Saturday, March 18, 2006

More Scripturalist Mumbo Jumbo

A Response to Anthony Coletti:
More Scripturalist Mumbo Jumbo
by: Michael Sudduth

On the Puritan Discussion Board, Anthony Coletti (AC) has attempted to show that the self-referential inconsistency argument against certain forms of epistemic scripturalism is fatally flawed. AC’s criticism is situated in the context of the following account of self-referential inconsistency, provided by another interlocutor:

‘The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy’ states that self-referential incoherency is “an internal defect of an assertion or theory, which it possesses provided that (a) it establishes some requirement that must be met by assertions or theories, (b) it is itself subject to this requirement, and (c) it fails to meet this requirement”. p.826.

Aquascum and I have argued that certain forms of epistemic scripturalism are self-referentially inconsistent given this view of self-referential inconsistency. AC attempts to deflect these criticisms as follows:

AC: But lets look at the quote. It appears that a self-referential incoherent system must meet the following criteria: (a) it establishes some requirement that must be met by assertions or theories, Does Scripturalism say that we can justify the truth of “the Scripture is true”? Nope. We can believe it. We can not “know” it. We can not deduce an axiom from within a system without committing the fallacy of begging the question or circular reasoning.

Sudduth: It would appear that AC Scripturalist has misunderstood the nature of the criticism he is trying to dislodge. First, the self-referential criticism is directed toward what I have designated rocky-road epistemic scripturalism. Secondly, the criticism is that rocky-road scripturalism lays out a *criterion* for knowledge that is not satisfied by the criteriological
statement itself, but the criteriological statment is subject to this epistemic requirement.

The “rocky-road” epistemic scripturalist package entails:

[1] No extra-Biblical proposition is an item of human knowledge.
&
[2] We can know that [1].

Note that I have elsewhere contrasted rocky-road epistemic scripturalism with vanilla epistemic scripturalism which just asserts [1], not [1] and [2].

The self-referential inconsistency argument is directed toward rocky-road scripturalism, which hitherto is clearly the position avocated by individuals like Robbins and Cheung. Insofar as the self-referential inconsistency problem is applicable to epistemic scripturalism, Aquascum and I have both directed it toward rocky-road epistemic scripturalism.

The self-referential inconsistency argument then takes shape once we add:

[3] [1] is an extra-Biblical proposition.

Notice, [1] lays out a criterion for knowledge. [2] asserts that the criteriological statement itself satisfies this criterion. The conjunction of [1] and [3] entails that the criteriological statement does not satisfy its own criterion of knowledge, and so [2] (or [3]) is false.

Return to AC’s observation: “Does Scripturalism say that we can justify the truth of “the Scripture is true”? Nope. We can believe it. We can not “know” it. We can not deduce an axiom from within a system without committing the fallacy of begging the question or circular reasoning.

Now either this observation is wholly irrelevant to the above criticism or AC incorrectly assumes that the self-referential inconsistency criticism depends on the premise:

(*) Scripturalism can justify the statement that [the scripture is true].

But the criticism above does not depend on (*) at all. It rests on the premise that the second-order or meta-level *epistemic* claim [there is no extra-biblical knowledge] - a part of the rocky-road scripturalist package - is not a deliverance of Scripture, and hence cannot be known to be true given rocky-road scripturalism’s own criterion of knowledge. Whether this meta-level claim is an axiom or not is neither here nor there for the purposes of the cogency of the critique as directed toward rocky-road epistemic scripturalism.

Recall that we’re dealing with “an internal defect of an assertion or theory, which it possesses provided that (a) it establishes some requirement that must be met by assertions or theories, (b) it is itself subject to this requirement, and (c) it fails to meet this requirement”. p.826.

(a) is satisfied by virtue of [1], for [1] makes being a deliverance of scripture a necessary conditon for knowledge. (c) is satisfied given that [3] is true. This leaves us only with (b), but if [2] is true, then (b) is satisfied by the rocky-road epistemic scripturalist’s own admission.

