Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Argument from the Unity of Knowledge

I am now settling into my new life in SE Asia. So far it has been as bountiful an adventure as one could hope. With the house back home rented out and all my financial obligations State-side met, I am free to assimilate myself into a new culture, lifestyle and experience.
For now, I thought I’d throw out a question to consider about presppositionalism. Readers are welcome to post their thoughts from whatever perspective you may have. My life is unpredictable now so I don’t know when I’ll be able to chime in on the matter myself. But I’m eager to gather more input on this issue as it pertains to presuppositional apologetics.

In an essay titled If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til, apologetic theorist James Anderson presents a rendition of an argument which he attributes to Cornelius Van Til, which appears as follows:
[1] If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one can have any knowledge of the universe.
[2] Only God could have comprehensive knowledge of the universe.
[3] We have some knowledge of the universe.
[4] Therefore, God exists. (Op. cit., p. 20)
Anderson calls it “the argument from the unity of knowledge,” though it’s not clear whether Van Til called it this. Now I have a number of criticisms of this argument, and I find it wholly unpersuasive because of some serious flaws. But I’m curious what others think of its persuasiveness, whether or not they think it compels the conclusion it is intended to defend.

Please offer your own thoughts, positive or negative, in the comments section. At some point in the future I hope to present my own reaction to it.

by Dawson Bethrick

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25 Comments:

Blogger rhiggs said...

Premise 1 is an unproven assertion. It needs to be demonstrated that knowledge is dependent on the existence of a being with comprehensive knowledge. This is not demonstrated.

Plus, the whole argument is self-refuting. It assumes that since humans lack comprehensive knowledge, any assumed knowledge could be wrong (due to new knowledge potentially disproving assumed knowledge). If this is true, then the argument itself might also be disproved in the future by new knowledge. Thus, we can dismiss the conclusion.

In short, if only God knows everything, then people who attempt to prove God's existence can never be certain that they are correct. This cuts to one of the central flaws in presuppositionalism.

May 25, 2011 8:27 AM  
Blogger Luiz Claudio said...

Comprehensive knowledge is an oximoron. Absolute knowledge can only exist in one's imagination, like God

May 27, 2011 7:29 PM  
Blogger NAL said...

[1] seems to be an argument unto itself. It has a premise and a conclusion but no reasoning. Without reasoning I can't accept the conclusion that "no one can have any knowledge of the universe."

May 28, 2011 7:52 PM  
Blogger D.A.N. said...

Luiz,

>>Absolute knowledge can only exist in one's imagination, like God.

Tell us how you KNOW this? Did you use your reasoning to make this determination? I cannot tell you how many times supposed learned people have set to me: “Okay, I can’t know anything, but neither can you.” Problem is, if they can’t know anything, then they cannot know what I can or cannot know, yet the very first thing out of their mouths after denying knowledge, is a knowledge claim.

Dawson,

Its OK that you did not divulge how you came across this article. We understand that you wish not show your source of how you gather information. I forgive you. :7)

Oh and that is great that you are able to travel to SE Asia like you are. I had a blast in Thailand, Philippines, and Hong Kong and wish I can go there again since its been some 25 years since I have visited. Granted the visits would be quite different on my part then my "atheistic", read hedonistic, ways back then.

May 31, 2011 5:39 PM  
Blogger D.A.N. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 31, 2011 5:41 PM  
Blogger Rocky Rodent said...

I cannot tell you how many times supposed learned people have set to me: “Okay, I can’t know anything, but neither can you.” Problem is, if they can’t know anything, then they cannot know what I can or cannot know, yet the very first thing out of their mouths after denying knowledge, is a knowledge claim.

Except he didn't claim not to know anything - he claimed absolute knowledge (i.e. knowing everything) is a fantasy. This of course is not the same as claiming to know nothing.

I'll add a few thoughts on Anderson's argument later on, but it seems that the only way to know things is via 'revealed knowledge' (although the premise that if a deity has absolute knowledge then he/she/it will be willing to share it with us seems to be assumed rather than stated in his argument) according to him; given this point, it makes you wonder how folk who believe that know anything beyond that which they think has been revealed to them by God.

June 01, 2011 12:32 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Dawson,
Greetings. Trust you are doing well and keeping safe in SE Asia.

I came across your blog and thought I would offer some thoughts here, not to be unkind in anyway, but to challenge your thinking as you challenge others. Thank you for carefully considering and reflecting, over time, on what I say here.

