Monday, August 31, 2009

Response to MadMax

Hi Madmax,

Thanks for your comments to my blog. As always, they were very thoughtful.

I am responding via a new blog post because Blogger is not allowing me to post comments at the moment. Some error code: "bX-y8qp7n". I've reported it to Blogger, but I have no idea what they'll do about it, or when. So I'm not waiting for them.
MM wrote:

you've pumped out a tremendous amount of content recently.

Yes, it's been quite a run the last couple months. However, it still does not compare to Schönberg's "Verklarkte Nacht." 30 minutes of densely textured counterpoint for string sextet written in the space of 21 days. When did he take a breath? I've at least taken the time to have a beer.
RK used the term "noetic" at least once. I've encountered this before from theists. Noetic consciousness is supposed to have some non-rational access to knowledge, ie a form of intuition.
Presuppers occasionally invoke the term "noetic," and though they typically do not define it (one gets the impression that i) readers are supposed to already know what it means, and ii) they're simultaneously supposed to be impressed, even intimidated, by its use), it seems to have a rather general meaning, given the contexts in which I've seen it used. It seems to be another word for "cognitive." The dictionary defines it as follows: "of or pertaining to the mind," "originating in or apprehended by the reason," both of which are highly generalized. But perhaps you're right - perhaps it is supposed to denote some non-rational access to knowledge, or intuition as such.

As for what "intuition" denotes, this is a good question, but ultimately it rests on those who affirm it as part of their system to give it a concise definition. The dictionary is only somewhat useful, as it provides a number of different definitions. For instance:
- direct perception of a truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
- a fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way.
- a keen and quick insight.
- the quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.
- Philosophy.
- a. an immediate cognition of an object not inferred or determined by a previous cognition of the same object.
- b. any object or truth so discerned.
- c. pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.
Of course, the context in which the term is used is important in knowing more specifically what it is supposed to mean. Generally speaking, however, from what I've gathered, I think you're right to point to subconscious influences on one's conscious mental activity. It seems to denote a combination of association and automatized mental habit taking place on the subconscious level and expressing itself in the form of quasi-conclusions on the conscious level. Well, that's not intended to be a technical definition. Perhaps it's just my own intuition of what intuition is? Regardless, I would say it is not wise to rests one's verdicts on an appeal to intuition without a good understanding of what exactly it is supposed to denote and how it supposedly operates, so that its products can be understood in terms of which inputs (if any) actually support it. Then again, if one can claim to "intuit" the Christian god, for instance, why can't another "intuit" Brahma or Xipe Totec? Of course, Objectivism does not participate in such arbitrary contests, since it is emphatic in making its premises and inferences explicit and tying them to what we perceive (as opposed to what we imagine). I don't think that's what the notion of intuition is typically intended to have in mind.

I must say, MM, I read the Bernstein article you linked me to the other day, and I really, really enjoyed it and have put a link to it on my sidebar. Bernstein covers so much territory in such a succinct and penetrating manner while thoroughly obliterating the thesis of Rodney Stark's book The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Bernstein must have really poured a lot of effort into it, as it is very well written. I know Bernstein mostly from his recorded lectures, so it was refreshing to see him in print. It is an excellent article, and if I were teaching a class on the history of western civilization, Bernstein's article would be on the list of required readings. I think he goes a bit far in one sentence when he states that "a heretic is nothing more than an independent mind whose freethinking leads him into conflict with the prevailing religious text," but perhaps I'm just being trivial. However, it seems to me that a heretic could very well be someone who still endorses dogmatic commitments which he would question were he truly independent in his thinking (I'm thinking of Arius, for instance, whom Bernstein discusses). He may dispute the doctrine of the trinity, for instance, but still affirm equally arbitrary notions, such as creation ex nihilo, the virgin birth, salvation through Jesus' atoning works, miracles, raising the dead, etc. But this in no way detracts from the point Bernstein is trying to make at this point in his essay, and surely not from any of the larger points he is trying to make.

I went through with my hilighter and noted a number of Bernstein's statements for future reference. I was delighted to see that he made the distinction between rationality and rationalism, as this is a key issue for the discussion. Christian apologists tend to suppose that apply norms of logic guarantees a position's rationality. But this merely emphasizes form over content, giving the the latter short-shrift. As "deduction without reference to reality," rationalism applies logic to arbitrary content, to essentially a fantasy, as Bernstein rightly notes.

I have plenty more works in the mill. But in the meantime, you might want to take a look at Chris Bolt's latest reply to me. He did a video where he takes my recent blog on divine deception to task. In it, he calls my blog entries "lengthy, arrogant posts." I thought that was rather flattering.

Regards,
Dawson

Friday, August 28, 2009

RazorsKiss on the Christian God as the Basis of Knowledge – Part 9: Supernatural Deception

In this, my final installment of my examination of RazorsKiss’debate on the proper basis of knowledge, I explore the responses which RazorsKiss (“RK”) gave to LeBlanc’s question:

What if God is deceiving you?

LeBlanc asked RK this question in the cross-examination section of their debate.

RK’s response was predictable. He insists that he could not have been deceived by his god because “God cannot lie.” This in itself suggests that truth-telling is not a choice which RK’s god can make (it has no choice but to speak truthfully), which in turn suggests that man has an ability which the Christian god does not have (we can choose to tell the truth or not to tell the truth). It has always been unclear to me just how it could be the case that a consciousness which can distinguish between truth and falsehood, would be so constrained in the range of choices open to it that it is unable to lie. But Christians insist this is the case with their god.

To back up his response that “God cannot lie,” RK quoted the bible:

“…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, [even] His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior…” (Titus 1:2-3)

Not surprisingly, LeBlanc did not find this very convincing. Essentially, RK has said he has learned things from a source, and when he is asked whether or not he could have been deceived by that source, he responds by saying that the source in question cannot deceive, because the source itself says it “cannot lie.”

How does he know that the source is true?

Because it says so?

I'm reminded of the quesiton which Cornelius Van Til famously asks:

Who wishes to make such an elementary blunder in logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? (A Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 12)

Apparently the answer to this question is: Christians do!

What RK’s response to LeBlanc essentially amounts to is the confession “that’s what I read in the bible and I believe it” (and therefore it must be true), and models nothing more than utterly indiscriminate gullibility, such as we would find in the following:

Boy: Mom, I met a man after school today and he promised to give me a million dollars if I go fishing with him on Saturday.

Mom: What? I find that really hard to believe. Who was this man? You shouldn’t talk to strangers.

Boy:
No, Mom, he’s totally legit and trustworthy. He’s not lying. A million dollars!

Mom:
Now how can you be so sure he’s not lying?

Boy:
Well, he told me that he never lies. So he must be telling the truth!

Naturally, RK would likely say in response to this that he’s talking about “God,” not about some man whom a boy meets on the street. Consequently, the above scenario would not be representative since it does not take into account the nature of the Christian god.

In his response to RK’s answer, LeBlanc stated:

But God was the author (or inspiration) of those very words. If his intent was to deceive, he has just succeeded. I ask again, what if God is deceiving you?

RK’s answer to this was even less convincing:

For if [the] dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith [is] futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. ~ 1 Cor 15:9

RK again recites the bible (i.e., the very source in question), and this time quotes a passage which merely appeals to consequentialism, as if to say: “If I’ve been deceived, then I’m still in my sins, and everyone else who has died, died in their sins, so if our only hope throughout our lives has been Christ, we are to be most pitied among men.” This of course does not give us any confidence that what RK calls “God” cannot and has not deceived him. If the veracity of a source is in question, it does no good to appeal to that source to answer that question, especially if the intent is to confirm its veracity. To do so is known as begging the question, for it assumes the veracity of that source, which is what is in question to begin with.

LeBlanc, still not satisfied with RK’s answer (and rightly so), pressed the question yet again:

Again, all scripture and proposed action of God are immediately discounted if the motivation in fact was to deceive. Can you show that God is not deceiving you in all your knowledge of him?

How did RK respond to this? He stated:

If God intended to deceive, He would not be God. He would be Satan. Therefore, you would likely have to use the TANS argument. A God of that character is not God at all, and therefore, yet again, another impossible (redefinition) advanced as an argument. If we could win by redefining things, debates would be fairly short affairs.

This is another appeal to consequentialism. Essentially RK is saying that if he has been deceived, then what he calls “God” is not really “God,” but “Satan.” He may reject this alternative because he doesn’t like its implications, but that would not constitute an argument securing the case that his source of knowledge has not deceived him (cf. RK's statement: "I am making a claim that I have mediate knowledge from the only possible source that is justifiable. ie: I'ts not me, it's God in me, as Scripture says."). Indeed, how does RK know that what he calls “God” is really not “Satan”? He does not explain the basis of his stated certainty here, nor does he identify any epistemological steps by which he came to the conclusion that what he worships is in fact the Christian god as he conceives of it, rather than some malevolent supernatural being playing with his mind. This is most ironic, given the nature of the debate; earlier in the debate (in his opening statement) RK had emphasized the importance of epistemology:

Why do we know what we know? How do we know? How is this knowledge acquired? What is this knowledge? On what basis do we know it? By what standard? On what (or whose) authority? Those questions are the realm of our discussion.

RK’s ever-evolving response to LeBlanc’s line of inquiry fails to outrun its inherent circularity, and only brings into question RK’s identification of whatever it is he calls “God” as “God.” It’s clear that RK is anxious to rest his claims on someone’s “authority” as the “standard” by which they are to be judged. But his responses to LeBlanc’s question demonstrate that when the veracity of that “authority” is questioned, all he can do is appeal to that “authority” in order to put those questions to rest. We’re again back to the boy trying to convince his mother that he’s going to get a million dollars if he goes fishing with some stranger who promised it to him.

