Friday, December 07, 2007

The Diversity Thesis

Some have said that the "Diversity Thesis" DT is a strong reason to accept moral relativism. DT states that it is an empirical fact that different cultures (or people) have different morals. This shows that ethics are relative.

But it so happens that relativism is also compatible with a Unification Thesis UT. Say that the world evolved to such a point that everyone held to the same ethical principles. That's the UT thesis. Would this prove ethics were not relative? No, the relativist could say. An example might be helpful: Currently there is a DT about which side of the road is the correct side to drive on. But we could easily become unified on this - bringing about a UT. Would this mean that there was some objective fact about the correct side of the road to drive on? No. Likewise, even if we were in an empirical situation where the UT held, the relativist need not be refuted. Relativism is compatible with both the DT and the UT.

Moreover, the DT can be accepted by the non-relativist too. Say that a secularist maintains that we need to be taught the correct ethical position, just like we are taught about math. But, due to any number of various factors, societies have slacked in their teaching duties. Or, take the Christian theist. If one combines the fallen nature of man with the creative nature of man, one could point out that not only is the DT true, it would be expected to be true in this postlapsarian state.

Thus the DT is consistent with both ethical relativism and ethical objectivism. And, it's contradictory doesn't negate either relativism or objectivism.

It seems like the DT is consistent with contrary positions.

The DT has been put forward as an argument for relativism, but we saw that its negation need not count against relativism.

And, the DT could be put forward as empirical confirmation of a system of thought that entails ethical objectivism too (in the above case of Christian theism, for example).

It seems to me that the DT can't do the work the relativist wants it to do. The DT doesn't deny ethical objectivism or ethical relativism. And, it doesn't affirm it either (i.e., since people may be mistaken; e.g., wrong answers on a math test don't prove that math is relative).

Maybe Flew, "in his prime" ;-), offers something helpful here: "If there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not really an assertion. [...] A fine brash hypothesis may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications."


  1. But what about pre-biotic microbes?

    DT to the PT?

  2. Dr.,

    That will be covered in this post's one year anniversary post, stay tuned.


  3. Very good points in the above, Paul. I've read a number of books that cover that subject, and none of them contain that observation.

    Also, I hope this isn't too off topic, but I was wondering if you could recommend to me some books (or whatever else you think might be helpful) on presuppositional apologetics (PA). I am fairly well versed in philosophy, so I am not really looking for introductory-level works, but those that you would consider to be PA's best foot foward. Now, a lot of people have told me that Greg Bahnsen's 'Van Til's Apologetic' is the best, most complete work on the topic; would you agree with that? Do you differ with Bahnen on any signifigant points? If so, could you maybe briefly list them?

    I thank you for your time.

    P.S. I am equally open to suggestions from the other Triabloggers as well, if they care to offer their thoughts. You guys run a great blog, and I would value any input.

  4. Greg,

    I am not one of the Triabloguers, but like you, I am a fan of the site.

    First, PA has its primary foundation in Scripture. So, I am sure that John Frame's "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God" would be very good.

    Secondly, P&R recently put out a work called "Revelation and Reason" with several contributors. This book goes into both exegesis and philosophy. [Especially useful in terms of application of PA was John Frame's chapter on God's Aseity and its implications for apologetics.] However, this work assumes that you have somewhat of a working knowledge of PA.

    Third, Van Til's Apologetic goes through just about everything.

    However, my one complaint with most of the Presupp. Apologists (esp. Van Til himself) is that the sub-arguments of the Transcendental Argument (TA) are far too abstract. So, one book by Victor Reppert, "C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea", argues the Argument from Reason (AfR) which can easily be converted into a sub-argument for the TA.

    While you're waiting for the books to arrive, you should read a few papers which can be found online:

    [Very, very good in my opinion:]
    "The Contingency of Knowledge and Revelatory Theism" by R.M. Manion

    "If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til" by James Anderson

    [and posted on this blog:]
    "The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch" by James Anderson

    [and of course, we can't forget:]
    "A Brief Presuppositional Analysis of Buddhism" by Paul Manata

    Hope that helps. :)

    In Christ,
    Saint and Sinner

  5. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the comments.