I find that you use the personal pronoun "I" repeatedly in your blog as though it has genuine intrinsic meaning. But if you pause and think carefully—reflecting deeply and using only your naturalistic, materialistic worldview assumptions about the nature of reality—you will find that you cannot even validate, in terms of your own worldview, your own personal existence…let alone "incinerate" presuppositionalism. In fact, you actually "incinerate"...yourself. It seems in blogging about metaphysical and epistemological matters, you should be able validate (in terms of your own materialistic worldview assumptions) the personal existence of you yourself, the blogger. (Every single word you utter/blog is born out of, is a manifestation of an entire belief-system, a comprehensive Metanarrative that you embrace and assume to be true…no one, Dawson, lives life by isolated and unrelated “bullet points”…what you embrace is a “package-deal”)

So consider. The next time you embrace a loved one, how do you know that "he" or "she" is actually there? Yes, matter is there. Neurons are there. Chemicals are there. But where is the loved one? What (not who) are you affectionately embracing?

If you are honest, given your worldview assumptions, you are actually only embracing matter—any personal nuance in the understanding of, and relating to, your loved one can only be but an irrational figment of your materialistic worldview's imagination. Dawson, do you see it? You are living in world of make-believe—the very kind of world you accuse Christians of inhabiting. Moreover, no amount of wordsmithing or verbal tap-dancing will cause wooden Pinocchio to become a real little boy. Sadly, in embracing loved ones, you embrace the metaphysical ashes of your own (and their) incineration.

Other than the existences of the personal, Triune God of the Bible how do you account for your personal relationships, much less your own personal existence? Yet, He indeed does exist, and that is the only reason you do not intellectually implode...by unconsciously borrowing from the capital of Christian theism. You have been created in His image, Dawson, and that is something that is not changing…no matter what part of the world you visit.

But more than merely existing, God loves you Dawson, and sent His Son, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, to conquer sin and death personally on your behalf—so that you may find true Life in Him. I pray that you find Him in SE Asia…perhaps that is why He has directed your pathway there.

TW

June 01, 2011 10:20 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Dawson,
Greetings. Trust you are doing well and keeping safe in SE Asia.

I came across your blog and thought I would offer some thoughts here, not to be unkind in anyway, but to challenge your thinking as you challenge others. Thank you for carefully considering and reflecting, over time, on what I say here.

I find that you use the personal pronoun "I" repeatedly in your blog as though it has genuine intrinsic meaning. But if you pause and think carefully—reflecting deeply and using only your naturalistic, materialistic worldview assumptions about the nature of reality—you will find that you cannot even validate, in terms of your own worldview, your own personal existence…let alone "incinerate" presuppositionalism. In fact, you actually "incinerate"...yourself. It seems in blogging about metaphysical and epistemological matters, you should be able validate (in terms of your own materialistic worldview assumptions) the personal existence of you yourself, the blogger. (Every single word you utter/blog is born out of, is a manifestation of an entire belief-system, a comprehensive Metanarrative that you embrace and assume to be true…no one, Dawson, lives life by isolated and unrelated “bullet points”…what you embrace is a “package-deal”)

So consider. The next time you embrace a loved one, how do you know that "he" or "she" is actually there? Yes, matter is there. Neurons are there. Chemicals are there. But where is the loved one? What (not who) are you affectionately embracing?

If you are honest, given your worldview assumptions, you are actually only embracing matter—any personal nuance in the understanding of, and relating to, your loved one can only be but an irrational figment of your materialistic worldview's imagination. Dawson, do you see it? You are living in world of make-believe—the very kind of world you accuse Christians of inhabiting. Moreover, no amount of wordsmithing or verbal tap-dancing will cause wooden Pinocchio to become a real little boy. Sadly, in embracing loved ones, you embrace the metaphysical ashes of your own (and their) incineration.

Other than the existence of the personal, Triune God of the Bible, how do you account for your personal relationships, much less your own personal existence? Yet, He indeed does exist, and that is the only reason you do not intellectually, and relationally, implode...by unconsciously borrowing from the capital of Christian theism. You have been created in His image, Dawson, and that is something that is not changing…no matter what part of the world you visit.

But more than merely existing, God loves you Dawson, and sent His Son, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, to conquer sin and death personally on your behalf—so that you may find true Life in Him. I pray that you find Him in SE Asia…perhaps that is why He has directed your pathway there.

TW

June 01, 2011 12:28 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Dawson,
Greetings. Trust you are doing well and keeping safe in SE Asia.

I came across your blog and thought I would offer some thoughts here, not to be unkind in anyway, but to challenge your thinking as you challenge others. Thank you for carefully considering and reflecting, over time, on what I say here.

