Monday, August 22, 2016

Look ma, no hands!

This is a sequel to my prior post:

Sean Gerety8/21/2016 9:23 AM

How does Sean know he has hands?
I don’t. I opine it…

i) So, according to Scripturalist epistemology, we can't even know that we have hands. That's just an "opinion". Even though I can see my hands and feel my hands; even though I can touch one hand with another hand, even though I experience what it's like to use my hands, my belief that I have hands is just an "opinion". I don't know that I have hands. I can't know that.

ii) Given his denial of sense knowledge, how does Sean know (or does he?) what "hands" even mean?  How does he know what the word even means or refers to? 

and unlike Hays, I draw a distinction between knowledge and opinion.

i) And what is Sean's justification for claiming that I deny a distinction between knowledge and opinion? Can he quote me on that? If not, what is his evidence that I deny that distinction? Or is this just another case in which Sean makes uninformed imputations about people who disagree with him?

ii) The question at issue isn't whether there's a distinction between knowledge and opinion, but where to drawn the line. Specifically, are all beliefs based on sensory input nothing more than opinion? 

Does Sean believe we have sensory organs? If so, what's their purpose? What function did God design eyes and ears to perform?
I do believe we have sensory organs…

But since Sean rejects sense knowledge, why does he believe that we even have sensory organs? Isn't belief that we have sensory organs itself the result of sensory perception? We can sense our own senses. 

and it would seem God designed eyes and ears in order for men to better function in the world God created. 

And what function would that be if not, in part, to give us information about the physical world we inhabit? 

Then again, unlike Hays I don’t believe that beliefs alone qualify as knowledge. 

Once again, what is Sean's justification for claiming that I think beliefs alone qualify as knowledge? Can he quote me on that? If not, what is his evidence that I think beliefs alone qualify as knowledge? Or is this yet another case of Sean making uniformed imputations about people who disagree with him? 

Also, unlike Hays, I prefer not to beg the question and conclude that because God designed eyes and ears that they are therefore a means of cognition. 

i) Sean is fond of asserting that it "begs the question" to say sensory perception is a source of knowledge. But what does he mean by that? For instance, if I come home, and the furniture has been rearranged, I infer that someone rearranged the furniture in my absence. The furniture didn't rearrange itself (barring an earthquake).

But in the case of sensory perception, I don't infer that I have hands. I don't infer that there's a physical world. Rather, my senses constantly show me a physical world. That's not something I infer from experience; rather, that's something sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch present to my mind. Isn't that prima facie evidence for the existence of an external world? 

ii) If I have evidence that something is the case, and no evidence to the contrary, how is it begging the question to believe what I have evidence for? 

iii) Since Sean defines opinion as belief that falls short of knowledge, does Sean think some opinions are more reasonable than others? If so, what counts as differential evidence? Does Sean think some opinions are more likely to be true? Of does he think all opinions are equiprobable? 

iv) For instance, it's hypothetically possible that the woman Sean takes to be his wife is really an android. Maybe he married a human woman, but then the government, in a covert experiment, swapped his real wife for an android. The android appears to be his wife. The android's behavior is indistinguishable from his wife. 

Is it begging the question for Sean to believe the woman he lives with is his actual wife, and not an android? Or is Sean warranted in believing that Mrs. Gerety is his wife, absent evidence to the contrary? Likewise, unless I have reason to believe things are not as they seem to be, why is my belief that I typed this sentence using my hands mere opinion rather than knowledge? 

God made stomachs too in order to function in God’s world, but I don’t think stomachs are means to knowledge or that eating is cognitive. 

i) Surely that comparison is counterproductive to Sean's position. Our stomach doesn't show us the world in the way that our eyes and ears show us the world. 

For instance, the five senses bombard me with evidence that I'm not the only person in existence. There are other embodied persons. I can see them, hear them, touch them. 

That's not a function I assign to my sensory organs. Rather, that's feedback which my senses present to my mind. I don't infer that the purpose of my sensory organs is collect information about the physical world. Rather, that's something I directly experience. That's something my senses show me. That's an involuntary, irrepressible deliverance. 

