Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hearing a broken record


“Fellas, I think you are starting to sound like a broken record.”

That’s because we’re responding to a broken record.

“It seems like charity requires that at some point you should grant their assertions and steer around the topography they have laid out.”

Grant their assertions? Surely you jest. If they make a string of unjustifiable assertions, I’m not going to grant their assertions.

“Granted, Clark and his followers are coy about laying out certain elements listed above explicitly; but this is my best effort to put into words what seems to be going on with the replies they give.”

Is this a statement of your own position? Or is this an attempt to improve on the conventional formulation of Scripturalism so that we can evaluate the strongest version of Scripturalism?

“But simply beating the dead horse of "you can't know this and therefore cannot talk about it" seems unhelpful.”

I disagree. It’s the Scripturalist who has put the issue of what is knowable front and center. Limiting knowledge to what you can account for is central to the Scripturalist claim. Limiting knowledge to what’s deducible from Scripture is central to the Scripturalist claim.

It’s quite helpful to point out that the Scripturalist can’t make good on his central claims. I’m not going to let him off the hook just to be charitable. For one thing, that would be rather patronizing. No, I’ll hold him to his claims.

I’m happy to interact with your working draft of Scripturalism on its own terms. But I don’t regard that as supplanting the formulations of Gerety or Robbins.

1. A system of thought is a system of propositions.
2. Logic is the transcendental structure of thought; it cannot be denied without denying thought itself. We think, and thus, think logically, because that is the structure of God's mind, and we are made in his image.
3. A system of thought must include axioms.
4. Our set of axioms is, the propositions contained in the Bible.
5. No proposition can be known to be true by empirical verification.
6. The propositions in the Bible can be known because the sensory stimulation "reminds" us of propositions that are planted in our minds directly by God (Plato, Augustine).
7. Beyond this, it is necessary to form beliefs based on sensory stimulation, and assert those beliefs to live as a human.
8. The beliefs in (7) do not rise to the level of certainty, per (5).
9. The mark of the beliefs in (7) is (a) they have the form of propositions, but (b) though not "known" to be true, they can be uttered in terms of a principle of sincerity and integrity, and when so uttered, function as true propositions; i.e. the mark of this class of proposition is how such propositions function ethically as utterances of responsible agents. In terms of that ethic, syllogisms can be formed that mingle (i) propositions known to be true and (ii) propositions not known to be true, but which are uttered with sincerity, and which may be taken to function as propositions known to be true with that caveat.
10. The statements 1-9 are verified either by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, or are necessary and inescapable deliverances of thought.

Let’s run back through these:

#2.Two problems:

i) That assertion sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can know that God exists. He must account for that truth-claim.

ii) Likewise, appeal to the imago Dei is a tacit appeal to Scriptural teaching on the imago Dei. That sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can know Scripture–given his constraints on what is knowable.

#3.Two problems:

i) When you say a system of truth must include axioms, is that claim deducible from Scripture?

ii) Wouldn’t an axiomatic model fall prey to conventional objections to classical foundationalism?

#4.What about logical axioms? An axiomatic system can’t get very far without logical axioms. Are they supplied by Scripture. Or do they constitute extrascriptural axioms?

#5.Two problems:

i) Does Scripture say no propositions can be empirically verified?

ii) What’s the supporting argument for the claim that no propositions can be empirically verified?

#6. Two problems:

i) Does Scripture tell us that Biblical propositions are knowable because sensory simulation reminds us of innate propositions?

ii) Wouldn’t this form of divine illumination render Biblical revelation superfluous? Who needs a historic, verbal revelation if we enjoy innate knowledge equivalent to the content of Scripture?

#8.Why should we accept this denial?

#9.Although they can’t be known to be true, they function as if they were known to be true? Isn’t that a form of fideism? Are sincere falsehoods ethically obligatory?

#10.Two problems:

i) An appeal to the witness of the Spirit involves a tacit appeal to Scriptural teaching on the person and work of the Spirit. So that sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can identify the witness of the Spirit.

ii) Are the deliverances of reason an additional source of knowledge, apart from Scripture?


  1. It is my attempt to fill out the tacit steps in the Clarkian position. It would not bother me in the slightest if my attempt could be improved upon, either by a Clarkist, or a sympathetic non-Clarkian. To evaluate the system, I want the most robust statement of it that is possible.

