Saturday, May 23, 2009

Theocracy watch

Hard Dominionists believe all of this, but they want the United States to be a Christian theocracy. For them the Constitution and Bill of Rights are merely addendums to Old Testament Biblical law. They claim that Christian men with specific theological beliefs are ordained by God to run society.

The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days.

If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.

The burial of Christ

Unbelievers reject the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial as unhistorical. I’ll just quote two major Jewish sources which corroborate key details of the Gospel accounts:

“I have known instances before now of men who had been crucified when this festival and holiday was at hand, being taken down and given up to their relations, in order to receive the honours of sepulture, and to enjoy such observances as are due to the dead; for it used to be considered, that even the dead ought to derive some enjoyment from the natal festival of a good emperor, and also that the sacred character of the festival ought to be regarded” (Philo, Against Flaccus, 83).

“…the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (Josephus, Jewish War 4:317).;query=whiston%20chapter%3D%2371;layout=;loc=4.224

Death is not dying

On March 4, 2009, Rachel [Barkey] had an opportunity to share about her hope in the midst of terminal cancer. What began as a small talk to her church women's group became an event attended by over 600 women and was an experience that left many with a desire to discover more about Rachel’s journey and faith.
Rachel Barkey's talk can be seen and heard here.

Your days are numbered

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:16).

“What is meant, we may well ask, when the Psalmist asserts that all the days are written upon God’s book?…The thought here is that the entirety of the Psalmist’s being, even including the days of his life, are inscribed in a book that belongs to God. By the days of his life the Psalmist has in mind all the vicissitudes that he must experience. All of his life, each individual day with all that that day will bring, is written down by God in His own book,” E. J. Young, The Way Everlasting (Banner of Truth 1997), 80-81.

“Furthermore, it is stated that these days of the Psalmist’s life have been formed before there were any of them…If we understand his language aright, he is saying that the days of his life were actually formed before even one of them had come into existence. All his life, the details of each day, had been written down in the book of God, before any of these days had actually occurred,” ibid. 81.

“The Psalmist has here reached a peak in his exaltation of the all-knowing and all-powerful God. Not only does God know all things, but God has also foreordained all things. In other words, the Psalmist has brought us head on with the doctrine of predestination. His life he regards not as a chance happening, but as a life already planned by God even before he himself was born. All the days that David would live and all the events of each day had been written down in God’s book before David himself had come into existence,” ibid. 81.

“David’s life is not determined by David; he is not the master of his fate nor the captain of his soul, nor, for that matter, is any man. Before David appeared upon the earth, the days of his life had been determined by God Himself. Indeed, all that occurs had been foreordained of God. God has a plan and hence there are no surprises for Him. He knows what the future will bring forth, for He Himself has determined the future. David was to live a life that had been predetermined for him,” ibid. 82.

“David does not rebel at this thought and neither should we. The contemplation of this profound doctrine leads him to an utterance of the preciousness of God’s thoughts. He is willing that it should be as set forth here. He is content that God has determined in advance his life, predestined the course of events for him. As a devout believer in the Lord he knows that whatever God does is right," ibid. 82.

I’d add that David was a believer in the afterlife (cf. Ps 16). So, when David says that God wrote out in full every day of his life before he even existed, not only does this extend from conception to the grave, but beyond the grave. From eternity past to eternity future.

And yet, for some odd reason, many professing believers resist, resent, and outright deny that God has mapped out our entire life before we even existed.

Now, I understand why some folks would resent that idea. Suppose you’re a pagan. Given the character of the pagan deities, its quite understandable that you’d take refuge in the notion of human autonomy. If Baal or Dagon or Molech were the true God, then you’d want to put as much distance between yourself and a god like that as at all possible. That’s not the sort of “God” you’d ever want to bump into in a dark alley.

Likewise, I understand why an atheist resents that idea. After all, an atheist hates the idea of God. So he hates the idea that God controls his life. It’s an irrational fear and loathing, but given his attitude, it's only logical that he bitterly resents the idea.

There are other spheres of life in which it’s natural for men and women to value their independence. If you’re a citizen of a totalitarian or tyrannical regime. If you’re a serf or a slave or prisoner.