The only alternative explanation is if this is simulated sensory input. That what I take to be the physical world is an illusion–a la idealism or virtual reality. But is it "begging the question" to think that's not the case? Or is there a presumption that what my senses present to me is real absent counterevidence? 

ii) Moreover, Sean missed the point of the analogy. Does Sean believe the function of the heart is to pump blood? Or is that "begging the question"? Does Sean believe the purpose of lungs is to oxygenate blood? Or is that "begging the question"? 

If he admits the vital function of organs like the heart and lungs, then what's the difference between that and the informative function of sensory organs? If he admits that the function of the heart is to pump blood, why does he refuse to believe the function of eyes and ears is to collect information about the physical world? 

iii) As a boy, I had a dog. Sometimes I played a game: as an experiment, I'd hide from my dog. I'd be out of sight. My dog couldn't see me. But my dog always found me. She found me by scent. It's demonstrable that different animals have different sensory acuities. How does Sean account for that if he imagines that there's no more reason to think we acquire knowledge about the world through the senses than the stomach? 

Instead, I believe “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Of course, that's metaphorical. And the meaning of figurative language is parasitic on literal language. 

What does Sean believe about the world? Does he think our organs and body parts actually exist? Or does he think God feeds delusive input into our minds to simulate the illusion of a physical world with bodies, eyes, ears, &c.?
I believe a lot of things about the world including the reality of hallucinations.

i) Since Sean denies sense knowledge, how does he detect hallucinations? What's his standard of comparison to distinguish veridical sensory perceptions from hallucinations?

ii) Is Sean insinuating that because the senses sometimes deceive us, therefore sensory perception never yields knowledge? If so, then by parity of argument, because reason sometimes deceives us, we can't ever trust our minds. So we can't know anything at all. 

I also believe that God indeed feeds delusive input into the minds of men to simulate all sorts of illusions, including the illusion that there is no God and no judgment. For a list of other delusive input God feeds into the minds of men, I think Hays can find a partial list starting in Romans 1:22ff.

That's equivocal. The question at issue isn't false beliefs about certain ideas, but whether our perception of a physical world is a global illusion. And this isn't about unbelievers in particular, but humans in general, including Christians. 

I would go a bit further and say that God’s word consists of all the propositions God has revealed to include all the necessary inferences as well. This is an important point because propositions are the meanings of a declarative sentences, the message, and while seemingly obvious, only propositions can be true or false. Sensations, whatever they may be, cannot be true or false, so it would seem that “sense knowledge” – a phrase Hays frequently uses – is either begging the question or just nonsense. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

i) Sean's objection is confused. To begin with, the question at issue is not whether sensations are true or false, but whether sensations can form the basis of true or false beliefs about the world we perceive. Is Sean unable to grasp that rudimentary distinction? If, say, I see a waitress pour a glass of milk, I believe the glass has milk because I saw her fill the glass. I don't think milk magically appeared in an empty glass. Does Sean think that's "begging the question" or "nonsense" If so, why so? 

ii) Can sensations never be true or false? Take signage. Suppose I see a male or female symbol on a public restroom. Even though that's not a verbal proposition ("declarative sentence"), it has semantic content. 

Take traffic signs. Suppose I see a sign of a deer. The sign is wordless. But it's a warning. It indicates a deer crossing. So even though it's just a "sensation" (rather than a "declarative sentence"), it's a meaningful symbol.

Take a traffic sign that says "one way" inside an arrow, pointing right or left (as the case may be). By itself, that's not true or false. If, however, it's positioned at an intersection, then it is true or false. Suppose the sign is misplaced. It indicates that's a one-way street, but it's actually a two-way street. Then the sign is false. The "sensation" is false. That's because, in this instance, the "sensation" has a semantic context. A semantic frame of reference. 

iii) What about sensations of sentences. That's symbolic discourse. Sensations organized into letters, organized into sentences, are true or false. Sensations can be structured to communicate assertions. Sensations of that kind have true value. So Sean needs to bone up on semiotics. 

Since, however, Sean denies sense knowledge, doesn't that mean he thinks colors are essentially ideas? The color red is just a concept of red?

