"One naive objection to the axiom of revelation
crops up repeatedly: Don’t I have to read the Bible?
Don’t I have to know that I have a book in my
hands and that that book is the Bible? Don’t I have
to rely on the senses to obtain revelation?
First, this objection begs the epistemological
question, How does one know, by assuming that
one knows by means of the senses. But that is the
conclusion that ought to be proved. The proper
response to these questions is another series of
questions: How do you know you have a book in
your hands? How do you know that you are reading
it? What is sensation? What are perceptions? What
is abstraction? Tell us how some things called
sensations become the idea of God. The naive
question – Don’t you have to read the Bible? –
assumes that empiricism is true. It ignores all the
arguments demonstrating the cognitive failure of
There are two basic problems with this riposte:
i) How do we know the arguments demonstrating the failure of empiricism? By what means, apart from sensory perception, do we come to know what those arguments are? How do we attain an irrefutable knowledge of these irrefutable arguments?
ii) How can a Clarkian ask “How do you know you have a book in your hands?” unless a Clarkian knows what a book is, and what a hand is? How did the Clarkian acquire his knowledge of sensory objects like books and hands–without which he couldn’t formulate a skeptical question about books and hands? How did a Clarkian acquire his knowledge of the English language–without which he couldn’t formulate a skeptical question in English?
The problem is not with question of the empiricist, but the question of the Clarkian. The problem is not with what the empiricist assumes, but what the Clarkian assumes in the very process of trying to deny his operating assumption.
The Clarkian couldn’t question the existence of hands and books unless he had some prior knowledge of what these were. Does the Clarkian think we’re born with a knowledge of books and hands? Are we born knowing every book in the Library of Congress?