Note also that RK finds it necessary to shift the burden back to LeBlanc. By asking the question he has posed to RK, LeBlanc now needs to take up a defense of “TANS” – presumably the “transcendental argument for the non-existence of Satan.” But this misses a most profound point which RK himself needs to deal with. It is not LeBlanc's, but RK’s worldview which posits the existence of “Satan,” a malevolent supernatural being which is known as “the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44) which “if it were possible” might “deceive the very elect” (Mt. 24:24). RK is one who seems to be saying that it is not possible for himself to be deceived. But even this is not believable. Is he saying that he’s never been deceived? I doubt even he believes this.

There is of course the concept of lying by omission. Christians insist that “God cannot lie” (which in itself seems rather incoherent), but at the same time they admit that their god does not reveal all it knows. In other words, it deliberately holds back knowledge. Bahnsen appeals to this very point in his defense of the problem of evil when he writes:

God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29). We might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isa. 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives. (Always Ready, p. 173)

RK himself made several references in his debate with LeBlanc to Bahnsen’s book Always Ready, so I take it that he endorses its content and would agree with much of what Bahnsen says, such as the premise that the Christian god deliberately chooses not to distribute certain items of knowledge to believers. And going by what Bahnsen says here, and by the very premise that this supernatural being chooses not to divulge certain pieces of information to human beings, who could say what knowledge it has denied believers like RK? There may be many things about itself that this god has not revealed. That it can choose to withhold some information from believers, indicates that it chooses which information it does reveal to them. This means it has been selective in what it tells believers. It could feasibly choose to tell believers only part of the truth (which is what Bahnsen is essentially saying it does), and thereby concealing information which may bear on the matter significantly. It could, for instance, withhold certain information which would impact the proper definition of “God,” the premise to which RK makes appeal in his insistence that “God cannot lie.” In fact, that it withholds any information at all suggests that it could in fact be lying by omission, since this can only mean that it selectively filters what it will reveal to human beings. Why would it choose to withhold any information? Bahnsen suggests that even if it did, “we might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways.” But this did not keep it from revealing that it is a Trinity, a doctrine which has puzzled Christians from its inception. So to say that the Christian god chooses not to reveal certain things about itself or its plan because it will not be understood, is not consistent with the overall picture here.

Both points here – that RK cannot be deceived, and that the Christian god cannot lie by omission – would need to be established beyond reasonable doubt if RK wanted to present a convincing case that he has not in fact been deceived. But instead of addressing these points, he foolishly makes the issue a matter of definition. Presumably, his “God” by definition cannot lie. This not only fails to take into account the fact that definitions are a property of concepts rather than of specific entities (he might know this if his worldview had a theory of concepts), but also implies that his “God” is merely psychological, on a metaphysical par with concepts as such (i.e., integrations we form by a mental process). It also begs the question, for it assumes that he has accurately identified what he calls “God” as “God,” and this is the very issue which LeBlanc has inquired on. What is the source of RK’s “definition” of “God,” if not the “God” whose truthfulness itself has been questioned?

Saddam Hussein could easily have claimed that he never lies or deceives. But would RK accept this? I highly doubt it. Saddam was a human being, he would say, not "God." But this would again beg the question by assuming the very point in question, namely that the being RK has identified as “God” has not deceived him.

Personally, I would put the question to RK a little differently. The focus of the question needs to be widened a bit so as to get to the heart of the matter, and understand the issue in terms of a general principle. This would also serve to block off expedient corridors of evasion on the claimant's part. On his own premises, RK believes the claims of a supernatural being, since “God” is supposed to be a supernatural being. So RK is someone who takes at face value the claims of a supernatural being. Is it possible that this supernatural being might be deceiving RK? There's nothing on RK's premises which inherently preclude a supernatural being from lying and deceiving. After all, "Satan" is supposed to be a supernatural being, and it's "the father of lies" according to Christianity. So according to RK’s worldview, there are supernatural beings running loose which are capable of deceiving human beings, and which are bent on doing so. So how does RK know that the supernatural being which has allegedly revealed itself to him is "God" is not some supernatural being which has deceived him? Here it becomes all the more clear that he's begging the question if he responds by saying "God cannot lie," for this assumes that what has allegedly revealed itself to him cannot deceive him. It assumes that whatever has been revealing itself to him is what he defines as “God.” But if a supernatural being has deceived him, this means that his identification of said supernatural being as "God" cannot be trusted.

So he's assuming a premise which the question has effectively brought into doubt. That he can "answer" it only by affirming that it can't be so, is (as LeBlanc rightly points out) simply evasive. When pressed on the matter, RK became visibly miffed in his response, saying that he was not "going to change [his] answer because [LeBlanc] continues to ask it." But the issue is not about RK changing his answer, but actually producing an answer to the question on its own terms rather than on his question-begging assumptions.

That RK would claim that it is “impossible” for his god to lie, seems to violate what Christianity itself teaches. Matthew 19:26 tells us that “with God all things are possible.” It does little good to say on the one hand that “all things are possible,” only then to start defending against certain uncomfortable questions by saying they are “impossible” on the other.

But RK still tries to construe the question as an attempt to “redefine” his god:

A God who is evil instead of good, who is a liar rather than the truth, is mutable rather than immutable, and imperfect rather than perfect, unjust rather than just… we could go on. Your questions all seem to entail redefinitions. “if God had an impossible definition for any being claiming to be the God you believe in, or any god at all, could he do _X_”. To claim that the antithesis of the self-existent and omnipotent God that I believe in is possible - seems to be.. a stretch.

Of course, if the Christian uses the word “good” to refer to his god, it has lost its meaning to begin with. And to call everything opposite of the Christian god “evil” does little more than this. But from RK’s standpoint, which will insist that “God” is “good” and not a liar, immutable, perfect and just instead of mutable, imperfect and unjust, it seems that he has simply defined his way to his preferred answer. Anything that challenges it is considered an attempt to “redefine” his god, and for whatever reason this is considered “impossible.” All this misses the point of the question, while in fact begging it outright, namely whether or not RK has received knowledge from a supernatural source which has fraudulently passed itself off as what he has defined as “God.” Since RK grants validity to the notion of the supernatural, he needs to explain why this is not the case, while the answers which he has been giving simply assume that the supernatural source in question is in fact what he calls “God” – i.e., a being which cannot lie and does not deceive. If I were a Christian, I don’t see how I could find any solace in such responses. If one is entirely dependent upon a supernatural being for the information one learns about it, and that supernatural being says “Yes, I am wholly good, I cannot lie,” how would one know whether or not this is true? How could one know that it has truthfully represented itself? How could one be certain that it is not an evil being posturing itself as something it is not? Saying essentially that it’s true by definition may cut the cheese, but it surely doesn’t cut the cake. In the end, I don’t see how RK’s response is fundamentally any different from, “it’s true because I want it to be true,” since in the end he is in control of which attributes apply to the supernatural being which has allegedly communicated to him. He says it’s impossible for whatever this supernatural being is to lie, and we have nothing other than his word to take on this.

In the Question and Answer section following the debate, RK was once again asked to explain how it could be that he has not been deceived by what he calls “God.” It is in this Question and Answer section that RK provided some further description of the “sensus divinitatus,” which he described in his opening statement as an “internal ‘sense’… which all men possess, as image-bearers of their Creator - and which allow them to recognize the God that they even sometimes deny.” According to RK, this “internal ‘sense’” plays an active role in the believer’s mental life:

As the Spirit is also, per Scripture, the author of the revelation, it’s the equivalent of having the author of the book standing over your shoulder, and correcting your faulty understandings, and continually adjusting your noetic “issues” as He also works to sanctify you in obedience to that revealed Word.

When RK was asked,

if God intended to deceive, from what standard would you contrive that he is not God if your standard IS God? IF God deceives, from what standard do you derive lying as wrong for God? If it is God, and he lies, why is it wrong? What makes lying immoral if God were to do it? To me, this seems as if you are asserting a personal standard.

he no doubt had this idea of the “sensus divinitatus”in mind when he responded:

That was precisely why I said that such questions are impossibilities, as they attempt to redefine a being that is self-existent, self-sufficient, immutable, unchanging, and etc. Such a thing is an impossibility. The point that is missed is that my relationship with God is not merely intellectual. It is personal. I know God, in my creaturely way, as Persons. I communicate, I am acted upon, and act on behalf of. In short, the question seeks to divorce God’s attributes, and to redefine God as a different sort of being - one which I do not know, do not communicate with, and do not have relation to.

It is strange to say that questions which have just been presented are “impossibilities.” Moreover, the question is not whether or not it is possible to “redefine” a being which is said to be “self-existent, self-sufficient, immutable, unchanging, and etc.” (which RK says is “impossible”), but whether or not RK can reliably explain how it could not be the case that the supernatural being with which he has communicated may have deceived him. I suspect that RK shifted the question onto the former matter because he doesn’t have a good answer to the question which was actually posed to him, for his attempts thus far to address the matter have simply begged the question.

Obviously it is not impossible to pose or consider such questions (for they were just posed), nor is it impossible for a man to be deceived. Also, since Christianity in fact posits the existence of supernatural beings such as “Satan” and “demons” which are thought to employ devices of deception and trickery, even RK should acknowledge the possibility, on Christianity’s own grounds, of the existence of a supernatural being which may have deceived him, since he claims to have received knowledge from a supernatural being. And since the being which allegedly communicates to RK is supposed to be supernatural, it no doubt could have highly refined ways of effectively deceiving a mere human being, who is by nature (according to Christianity) incapable of judging right judgment on his own without supernatural guidance in the first place.

