TF has done a peculiar post on the Clarkian/Van Tilian debate:
“There is an odd artifact I've noticed in discussions between followers of Van Til and those of Clark. For some reason, those in the camp of Van Til take great delight in pointing out that Clark used the term ‘know’ to refer to what we would call ‘know with absolute certainty.’ As such, Clark did not ‘know’ that the woman with whom he was living was his wife. Endless merriment such comments make, particularly when the quotation marks around ‘know’ are removed!”
i) To begin with, I’m not attacking Clarkian epistemology on Van Tilian grounds. That’s a separate issue. I don’t have to be a Van Tilian to find fault with Clarkian epistemology.
ii) In addition, there’s a fundamental difference between knowing something and knowing something with “absolute certainty.”
Certainty and knowledge are two different things. Certainty involves a second-order belief about a belief. To know something, and to know that you know it (i.e. to be certain of what you know) are not interchangeable. And conflating the two is one of the many problems with Scripturalism.
“But why? Is it just to goad on the followers of Clark? Is it simply for the pleasure of hearing the sound of ‘you don't know that I am even real’ or is there a deeper reason?”
i) I find it puzzling that TF would pose this question. It’s not as if Sudduth, or lesser beings like Manata and I, have to have an ulterior motive. We’ve stated on multiple occasions why we raise this objection.
ii) Apropos (i), we’re answering Clarkians on their own grounds. Surely TF doesn’t think there’s something underhanded about answering an opponent on his own grounds.
If that were the case, then TF would need to delete about 90% of his posted critiques of Roman Catholicism since, much or most of the time, TF prefers to attack Roman Catholicism on its own terms. He judges Roman Catholicism by its own standards, and finds it wanting by its own standards.
“Surely the reason cannot be that the followers of Van Til think that Clark was wrong, and that Clark could know with absolute certainty that the woman he was living with was his wife. After all, it's imaginable that his parents-in-law had identical twins, one of whom was given up at birth. By chance, this twin sister discovered her long separated twin, murdered her in a jealous rage, and took her place. We could think of even more implausible options, but this relatively simple account provides one way that a person might be mistaken about such an important issue. Is it probable? No, it's not (though, of course, Clark was justifiably uncomfortable with such a concept), but the issue is certainty, not probability.”
i) To begin with, does Scripture say a man can’t know if the woman he’s sleeping with is own wife rather than his neighbor’s wife?
If, ad arguendo, all knowledge comes from Scripture, then shouldn’t a Scripturalist begin by asking if Scripture itself denies the possibility of knowing which woman is your own wife.
ii) There’s a twofold problem with TF’s hypothetical regarding mistaken identity:
Here are two different propositions:
a) I can mistakenly believe that a woman who is not my wife is my wife.
b) I can mistakenly believe that a woman who is my wife is my wife.
These are not interchangeable propositions. How does the possibility that I might entertain an ignorant (false) belief that an imposter is my real wife entail that I also can’t know if a woman who is my wife is my wife?
The fact that I didn’t know the imposer was my wife doesn’t imply that I can’t know if my real wife is my wife.
iii) This, in turn, goes to the aforesaid distinction between knowledge and certainty.
I think what TF is really getting at is that if mistaken identity is possible, then I can’t be certain that the woman I take to be my wife is really my wife. For there’s the hypothetical possibility that my belief could be erroneous.
TF then assumes that if I can’t be certain of something, I can’t know it. But that’s an assumption he needs to defend, not take for granted.
On TF’s view, I can’t hold a true belief unless I can also hold a true belief about my true belief. But why does he think that first-order knowledge is contingent on second-order knowledge?
Because human beings have finite minds, our conscious knowledge is finite. There’s not much we can be simultaneously aware of at any given time.
So most of our knowledge is tacit. Some of our tacit knowledge is available to us. We can pull it out of the archival subconsciousness. Some of our subconscious knowledge is irretrievable.
That’s in part because we consciously form some of our beliefs, but subconsciously form other beliefs. If we subconsciously form a belief, then we are not aware of having formed that belief in the first place. In which case we were never conscious of having that belief.
While some associations enable us to retrieve subconscious beliefs, other subconscious beliefs remain subliminal in the absence of a suitable event to trigger that association.
For example, we all have buried memories which we can’t retrieve at will because we didn’t register them at the time. And unless some event happens to trigger that association, there’s no occasion to remember it. It remains inaccessible.
And some of these beliefs involve knowledge. True beliefs formed by a reliable cognitive process.
It’s possible to doubt what you know. To entertain false doubts. To suffer from artificial uncertainties because you can imagine the abstract possibility of being wrong–even though you’re not actually mistaken.
TF’s example is a good example. Does a thought-experiment about mistaken identity mean I can’t know who my real wife is? But in most cases, this hypothetical is counterfactual.
How does the counterfactual possibility that the woman I take to be my wife is really an imposter mean I can’t know who my real wife is in all those other cases where the woman I take to be my wife is, in fact, my wife?
Even if these imaginary scenarios rob me of certainty, do they thereby rob me of knowledge? Unless belief in my wife is accidental, then in what sense does my belief not count as knowledge? Was my belief the result of an unreliable process? If so, where’s the argument?
“In the end, Clark is right in saying that the only things we can know with absolute certainty are those things that are revealed to us by God (whether through general or through special revelation). The only way to be absolutely sure about something is to obtain that knowledge from an absolutely reliable source.”
i) On the face of it, Scripturalism rejects general revelation. General revelation would constitute extrascriptural information. And Scripturalism, by definition, demotes extrascriptural information to opinion or ignorance.
ii) To the extent that Scripturalism violates its own embargo on contraband sources of knowledge by smuggling innate knowledge past the checkpoint, Scripturalism ceases to distinguish itself from alternative epistemologies.
iii) If you reject memory or sensory perception as sources of knowledge, then you can’t know for sure what God has revealed–since you can’t know at all what God has revealed.
Although first-order knowledge is not dependent on second-order knowledge, second-order knowledge is dependent on first-order knowledge.
If we define certainty as knowing what you know, then if you can’t know something in the first place, you can’t very well know that you know it.
At best, “certainty” would merely refer to a psychological sense of certitude–equally consistent with true or false beliefs.
iv) Appealing to a reliable source of information is futile if you repudiate the ordinary conduits of knowledge by which we access the source.