Sunday, August 23, 2015

Proving first principles

I'll make another comment on Beisner's case for Carkian apologetics:

Given the centrality of the Bible in Clarkian epistemology, how do Clarkians know and/or show that the Bible is, in fact, the word of God? How do they establish their axiom or first principle? 

1. The Bible claims to be God-breathed.
2. All explanations of the claim other than its truth are untenable.
3. All attempts to refute the claim by pointing to specific errors in the Bible fail.
4. Therefore we are justified in believing that the Bible is true and God-breathed.

Beisner doesn't explain why a Clarkian should accept the self-witness of the Bible, but reject the self-witness or the Koran or Swedenborg's Arcana Cœlestia.

(2) for the truthfulness of the Bible. But he would remind us that particular premises–which are the most that can be established by historical evidence–cannot validly yield universal conclusions, and that therefore the proper use of historical evidence is not to prove that the Bible is the Word of God but to disprove allegations of errors in it. 

So historical evidence doesn't provide positive evidence for the claims of Scripture. Rather, it merely cancels putative evidence to the contrary. 

(3) Indeed, fulfilled prophecy is an example of the logical consistency of the whole Bible. If the Bible contained prophecies that went finally unfulfilled (and we could know of some such because their time horizons have expired), that would entail internal contradiction in the Bible and would be inconsistent with its self- description as the Word of God. But fulfilled prophecies illustrate the Bible’s consistency. 

So fulfilled prophecy doesn't provide positive evidence for the claims of Scripture. It merely illustrates the "consistency" of Scripture. Inconsistency would falsify the claims of Scripture, but consistency falls short of validating the claims of Scripture. Inconsistency would be positive counterevidence, but consistency is consistent with either truth or falsehood. Neutral. 

But if Beisner doesn't think historical evidence, the argument from prophecy, or the argument from miracles furnishes positive evidence for the claims of Scripture, then what's left? He appeals to the witness of the Spirit (WCF 1.5). And up to a point I think that's a legitimate appeal. However:

i) That's not a distinctive of Clarkian epistemology. Different apologetic methodologies can include the witness of the Spirit. Indeed, that's a type of argument from religious experience. 

ii) That appeal would only work for defensive apologetics, not offensive apologetics. Since unbelievers lack that experience, it can't be evidence for them. 

So how would a Clarkian apologist reason with an unbeliever? In typical Clarkian epistemology, there are only two kinds of beliefs: knowledge and unjustified opinion. If, however, the witness of the Spirit is the only way we can know that the Bible is the word of God, if all other lines of evidence reduce to unjustified opinion, then how does a Clarkian apologist enable the unbeliever to bridge the chasm?  

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