What RK fails to consider is the possibility that the being with which he claims to have this close relationship is not really “God” as he has come to define it, but something else which has deceived him into thinking that it is “God” as he defines it. To simply say that this is not possible, does not tell us why it is not possible. We know from our experiences with other human beings, whom we can see, touch, listen to, accompany in our mundane experiences, etc., that we can be deceived by people we know very intimately. If RK has a close relationship with a supernatural being, and he has no independent way of confirming what it tells him about itself (it’s supposed to be the ultimate source and standard of RK’s knowledge, right?), why suppose that it is impossible for it to have deceived him? The question seems all the more pertinent when we take into account the fact that Christianity insists on complete trust and surrender on the part of the believer, to accept what the supernatural being tells the believer on its say so, without question, without critical analysis, without any hesitation at all. Making the issue into a matter of “redefining God” only diverts the question without considering this context or satisfying what it is asking.

Christians of all stripes claim to be in direct personal contact with their god, to have the “indwelling” of the “Holy Spirit” in them guiding their lives and encouraging their faithfulness. If we are to take RK’s claim seriously, then it seems that we would expect all Christians to have “the equivalent of having the author of the [bible] standing over [their] shoulder[s], and correcting [their] faulty understandings, and continually adjusting [their] noetic ‘issues’.” But if that were the case, how could all of Christendom be so internally fractured as it is by schisms, debates, petty squabbling, and sometimes outright animosity between factions, with the problem only getting worse as the centuries pass? If the Holy Spirit were truly playing an active role in the mental lives of Christians, it seems we’d see a lot more uniformity in their interpretations of the biblical texts. But we do not see this. Far from it in fact, what we do find within Christianity is endless division, on virtually every doctrinal issue that has ever been proposed. Could it be that the Holy Spirit delights in such division, or that it is powerless to control it? Or should we suppose that internal conflicts among Christians are intended by the Holy Spirit as part of “God’s plan”?

If A is A, however, then truth is uniform with itself. It would be absurd then to suppose that the Holy Spirit, via the “sensus divinitatus,” is guiding one believer’s interpretation and understanding of “Scripture” one way, another another way, and yet another another way, such that the result is different believers walking around with conflicting interpretations and understandings of what the bible really means. But this is what this last alternative would have us believe.

Finally, a last question was posed to RK on this point:

if God has freewill, why are hypotheticals not possible? Free will would denote all things are possible for God.

RK responded to this by saying:

Because there is a lack of distinction made between creation/creator, their disparate natures, and the relationship between them. God is free in that He does whatever He wills. Whatever God wills, on the transcendent level, is the determiner for what is possible - on the created level. It’s like trying to ask why a child can’t make his parent do whatever they think is possible. What the child is capable of doing do is whatever is possible for the child - but in this case, the parent can, and has, determined all possible events, whatsoever, that will come to pass. So there isn’t any frame of reference, aside from God’s self-description, to tell us this. If His word is accurate, there are no free atoms, there is no free energy - there is only God’s determination of all causal events.

RK's reference to the "creator/creature" distinction appears to be nothing more a complete red herring. Either the Christian god is free to do what it chooses, or it is not. If the hypothetical in question is the choice to deceive another mind, why is this choice possible to man, who is neither unlimited by extraneous factors nor omnipotent, but not possible for the Christian god, which is supposed to be both omnipotent and unlimited by extraneous factors? Nothing in RK's response here seems even to come close to dealing with this. RK says that it is “because there is a lack of distinction made between creation/creator, their disparate natures, and the relationship between them.” But if anything, the nature of the “creator” – it is said to have free will, omnipotent, unconstrained by extraneous factors, etc. – would make it just as capable (if not more so) to deceive, as human beings are. This seems especially the case given the additional factors that (a) the believer relies entirely on what the supernatural being in question divulges about itself to him, and (b) Christians admit that it withholds information from them. Thus it seems that if anyone is ignoring distinctions here, it is RK, not the questioner.

RK says that “whatever God wills, on the transcendent level, is the determiner for what is possible – on the created level.” But if whatever it is that RK has identified (either correctly or incorrectly) as “God” wills that RK be deceived, what’s to stop it? RK’s “definition” of “God”? Again, if RK got this definition from the supernatural being itself, and it is deceiving him, how does this prevent it from deceiving him? The deception would already have taken place at that point.

RK says “it’s like trying to ask why a child can’t make his parent do whatever they think is possible.” Exactly! If RK is the child and his “God” is his parent in this case, why suppose that he could make his parent do whatever he thinks is possible? Or, why suppose that RK can make his god not be able to do whatever he thinks is not possible? To say that “what the child is capable of doing is whatever is possible for the child” while “the parent can, and has, determined all possible events, whatsoever, that will come to pass,” in no way justifies RK’s insistence that his god cannot deceive. If his god has determined that RK be deceived, how can RK as the child in this relationship prevent it? Unless RK fashions himself the master of his god, he would have to admit that he cannot prevent it from doing what it as determined to do. RK only concedes the matter all the more by pointing out that “there isn’t any frame of reference, aside from God’s self-description, to tell us this.” Which can only mean: if RK’s god has deceived him, RK would not know this, since he takes whatever his god allegedly tells him at its word, in complete trust, in complete surrender, in complete resignation of any right to reserve judgment. To assert on this basis that “His word is accurate,” only begs the question.

Unfortunately, none of RK’s responses to the question of whether or not he has or could be deceived by the supernatural being he claims to be in contact with, is at all convincing or persuasive. On the contrary, he seems only to be evading the matter by interpreting this question into asking something it is not asking, or simply by diverting attention away from the issue at hand.

For believers like RK, this is something they need to deal with on a daily basis. A believer who really tries to take seriously all the teachings of Christianity will have to contend with all the "spiritual" inputs he believes he's receiving throughout any given day in his "walk." As Philippians 2:12 puts it, the believer is urged to “work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling.” His psyche is thus on overload as he struggles to discern the “good spirits” from the “evil spirits,” the “moving of the Spirit” from his own impulses and desires. He may be waiting for a bus, for instance, and anxious for it to come because he needs to get to work, to church, or go home, anything but sitting there waiting for a bus to come. As he waits and the bus doesn't show, he's internally dialoguing with what he wants to believe is his god. He's being "prayerful." "Lord, where's the bus? Why do you make me wait?" He may identify at this point with the psalmist, feeling persecuted by a world which is at enmity with his god and therefore with him. Are evil forces trying to thwart his goals, or is he being tested by his god, or both? How can he know either way for certain? RK tells us that, for Christians, certainty is only a privilege, not a rightful possession one earns through his own mental efforts. And this “certainty” is “based on the most fundamental guarantor of truth” that the believer allows himself to have. But this “guarantor of truth,” the Christian god itself, deliberately withholds information from the believer, keeping him in the dark to an extent that the believer cannot know. So when he is confronted with dilemmas which have no empirical avenue of verification open to informing them, such as whether evil forces are trying to hinder him (in which case he should resist – cf. James 4:7), or the impediments he encounters are his god testing or chastising him (in which case he should submit – cf. Heb. 12:6-8). If it is the devil trying to have its way with the believer, is it prevailing? Is it setting the believer up for a fall which he cannot foresee? Isn’t his god there to protect him?

In an effort, then, to keep himself from thinking that his god has abandoned him, the believer will try to convince himself that his faith is being tried, which puts his god right back where he wants him, right there alongside him as he endures the frustrating situation. Then he starts to wonder, "Why am I being tried, O Lord?" and then quickly shoos this thought away because it is essentially questioning his god's actions, which can be counted as sin. Or, he may wonder if he has accurately identified what is going on: “Am I right to attribute these influences to God, when in fact they could be coming from Satan?” He dare not confuse the two, but when the behaviors which his worldview requires him to attribute to each are essentially indistinguishable from one another, how can he have any certainty? Try as he may to affect in his mind “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), his worldview sets him up for failure. So his mind cannot rest.

He needs resolution. Unfortunately, this "peace" which the bible mentions is the most fleeting thing in the believer's private mental life. As he realizes that this "peace" is difficult to achieve and ultimately impossible to preserve, he chooses to revise his understanding of what it is. It's a fact that he's anxious, worried that he's crossed his god somehow and therefore on the outs with the divine. But then he recalls the verse commanding him to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6 NASB). So in an effort to avoid this sin, he tries to reaffirm his faith in whatever his god's "plan" may be for the given moment, even though he has no idea of what the details of that plan may be. Regardless, he's supposed to "let go, and let God,” and forego his need for certainty about anything that is to come. This is as difficult as allowing yourself to drop from the top of a skyscraper. So he switches gears back again, blaming the devil for the anxieties he's experiencing in an effort to salvage the "glory" which he wants his god to enjoy in his mind.

Either way he slices it, the believer is convinced that there is a supernatural entity which is trying to rock his boat, either one who is trying to deceive him into disobedience, into a breach of faith, or another who is trying to get his ass in order with the program. There's a war between two (or more) supernatural entities, one which is supposed to be all-good, and the other which is supposed to be all-evil. And his mind is the battlefield. At the same time, the believer is commanded to be at peace. How can you be at peace when two supernatural entities are waging war inside your mind, and you can’t tell which is which?

The problem at this point is that it becomes impossible for the believer to reliably distinguish between psychological inputs supposedly originating from the all-good supernatural being on the one hand, and those supposedly originating from the all-evil supernatural being on the other. He's supposed to "try the spirits" (I John 4:1), but honestly, how is he supposed to do this except by allowing his mental life to venture ever deeper into the battlefield? He believes that he's being pushed and pulled in various directions by different supernatural beings influencing his thoughts, but he can’t tell them apart. How does he know which influences are from which supernatural being? There's nothing objective, nothing verifiable, nothing certain to go by. The only thing he has is faith, which is an expression of his own determination remain in the battle and participate in the role that he believes his god has for him to fill, a role about which he knows nothing specific, because it's all part of a "plan" which is bigger than him, a plan which has been unfolding for millennia, and while he supposedly has a place in that plan, it's in his god's hands, not his own. He really doesn’t know what to do. And he can’t.