I find that you use the personal pronoun "I" repeatedly in your blog as though it has genuine intrinsic meaning. But if you pause and think carefully—reflecting deeply and using only your naturalistic, materialistic worldview assumptions about the nature of reality—you will find that you cannot even validate, in terms of your own worldview, your own personal existence…let alone "incinerate" presuppositionalism. In fact, you actually "incinerate"...yourself. It seems in blogging about metaphysical and epistemological matters, you should be able validate (in terms of your own materialistic worldview assumptions) the personal existence of you yourself, the blogger. (Every single word you utter/blog is born out of, is a manifestation of an entire belief-system, a comprehensive Metanarrative that you embrace and assume to be true…no one, Dawson, lives life by isolated and unrelated “bullet points”…what you embrace is a “package-deal”)

So consider. The next time you embrace a loved one, how do you know that "he" or "she" is actually there? Yes, matter is there. Neurons are there. Chemicals are there. But where is the loved one? What (not who) are you affectionately embracing?

If you are honest, given your worldview assumptions, you are actually only embracing matter—any personal nuance in the understanding of, and relating to, your loved one can only be but an irrational figment of your materialistic worldview's imagination. Dawson, do you see it? You are living in world of make-believe—the very kind of world you accuse Christians of inhabiting. Moreover, no amount of wordsmithing or verbal tap-dancing will cause wooden Pinocchio to become a real little boy. Sadly, in embracing loved ones, you embrace the metaphysical ashes of your own (and their) incineration.

Other than the existence of the personal, Triune God of the Bible, how do you account for your personal relationships, much less your own personal existence? Yet, He indeed does exist, and that is the only reason you do not intellectually, and relationally, implode...by unconsciously borrowing from the capital of Christian theism. You have been created in His image, Dawson, and that is something that is not changing…no matter what part of the world you visit.

But more than merely existing, God loves you Dawson, and sent His Son, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, to conquer sin and death personally on your behalf—so that you may find true Life in Him. I pray that you find Him in SE Asia…perhaps that is why He has directed your pathway there.

TW
s

June 01, 2011 12:29 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Dawson,
My humble apologies for multiple entries...was having trouble posting. Thanks for your patience.

TW

June 01, 2011 4:28 PM  
Blogger Rocky Rodent said...

If you are honest, given your worldview assumptions, you are actually only embracing matter—any personal nuance in the understanding of, and relating to, your loved one can only be but an irrational figment of your materialistic worldview's imagination.

There's no requirement that a non-theist need be a materialist, so this is just a baseless assumption on your part and probably a straw-man argument as well.

June 02, 2011 2:20 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Ayn Rand said as much. There is no presuposition in objectivism of materialism. Furthermore Objectivism holds that Consciousness is axiomatic and not "justified" by prior argumentation. The defense of this position is that any such arguement would have to presuppose the very thing arugued for. Tony obviously does not know a much about objectivism.

June 02, 2011 3:06 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Rocky,

Thanks for your thoughts. However, if a non-theist/anti-theist is not a materialist, than what is the "non-material" aspect of reality? And how do you 'know' that "non-material" reality to be such? On what authority?

TW

June 02, 2011 5:51 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Justin, all worldviews—absolutely no exceptions—have presuppositions; that is, ultimate (not penultimate) assumptions about the nature of reality for which there can be no greater appeal given. All argument chains must ‘end’ somewhere. Otherwise, your ‘argument’ is an infinite regress of argumentative justifications that finally lead to nonsense because you never get to the demonstration of what you are seeking to prove, thus proving nothing. Your “Objectivism of Materialism” does indeed have ultimate presuppositions about the nature of reality. You cannot get away from it. That is the nature of ALL worldviews.

Objectivism of ‘Materialism’ may hold that consciousness (I would suggest there is no need to capitalize the C) as being axiomatic, but it cannot do so without being self-contradictory to the materialistic worldview system itself.

Also, regarding your comment, “…one would have to presuppose the very thing argued for”…please carefully note that the nature of argumentation about ultimate presuppositions cannot be argued ‘independently’ of the preconditions inherent in it. A simple illustration of this would be this: try to argue for the laws of logic ‘without using’ the laws of logic. This is Philosophy 101.

In all due respect, Justin, what I said to Dawson stands as true.

TW

June 02, 2011 6:34 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Sorry my earlier post was done in haste and I had little time to say what I wished.