Likewise, it’s natural for teenagers to chafe under parental control. A teenager is becoming an adult in his own right. Pretty soon he has to make a life for himself. So he wants to shake off parental authority. Up to a point that’s a natural, normal, and healthy stage in his development–although some adolescents get carried away with teenage rebellion. And they simply enslave themselves to peer pressure.

And, of course, some kids have abusive or overbearing parents. It’s understandable that they can hardly wait to strike out on their own.

But why would any professing believer rankle under divine control? Why would he resent the idea that God has a blueprint for his life?

More than resent. Many professing believers positively despise the idea. They unleash every pejorative epithet and adjective in the thesaurus to revile the very idea. Such a God is a puppeteer or puppet-master. It reduces us to robots.

(Mind you, when libertarians tell me that I worship a puppeteer, I’m temped to reply: “We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.”)

And they’re not alone in this. Lucifer was the first Arminian. The first libertarian. The very first creature to crave his emancipation from God’s dominion.

The only logical explanation for this reaction is if you don’t trust God with your life. God can’t be trusted to author your existence.

Why is that? Do you think you can do a better job of planning your life than he can?

If you can’t trust God with your life, then what can you trust him with? If God is too untrustworthy to compose the days of your life, then why worship and obey him? Why go through the motions? If you can’t trust God with your life, then he’s hardly worthy of your worship or obedience.

If that’s what you think of God, why not become an atheist? How can you have faith in a God you cannot trust with your life? Mistrust is the antonym of faith. Would you put your faith in someone you distrust? Of course not! Not if you could avoid it. Would you depend on such a person? Of course not! Not if you could help it.

Many professing believers act as though God is the domineering mother-in-law whom they must visit once a year. After completing their onerous annual duty, they breathe a sigh of relief to once again be free of her clutches.

Honestly, I don’t see any middle ground here. I can’t imagine praying to a God I wouldn’t trust with my life. I can’t imagine submitting to a God I wouldn’t trust with my life.

Do you really revere such a Being? Deep down, do you really think he’s wiser than you are? How can you regard predestination as evil and oppressive and still look up to God?

Many professing believers can’t stand the idea that God has a blueprint for your life and mine. And they don’t understand how believers like me could abide such a God.

Well, my attitude is just the opposite: I don’t understand how they can sing and pray to a God whom they would never trust with their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones. They have less faith in God than they abode in their doctor or babysitter.

A God you can’t bring yourself to trust with your life is not a God you should bring into your life. What kind of God do you really believe in?

Speaking for myself, I’m incredibly honored by the idea that God wrote the story of my life. I’m a chapter in his book. My name is in the index. Imagine that!

That’s a real page-turner. I can’t wait to get up every morning and see what God has written for my life that day.

This doesn’t mean that every day is like a Hallmark card. Life in fallen world can be a hair-raising experience. Full of hardship and heartache.

But we know, if God has written the script, that it’s all worthwhile in the long run. Better by far than anything you and I could write by ourselves or for ourselves.

This is a book we read by living. We find out what God has written for us and about us by living each day at a time.

When historians write books, they write about famous or infamous men and women. Big names. Movers and shakers.

They rarely write about ordinary folks. You and I are not important enough to even merit a footnote.

But God devotes a chapter to each and every one of us. A chapter especially written with you and me in mind. That both humbles and exalts us. This is something we should celebrate, not denigrate. Cherish and relish rather than revile.

The beginning of wisdom

Recently I was asked what I’d say if I were the commencement speaker at a public high school. This raises two issues. To begin with, judicial activists have reinterpreted and misinterpreted the Establishment Clause to limit what a Christian student can say in a commencement address. And beyond judicial interference, we need to be tactful about what we say when addressing what is both a captive audience and a mixed audience. To be too heavy-handed would backfire.

On the other hand, high school graduation is a natural time for young folks to start asking themselves the big questions about the meaning of life. So it’s perfectly appropriate for a Christian valedictorian to angle the speech in a religious direction. Anyway, if I were back in high school, I’d say something along the following lines:


Different cultures have different rites of passage. It might be a hazing ritual, or baptism, or a Bar Mitzvah, or a vision quest, or a debutante ball, or a tattoo.

In our own society, high school graduation is a rite of passage. It marks our coming of age, as we leave our childhood behind and embark on adult freedoms and responsibilities. We take a new turn on the journey of life.

Every journey involves going somewhere. And that, in turn, involves two motions in one. You have a destination. Some place you end up. Some place you’re going to.