Now perhaps what AC *meant* to say is that the critique rests on premise [2] above, but the scripturalist doesn’t assert [2]. Well, *a* scripturalist might not wish to assert [2]. Indeed, the upshot of the critique in question is that he shouldn’t. But in that case, he would not be a *rocky-road* epistemic scripturalist. But this obviously true observation (which Aquascum and I have both already explicitly noted in our critique of rocky-road epistemic scripturalism) has no bearing on the cogency of the argument for the self-referential inconsistency of rocky-road epistemic scripturalism.

AC: So the axiom is not subject to this requirement. What about the the propositions of Scripture themselves? Are there any false propositions of Scripture? If you give me a Scriptural proposition that says Scripture is false, then this would be incoherent and Scripturalism fails. If you can show me a false Scriptural propositions, you must first assume Scripture can be false and thereby presume Scripturalism is false.

Sudduth: This is a red herring. Whether [1] above is an axiom or a theorem is irrelevant. Finding a scriptural proposition that says that Scripture is false is equally irrelevant. AC simply has lost sight of the argument in question and has gone off on a tangent. All that matters is that [1] and [2] are both *asserted* as elements in the scripturalist package. If so, then - given
the truth of [3] - the jig is up.

Perhaps AC doesn’t wish to assert both [1] and [2]. If so, good for him. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that the original argument was directed toward scripturalists who *do* hold to [1] and [2]. Aquascum directed his arguments toward Cheung. Cheung is, for reasons carefully developed by Aquascum, a rocky-road scripturalist.

AC: (c) it fails to meet this requirement”. (b) is not required by the axiom, so (c) does not apply. And since no proposition of Scripture says Scripture is false, then nothing in the system fails this requirement. Ergo, Scripturalism IS self-referential coherent.

Sudduth: First, AC has conveniently altered the kind of scripturalism the original argument was targeting. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the problem of self-referential inconsistency can be avoided by the scripturalist if he adopts vanilla epistemic scripturalism, simply holding
[1] without [2]. While this avoids the self-referential problem, it does generate other problems (which I have noted elsewhere), but sufficient for the day are the criticisms thereof. Secondly, at best, AC has only shown that a premise in the argument against the self-referential consistency of scripturalism is false, namely the critic takes (b) to be satisfied but in
fact it isn’t. This doesn’t amount to a proof that scripturalism is *coherent.* It only proves that the reasons presented for supposing that scripturalism is self-referentially inconsistent are not good enough reasons for supposing this. This doesn’t suffice to show that the negation of the
original argument’s conclusion is true. AC has conflated rebutting and undercutting defeaters.

AC: The reason Aquascum argument fails so completely is he is apparently ignorant of the fact that every system of knowledge, without exception, must start with axioms. This can be shown simply by asking “how do you know?” two or three times until you either travel in a circle (tautology) or reach the axiom which can not be proven from any a priori true propositions within the system.

Sudduth: Neither Aquascum nor I are ignorant of AC’s freshman observation. AC is, however, apparently unware of the irrelevance of this point to the criticism of scripturalism he is trying to defuse. As argued above, the self-referential inconsistency argument against rocky-road scripturalism does not rely on a denial that one must have axioms. It doesn’t even hold that
one must know the axioms or justify them in some way. The argument only holds that a scripturalist who holds [1] and [2] is in serious trouble, that is if [3] is true. AC has done absolutely nothing to defeat *that* argument.

The scripturalist will of course point out that the critic hasn’t proven (to the scripturalist’s satisfaction) that [3] is true. Of course not, but then again the self-referential inconsistency of rocky-road epistemic scripturalism doesn’t require proving to the scripturalist that [3] is true.
Indeed, I’m at a loss to see how that can be done given the scripturalist’s epistemically inflexible commitment to [1] and [2]. How exactly do I prove to a person that his head will not shatter into thousands of pieces if I tap it with an ice-pick if the person is firmly convinced that his head is made of blown glass? I doubt I can. But that’s no defect of mine as I far as I
can see.