So how can RK know" that his god is not deceiving him? Only by faith. Essentially, by simply insisting that any deception is of ungodly origin. This of course defies all the standards which Christians put on validating beliefs (so-called "warrant"), but he will not admit this. He will again point to "the Scriptures," as if somehow they settle the matter, but in fact it is by going by this source which causes all the turmoil in the first place.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RazorsKiss on the Christian God as the Basis of Knowledge – Part 8: The “Impossibility of the Contrary”

In the final section of his opening statement in his debate with Mitch LeBlanc over the proper basis of knowledge, presuppositional apologist RazorsKiss (“RK”) attempted to seal his case for the Christian god as the proper basis of knowledge by affirming what presuppositionalism touts as “the impossibility of the contrary.” The “contrary” in this case is presumably anything different from or contrary to what Christianity teaches, and the slogan that Christianity is true “by the impossibility of the contrary” is intended to dismiss all contenders to the Christian position summarily, with the wave of the hand. Naturally, Christian apologists who invoke this stance tend to be quite proud of it, apparently thinking of it as a kind of “nuclear option” which obliterates their debating opponents in a single blast.

Unfortunately, however, the “impossibility of the contrary” tactic used by presuppositional apologists typically consists merely of asserting that the Christian position is true and that all others are false, and involves nothing interesting by way of legitimate argument. RK’s deployment of “the impossibility of the contrary” in his debate with LeBlanc is, sadly, no different from this.

RK begins the final section of his opening statement as follows:

So, now we get to where the rubber meets the road. If I claim that non-Christians can have knowledge at all, even if it is faulty knowledge - doesn’t my argument fall apart? I don’t think this is necessitated. What the Christian position alone can guarantee is any contribution to knowledge whatsoever.

Clearly RK thinks he’s presented an argument somewhere in the foregoing sections of his opening statement, presumably for the claim that the Christian god is the proper basis for knowledge or something along these lines. I could not find this argument anywhere in his statements. The final sentence in the above quote – where he makes the bare assertion that “the Christian position alone can guarantee… any contribution to knowledge whatsoever” – is typical of what we find elsewhere in RK’s side of the debate. I’m confident that if you comb through RK’s opening statement as I have, looking specifically for anything resembling an argument supporting his position, you’ll come up empty. RK has given no reason whatsoever to suppose that only Christianity alone “can guarantee… any contribution to knowledge whatsoever.”

At this point, RK quoted Greg Bahnsen:

However, the presuppositionalist maintains that the unbeliever can come to know certain things (despite his espoused rejection of God’s truth) for the simple reason that he does have revealed presuppositions - and cannot but have them as a creature made in God’s image and living in God’s created world. Although he outwardly and vehemently denies the truth of God, no unbeliever is inwardly and sincerely devoid of the knowledge of God. It is not a saving knowledge of God to be sure, but even as condemning knowledge natural revelation still provides a knowledge of God. Thus, according to Biblical epistemology, while men deny their Creator they nevertheless possess an inescapable knowledge of Him; and because they know God (even though they know Him in curse and reprobation) they are able to attain a limited understanding of the world. (Always Ready, p. 38)

This passage from Greg Bahnsen’s book is unhelpful to RK’s task, if that task is to validate the claim that the Christian worldview is solely capable of grounding knowledge. All this passage does is describe an internal position within the presuppositionalist tradition which is intended expressly to reconcile what appears to be a contradiction. As such, it does not bring RK any closer to identifying reasons why anyone should suppose that knowledge finds its basis in the Christian god. Indeed, everything Bahnsen states in this quotation assumes the very point in question, thus begging it outright, if in fact it is intended as a supporting argument for position which RK has chosen to defend in his debate with LeBlanc. Begging the question on behalf of the position you’re called to support, is not the recommended course to take in such a debate.

Moreover, if we look at what Bahnsen states in the excerpted quote, we will find that what he says is completely arbitrary. If Bahnsen’s god in fact does not exist, what would keep him from making statements about it in this manner? Bahnsen claims that the “unbeliever… outwardly and vehemently denies the truth of God,” but also that he “knows” this god nonetheless. How does he “know” this? Because, Bahnsen claims, he has “revealed presuppositions,” and that’s because he is “a creature made in God’s image.” Thus, “while men deny their Creator they nevertheless possess an inescapable knowledge of Him,” and this in turn allows them “to attain a limited understanding of the world.” Of course, Bahnsen had to learn all this by reading the bible, rather than through “revealed presuppositions” non-believers allegedly enjoy, which simply undermines the credibility of the very point he’s trying to make here. It is disingenuous to learn something by reading a storybook and then claim to have known it directly from a supernatural source by virtue of having been “created” in the image of a divine being.

The notion of “natural revelation,” to which Bahnsen appeals, finds its biblical basis in Romans 1:20-21, which states:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Presuppositionalists make reference to this passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans quite frequently. But drawing our attention to it does not strike me as very wise, for it affirms a contradiction. It says that “invisible things… are clearly seen.” But if the things in question are “clearly seen,” then logically they could not be “invisible things.” If something is seen, it is visible, not invisible. Moreover, if the “things” in question are in fact “invisible,” by what means does someone know that they are there, that they are in fact real, and not imaginary? As the old saying goes, the invisible and the non-existent look very much alike, and the non-existent and the imaginary behave very much alike.

The idea here is that the natural world (as opposed to things which are man-made) somehow “reveals” the Christian god as their creator. As Van Til explains:

All men know God. Every fact of the universe has God’s stamp of ownership indelibly and with large letters engraved upon it… All men know not merely that a God exists, but they know that God, the true God, the only God, exists. They cannot be conscious of themselves, says Calvin, except they be at the same time conscious of God as their creator. This general revelation of God stays with man whatever his attitude toward God may be. When he sins against God, he must sin against this God whom he knows. Otherwise sin would be sin in a vacuum. Even in the hereafter, the lost and the evil angels still know God. (Common Grace, p. 130)

Presumably we’re supposed to be able to look at anything in nature, whether it is a flower, a piece of granite, a shooting star or an approaching hurricane, and see “God’s stamp of ownership” on it, since it is “indelibly and with large letters engraved upon it.” We would simply have to be utterly blind and stupid not to see this “stamp of ownership” on these things. Of course, when I look at a flower or a rock, or gaze at the nighttime sky or observe weather activity, I see no “large letters engraved upon it.” Van Til might reply by saying that his wording is simply metaphorical. But this gives away the game: if the indicator of this alleged “stamp of ownership” which he says is “indelibly and with large letters engraved upon” everything we encounter in the world is merely “metaphorical,” then why suppose it’s really there in the first place? Appealing to “natural revelation” simply begs the question, for this appeal itself rests on assumptions whose alleged truth is not “clearly seen” in the world, but which are derived elsewhere. Van Til’s final appeal to undesirable consequences – “otherwise sin would be sin in a vacuum” – only broadcasts the dubiousness of this doctrine.

But its dubious nature does not stop there. Speaking of “natural revelation,” RK stated the following when Mitch LeBlanc questioned him about how he derives knowledge of his god:

The Created order attests to these things as well, in a lesser, and more inferential way - but as I said, that is sufficient merely to condemn.

The admission that “natural revelation” in fact depends on an individual’s inferences is significant. It tells us that, contrary to what we read in Romans 1:20-21, that these “invisible things” of the Christian god which are supposedly stamped “indelibly and with large letters,” are in fact not “clearly seen” – i.e., not directly perceived – but in fact projected onto them by the believer attempting to take his religious teachings seriously. They’re not really there, but he imagines that they are there, and expects everyone else to “see” them there, just as he imagines that they are there. This is essentially a concession that Christian god exists only in the eye of the beholder.

Even presuppositionalists should recognize that inference is not a “presupposition-less” mental operation, that it builds upon assumptions which have been accepted prior to working one’s way to the conclusion of said inference. A truth which is inferred is not a truth which is directly perceived, just as “invisible things” are not things which can be “clearly seen.” So the notion of “natural revelation” provides no legitimate support here. Van Til makes a critical admission in this regard when he states:

Men must be told that the revelation of God round about them and the revelation of God within their own constitution is clear and plain, rendering them without excuse. (Op. cit.)

If “men must be told” that what they are seeing and experiencing “round about them” and “within their own constitution” is “the revelation of God,” and this “revelation of God” is “clear and plain,” then what confidence do we have that any of this is true? Typically presuppositionalists appeal to “natural revelation” to support what they call “special revelation,” which is “supernatural verbal revelation” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 195) from the Christian god, i.e., the bible itself. Essentially, you’re supposed to read the bible first, then take what it says and project it onto the reality you perceive and interact with through your own firsthand experience.

Bahnsen affirms this very point:

Nartural revelation was never intended to operate on its own without God’s verbal communication as a supplemental and necessary context for understanding… In that case, man was never – and is not now – expected simply to observe the natural world or consider his own rational, moral personality and figure out for himself how they are to be interpreted and how their truths are to be verbally expressed. (Ibid.)