Tony

-reflecting deeply and using only your naturalistic, materialistic worldview assumptions about the nature of reality-

what do you mean by naturalistic, if you mean a world view that assumes all things have identity and act in accordance with theirs, then by all means naturalistic.
As I stated earlier, objectivism is not inherently materialistic. We start with existence exists. The nature of the existents is an open question to be answered only after we have worked out an epistemology. We use concepts all the time,they are not material, they are conceptual, yet they are real, so enough with the claims that we are all materialists. In you own example you use love. This is an emotion directly felt, another immaterial thing. I do not need to account for it any more than I demand a logical proof from my eyes complete with premisses, inference and conclusion from my eyes before I believe I see the bus coming. Additionally as I can feel love and I am a man, it is no stretch to conclude that other men also feel love. Furthermore I can even measure love. I can measure it in relation to how much I love one thing over another. Just because something cant be measured in pounds does not mean it does not exist.
This does not however open the door for the supernatural. I can feel love, never seen the supernatural. And where as we both can demonstrate how much we love and what thru our actions, this will only show how much you love the idea of god, not weather he is real or not. Ok enough rambling, I am sure Dawson will have much more to say once he's up, what time is it over there anyway

oh, by the way, do you even know what objectivists mean by package deal? Do you know what a foundationalist theory of concepts is?

June 02, 2011 7:38 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

ah one more thing, We can say that the idea of god is real, but the question is does that idea refer to anything outside our imagination?

June 02, 2011 8:01 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Sorry I did not see your earlier responce to me until just now

Justin, all worldviews—absolutely no exceptions—have presuppositions; that is, ultimate (not penultimate) assumptions about the nature of reality for which there can be no greater appeal given. All argument chains must ‘end’ somewhere. Otherwise, your ‘argument’ is an infinite regress of argumentative justifications that finally lead to nonsense because you never get to the demonstration of what you are seeking to prove, thus proving nothing. Your “Objectivism of Materialism” does indeed have ultimate presuppositions about the nature of reality. You cannot get away from it. That is the nature of ALL worldviews.

agreed to a point. My starting points, axioms, or presuppositions are existence, identity, and consciousness.


Objectivism of ‘Materialism’ may hold that consciousness (I would suggest there is no need to capitalize the C) as being axiomatic, but it cannot do so without being self-contradictory to the materialistic worldview system itself.

for what the 3rd time? I am not a Materialist. Nor are objectivists so this point is irrelevant.

Also, regarding your comment, “…one would have to presuppose the very thing argued for”…please carefully note that the nature of argumentation about ultimate presuppositions cannot be argued ‘independently’ of the preconditions inherent in it. A simple illustration of this would be this: try to argue for the laws of logic ‘without using’ the laws of logic. This is Philosophy 101.

You just made my point for me. Conciseness is an axiomatic concept. Any argument that attempts to account for it would have to implicitly presuppose it. There has to be a conciseness to argue it. Objectivism clearly states this and does not make any attempt to come up with a materialistic explanation for it. So my point stands, you clearly do not understand what you are arguing against. We are not materialists arguing that there is nothing but matter banging around. Are you listening?

June 02, 2011 9:45 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Conciseness ? lol, i ment consciousness , need to slow down and proof read:)

June 02, 2011 9:49 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Tony,

Dawson has years of writings that you can refer to for the issues you raise.

I would just offer one tidbit that Dawson's writings have made quite clear for me: One doesn't "prove" existence, consciousness, nor identity. These axioms would have to be true before any attempt to prove anything could be undertaken.


The axioms are not found in an argument's conclusion, but are implicit in everything you and I do, say, think, or perceive. Any attempt to deny existence, consciousness, or identity is futile, for the very act of denial assumes these very axioms.

As Dawson explains it:

"Proof is a process of logically securing a position on the basis of inferring its truth from some prior point of departure, one which ultimately has its basis in what we directly perceive. So a position which is inferred from some previously accepted position cannot itself be axiomatic. An axiom is a starting point, not a conclusion to some prior argument. If one presents an argument to secure the conclusion that a god exists, then the supposition that his god exists consequently cannot be his starting point. At the very best, one of the premises supporting that conclusion may be his starting point, but this could only be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the content of the argument so presented. So the apologist needs to decide: is his assumption that his god exists axiomatic in nature, or does this assumption rest on proof?"

Ydemoc

June 02, 2011 10:05 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 02, 2011 10:05 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Ydemoc

thanks for cutting to the chase, I don't think Tony understands the hierarchical nature of concept formation.

June 02, 2011 10:10 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

reposted after some corrections

further point to make.