Anyhow, none of this should obscure the basic challenge to rocky-road epistemic scripturalism. A person who contends that his epistemological theory is supported by Scripture ought to meet the obligation of backing this up with argument, especially since he holds his opponents to a similar standard. The problem for rocky-road scripturalism is not that its critics have proven that the scripturalist epistemological claims are not deliverances of Scripture. The problem is that rocky-road scripturalists have not proven that their epistemological claims *are* supported by Scripture. Cheung and Robbins have each attempted this, but as Aquascum and I have both
argued, their arguments leave much to be desired since they invariably rely on yet further assumptions whose Biblical basis needs to be established.

Of course, a rocky-road scripturalist, frustrated with his inability to prove the Biblical basis of his epistemological claims, can go vanilla and simply refuse to present any Biblical argument for his basic epistemological claims. In this way, he can limit knowledge to the deliverances of Scripture on the basis of epistemological assumptions that he has no reason to believe are themsleves Biblical. He can tether his entire “system of truth” to meta-level assumptions that
float free from Scripture. He can do this, if he pleases. However, having no Biblical reason to believe that all knowledge is restricted to Scripture is a mute man’s song. It is at best little more than an exercise in intellectual high jinx. At worst, it’s just as epistemically self-defeating as rocky-road scripturalism.

Michael Sudduth

7 comments:

  1. You might notice that the argument I made was against the idea the Scripturalism has been defeated. Apparently I was correct, only rocky-road Scripturalism has been defeated. Aquascum and you have presented a very fine-tuned formulation of Scripturalism that is incoherent. But I was defending Scripturalism in general, not the rocky-road strawman flavor. :)

    Since Scripturalism still stands undefeated, I feel even better about my post. Thanks! :D

    Anthony Coletti

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  2. Anthony,

    Quiz time...

    Define 'Scripturalism in general'.

    What does Dr. Sudduth mean by 'rocky-road epistemic Scripturalism' in the article you are commenting on?

    How does 'Scripturalism in general' differ from the three different types of Scripturalism that Dr. Sudduth has defined? Or what other characteristic enables 'Scripturalism in general' to evade the force of both his and Aquascum's critiques? Remember there's alethic, rocky-road epistemic, and vanilla epistemic Scripturalism.

    Don Jones

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  3. Anthony,

    Your jubilation might be more than a tad bit premature.

    If you claim to be defending a version of Scripturalism that neither I nor Aquascum were targeting in our critique, your protracted critical comments on our critique have been highly misleading since you seemed to be presenting a critique of our actual arguments. As far as I can see, it's no defect of an argument that it fails to prove what it doesn't intend or claim to prove.

    Secondly, your comments above ignore the fact that I have offered arguments against both rocky-road *and* vanilla Scripturalism. Your can of course assert that "only" rocky-road scripturalism has been defeated, but absent an engagement with my actual arguments, this remains little more than an assertion. There simply is no argument to critique.

    Related, your claim to defend scripturalism *in general* strikes me as fairly vacuous, for I have yet to see any clear and coherent account of this generic form of scripturalism, much less a systematic explanation of how it relates to the forms of scripturalism that you now apparently admit Aquascum and I have refuted.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Scripturalism - first off it's a theory of knowledge based on revelation. The axiom of Scripturalism is Scripture. An argument for Scripturalism might go as follows:

    1) All knowledge is God's thinking.
    2) All knowledge available to men is revelation.
    3) The Scriptures are God's revelation - basically they are God's thoughts revealed to man.

    Conclusion: Since God's thoughts are knowledge, then the Scripturalist theory of knowledge is: all the revealed truths of Scripture, and what can be deduced therefrom - are knowledge.

