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:
 No extra-Biblical proposition is an item of human knowledge.
 We can know that .
Note that I have elsewhere contrasted rocky-road epistemic scripturalism with vanilla epistemic scripturalism which just asserts , not  and .
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:
  is an extra-Biblical proposition.
Notice,  lays out a criterion for knowledge.  asserts that the criteriological statement itself satisfies this criterion. The conjunction of  and  entails that the criteriological statement does not satisfy its own criterion of knowledge, and so  (or ) 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 , for  makes being a deliverance of scripture a necessary conditon for knowledge. (c) is satisfied given that  is true. This leaves us only with (b), but if  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  above, but the scripturalist doesn’t assert . Well, *a* scripturalist might not wish to assert . 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  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  and  are both *asserted* as elements in the scripturalist package. If so, then - given
the truth of  - the jig is up.
Perhaps AC doesn’t wish to assert both  and . 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  and . 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
 without . 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  and  is in serious trouble, that is if  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  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  is true.
Indeed, I’m at a loss to see how that can be done given the scripturalist’s epistemically inflexible commitment to  and . 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
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.