    One of the mistakes I think we non-Clarkians have made, is assuming that every aspect of the "system" has been laid out by Clark. I no longer think this is true. I think he has argued for several of the steps (e.g. my 1-5), but left others unspecified (e.g. 6-10). This is probably because he was not ready to commit to the others. He may have thought that there are several possible ways to flesh out the system. He insisted on those points that he felt confident about. I got (6), for example, from an informal discussion with Robbins a few years ago. Perhaps Clark himself wanted to leave the "mechanism" flexible.

    Certainly, he argued for (5) in a variety of places.

    Clark argued for (2) in a variety of places; the second half would be confirmatory in terms of the "axiom."

    The exposition of the system has to be bootstrapped at some point. Why not allow a meta-discussion in which the principles can be elucidated? Perhaps, as you say, "an axiomatic model fall[s] prey to conventional objections to classical foundationalism" -- but then, why not focus the critique on that point?

    Likewise, if the Clarkian grants (6), then your question, "Wouldn’t this form of divine illumination render Biblical revelation superfluous? Who needs a historic, verbal revelation if we enjoy innate knowledge equivalent to the content of Scripture?" would be a good one to focus on.

    To your points to #9: I don't think Clark would wither at the accusation of fideism, properly defined. Moreover, "sincere falsehoods" would be deplored by everyone, but shouldn't we concede that every humanly-articulated system probably contains at least one falsehood? The focus should be on how to minimize the assertion of falsehoods, not caricature that lamentable situation as "ethically obligatory."

    It seems like Clark will grant that some deliverances of reason are inescapable. Again, this is in the category of meta-system.

  2. "One of the mistakes I think we non-Clarkians have made, is assuming that every aspect of the "system" has been laid out by Clark. I no longer think this is true"Which non-Clarkians? My experience has been that the non-Clarkians I'm familar with have been pleading with Clarkians to spell out their system more rigourously. Part of the problem, as I (and others) see it, is that the system has *not* been laid out.

    Furthermore, I'm more concerned with how contemporary Clarkians think Clark should be taken (Clark himself is ambigious at many places). Given that, I find it hard to square any of your 1-10 with what various Scripturalists themselves have said.

    So, let's begin with Robbins, a stipulative expert Clarkian exegete:


    Robbins summarizes his and Clark’s position: “Epistemology: The Bible tells me so… Scripturalism does not mean, as some have objected, that we can know only the propositions of the Bible. We can know their logical implications as well… Now, most of what we colloquially call knowledge is actually opinion: We “know” that we are in Pennsylvania; we “know” that Clinton - either Bill or Hillary - is President of the United States, and so forth. Opinions can be true or false; we just don’t know which. History, except for revealed history, is opinion. Science is opinion. Archaeology is opinion. John Calvin said, “I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, nor what is by diligence acquired, but what is revealed to us in the Law and the Prophets.” Knowledge is true opinion with an account of its truth.


    So, again, I must say that your interpretation of Clark is out of line with Clark's best interpreters. And I find it hard to square with what you say Robbins admitted and what he clearly admits above.

    Further claims by Scripturalists:


    It may very well be that William Clinton is President of the United States, but I do not know how to prove it, nor, I suspect, do you. In truth, I do not know that he is President, I opine it.

    Sean’s Scripturalist friend on the puritan board: “Yes, from a Scripturalist worldview, if a proposition can not be deduce from Scripture, then we can’t “know” if it’s true or false.”

    Gerety says knowledge is limited to: “that which can be known to Scripture and all those things necessarily deducible from Scripture.”

    Vincent Cheung: “”All knowledge comes from biblical propositions and their necessary implications”

    Gary Crampton in his review of Reymond shows his disagreement: “And more than once he refers to knowledge being justified by means of history and experience (478, 678), whereas Scripture alone is the sole means of justifying knowledge,…”


    So, again, I find it confusing why you wouldn't want to beat this dead horse since Scripturalists defeat themselves every time they open their mouths and propose claims that are supposed to have positive epistemic status but, on their terms, clearly do not.

    Furthermore, it seems enough to point out the self-referentially incoherent nature of their system, repeatedly if needs be. It points out that Scripturalism is just as obviously false as Humean empiricism. Both get to the same destination, ironically.

    Now, if a Scripturalist wants to come along and claim that Robbins, Gerety, Crampton, Cheun et al have all been wrong; well, then, I'm all ears!