But even though what Bahnsen says here does not comport with what the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:20-21 (Paul tells us that "the invisible things" of the Christian god are "clearly seen," and wants this "natural revelation" to condemn everyone so that "they are without excuse"), Van Til curiously admits as much himself when he writes:

Man was never left to the study of natural revelation alone. Natural revelation was from the outset of history accompanied and supplemented by supernatural revelation. The two were involved in one another; they were supplemental to one another. They are unintelligible the one without the other. (The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, p. 20)

So much for “the invisible things” of the Christian god being “clearly seen.” Not only does this claim contradict itself (since things which are “clearly seen” are not, by virtue of being “clearly seen,” nonetheless “invisible”), but its reliance on the believer’s biblically inspired imagination is undeniable.

Moreover, one could claim just about anything using this kind of “reasoning” which Bahnsen models here. The Blarko-believer, for instance, could easily apply the same casuistry which Bahnsen gives as a template for rationalizing his own arbitrary beliefs:

the Blarkositionalist maintains that the unblarkist can come to know certain things (despite his espoused rejection of Blarko’s truth) for the simple reason that he does have revealed presuppositions - and cannot but have them as a creature made in Blarko’s image and living in Blarko’s created world. Although he outwardly and vehemently denies the truth of Blarko, no unbeliever is inwardly and sincerely devoid of the knowledge of Blarko. It is not a saving knowledge of Blarko to be sure, but even as condemning knowledge natural revelation still provides a knowledge of Blarko. Thus, according to Blarkist epistemology, while men deny Blarko they nevertheless possess an inescapable knowledge of Him; and because they know Blarko (even though they know Him in curse and reprobation) they are able to attain a limited understanding of the world.

If Bahnsen can make these kinds of statements about his god, something which is accessible to the human mind only by means of imagining it, I see no reason why the Blarko-believer cannot make similar statements on behalf of his view in like kind. And apologists like Greg Bahnsen and RK give no objective reason why we should believe one over the other. Blarko belief is certainly not the same as Christian belief. Christians worship Christ, not Blarko. But the apologist is claiming that his position is true because of “the impossibility of the contrary.” If we grant that the Christian position is possible, what compels us to suppose that the Blarkist position is not also possible? Blank out.

That the Christian defense must appeal to imaginative scenarios in order to make its points, is evident in what RK says next:

What my claim really entails is that an unbeliever, trying to start from a position of epistemic autonomy, is like a child who sits on his father’s lap - and uses that position for the purpose of slapping his father in the face.

Now we can all imagine the scenario which RK describes here (he takes it from Van TIl), but our ability to imagine this scenario does not validate the claim that it is analogous to the non-Christian’s supposed epistemic plight. Again, RK is simply assuming the truth of what he is called to prove, that knowledge presupposes the Christian god. In the second installment of my analysis of RK’s debate with LeBlanc, I identified the following facts as the proper basis of man’s knowledge:

1 ) The fact that existence exists: This identifies the realm of objects which inform our knowledge, answering the question: knowledge of what?

2) The fact that consciousness is consciousness of objects: This identifies the faculty of awareness possessed by the knower, providing the meta-answer to the question: How do you know? The subject knows, and what he knows are the objects of his knowledge. Consciousness gives the knowing subject cognitive access to what he can know.

3) The fact existence is identity: This is the baseline recognition by a consciousness that an object is itself, that A is A, not something other than itself.

4) The fact that existence has metaphysical primacy: This is a baseline recognition that an object of consciousness exists as itself independent of conscious activity.

5) The fact that knowledge depends on concept-formation: This is the ability to form concepts on the basis of objects perceived by the subject. The method of how the mind forms concepts is explained by a theory of concepts.

To make his condemnation of non-Christian epistemology stick, RK would have to show how these points are analogous to “a child who sits on his father’s lap – and uses that position for the purpose of slapping his father in the face.” Simply asserting that it is so analogous, is not showing how it is analogous. And when it is realized that this charge must make use of the very facts to which I have pointed in my proposed alternative to “Christian epistemology,” it’s quite dubious, to say the least, that we should expect such scenarios to have any legitimate descriptive merit.

RK then made a statement which can only be taken as autobiographical in that it tells us about him rather than about the position he deplores so much:

The fundamental disconnect I see in secular epistemology (and Christians who use that same epistemology) is the universal lack of a solution from unbelieving philosophy for problems like that of induction, the one and the many, whether the will is free, and the like.

RK needs to start visiting the library more often, or do some online shopping. There’s a lot of literature on the topics he expresses concern for from a non-Christian standpoint. I do not see where he has dealt with it all, even though he complains of a “universal lack of solution from unbelieving philosophy” for the problems he mentions. Of course, I recommend the Objectivist solutions to these problems:

On the problem of induction, see David Kelley’s Universals and Induction.

On the problem of universals (“the one and the many”), see Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

On the topic of free will, see Harry Binswanger’s Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation

So much for RK’s naked assertion of a “universal lack of a solution from unbelieving philosophy for problems like that of induction, the one and the many, whether the will is free…” If RK would like to discuss these sources once he has studied them, I’d be more than happy to make myself available for this. But it’s time that he put away childish things, and close the ancient storybook, for it has nothing intelligent to offer on these matters.

But RK insists that the Christian worldview does have something intelligent to offer on the philosophical problems he cited:

Christianity has an answer for these - provided the Christian answers them from Scriptural revelation, and does not adopt the same principles that unbelieving philosophy does.

It should not be surprising that RK fails to point to passages in the bible which present solutions to the problems of induction, the one and the many, whether the will is free, and the like.” That’s because the bible actually does not address these issues at all, certainly not in any philosophically valuable manner. The bible was written by philosophical primitives – an early literate culture trying to survive without the benefit of rational philosophy, science, and a political worldview recognizing the rights of the individual. Their concern was not to explore how the human mind works, but rather to indoctrinate a community of subservience to witch doctors and priests hiding behind the scarecrow of an imaginary deity known for its expressions of wrath and destruction. RK is simply deluding himself if he buys into the notion that the bible addresses these matters.

What makes his position all the more dubious is his stipulation that the “answers” to the problems he listed are available to the Christian believer so long as he relies on the content of the bible and “does not adopt the same principles that unbelieving philosophy does.” Thus the five facts which I listed above – the axioms of existence, consciousness and identity, the primacy of existence and a theory of concepts – cannot at all figure in any biblical solutions to the problems of induction, universals and free will. To make use of any of these facts would constitute “borrowing” from a non-Christian worldview. So any solution to these problems which RK could possibly get behind must deny the fact that existence exists, that consciousness exists, that identity exists, that existence has metaphysical primacy, and that knowledge is conceptual in nature. I don’t suppose he’s going to get very far without any of these facts. But it is true that faith can achieve in a man great feats of foolishness, so let him try.

RK draws his lines in the sand even deeper:

It is even more so a problem for the unbeliever - because he doesn’t even have (not always asserted, but always present to some degree) the epistemological foundation of the Christian.

If “the epistemological foundation of the Christian” involves a rejection of the facts that existence exists, that consciousness exists, that identity exists, that existence has metaphysical primacy, and that knowledge is conceptual in nature, then all the better for the non-Christian – precisely because he does not have this reality-denying worldview.

By the way, has RK given any indication how the problems of induction, universals and free will can be solved without using these facts? Again, his “impossibility of the contrary” depends on such solutions not only being possible, but impossibly untrue, and yet we’ve not seen anything but hot air in regard to the specifics here.

RK baldly asserts:

An unbelieving man has no justification for his predication.

If the “unbelieving man” acknowledges the five facts which I specified above, he sure does have “justification for his predication.” If RK is interested in discussing this, let him come forward, and address the objections I’ve raised so far in my examination of his debate against LeBlanc.

RK baldly asserts again:

He has no basis for his use of logical laws.

Again, if the “unbelieving man” in question acknowledges the five facts which I specified above, he has all the basis he needs for his use of logical laws. Those five facts are the basis of logic. See also my points in this portion of my response to RK.

RK asks:

After all, wherefore and whence do these laws get their justification?

From existence, one of the facts which RK’s position is committed to denying, given his line-in-the-sand drawing above.

RK offers more faith-based universal negatives about the “unbelieving man”:

There is no area in which his thoughts, ideas or concepts can be said to be properly grounded. With feet planted firmly in midair, he asserts his autonomy over his own thinking, and his self-sufficiency for the use of that thinking!

If you get the impression that RK is simply trying to convince himself of the claims he’s been asserting and failing to defend with argument, you’re not alone. But that is the real “meat” of presuppositionalim’s appeal to “the impossibility of the contrary.” The “feet planted firmly in midair” assertion is an example of the theistic apologist’s crass habit of projection. He does not need any details about his rival’s position in order to make sweeping generalizations about it like this, which means he’s essentially proffering a faith commitment at this point. The concern here is not to learn and understand what his opponent’s position may be, but to discredit it regardless of what it is by characterizing it as simply baseless. But what surer base could there be than the axioms, the primacy of existence and the objective theory of concepts? And whose position is better characterized as “feet planted in midair” (whether “firmly” or not)? Does not the one who endorses utterly baseless axioms about invisible magic beings residing in an imaginary realm “back of” everything we perceive and the enshrinement of an ancient storybook full of supernatural characters and men you’d never hope to have as your neighbors, bear the telltale markings of a fantasy which preys on an individual’s failure to distinguish the real from the imaginary? RK accuses non-believers of the very guilt which proliferates throughout his own worldview.

Speaking of the non-believer’s independence of thought, RK tells us that:

This thinking is dangerous - to the unbeliever, and to everyone else.

But curiously, RK does not explain how it is at all dangerous, what threat it poses, and to which values it poses a threat. He says that

It is little more than, as many assert, self-worship.

Even if we suppose this is the case, what could RK possibly have against it? Does his god not worship itself? Or does it lack entirely an object of worship? If that is the case, then man’s alleged “religious nature” (which Christians typically assume of man) is not itself a reflection of his being “created in the image of God.”