The underlying physics that make the human mind possible might just be materialistic, ie matter banging around, or not, this is a question for the science or neurology. However regardless of how it answers this, if it even can will make no difference to the fact that I have direct self awarness of the emotions I feel.You ask on what authority do I know them. Like I said earlier I do not demand a formal proof from my senses. Likewise I also have direct awareness of my emotional state and thats all the authority I need. Also I know I was going to wait for Dawson, but Tony you make this so much fun!

June 02, 2011 10:20 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Justin,

Thanks for your comment, Justin. Some of Tony's comments screamed for a reply, so I thought I'd put in my two cents.

And I see Dawson has also replied to Tony in a new blog entry.

Ydemoc

June 02, 2011 10:29 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Tony,

Thank you for your comments. I really enjoyed reading them. I have posted my response to your comments in a new blog. You can find it here:

Considering Tony's Offerings


Now on to D.A.N.:

D.A.N.: “Tell us how you KNOW this? ...”

As Rocky Rodent’s reply rightly indicates, Luiz was not affirming the view that he doesn’t know anything and/or cannot know anything. Clearly people know things. Those who do not understand the process by which knowledge is obtained and validated, may be prone to inserting some fantasy in the gap of their knowledge to “explain” it.

When it comes to the omniscience which Christianity claims on behalf of its god, I know of no means of apprehending this other than imagining it. I can imagine an omniscient deity, but it’s imaginary. On a rational orientation to reality, that which is imaginary is recognized for not being real. If something is imaginary, it’s not real, therefore it does not exist in reality. Unfortunately, one of the many problems I find in argument’s like Van Til’s (and virtually all other theistic arguments), is the fact that they still leave us with no alternative but to imagine the god whose existence they claim to be establishing by means of proof.

D.A.N.: “Its OK that you did not divulge how you came across this article. We understand that you wish not show your source of how you gather information. I forgive you. :7)”

I’m not sure what you’re trying to insinuate here, D.A.N. I’ve been aware of Anderson’s paper for several years now. In fact, I corresponded with Anderson back in January 2005 – over 6 years ago! – about some of the arguments he presented in his paper. You seem to think that I’ve only recently learned about Anderson’s paper, and only through your blog. That’s totally incorrect. Are you interested in getting credit for something? If so, keep trying.

D.A.N.: “Oh and that is great that you are able to travel to SE Asia like you are...”

Thailand and other SE destinations are fascinating places. But one does not have to be a hedonist to enjoy such places. I’m not a hedonist, and yet I enjoy them. By the way, since there is such a thing as Christian Hedenism, do you think there’s something wrong with hedonism per se? If so, what do you think is wrong with it, and why do you think it’s wrong?

Regards,
Dawson

June 02, 2011 11:10 PM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Premise stated [1] If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one can have any knowledge of the universe.

This conditional sentence’s antecedent clause entails a negative condition where comprehensive means of large scope; covering or involving much or including all. Ignoring the equivocation regarding ‘comprehensive, it is obvious the consequent clause is non-sequitur because the presumed inference cannot yield the conclusion. This is because knowledge is held in conceptual form, and concepts are formed as Piekoff wrote in ITOE.

“According to Objectivism, concepts “represent classifications of observed existents according to their relationships to other observed existents.” To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is “the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree”); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.” ~ Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,”
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 97–9

Since Homo Sapien has direct sensory access to existence and our brains automatically process our sensory information into precepts, then we can, if we choose, integrate those precepts into concepts.

“A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.”

For these reasons the inference in Anderson’s premise 1 fail.

Anderson’s premise [2] “Only God could have comprehensive knowledge of the universe.” Is the broadest notion of the speculative forms of Omniscience. Under this view Anderson’s god would not be bound by logic and would have to ‘know’ the measurement of the position and momentum of all quantum particles simultaneously. If this were the case then there would be no wave-particle duality phenomena exhibited in double slit experiments. But there is such wave-particle duality observed, so Anderson’s God cannot have the sort of Omniscience he imagines. Neither could it have knowledge of our personal indexical first person point-of-view sensations or perceptions. Since Anderson’s God does not have senses it cannot perceive so it cannot know what it feels like to make love to a woman, taste chocolate, feel a light alcohol buzz, or what if is like to see the stars at night or race down a snow covered hill with the wind in one’s face. How is it that an alleged being of so great power cannot know what we know? For these reasons premise 2 fails.

Premise [3] “We have some knowledge of the universe.” Our knowledge is in conceptual form and comes from our sensory apprehension of existence and our reasoning ability. While premise 3 is true, it is so not because of any action or cause of Anderson’s magic god but because existence actually does exist. The inference from 3 to Anderson’s conclusion does not work because the way we acquire knowledge is due to our own faculties.

June 28, 2011 11:20 AM  

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