    In regards to your question about PA books. I'd actually recommend you read Van Til in the original - read all his books: The Defense of the Faith, Christian Apologetics, Introduction to Systematic Theology, etc.,

    I'd recommend Bahnsen's book on Van Til since there are some readings by Van Til VT that are hard to find, and, he offers some helpful clarification (or, perspective) on what you've read in Van Til, and he offers a sympathetic analysis of VT as well as defending him/ presuppositionalism against some objections.

    I'd also read Frame's books (the Doctrine books too, if you can) Apologetics to the Glory of God and CVT: An Analysis of his thought. Frame is more critical (but is friendly) of Van Til and more original in his thinking that Bahsnen is, I think.

    Then, of course, there is the new "trilogy" by Oliphint. Oliphint tries to make his work more contemporary and tries to follow the analytic tradition more than the above three. The first book is something you might skip. It's Oliphint's attempt to show the biblical foundations/verses for a presuppositional approach. As with Bahnsen, I think much of the verses he uses can't be shown to have the exegetical intent he's using them for. The second book is Revelation and Reason, his third is Reasons for Faith.

    For me, I could list a lot of disagreements, qualifications, etc., that I'd make, but for a quick snapshot at a couple: I think I'd disagree with Bahnsen's "silver bullet" claim about TAG. That is, that he has demonstrated "the impossibility of the contrary." I also wouldn't follow Bahnsen's analysis of knowledge. I can't quite nail him, but he seemed to me to not be too sure about where he stood (was he an externalist, internalist? Was JTB necessary and sufficient, etc? But this coud easily be cleaned up with no detriment to presuppositionalism (e.g., see some of James Anderson's stuff). I'd disagree with Frame (unless he's changed his mind here) that a TA (transcendental argument) is not a distinctive kind of argument from, say, what Aquinas did. I'd disagree with some of Oliphint's critiques of Plantinga. Also, some of his objections to Natural Theology have been (will be) answered quite ably by Michael Sudduth (stay on the lookout for his book on The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology, possibly out in '08).

  6. Saint and Sinner,

    I appreciate the endorsement, but I wrote that thing on Buddhism after I had been a Christian for only two years. I barely studied Buddhism and based my critique of some American dude's article I found on the web. I started thinking it wasn't too good a couple years ago, and then Michael Sudduth emailed me and made some comments which solidified my assumptions. The critiques I gave there, most of them, were, IMO, quite sophomoric. The Buddhist position is much more sophisticated than I made it out to be.

  7. Greg, I should add that I took the basic idea of my criticism from Mark Timmons' book Moral Theory. He didn't intend his comments there to be a critique, he just pointed out that the negation of DT wouldn't entail the falsity of relativism.

  8. Thank yoU Paul for your book recommendations and your thoughts about PA

  9. Saint & Sinner, Paul, thank you both for the recommendations.

    Paul said: "In regards to your question about PA books. I'd actually recommend you read Van Til in the original - read all his books: The Defense of the Faith, Christian Apologetics, Introduction to Systematic Theology, etc."

    Interesting. You're actually the first person who's suggested this. Up until now I've experienced pretty much a consensus that one should start with Bahnsen's VT work, and from there work one's way back to the Tilster himself. The reason given being that VT is "just so hard to read." After a few people saying the same thing, I was beginning to wonder if perhaps Van Til wrote in Yiddish or something. I will take your advice, though.

    Also, I listened to two debates tonight: Doug Wilson's debate with Dan Barker and your debate with Barker. Man, you did a really great job! You covered a lot more ground than Wilson (though Wilson's certainly no slouch), and decisively crushed Barker's points. It was kinda funny though -- Finley's tone there toward the end suggested that maybe he didn't think the debate was such a good idea after all. :o I wonder if Barker could see enough through his swollen eyes to realize he lost? Either way, your debate was a blessing to listen to. Thanks for participating in it.

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