided to argue, in this post, what position I think Gordon Clark himself would have had to say. Another reason is that a few self-identifying Scripturalists who have used my thoughts in the past as their own have taken the opposite position, stating they think Clark was an externalist (link).

Now, I would preface any discussion about Clark's views regarding internalism and externalism with my opinion that Clark didn't seem to be aware that this was a much debated subject. To some extent, that would make sense, as I don't think externalism was much developed until the 1960s or 70s.

In any case, the idea that our epistemic justification comprises things of which we could be unaware or fail to be able to reflect on is something which, in my mind, is completely foreign to Clark's view on which Scripture is our source of knowledge, our sole epistemic foundation. Admittedly, the Holy Spirit's function in the production of our knowledge is indeed important because He does, indeed, cause it:
How then may we know that the Bible is true? The Confession answers, “Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of the Scripture] is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit.” Faith is a gift or work of God. It is God who causes us to believe: “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee” (Psa. 65:4). (GHC What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1985, pg. 18)
So, does this give us reason to think Clark believed that one's epistemic justification for believing God's word just is the causation of the Spirit, as some Scripturalists think? Not at all. It's fallacious to infer from "God causes knowledge" or "God causes us to believe" that our epistemic justification just is the causation itself. Rather, the "how" here is a metaphysical question yielding a metaphysical answer. I might as well ask, "how do we desire God?" or "from where does our desire for God come?" God ultimately - if not immediately - causes our desires. Of course, God causes knowledge, and blessed by God is he who receives it over against one who doesn't. But how we even know and justify the work of the Spirit which took place logically prior to accepting our axiom must be via deduction made from and justified by our axiom:
Any axiom eliminates its opposite. The Christian system is no more indefensible on this point than any other system. 
Therefore, the more serious reply to the charge that the axiom of revelation begs all questions is that the objection fails to distinguish the status of axioms and the status of theorems. Obviously a first principle or a set of axioms covers all that follows. Indeed, that is why first principles are asserted. It is their function to cover all that follows. But this is not to identify the axioms with the theorems. Euclidean geometry may have six axioms and a hundred theorems. The axioms imply the theorems, to be sure; but the theorems are not axioms. The distinction between axioms and theorems is for the purpose of arranging derivative truths under a basic or comprehensive truth. Were a geometer to assume one of the Euclidean theorems as his axioms, he would, except in very special cases, deprive geometry of many of its propositions. Thus an all-inclusive axiom that swallows everything at one gulp is most desirable. (Clark and His Critics, 2007, pg. 55)
The point is that it seems to me that the justification for our philosophical knowledge is never, for Clark, grounded in the mere causative process itself but rather his faith in the axiom of revelation. For Clark, the axiom of revelation is not that the Holy Spirit must cause our beliefs in order for them to qualify as knowledge, it is that "the Bible is the word of God." Anything about what the Holy Spirit does must be deducible from this axiom.

But before I express my reasons why I believed Clark would have identified with internalism, there is a problem with a purely Scripturalist externalist position that I have never received an answer to, and it is this:

If Scripturalism is true, then all that we can "know" are the propositions of Scripture or those deducible from it. But does the Holy Spirit - the epistemically justifying cause Scripturalist externalists I have encountered constantly appeal to - only [immediately] cause true beliefs of believers in regards to that which may by good and necessary consequence be deduced from Scripture? That is, does the Holy Spirit not [immediately] cause us to believe truths which cannot be deduced from Scripture? Nowhere do I find this to be a deducible proposition from Scripture, and yet it is needed in order to say that we can only know what Scripture reveals, i.e. to be a Scripturalist. Where does Scripture say the Holy Spirit [immediately] causes only beliefs which are deducible from Scripture?

