Before I reply to Cheung’s latest comments, I’d like to review how we got here. A reader at Triablogue asked me to comment on Cheung. I said that I wasn’t in much position to comment on Cheung, but from what I’d read of him he seemed to be a Clarkian. I then mentioned some of my disagreements with Clark.
Cheung wrote back and, among other things, said the following:
<< Assuming that he has indeed read much of Clark, and then given his opinion on Clark, I am guessing that his opinion of me would not be much more positive even if he were to take the time to read more of my works (although I am quite different from Clark in some aspects). >>
I then followed up with a two-part piece on Clark (entitled “Gordon Clark”), since I have read almost everything of Clark’s.
Cheung then posted a piece which seemed to be a highly elliptical reply to what I had written, or was, at least, occasioned by what I had written.
I then responded to that (in an essay entitled “Extra-scriptural scripturalism”)--to which Cheung has now offered a rejoinder of sorts.
Among other things, Cheung says the following:
<< As the above reader writes, “I think some of the things that he said were already answered by you in your blog articles. I am not sure if he reads them.” Bingo! And if there is anything unanswered in my blog articles, it is because (as I have repeated several times on this site) they are intended as supplements to my books.
I am not interested in defending my reputation or my competence, but I am concerned when readers might be misled. The simplest solution is to remind all of you that I have already dealt with all the typical criticisms in my writings (books, articles, blog), and all you need to do is to read or review them. >>
Why should I go slogging through all his books and articles and blog entries when he himself indicated that given my views of Clark, my views of his own position would not be much more positive?
I’m just taking him at his word. Is there something wrong with that? To the extent that my criticisms of Clark are applicable to Cheung, I don’t need to trudge through all his own material. He’s the one who set the bar for me. But now he wants to raise the bar.
<< Mr. H interacts with only this short blog entry as if I have presented my main or even entire case against empiricism there… >>
No, I interacted with that particular blog entry since that particular blog entry was in response to what I had written. It is eminently reasonable for my to respond to his response to me.
But that hardly commits me to responding to everything else he has written which was not in response to me. After all, it’s not as if Cheung has responded to everything I’ve written which was not in response to him.
For that matter, Cheung hasn’t even bothered to respond in detail to what I have written with him in mind--and written in response to what he wrote in response to me. So I'm still well ahead of him. He’s the one who’s falling behind, here—not me.
<< I pretty much dislike going back and forth with anybody (except in friendly conversation with my wife)…
But if I am not careful, this will begin the very back and forth deal that I wish to avoid, and that I really have no time for.
I am able to convince anyone only by the sheer rigorous rationality and precise biblical exegesis of my arguments.
Again, I have no problem in answering something that is new, something that I have never addressed, and my readers would testify that I never resort to evasive maneuvers, nor do I need to. >>
So it looks like Cheung would rather play solitaire. Well, that’s his prerogative. But to avoid the cut-and-thrust of an actual debate is hardly an example of “rigorous rationality.” Nothing is easier than to give canned answers to canned objections. This is why the dialogue format is so popular in the history of philosopher. That way, the writer can ensure that he always wins the debate by making his fictive dialogue partner just a little bit dimmer when it counts. In a real give-and-take, you can’t control the flow of the argument, but a canned give-and-take is a safe bet because the outcome is rigged from the start.
<< Many readers fail to apply the strict standards of rationality when they examine arguments and refutations. They fail to remember that not just any complaint is a valid refutation. Just like any sound argument, a refutation must have a conclusion validly deduced from true premises, and that contradicts its opponent’s position. Nothing that Mr. H wrote against me amounts to this. He gives us assertions, speculations, rhetorical questions, but no argument (refutation) that reasons from true premises to their necessary conclusion.
He has attempted several typical ad hominem points. >>
i) One thing that doesn’t amount to a rigorous refutation is when Cheung contents himself with vague, unidentified charges about “assertions, speculations, &c.” If Cheung were applying his own standards to himself, he’d spell out what assertions, what speculations, what rhetorical questions, what ad hominem arguments?
ii) Another thing that doesn’t amount to a rigorous refutation is when Cheung contents himself with referring the reader to a miscellany of his books and articles and blog entries. It is no answer to particular questions and objections to say, Go read everything I’ve ever written and see if you can pick out what may be relevant to the specific case at hand. Once again, it would be nice to see Cheung put his stated standards of “irrefutable” reasoning into practice by actually refuting a real-time critic.
iii) Posing questions is a standard form of argumentation. It is used, for example, by Paul when he employs the diatribe style. For someone who lays claim to scripturalism, why does Cheung demote this Scriptural form of argumentation?
iv) In addition, the ad hominem argument, in the sense of arguing from your opponent’s premise or presupposition, is another valid form of argumentation.