Of course, as an Objectivist, I am an unflinching advocate for the morality of selfishness. This bothers many people, not because they truly think that selfishness is wrong, but because they want others to accept the notion that they have a duty to sacrifice themselves to their desired ends. The Christian believer wants others to worship his god and be willing to sacrifice themselves to that god, even though it could have no need for their sacrifices in the first place (it’s said to be “perfect” and “lacking nothing,” “absolutely necessary” and not “contingent” in any way).

At any rate, accusing people of “self-worship” does not constitute an argument, nor does “self-worship” – by itself – seem to pose the danger which RK warns us about. Perhaps he needs to elaborate on this a little more, and fill in the gaping blanks.

RK confesses that:

If the unbeliever thinks he is the ultimate, not simply the immediate basis for epistemology - I see no possible way for that assertion to be justified.

Of course, this is not an argument either. I’m sure that someone who “thinks he is the ultimate… basis for epistemology” could come up with some way to make this view seem “justified.” There are many very inventive minds in the world, and I’m confident that RK hasn’t reviewed all the possible explanations someone might give for such a view.

But RK would be in error if he assumes that non-belief in his god logically entails that one “thinks he is the ultimate… basis for epistemology.” While it is not clear what this is precisely supposed to mean, presuppositionalists (RK included) offer no reason why someone cannot reject Christianity and yet hold something other than himself as “the ultimate basis… for epistemology.”

Again, no argument is offered here.

RK then quotes Greg Bahnsen again:

[The unbeliever] thinks that his thinking process is normal. He thinks that his mind is the final court of appeal in all matters of knowledge. He takes himself to be the reference point for all interpretation of the facts. That is, he has epistemologically become a law unto himself: autonomous. (Always Ready, p. 46)

Let’s parse this statement point by point.

First of all, suppose that a non-believer “thinks that his thinking process is normal.” Does Bahnsen think that people should generally adopt a thinking process that they do not think is normal? Does it bother Bahnsen if a given non-Christian “thinks that his thinking process is normal”? Speaking for myself (if Bahnsen will allow it), I think my “thinking process is normal,” since I govern my thinking process according to objective norms, namely reason and its method, known as logic. These are not only normal in the sense that they provide a standard to which my thinking conforms, but also because they are suited to the kind of consciousness which I possess. Naturally I did not create my own consciousness or choose what kind I possess. I have it due to causal conditions that were beyond my control, namely the biological causality which made my existence a reality and the genetic basis of my nature as a biological organism. I perceive and have the ability to form concepts on the basis of perceptual input. These are facts, and my epistemology takes these facts, which are wholly relevant to the purpose of epistemology and my need for it, into account from its foundations on up. So yes, if Bahnsen considers my thinking of my own thought process as normal is a “sin,” I’m happy to confess my “guilt” on this. Don’t expect it to change.

Bahnsen’s next characterization of the non-believer of course does follow from the previous one. To suppose that my “thinking process is normal” in no way necessitates that I think that my mind “is the final court of appeal in all matters of knowledge.” On the contrary, objective facts are the final court of appeal. I’m adult enough to know that I am neither omniscient nor infallible, that I can and sometimes do make mistakes, and that my mistakes do not alter reality or revise the nature of the objects they involve. Moreover, since knowledge is knowledge of reality, I defer to reality in my mental activity, since it would do me no good to substitute what I imagine for what is real. Rational epistemology equips thinkers for making this fundamental distinction by its adherence to the primacy of existence. So I suspect that Bahnsen is projecting here. Since Bahnsen’s worldview is premised on the primacy of consciousness, he does not have the objective principles by which the distinction between imagination and reality can be made at his disposal. While Bahnsen would call his god’s mind as “the final court of appeal in all matters of knowledge,” since his god is merely imaginary, he is in fact placing his own mind in the seat of the court judge, telling us what his god can and cannot do, will and will not do. Pretty easy to make these kinds of statements about something that is only imaginary. But Bahnsen cannot maintain this kind of pretense consistently, which is why it only works in the case of his theological claims. When he’s working with reality and trying to achieve any kind of goal, he has no choice but to abandon his mystical epistemology and deal with reality on its own terms. In this way the Christian operates on a mixed epistemology, proclaiming a specifically Christian epistemology while clandestinely borrowing from a non-Christian, this-worldly reality in order to get anything of value done.

Bahnsen then takes a page right out of Van Til when he says that the non-believer

takes himself to be the reference point for all interpretation of the facts. That is, he has epistemologically become a law unto himself: autonomous.

Does Bahnsen produce an argument for this claim? Not surprisingly, of course not. I have found no argument in any of Van Til’s writings for this claim either. It’s simply a blanket charge, apparently allowing no exceptions, without citing any evidence to support it. The only thing which he has to support it is his religious prejudice, as this is simply an expression of the same.

In fact, what Bahnsen is expressing here is a very narrow understanding of how the mind works which has resulted from his acceptance of the primacy of consciousness. This causes him to operate on a false dichotomy, both horns of which assume a subjective orientation to “all interpretation of the facts”: either a divine mind is “the reference point for all interpretation of the facts,” or a human being’s own mind is. Either way, some “mind” must be the final “law unto itself.” This could only make sense if the mind operates in a vacuum, denied of awareness of any independently existing objects which could serve as the ultimate reference point in “interpretation of the facts.” This imaginary condition, which theism in facts takes seriously, represents the original state of the mind of its god, as I point out in my blog Before the Beginning: The Problem of Divine Lonesomeness. Since it is part of theism that any objects independent of the divine mind were created by the divine mind in the first place, we need to ask: of what was the divine mind aware prior to creating any objects independent of itself? Logically, there would have been no independent objects for it to be aware of at all. The original state of the “ultimate mind” was a subject in complete isolation from any independently existing objects, which means: the ultimate condition of divine reality is pure subjectivism. Hence, we can attribute the false dichotomy implicit in Bahnsen’s declaration here to the subjectivism inherent in his god-belief.

Why cannot the facts themselves be “the reference point for all interpretation of the facts”? Bahnsen does not say. His insistence on the view which he has presented suggests that he has not even considered such a possibility. This would be understandable if he were prone to swallow pretty much everything his teacher, Cornelius Van Til, asserted, and in the area of apologetics this was the general rule for Bahnsen for the most part. (If you examine his massive Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, in which Bahnsen comments on very lengthy excerpts from Van Til’s writings, you’ll find that in many places Bahnsen prefers to explain statements by Van Til which were obviously faulty in order to make them seem reasonable, rather than admit their inherent faultiness. Van Til’s “floorboards” analogy is one example here.)

Is the non-believer then truly “a law unto himself” in epistemological matters? Not if this means he makes up the laws which govern his thinking process, as an omnipotent, sovereign deity would presumably be capable of doing. If the non-believer is one who has adopted an epistemology based on the primacy of existence, then he conforms his thinking to the facts he discovers existing independent of his conscious activity. These facts, rather than, say, his own wishes, provide the standard to which his cognition must conform. So Bahnsen is wrong to level this blanket charge against non-believers in toto, and by doing so he only announces his own ignorance of rival epistemologies and his unchecked bias towards the primacy of consciousness.

Then again, isn’t the subjective paradigm of the divine mind described here understood as perfection by the Christian, and the Christian himself commanded to “be perfect” like his god (Mt. 5:48)? Perhaps it’s acceptable for the Christian to be “a law unto himself” in matters of epistemology (for many believers in fact act like they are), while for some reason this is wrong for non-believers.

Again, so much for “the impossibility of the contrary.”

To further solidify his point, RK then resorted to a scenario which is only accessible to us if we indulge our imagination without adhering to the constraints of reality:

It is like the famous (and farcical) story of the scientists who discover how to create life from common dirt! Excited, they suddenly stop - A voice challenges them - “I doubt you can.” “All right, then” (say the scientists) - “we will!” As they pick up shovels, they stop again, as the voice says “No, no. Get your own dirt.”

Now, I can imagine along with RK a group of scientists imagining that they’ve heard a voice from out of nowhere. I can even imagine an invisible magic being which produced the voice along with the dirt which RK says his god created. But to suppose such imagining is representative of fact is to play a game of “let’s pretend.” Of course, the Christian’s god is a peculiar one. It is said to have created the universe. But look what it created the universe with: dirt! Does he really expect me to believe that an omniscient, omnipotent and all-wise supernatural being rationally chose dirt as the substance to form the earth?

But RK thinks this story, which he himself admits is “farcical,” is illustrative of the non-Christian’s epistemological situation:

This is what reasoning is like without the foundation of God’s self-existence, known through His self-revelation. It is a man trying to justify his “own” knowledge - when everything he encounters - including himself, belongs to God. The very idea is utterly absurd.

Note again that RK has not presented any argument for any of his condemning generalizations about non-Christian epistemology. This is typical of presuppositionalism. In place of argumentation, the presuppositional apologist relies on degrading characterizations of rival positions in order to discredit them. He tends not present an analysis of actual non-Christian epistemologies as stated by their proponents (and when he does, he focuses on select quotations which serve as easy prey for his denigrating intentions), but prefers to issue sweeping opinions consisting, not of informed assessments of his opponents’ actual stated positions, but of faith-borne animosity stipulated as sacred truth.

RK calls “reasoning… without the foundation of God’s self-existence, known through His self-revelation” – i.e., any form of non-Christian reasoning – “absurd.” But what he misses is the fact that the story he presents as an illustration of what he calls the absurdity of non-Christian thought, is itself absurd, because of its assumption of the primacy of consciousness. Nowhere in his discussion of epistemology does RK ever come close to addressing the issue of metaphysical primacy (i.e., the question of what is the proper relationship between the subject of consciousness and its objects), so this point would likely be lost on him. What RK also misses is the fact that, it is only by accepting Christianity’s premises in the first place that we could agree with RK’s opinion that “the very idea” of non-Christian reasoning is “utterly absurd.” But RK has provided no reasons why one should accept Christianity’s premises in the first place!