Not sure what else colors might be other than ideas? I had a friend who couldn’t see any colors at all. Maybe he is the one seeing the world as it really is? How do I know? Unlike Hays, I try not to be so presumptuous concerning things I don’t know.

i) Sean confuses objectivity with relativity. For instance, some people suffer from food allergies. When some people eat certain foods, they have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction. Other people can consume the same food without any allergic or anaphylactic reaction. So that's person-variable. But the fact that it's relative to the person doesn't mean the food in question lacks objective properties which trigger allergic or anaphylactic reactions in some consumers. Likewise, some consumers don't have that reaction because their bodies have objective properties, like a particular enzyme. 

ii) By the same token, some physical things have a particular colorful appearance because the thing has certain objective properties, light has certain objective properties, and the visual processing system has certain objective properties. And that combination generates color. 

iii) A color can be an idea, or at least it can simulate an idea. For instance, I can imagine a red car. I can form the mental image of a red car. Likewise, if I used to own a red car, I can remember what it looked like. I can "see" the red car in my mind. In that respect, a color can be merely mental. Color can be conceptual rather than perceptual in that respect.

However, that's different than actually perceiving a red car in my field of vision. A car that's objective to me. A car that I physically observe. Color perception in that respect isn't merely mental. 

iv) If Sean thinks color is just an idea, does that mean he thinks we project the idea of color onto colorless objects? The difference between a red rose and a white rose is what color I project onto the rose?  

What does Sean make of all those Biblical commands to "write" down God's revelations, viz., Exod 17:14, 34:1,27; Deut 17:18, 27:3,8; 31:19, Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; 36:2,28; Ezk 24:2; 43:11; Lk 1:3; Rev 1:11,19, 21:5. ? That means committing the word of God to writing. Paper and ink (or papyrus or velum or stone).
I would refer Hays to what he wrote above and that God’s word “isn’t paper and ink, but the message.” 

i) That misses the point. Why does God command prophets to commit his revelations to writing unless written words constitute a source of knowledge regarding what God revealed? If you want to know what God revealed, you need to read (or hear) the sentences. The sentences are physical objects. Perceptual objects. But they convey information to the mind.

Prophets are commanded to write, while their audience is commanded to read, or listen to what's read aloud. That's how people learn what God has said. That's how people know the word of God. By seeing sentences or hearing sentences.  

ii) That's the irony of Scripturalism. Scripturalists don't take Scripture as their point of departure. Their epistemology isn't based on Scripture. No one who began with statements like Lev 24:7; Deut 17:19; Josh 8:34-35; Neh 8:1,3; Mt 12:3,5; Mt 19:4; 21:6,42; 22:31; 24:15; 2 Cor 1:13; Col 4:16; 1 Tim 4:13, and Rev 1:3 would deny the possibility of sense knowledge. 


  1. Deuteronomy 18:21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
    22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

    Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
    16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
    17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
    18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
    19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
    20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    If anything is anti-scriptural or anti-revelational, it would be the words of false prophets. Yet Scripture says we can know these men by the fruitlessness of their words and then act accordingly. Sean and others need to broaden their understanding of what it can mean to know something.

    On another note, I found his comment you quote from your last post interesting:

    "Hays doesn't explain how he knows he has a bible in his hands? He just assumes the very thing he needs to prove."

    I wonder if Sean realizes that in saying you need to prove you have a Bible in your hands in order to know it, he seems to be suggesting either or both of the following:

    1) Proof is needed in order know anything

    a) if he's not suggesting this, Sean needs to spell out why Steve needs to prove a Bible in his hands in order to know he has a Bible in his hands.
    b) if he's suggesting this - as John Robbins did, contra Clark - how can he know the Bible is God's word? How does he prove that? Or does he not prove that and just opine it? If so, then how can Sean know any of his beliefs, given he starts with an unjustified (on his view) opinion? If he can't, then on Sean's own grounds, he obviously can't know proof is needed in order to know anything.

    2) In order to know anything, you must be able to access your epistemic justification and explain how you know it.

    a) if he's not suggesting this, Sean needs to spell out how Steve is begging the question just because he doesn't explain how he knows he has a Bible in his hands (even though Steve actually does that in this post).
    b) if he's suggesting this, then whether he realizes it or not, Sean is a thoroughgoing internalist. That would be interesting because Sean denies self-knowledge. So how could Sean explain how *he* knows anything? If he can't, then can't he know his internalist constraint is true, and for all he knows, Steve could very possibly know he has a Bible in his hands without having to explain how he knows it (cf. Matthew 24:32).