But, by the same token, you can’t go some place unless you go away. So every trip involves coming and going. It’s not just where you’re going, but what you’re leaving. If you’re going in one direction, you’re not going in another.

Some people are drifters. Like driftwood. Rudderless. They don’t have any grand plans for life. They just go with the flow–wherever the current carries them.

They take life as it comes. Muddle through. Improvise. React to their surroundings. Hormones. Appetites. Social mores.

It’s like watching a beetle cross the floor. The beetle doesn’t stop to ask what it’s doing there. A beetle doesn’t say to itself, “Why am I here?” “Where did I come from?” “What’s the point?” It doesn’t know where it’s going. It just keeps moving.

It moves along the edge of the wall. The wall gives it a sense of direction. As long as it hugs the wall, it can move in a straight line.

But then it hits the corner. It can’t keep going forward, because there’s a wall in front of it. It can’t turn right, because that’s another wall. So it goes left. It goes left because it has to.

It can keep going in a square circle, round and round the room, hugging the edge of the wall, until it dies.

Or the beetle can walk across the room. If it bumps into the leg of a chair, it will move around the leg of the chair. It doesn’t move the chair–the chair moves it.

Some people are like that. They don’t move the furniture of life. Instead, the furniture moves them. Wherever the furniture happens to be, that determines where they go or don’t go.

Other people have their life all planned out. They are very goal-oriented. They know what they want, and they know how to get it.

Some of them are very successful. But some of them find out that success didn’t bring them happiness. They have everything they want, but it’s not enough. They know what they want, but they don’t know what they need.

Other people fail to realize their dreams, not because they didn’t plan, but b ecause their plans fell through. Halfway through their career-track they were diagnosed with a degenerative illness. That halts them in their tracks.

Some of you, sitting here today, in the prime of life, won’t live to be 80 or 90. Some of you will die of cancer. Or maybe a drug overdose. Or maybe a drunk driver will wipe you out. At 25. Or 30.

That’s one of the interesting, sobering, even scary things about life. Life is just so unpr edictable. You can’t predict how you’ll end the race from how you begin the race.

I once read a story about twin-brothers. The kid brother was Jim. His older brother was Harry. Jim was a homebody. A momma’s boy.

Harry was a sportsman. A hunter. An outdoorsy kinda guy. He used to bring wild game home for dinner. Quail. Venison. That sort of thing.

The parents played favorites. Mom favored Jim while Dad favored Harry.

Now, if that’s all you knew about them, you’d predict that Jim led a very uneventful life. Never did anything adventurous.

But that’s not how it turned out. You see, one day Jim played a trick on his brother. Jim cheated his brother. Betrayed his brother. He cheated his brother out of something very precious to his brother.

Harry was so mad at Jim that Jim feared for his life. So Jim had to run away. He was deathly afraid that Harry would kill him.

Jim spent the next 20 years in self-imposed exile. That’s quite a cooling off period!

He wanted to go back home, but he was afraid to go back home. He wasn’t sure if his brother ever forgave him. If his brother was still waiting all these years to get even. Spoiling for a chance to get back at Jim.

Some people are like that. They never feel quite at home in life. They feel orphaned. They’re always searching for something they can’t find. They don’t know what they’re looking for, but they hope they’ll know it when they see it. Some people fail in their quest because they’re looking in the wrong place. Because they’re looking for the wrong thing.

During the Cold War, the Russian army closed the border between East Berlin and West Berlin. Some Germans couldn’t get back home. On August 12, they could travel freely. On August 13, they were trapped. Over the years, some of them were shot dead trying to get back home.

Hikers sometimes get lost. They want to get home, but they lose their bearings in the woods. Without a map and compass they can’t find their way back home. Some of them die of exposure.

Life is a journey. Are you coming or going?

Don’t be a beetle. Or a piece of drift wood. Know where you’re headed. And why.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Live wisely.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Celebrity stalkers and washed-up ministers

Facebook Petition: The William Lane Craig/ John Loftus Debate Wish Group
By John W. Loftus at 5/21/2009

Yep, I just got notice today that there is a petition on Facebook for both Christians and nonbelievers to sign who want to see me debate my former professor. Click here to join.


John W. Loftus said...
A few hours later and there are 71 signed in so far.

1:36 PM, May 21, 2009
John W. Loftus said...
After the first day it's got 114 people signed up so far.