On the other hand, if one does lower his intellect enough to accept Christianity’s premises, on what basis could he deem anything “absurd”? With stories about talking serpents, virgin births, walking on unfrozen water, casting out demons, curing blindness with spittle, and raising the dead from their graves, what could the Christian possibly take to be “absurd”? And why? On what basis? To assess an idea as an absurdity, presupposes a constellation of prior worldview presuppositions, specifically those which have a grounding in the objectivity of reality, which means: a worldview which adheres to the metaphysical primacy of existence. It is most ironic when “presuppositionalists” fail to take into account the presuppositional context of concepts like “absurd,” which they tend to throw around as if they made sense in the context of their theistic worldview. But if notions like angels, demons, and other supernatural beings, the virgin birth, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and other miraculous elements of the Christian worldview are not absurd, why suppose the concept has any objective meaning in the first place? Blank out.

On a rational worldview, i.e., one which is dedicated to adhering to the metaphysical primacy of existence, theistic ideas are absurd, just as these tales of miracles and supernatural interventions are absurd. In fact, for RK to affirm theism on the one hand, and on the other condemn non-Christian reasoning as “absurd” while using utterly unrealistic scenarios (which RK himself calls “farcical”) about scientists who, in their efforts to discover how life formed, hear voices from the beyond commanding them to “Get your own dirt,” to inform his point, is itself absurd. That RK is not careful to anticipate this in the defense of his position, seems inexplicable to me, especially if I am to suppose that he is being guided by the revelations of an omniscient and infallible supernatural mind.

On the other hand, in the context of a worldview which enshrines the idea of miracles, what could possibly substantiate the assessment that a mere idea is “absurd”? Theism is a worldview which insists that the miraculous has actually occurred in reality, not merely in the imaginations of believers. The theistic worldview requires men to believe that all kinds of miraculous events have actually occurred, that the supernatural characters which are portrayed in its defining stories are real, that there really are angels and demons behind the objects we perceive moving and interacting in a battle between “good” and “evil,” etc., etc., etc. If these supposed “realities” are not themselves “absurd,” how can a mere “idea” be absurd? RK does not explain this. On theism’s premise of the metaphysical primacy of consciousness, which denies all objectivity (since it makes everything dependent upon the intentions of a ruling subject), RK must in fact borrow from a non-Christian worldview even to invoke the concept ‘absurd’ in any meaningful way.

None of these points occurs to RK as he concludes his section on “the impossibility of the contrary”:

Since it is impossible to have knowledge on any other basis, save that of God’s intrinsic nature and self-communication of the properties of that nature - it is impossible for any human system of reasoning to have justification at all. In short, Christianity’s epistemology is the only epistemology possible - because it’s impossible to have any other coherent, true, and justified basis for thought, perception, knowledge, or understanding of ourselves, or the creation in which we dwell.

RK has produced no argument to support any of the contentions he voices here. He has not shown how man’s knowledge depends on the Christian god; he has not even proven that the Christian god exists. If RK concedes (as he seems to elsewhere in his debate with Mitch LeBlanc) that proving his god’s existence was not his intention (RK states explicitly in his rebuttal to LeBlanc, “I’m not arguing for the existence of God. That is not the point of the debate.”), then he simply opened a gaping hole in his defense of theistic epistemology which LeBlanc effectively covered up in his own opening statement when he effectually demonstrated the irrationality of supposing that a god exists in the first place. If RK cannot demonstrate the existence of his god in the first place, then any effort he undertakes to show that his god is the only basis for human knowledge will inherently suffer from a fatal weakness internal to his own position. RK is thus exposed as a would-be philosophical hijacker, someone who has attempted to take over an entire branch of philosophy through illicit means, but who has failed in that attempt due to his negligence in sufficiently equipping himself. Indeed, given his aim, it would not be possible to equip himself sufficiently, so long as rational philosophy is around to stand guard.

RK’s claim that “it is impossible for any human system of reasoning to have justification at all,” represents a faith assertion, a claim which he hopes to convince himself by repeating it. From what he has presented (and from what can be garnered from the presuppositionalist literature of Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, Richard Pratt, and others), it does not represent the conclusion of an intensive, comprehensive survey of “human system[s] of reasoning” by any means, but rather a view which the believer hopes is true, but whose alleged truth he cannot demonstrate. If RK had something solid to present in favor of such assertions, bare and unsupported as they are, no doubt he would have at least alluded to it in his opening statement.

Instead of positive argument on behalf of his claims, RK prefers to go with self-service circularities: “Christianity’s epistemology is the only epistemology possible – because it’s impossible to have any other coherent, true, and justified basis for thought, perception, knowledge, or understanding of ourselves,” etc. His “support” for his position consists solely and exclusively of repeating that position using different wording. RK provides no analysis of “thought, perception, knowledge, or understanding of ourselves” which objectively demonstrates their alleged dependence on the existence and character of an invisible magic being. He provides no substantiation for the universally negative generalization that “it is impossible for a human system of reasoning to have justification at all.” For him even to embark on proving such a contention, he would at minimum need to conduct a thorough analysis of the Objectivist epistemology, including its metaphysical basis, its theory of concepts, its adherence to objectivity and reason, its recognition of the nature of man’s need for knowledge and an objective process by which he discovers and validates it, in order to have any hope at all in the faith-assertions he announces here. Since RK has not done any of this, it can safely be said that his “impossibility of the contrary” is simply an expression of his own ignorance on the matters which he discusses, and such ignorance is not a worthy basis on which to premise one’s condemnations.

In answer to RK’s position, all that needs to be pointed out is the fact that knowledge is impossible without the ability to form concepts, and that a comprehensive epistemology needs to account for this ability. There is no rational basis to contend that human beings do not have this ability, for any human being attempting to dispute this ability would himself need to possess it in order to formulate his contentions against it. But in all his discussion of knowledge, RK never provides his worldview’s definition of knowledge (does he even have one?) or its understanding of concepts (including an explanation of their nature, their formation, and their purpose). It may be that R’s worldview has nothing to say on these matters (if it did, his failure to indicate what his worldview does have to say on these matters is inexplicable), in which case his worldview is simply insufficient to have anything worthy to consider on these matters. This can only mean: the claim that the Christian god is the basis of knowledge because of “the impossibility of the contrary” is simply false, and should be rejected without further consideration.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

RazorsKiss on the Christian God as the Basis of Knowledge – Part 7: Rival Epistemologies

In his debate with Mitch LeBlanc, Christian apologist “RazorsKiss” (“RK”) assumes that Christianity is true and that its god somehow constitutes the basis of knowledge when he refers to the ”axioms” he presented in his opening statement. He then asks:

Can someone without the axioms that Christians hold “know” anything?

This question strikes me as rather disingenuous, for there is nothing to stop RK from simply asserting that anyone who knows anything is secretly assuming the “axioms that Christians hold,” even if he isn’t. I say this because so far RK has demonstrated a profound reliance on arbitrary claims, and essentially zero ability to substantiate his assumption that those claims have any truth value. Similarly, if a scientist affirms that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, there is nothing to stop me from claiming that the scientist could make this statement only if he secretly believed that Blarko is the Wonderbeing and recognizes deep down that Blarko sets the terms for the scientist’s discovery of such facts. I could even say that the scientist’s affirmation that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms is itself evidence that the scientist is drawing from his “sensus Blarkus,” an “internal ‘sense’” by which Blarko transmits His unimpeachable wisdom to the scientist’s mind. I would expect that RK would agree that such claims are arbitrary. But if these claims about Blarko and the “sensus Blarkus” are arbitrary, why isn’t RK’s Christian version of the same not also arbitrary? RK does not anticipates such objections anywhere in his debate.

RK’s answer to his own question above is not surprising:

As defined, no. They can’t [know anything]. They do not have a justification for their beliefs. However, they themselves do have true beliefs – which do, in many cases, result in success. In a sense, they do have knowledge. Not because of their epistemology – but despite it. In these cases, they are simply creatures forced to admit that despite the incoherence of their epistemology, they do, in fact, know things anyway.

Again, we find no argument here. Rather, RK is simply preaching to the converted, which is quite unproductive in the context of a debate on the topic in question. By now we can say that the tendency to rely on unsupported assertions instead of defending his view with arguments supporting it, is habitual for RK. It is for most presuppositionalists, in spite of Bahnsen’s claim to the very opposite:

In apologetics our task is to analyze the arguments which are advanced by unbelievers against the truth of Christianity and to produce sound arguments in favor of it. (Always Ready, p. 130).

The problem is, RK has not produced any “sound arguments in favor of… the truth of Christianity.” All he’s done is affirm various elements of it by repeating presuppositionalist assertions.

Additionally, RK not using his opportunity to answer any legitimate questions which one might pose against his proclamations, for his statement neither anticipates them nor provides any content which would effectively address such questions. How, for instance, does RK conclude that people who do not assume the truth of what RK had earlier called “axiomatic… foundations” have no “justification for their beliefs”? Seriously, how does he know this? He can assert this to be the case, but this does not tell us how he knows this (unless he thinks truth conforms to whatever he asserts), nor does it tell us why we should accept it. It is only by assuming the truth of his own position that he can avoid considering such questions, which of course begs the question in the context of a debate over the matter. The only way that RK seems to be able to “defend” his position is by affirming tail-chasing circularities. “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong,” seems to be the underlying theme of RK’s epistemology.

But why should anyone believe any of this?