  2. Sean Gerety

    "God made stomachs too in order to function in God’s world, but I don’t think stomachs are means to knowledge or that eating is cognitive."

    Actually, there's extensive communication between our gastrointestinal system and our nervous systems. Indeed, the gastrointestinal system is in part regulated by the autonomic nervous system which can be further subdivided between sympathetic and parasympathetic innervations as well as the enteric nervous system.

    Take, for example, how our stomachs tell our brains that we're satiated vs. hungry. Broadly speaking, the arcuate nucleus has neurons which project onto the satiety feeding centers. Anorexigenic neurons release pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) which in turn cause decreased appetite, whereas the orexigenic neurons release neuropeptide Y which in turn cause increased appetite. And this doesn't even detail several other substances involved in appetite (e.g. insulin, leptin, ghrelin). Let alone many other complexities.

    However, if Gerety is correct, then how would we know we're hungry or full? Is the sense of hunger or satiety even accurate or reliable?

  3. The more Scripturalists argue the more they dig themselves in a hole.

  4. Scripturalism fails for many reasons. Our knowledge of the meaning of words doesn't come from Scripture; yet the propositions of Scripture can only be known by first knowing the meaning of words. Derivations of doctrines not only utilize words not defined by Scripture but propositions not contained in Scripture. Of course we can go one and on but it's sufficient to notice that if Scripturalism were true, nobody could know it.

    But even if we give Scripturalism a pass on its internal inconsistencies, there remains one enormous complaint regarding the limitations it places on other sources of knowledge. These limitations are arbitrary, inconsistent and even deny what Scripture presupposes.

    Scripturalism recognizes that a Bible might contain misprints. Accordingly, at least for the Scripturalist, *Scriptural* truth does not ultimately rely upon it being contained in some black book called "the Bible" but that it's believed by God that the proposition in question is not just true but that it is in fact Scripture. So, one doesn't know John 3:16 is true because it's published by Zondervan. Rather, one can know it because of the persuasive work of the Spirit. The Spirit is able to persuade men of Scriptural truth. No controversy there I trust.

    Regarding Scripturalism's limits on knowledge, the only question is whether Scripture itself denies that propositions of the non-Scriptural sort are knowable. A few questions. Can non-Scripture be true? Can it believed? Can the Spirit persuade men of the truth of such things? I cannot see why not. In fact, the Scriptures presuppose as much.

    This is where some Scripturalists (i) begin making fun of the persuasive work of the Spirit - likening it to indigestion; (ii) confuse conditions for the knowledge of p not only with proof for the knowledge p but with the knowledge of the knowledge of p; then finally, (iii) revert back to pointing to the axiom that only Scripture is knowable - while ignoring not only the internal inconsistencies of the axiom but also while not reconciling that internalist constraint with their own lack of knowledge that the Bible in hand is in fact Scripture. Scripturalism points to Scripture as being all that is knowable, but where can the Scripturalist point to find that body of Scripture?

    If consistent, the Scripturalist is left to posit that a particular text is indeed Scripture, then must await confirmation from the Spirit. Note well. It's not just his belief that needs justification but the *truth* of the very proposition in view needs justification. Whether it's true cannot be settled by simply picking up a book that might contain error.

    Scripturalism is left with the proposition known by John 3:16 no less than with the personal proposition "I exist." And although the former is in every Bible I've picked up, how does Scripturalism account for it being Scripture? The question is, can God persuade a man of the truth of either? Why not both?

    Scripturalists must show,

    p: it is false that one can be as justified in believing some non-Scriptural true proposition than believing the most difficult proposition from Scripture, that p*.

  5. If I don't know I exist, then I don't know that I sin (since sin presupposes existence). If I don't know that I sin, then I cannot seek forgiveness for sins I know I've committed. I can only seek forgiveness for possible sins I've possibly committed. By the nature of the case, I must believe I might not have committed any sins at all. Ever. I must believe that it's at least possible, even minimally so but possible just the same, that I'm righteous having no need of salvation.

    The Scripturalist has no epistemic claim on "for all have sinned" because a Scripturalist doesn't know he is a person, let alone a person who has sinned. Not even God can persuade the Scripturalist by the Scripturalist's standards since all objects of truth are contained in the elusive concept of "Scripture."