10:07 PM, May 21, 2009

You know, watching John’s obsession with having his one-time mentor validate his meaningless existence reminds me of those ads you sometimes see on cable TV–of an Elvis’ concert in which the corpulent King rips a sweaty kerchief from his rhinestone-studded jumpsuit and tosses it into an audience of screaming, swooning females–who get into a catfight for possession of the priceless article. One bloodied fan emerges from the melee with the article clasped to her breast, which–like splinters of the True Cross–she will keep in a padlocked jewelry case and take with her to the grave. Something she takes out of the case from time to time to show her friends or remind her when she’s alone that her little life is ultimately worthwhile–cuz she owns a piece of “The King.”

He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.

Skepticism about scepticism

I’m going to make a few basic observations about skepticism.

1.There’s a tug-of-war within the bosom of skepticism. If a skeptic treats every possible source of knowledge as dubious, then he lacks a frame of reference to treat any source of knowledge as dubious. So, as a practical matter, he has to treat one or more sources of knowledge as reliable in order to have a base of operations from which to treat other possible sources of knowledge as dubious. To avoid self-refutation, every skeptic must be a selective skeptic.

2.A certain amount of well-placed skepticism is a good thing. In a world where error abounds, and conflicting beliefs compete for our allegiance, gullibility is a vice.

3.Can we move this beyond sheer pragmatism? Well, a Christian can ground the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge in the providence of God. You and I don’t have to have all the variables under our control. God does.

The question is whether God sees to it that people know what they need to know when they need to know it.

Here I don’t necessarily mean what they need for themselves. Rather, I mean what they need to fulfill God’s plan for the world.

4.Epistemology was originally devised by pre-Christian pagans (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the pre-Socratics). That isn’t all bad. Due to natural revelation and common grace, pre-Christian philosophers made some worthwhile observations.

But the first people to speak to the issue frame the issue. They set the agenda for subsequent thinkers.

For Plato, truth was all-important. Hence, the avoidance of error was all-important. How can we know anything? How can we distinguish truth from error?

For Plato, the only objects of knowledge are timeless truths. Mutable objects can’t be objects of knowledge.

Even today, contemporary epistemology reflects these ancient priorities. As one reference work puts it, “Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.”

And this emphasis–the pursuit of truth, the quest for certainty–is also reflected in various religious epistemologies.

The Catholic Magisterium represents an attempt to secure knowledge within a narrow domain. Same thing with Scripturalism.

Of course, one of the ironies of these religious epistemologies is their ineffectuality. Consider Cheung’s occasionalism.

That’s a belief-producing mechanism. But it’s not a true belief-producing mechanism. It’s also, and equally, a false belief-producing mechanism. It’s a completely indiscriminate belief-producing mechanism.

Cheung delights in fingering all of the erroneous beliefs which he thinks most professing believers, as well as unbelievers, entertain. So his occasionalism does nothing to eliminate or even reduce, the plethora of erroneous beliefs.

5.A fundamental problem which all of these strategies share in common is their failure to appreciate the value of error. They value truth, and rightly so, but they failure to see the value of error.

6.Does it sound counterintuitive or even impious of me to talk about the value of error? But suppose, if instead of starting with Plato, we start with Scripture. With Bible history.

If you study Bible history, you’ll quickly see that human error plays a pivotal role in history. It’s a factor in historical causation. God uses human error as an instrumental factor to advance the chain-of-events and fulfill his overarching purpose.

Let’s take a few examples. It was a mistake for Eve to trust the Tempter. That false belief triggered a chain-reaction. As a result, the family tree of humanity branched of in a completely different direction than if Adam and Eve had never sinned.

Yet that was part of the plan. Eve’s mistake was a way in which God was implementing his plan.

Joseph had a prophetic dream. He was tactless enough to reveal his dream to his siblings. They resented the dream, and attempted to thwart the dream.

That was a miscalculation on their part. They set in motion the fulfillment of the dream by trying to avert the dream. That was a divinely intended outcome, including the means.

Pharaoh underestimated Yahweh–with devastating results. But that tactical error was instrumental in the realization of God’s design.

Sennacherib decided to attack Israel. That turned out to be a strategic miscalculation of the first order (2 Kg 19:35).