This is the unanswered question. When it comes to defending Christianity, all that presuppositionalism seems to offer is recitation of positional statements internal to the Christian faith paradigm. They do not provide reasons for why we should accept the overall paradigm in the first place. If we accept the paradigm as a whole (which their defenses presuppose - "Christian theism as a unit" - Van Til, Apologetics, p. 73), then we could accept its elements and wouldn’t need any persuasion. But reciting these elements do nothing to validate the paradigm as a whole, which is what the apologist has been called to prove.

Like other presuppositionalists, RK recognizes that it would be absurd to deny the “success” of non-Christians’ efforts to discover and validate knowledge, since clearly non-Christians do acquire and vindicate knowledge on a daily basis. But the success of non-believers in this area makes presuppositionalists anxious. They naturally feel a need to explain it in terms of their professed beliefs. To do this, they do not pay any mind to the particular epistemological process by which such individuals go about collecting knowledge and validating the knowledge which they discover. Such details are dismissed without a hearing, for a hearing on such matters would not be apologetically expedient. Awareness of those details would of course compel apologists to take on more homework than they could handle. A quick and easy dismissal is to be preferred over a rigorous investigation of how scientists come to such truths (or “beliefs”). So the route of the “naked assertion” (an expression which RK himself uses to dismiss Mitch LeBlanc’s endorsement of a position argued by George H. Smith) is the preferred mode du jour, and tomorrow never comes.

So let the presuppositionalist wave away with the flick of the wrist the epistemological methodology by which the scientist came to the conclusion that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The scientist just got lucky is all. His methodology, since it does not kowtow to “Christ,” in whom all the “treasures” of knowledge are supposedly “hidden,” cannot possibly arrive at the truth. So let’s not use the scientist’s profane and sin-laden methodology. Instead, let’s see how the believer’s epistemological methodology leads us to the discovery that water is composed of both hydrogen and oxygen atoms. How does this work? RK pointed to “the Scriptures” as an authoritative source, but unfortunately I could find no passage in the bible which explains how we can discover that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen. In fact, the bible seems to think that water can be transformed into wine by means of conscious intentions – i.e., without for instance a fruit concoction, yeast, sugars, a period of fermentation, etc. Clearly the scientist’s epistemological methodology is insufficient, for he has not discovered how this can be the case. But this does not answer the question before us, which is:

What is the specifically Christian epistemological process by which one discovers the elemental make-up of water?

And we can be sure that whatever epistemological process Christianity recommends for discovering the composition of water might be, it cannot be the epistemological process which the non-believing scientist employs (namely reason) to do the same. Bahnsen makes this clear when he makes statements like the following:

...all unbelieving philosophy destroys the possibility of knowledge. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 241)

When it comes to knowing things, then, the unbeliever is an “epistemological” failure; he has no adequate theory, or philosophy, or worldview that makes his knowing intelligible. (Ibid., p. 407)

The unbeliever should not be left with false pretensions: such as, that his problem is merely a lack of information, or that he simply needs to correct some of his syllogisms, or that his experience and thinking are all right as far as they go. In actuality, the unbeliever’s espoused principles of thought, reason, and reality would lead to utter intellectual foolishness and destruction (1 Cor. 1:20; Matt. 7:26-27). (Always Ready, p. 75)

The testimony of Scripture is clear in the teaching that man cannot come to an understanding of God (and thereby of God’s world) by means of his independently exercised reason. (Ibid., p. 87)

It cannot be ignored that repentance and faith are necessary for a knowledge of the truth. (Ibid., pp. 100-101)

The very possibility of knowledge outside of God’s revelation (savingly presented in Christ) must be undermined. (Ibid., p. 105)

Etc.

Clearly the presuppositionalist position is that there is a fundamental and system-wide difference between Christian epistemology and any non-Christian epistemology. They are contrary to each other. Moreover, it holds that Christian epistemology is the only one capable of producing knowledge, while all non-Christian epistemologies “lead to utter intellectual foolishness and destruction.” As RK puts it, “Christianity’s epistemology is the only epistemology possible.” This is why one of the steps in the presuppositionalist defense of the Christian faith, is that “the unbeliever’s espoused presuppositions should be forcefully attacked” and “the unbeliever’s claims should be reduced to impotence and impossibility” (Always Ready, p. 79).

As with presuppositionalists like Bahnsen, RK acknowledges that non-Christians do in fact have knowledge, however “not because of their epistemology – but despite it.” Since he is talking about all non-Christian systems, he is including my epistemology in his characterization by implication. However, I found no indication in his portion of the debate that RK has any familiarity with my epistemology, let alone an analysis of it exposing its alleged faults. It is one thing to assert that everyone else is wrong, but another to actually make good on such claims.

I am very curious how this “Christian epistemology” which RK and other presuppositionalists mention, works in discovering and validating knowledge. Since presuppositionalists are emphatic that their epistemological approach to knowledge is fundamentally different from and opposed to any non-Christian epistemology, it must operate differently.

As with Van Til and Bahnsen, RK acknowledges that non-Christians do in fact have knowledge, however “not because of their epistemology – but despite it.” Since he is talking about all non-Christian systems, he is including my epistemology in his characterization by implication. However, I found no indication in his portion of the debate that RK has any familiarity with my epistemology, let alone an analysis of it exposing its alleged faults. It is one thing to assert that everyone else is wrong, but another to actually make good on such claims.

The epistemology of my worldview, Objectivism, is known as reason. It is the faculty by which one identifies and integrates what he perceives. He does this by forming concepts from his awareness of objects which he perceives (as well as subsequent or “higher-level” concepts from previously concepts so formed), and applying the method of logic to the data he gathers in forming those concepts to generate inferences and establish conclusions, both inductively and deductively. This epistemology is explicitly non-Christian, since it rests on the primacy of existence, while the Christian worldview indisputably rests on the primacy of consciousness. So “Christianity’s epistemology” cannot be identical to the epistemology of reason, nor can it be essentially similar, for the epistemology of reason is a non-Christian epistemology (belonging to and stemming from a worldview which is consistently non-theistic in nature), while (as RK claims) the Christian position holds that “the Triune God of Scripture is not only the proper grounds for all knowledge – but the only possible grounds for all knowledge,” that “every possible foundation for every way of thinking not in accordance with His perfect ordinance is utter, absolute folly,” and that “any claimant contrary to Christian epistemology is therefore denied by definition.”

Given these fundamental and profound differences between “Christianity’s epistemology” and the epistemology of reason, it would be helpful if Christians could articulate in detail just what their epistemology would recommend in the case of discovering the atomic composition of water. The scientist uses the epistemology of reason to discover the atomic composition of water and validate his conclusion that it is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. But presuppositional apologist Richard Pratt tells us that “reason is not the judge of truth” (Every Thought Captive, p. 74). Bahnsen confirms that the use of reason works against truth when he writes:

Man uses his reason, not to glorify god and advance His kingdom, but to rise up in arrogant opposition to the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). (Always Ready, p. 46)

So when the scientist uses reason discover the atomic composition of water and concludes that it consists of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, he is “ris[ing] up in arrogant opposition to the knowledge of God.”

What is Christianity’s alternative that the scientist should be using in place of reason? It cannot recommend reason, and this is clearly understandable when Bahnsen exclaims:

In principle, and according to what they profess, the basic worldviews – the fundamental presuppositions – of the Christian and non-Christian conflict with each other at every point. (Always Ready, p. 120)

So “Christianity’s epistemology” and the epistemology of reason must “conflict with each other at every point.” Again, here are the points belonging to the epistemology of reason with which “Christianity’s epistemology” must “conflict”:

- beginning with perception (our means of acquiring awareness of the world)
- Integrating objects perceived into concepts (basic concept-formation)
- Integrating lower-level concepts into higher-level concepts (abstraction from abstractions)
- Application of logic to the data we gather from what we perceive and integrate into concepts
- Generating inferences from the application of logic to data gathered from the world
- Establishing conclusions by validating all the steps from perception through the inferential process

Generally speaking, this is how the scientist discovered that water was composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. He applied the scientific method, which is the application of the epistemology of reason to specific inquiries about objects he discovers in the world. It is a human method, since its principles are suited to the nature of human consciousness. There is no deference to “divine revelation” involved here, so it must be opposed to “Christianity’s epistemology.”

Since the scientist who concludes that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms is relying on a human method which is not governed by divine revelation, it may be the case that his conclusion that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen is completely wrong. In fact, this is what we should expect if his epistemology is faulty, which RK is claiming. A faulty epistemology will not produce reliable results, right? But how can one fault a divinely inspired epistemology? Since RK denies the validity of the scientist’s epistemology, he should identify and explain the steps which Christian epistemology would recommend us to take in order to discover the atomic make-up of water. I for one would like to see this, for I’ve always relied on the epistemology of reason, which does not draw from the source of “divine revelation.” Since the scientist’s methodology is supposedly faulty, we should expect that whatever methodology RK proposes in place of it to be fundamentally dissimilar to the scientist’s epistemology. But until he divulges it, we are left in the dark. And isn’t that ironic? Christ supposedly brought light to the world (cf. John 12:46), and yet when we ask Christ’s representatives to shine this light, we only get darkness. Why is that? It cannot be because we do not see, for clearly we see, and we know the difference between light and darkness (if we didn’t, these concepts would be meaningless, and yet Christianity expects us to understand them). Indeed, I’m asking to see the “light” of “Christian epistemology”! Yet contrary to the promises we read in “the Scriptures” (cf. John 16:24), we do not receive. The believer comes back void, empty-handed and unprepared to assist in such inquiries. This is not the scientist’s fault. Nor is it the non-Christian’s problem.

by Dawson Bethrick

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