There are other problems I find with a Scripturalist externalist framework, such as the question of whether or not I am more justified in actually having deduced propositions from Scripture than a person who believes - without reason - in a deducible proposition as a result of the causation of the Holy Spirit. But for the sake of the topic of this post and due to the fact that I have lodged other arguments elsewhere on this blog, I will move on. The following constitute my reasoning for believing Gordon Clark himself would have identified as an internalist:

To start with the obvious, something all Scripturalists can agree with is that Clark believed that the axiom of revelation is that alone by which we know anything:
It is incorrect, therefore, to complain that the axiom of revelation deprives us of knowledge otherwise obtainable. There is no knowledge otherwise obtainable. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 76). 
The axiom of revelation, "the Bible is the word of God," was, for Clark, the foundation for philosophical knowledge. Of course, Clark was aware that knowledge could bear different meanings (The Pastoral Epistles, 1983, pg. 166), but for "knowledge with a capital K":
Granted, it is unlikely that anyone should go to such extremes to substitute another woman for the wife of an unimportant theologian or philosopher. But how do you know? So long as substitution is possible, certainty is impossible... 
The status of common opinion is not fixed until a theory has been accepted. One may admit that a number of propositions commonly believed are true; but no one can deny that many such are false. The problem is to elaborate a method by which the two classes can be distinguished. Plato too granted a place to opinion as distinct from knowledge; he even admitted that in some circumstances opinion was as useful as knowledge with a capital K. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs. 75-76)
Here already we see several reasons why Clark would not have been an externalist. For him, knowledge at least entailed the possibility of certainty. For externalists who believe one's justification for knowledge is located in a causal process, a person experiencing this process need not be aware of it, let alone certain of the resultant belief.

Further, Clark is obviously interested in a "method" by which classes of beliefs like opinion and knowledge can be distinguished in practice. Two externalists with contradictory beliefs could both appeal to a causal process (like that the Holy Spirit caused their belief) to justify their beliefs without a method for distinguishing who to believe. Right or wrong, then, it looks like Clark believed that such a situation would amount to ignoring the problem rather than confronting it. Any time a so-called Scripturalist externalist attempts to defend his "case" exegetically as if it contributes one iota towards one's epistemic justification, he is ironically probably presupposing an internalist framework. For it is not the work of the Holy Spirit that he considers his epistemic justification, it is the actual content of or reasoning from one's first principle, both of which he is aware.

Finally, Clark believed that not only is the axiom of revelation self-authenticating but also that all first principles 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, pgs. 46-47)
I once discussed with someone who thought that Clark meant that the axiom of revelation is self-authenticating merely in that the Holy Spirit caused our beliefs. I pointed out that this quote shows that Clark's understanding of self-authentication can't be meant in that way. The Holy Spirit does not bear witness to logical positivism! Instead, Clark means that for a first principle to be "self" authenticating (e.g. the Bible) means that it shouldn't require verification by something else (e.g. the Spirit) for its epistemic justification. So too with any other alleged first principle, including that of the logical positivist - although they are wrong to think so. For Clark, self-authentication as such has nothing to do with causation.

So while debate can continue about whether or not Scripturalism should be developed along externalist or internalist lines (or both), the preceding indicates that Clark himself would probably have given primacy to epistemic internalism.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A New Master, A New Father

The new life in which we can walk (Romans 6:4) as new creatures, slaves to God and righteousness, in turn presupposes being set free from slavery to sin (6:18). Thanks be to God for that (6:17), because it is He, not we, who made such both possible and actual through the work of His Son. How have we been set free from sin? We have been crucified with Christ and raised with Him (6:5). His death and resurrection have defeated sin (6:9-11), and only by being united with the righteous Messiah by grace, through faith, and in His Spirit, are we now able to obey and do good works as slaves to a new and infinitely better Master. In short, our justification precedes our sanctification, and as we are united to the Son who is Lord over all facets of our salvation, we will experience all facets. As facets of our salvation, sanctification and eternal life are fruits of a life of slavery to God, of obedience and good works. Thus, the latter necessarily follow the former, although they do not function as the meritorious ground for such ends.

So being under grace rather than law does not mean we should live lawlessly (6:15). We should present our members or persons as slaves to righteousness – which implies obedience (6:16) to some standard or law – and if we do not, we are living a life which has not been set free from sin, a lawless life which ironically keeps us under “the law” and its demand for sinless perfection. Just as union with Christ pervades the life of believers, union with sin pervades the life of unbelievers. Practicing sin evidences a life which has not been freed from sin (John 8:34). A life of practiced love for the greatest and second greatest commandments is a life that fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10) and can do so precisely because it is not attempting to be justified by it – to live under it.

Now, while Paul speaks in “human terms” (6:19) when he talks about our slavery, it is also clear that he also considers us free. To be a slave to one master is to be free from another. When we are slaves to sin, we are free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). Is that the sort of freedom we want? Paul speaks of our slavery as either to sin, leading to death, or to God, leading to eternal life (6:16). To which of these ends does pretending to be our own, “free” masters lead?