    The "rocky-road" formulation say that nothing that is not from Scripture can be human knowledge. However, I think the problem is a mis-formulation of Scripturalism. Knowledge is not limited to the Bible according to Gordon Clark. The problem is that it is impossible to justify a proposition as knowledge apart from Scripture. It may be knowledge - but how would you know?

    Dr. Sudduth did not really define any other types of Scripturalism in this article.

    The difference between Scripturalism in general, and the strawman versions given are apparent. They are constructed for destruction. At most, they reveal minor flaws in arguments for Scripturalism by showing the if one uses Dr. Sudduth's "rocky-road" version - it is "self-referentially incoherent". But since his highly tuned version is not the axiom Scripturalism, then the arguments have left Scripturalism undefeated.

    If you look back at the thread on the Puritan Board, the claim was a quote of Aquascum, that the "Scripturalism is self-referentially incoherent." And several posters made that same claim. It's parroted about that "Scriptural" has been defeated by Aquascum. But as Dr. Sudduth has said on this blog, that a is a *very* specific formulation he calls "rocky-road" Scripturalism is incoherent. My point over and over was that is correct - "rocky-road" maybe incoherent, but it is *not* the *axiom* of Scripturalism.

    See http://www.puritanboard.com/forum/viewthread.php?tid=16749&page=1


    Anthony Coletti

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dr. Sudduth,

    See my above comments. Feel free to target all the "versions" you want. But you might want to remind people that it is only a specific version.

    I don't think it bears repeating since you mention it 21 times in you post that you were arguing against "rocky-road" and that horse is pretty dead now.

    If you feel unsatisfied with "rocky-road" and "vanilla", it might be good to look at the axiom itself. "God's Word is true" and what can be deduced from it by "good and necessary consequences". You might want to talk about "freshmen" ideas like axioms also - since that idea seems strikingly absent from you arguments - but is fundamental to Gordon Clark's revelational epistemology.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anthony,

    According to your version of Scripturalism, Scripture is necessary to justify claims to knowledge (as opposed to being necessary for knowledge). Fair enough, though the generic idea
    needs considerable spelling out.

    Do note, though, that I outlined this version of scripturalism several years ago. I classified it as "second-order epistemic scripturalism" because it makes Scripture necessary for our being justified or warranted in epistemic beliefs or claims. So you aren't informing me of a position I haven't already considered and discussed to some degree. So my complete taxonomy of Scripturalist views includes your position.

    That being said, I don't think this is the version of Scripturalism advocated by the likes of Robbins and Cheung, though admittedly these authors so lack in clarity when discussing epistemology that it *could* be their position for all I know. But I'd have to see an argument for this.

    As for your linking your view to Clark, this seems somewhat more plausible based on comments Clark makes in the final chapter of *A Christian View of Men and Things.*
    Robbins though would not share your view, unless his commentary on this passage in Clark has changed since he lectured me on it several years ago.

    Sudduth of Antioch

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  7. Anthony,

    You wrote:
    "If you look back at the thread on the Puritan Board, the claim was a quote of Aquascum, that the "Scripturalism is self-referentially incoherent." And several posters made that same claim. It's parroted about that "Scriptural" has been defeated by Aquascum."

    Well, given the *context* of Aquascum's claim, pretty clearly what he *meant* was the Scripturalism of Cheung, which Cheung calls Scripturalism.

    Again, you write:

    "But as Dr. Sudduth has said on this blog, that a is a *very* specific formulation he calls "rocky-road" Scripturalism is incoherent. My point over and over was that is correct - "rocky-road" maybe incoherent, but it is *not* the *axiom* of Scripturalism."

    Again, rocky-road scripturalism is not *your* version of Scripturalism, but you have yet to show that neither Cheung nor Robbins holds to rocky-road scripturalism, much less that no one at all holds to it.

    So your points about your version of Scripturalism may be entirely correct, but entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    Sudduth of Antioch

    ReplyDelete