<< Now, an irrefutable position is no good when read by a moron, so it helps that my readers are not stupid.
Nothing that he wrote actually support empiricism. So even if he successfully refutes me, we would end up with skepticism at best.
He has attempted several typical ad hominem points, but I have already dealt with them in my writings — I either refute them as fallacious and irrelevant, or I swallow them down without suffering any damage to the coherence of my position. And again, an ad hominem does not amount to a positive support for empiricism. >>
i) Take very careful notice of how Cheung is trying to shift the burden of proof.
The onus is not on me to make a case for empiricism. The question is not whether empiricism is true or false. The question is not even if rationalism is true or false.
Rather, the question is the relation between rationalism and scripturalism. Clark tried to graft a rationalist epistemology (and attendant metaphysical system) onto the Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura).
The primary question is whether this relation is internally consistent. Do the form and content of Scripture cohere with a rationalist epistemology--not to mention the attendant metaphysical system?
ii) The question is further intensified by the fact that Clark tried to turn the Protestant rule of faith into the only source of knowledge. Not only is this simply at odds with the classic Protestant position, but it raises the question of how Scripture, as an external standard, can be a source of knowledge--much less the source of knowledge, unless it is an object of knowledge, and how it can be an object of knowledge on a thorough-going rationalist epistemology.
iii) Let us be very clear on what Clark’s position—as well, apparently, as Cheung’s--amounts to. They are saying that Christians should not take the sensory claims of Scripture at face value. Instead, we are "morons" unless we dump all that--and I do mean "all"--for an extremely counterintuitive--not to say, incoherent--theory of knowledge.
iv) What is more, they deny the prima facie claim of Scripture, not on Scriptural grounds, but on philosophical grounds, derived from the standard objections to empiricism in the rationalist literature.
v) If you believe this, then you must turn the whole of Scripture into an idealistic allegory. Every sensory assertion of Scripture must be converted into a nonsensory analogue. The object of faith is transferred from the propositions of Scripture, as given in Scripture, to an esoteric parallel. Scripture is treated as a ciphertext or code language, to be run through the translation software of idealism.
Frankly, this is no different from Gnostic exegesis, which sets up a one-to-one correspondence between what the Bible says and what it “really” means. So you end up with a two-track theology: there is what the Bible says, with all its sensory nouns and verbs and extended imagery, and then there is the desensitized analogue, which is taken to be the true sense.
vi) I’d add that Cheung constantly confounds sense knowledge with empiricism. But it is easy to draw a basic distinction. Scripture can, and does, affirm sense knowledge without affirming any particular theory of sense knowledge.
There is, in other words, an obvious difference between what Scripture clearly affirms as well as implies, on the one hand, and a full-blown epistemology, on the other hand. Indeed, a number of epistemic systems may be compatible with Scripture because they are underdetermined by Scripture, but consistent with what it affirms or implies as far as it goes.
Conversely, when Clark, as well--apparently, as Cheung--insist that the senses are unreliable sources of information at a global, and not merely local level, their position is interposed in the teeth of what the Bible actually says.
vii) But since Cheung continues to bring up the matter of empiricism, a couple of other observations are in order:
I grant that rationalism has landed some body blows on empiricism. However, I’d also grant that empiricism has landed some body blows on rationalism. That’s why we’ve had an ongoing debate for the last 2500 years. Neither rationalism nor radical empiricism can stand on its own two feet.
viii) In addition, the tabula rasa-cum-bundle theory of sense knowledge offered by the likes of Locke and Hume is not the only available theory or sense knowledge. There are plenty of less radical options to evaluate.
Has Cheung ever bothered to “read slowly and carefully, and REALLY try to understand” such sophisticated and nuanced works of contemporary epistemology as the following (see below), “instead of merely dismissing” the other side of the debate because of Cheung’s Clarkian “traditions or assumptions, without actual refutations?”:
Alston, W. The Reliability of Sense Perception (Cornell 1993)
_____, A Realistic Conception of Truth (Cornell (1996)
_____, Beyond “Justification” (2005)
Bonjour L. & E. Sosa. Epistemic Justification (Oxford 2003)
Plantinga, A. Warrant: the Current Debate (Oxford 1993)
_____, Warrant & Proper Function (Oxford 1993)
_____, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford 2000).
Wolterstorff, N. Thomas Reid & the History of Epistemology (Cambridge 2004)