We should then endeavor to be free from sin just as we were free from righteousness, for this freedom is deeper. Elsewhere, both Paul and Jesus contrast slavery to sin with freedom in sonship:

John 8:34-36 Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Galatians 4:21-26 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

So in Romans 6, slavery to God and righteousness corresponds to sonship. As slaves to God, we are sons of God, and our sonship gives us an inheritance (Galatians 4:30) that slavery to sin and sonship to the devil (John 8:44) cannot. Our new life of “slavery” is not only freedom from sin but also the freedom of a gifted promise (Romans 6:23), because our new Master is really a new Father. Or, in divine rather than human terms:

Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Update on the Podcast and Reflection

Two new podcasts - one on textual criticism, the other on prayer - have been uploaded in the past few months, and I'm happy to say that, starting with the most recent one, we have been and should from now on be able to record in person with better audio equipment, with plans to go live on camera in the near future and, with it, the possibility of answering live questions, which I would look forward to.

Thus far, it has been an interesting, enjoyable process. I've already written about textual criticism (link) and prayer (link) in the past, but this has been an opportunity to talk out loud about them with friends I've known over half of my life. Before we started the podcast, we agreed its goal should just be that we enjoy each other's company while focusing on books that, with a little critical thinking, will help to sanctify our minds. If the only people who benefit from it is us, that's fair enough, and thank God for it. That's basically how I approached this blog, and I haven't ever regretted it.

At the same time, I wonder where this can lead. Right now, my friends and I know our shortcomings. Personally, I still rely too much on having pre-written material at my disposal while recording. If we were to transition from this to video or to something more ambitious, I need to work on internalizing material in such a way as to recall or speak to it organically. That probably requires a degree of intentionality I can't expend right now, with a new job licence and a wedding in the next few months. But I do look forward to what God has in store, even if it is just many more episodes of getting to chat theology with my friends.

The next episode will be a book of my choosing: David A. Dorsey's "The Literary Structure of the Old Testament."

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Sleep Podcast

Boy, we are long-winded. Here's the recent discussion between my friends and I about Gordon Clark's book, "In Defense of Theology." Hour and a half for a 60 page book... enjoy a nap while you listen! Hopefully, some of what we talk about osmosis-es into your minds, but if nothing else, it was highly enjoyable for me to revisit my long lost blog muse, Gordon Clark.

Up next is "Text and Time," by Edward Hills.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Podcast Episode 2: Lord of Glory (Strevel)

Happy New Year to those of you who still follow this blog. You can find the newest podcast episode I am a part of here, in which myself and a couple of friends discuss "The Lord of Glory" by Chris Strevel, the local pastor for one of my friend's church.

I think technical issues are being sorted out a bit better now that we have someone who's helping us. My fiance tells me I really opened up in this one (as in I may have talked to much). At an an hour and 45 minutes, I'm sure some people may hate the sound of our voices by the end of the discussion, but so be it!

Our next episode will cover a book I put up for discussion, Gordon Clark's "In Defense of Theology." As it's a short book, I figured it would be the best way to introduce Clark to anyone interested in the podcast, although I suspect consistent readers of this blog well know where this is headed. As always, you can find the book through our home page.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Podcast Episode 1: What is Faith? (Machen)

The first episode of TheSanctifiedMind podcast can be listened to here as well as a variety of other platforms. In it, myself and two friends discuss "What is Faith" by J. Gresham Machen.

For the first time recording ourselves having a discussion, I think it went well. There was audio drift at some points, and I think we all have a whole new appreciation for the work that has to be put in to various ministries that do this full time. But I consider it a good and enjoyable work in progress that I'm really looking forward to continuing.

Our next episode will be posted by the first of the new year and will cover Chris Strevel's "The Lord of Glory," which you can find on the home page if you would like to follow along or have questions we could put up for discussion.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Words of the Wise

A recent post of mine about where we can find, how we can know, and why we should follow God-given wisdom:

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Sanctified Mind

I will be joining two friends I have known (and put up with!) for half of my life to begin a monthly podcast in December. The website for this podcast is a work in progress but can be found here. The podcast itself will involve a discussion of a book one of us has chosen, and articles will be coming shortly as well.

For anyone interested in following along, the first book we will talk about will be Machen's "What is Faith?"