The Sanhedrin convicted Jesus of a capital offense. This was its way of nipping a messianic movement in the bud. Unwittingly, the Sanhedrin was playing into God’s hands.

God deludes a subset of humanity (2 Thes 2:10-12).

It’s easy to come up with secular examples as well. Hitler was winning the war until he invaded Russia. Likewise, Japan was a successful warrior culture until it made the fatal mistake of attacking a superior opponent on December 7, 1941.

9/11 backfired on Al-Qaeda. The papacy mismanaged the Reformation.

Error has a strategic role to play in God’s governance of the world. Error is a good thing–it is place. It’s a good thing when Hitler overreaches. It’s a good thing when Bin Laden overreaches.

It’s not a good thing if everyone were wrong all the time. But the avoidance of error is not all-important. That depends on the individual. It’s a good thing that some people are deluded. That limits their capacity for harm. They make unforced errors which weaken their influence. Their blunders serve as a check on their own ambitions. And, in the providence of God, their erroneous beliefs and corresponding actions can be the very means by which God furthers his itinerary.

A Christian epistemology should learn from Christian historiography. It should learn to appreciate the utilitarian value of false beliefs in grand scheme of things.

Canonical Implications In John's Gospel

Jesus' comments in chapters 14-16 of John's gospel are often cited in canonical discussions. That's understandable, since Jesus says much in those chapters about the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples, as well as other issues relevant to the New Testament canon.

Often, however, a verse like John 14:26 or 16:13 will be cited without much of an explanation, if any, of how the verse allegedly is relevant. What does "all things" in John 14:26 refer to? What does it mean to be "guided into all the truth" (John 16:13)? How do such passages supposedly lead us to the conclusion that the writings of the disciples should be considered scripture?

Much of what's said about the disciples in John 14-16 either is said of other Christians elsewhere or seems like it could be applied to other Christians in some sense. Other passages use similar language. 1 John 2:27 refers to Christians in general as having been "taught about all things", much like what's said of the disciples in John 14:26. As the disciples are referred to as having been with Jesus "from the beginning" (John 15:27), so also Christians in general are referred to as having had some of the teachings of Christianity "from the beginning" (1 John 2:24, 3:11, 2 John 6). Couldn't we apply the concept of being "guided into all the truth" (John 16:13) to all Christians in some way? Don't we all have the Holy Spirit?

Others want us to apply passages like John 16:13 to later church leaders. Because of John 16:13, we know that a particular denomination or other post-apostolic group will be infallible in some manner.

It's true that some of what's said in John 14-16 is applied to other Christians in other passages of scripture or can reasonably be assumed to apply to other Christians in some way. But there's a tendency in many circles to underestimate the significance of the apostles in these chapters and overestimate the significance of other Christians. D.A. Carson writes:

"This specific reference to Jesus' earthly ministry [in John 15:27] shows that the disciples primarily in view are the first eyewitnesses; only derivatively (though certainly derivatively) can this be applied to later Christians....the unique elements in the ministry of the first disciples, unique because under God these disciples alone mediate the transition in salvation-historical developments, are largely ignored in favour of finding immediate significance in each statement for the church at large. Such emphases reflect the contemporary scholarly mood, which tends to quarry the Gospels, including John, for lessons in ecclesiology and discipleship, largely ignoring the unique elements in the Gospel presentations that make them cry out to be read with other foci paramount: above all Christ and the dawning of the promised eschatological era, consequent upon his death and resurrection." (The Gospel According To John [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991], pp. 529, 542)

A passage like John 14-16 and a document like 1 John or 2 John are addressing different contexts. John 14-16 is addressing Jesus' communication of His revelation to the world through the apostles (John 13:20, 15:27, 17:20). 1 John is addressing the life of the Christian who has already received that revelation from the apostles (1 John 1:1-5).

While 1 John refers to teachings known to Christians "from the beginning", that beginning isn't the same as the beginning of John 15:27. Not all Christians were with Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-22). The phrase "from the beginning" has different reference points in different contexts. The fact that all Christians have been with Christ from some other sort of beginning doesn't make a passage like John 15:27 applicable to all Christians.

We could say that all Christians are "guided into all the truth" (John 16:13) in some sense, but the context suggests that the concept is being defined in a way that would only be fully applicable to the apostles. In addition to the contextual factors mentioned above, John 16:13 goes on to make an apparent reference to revelation of future events ("He will disclose to you what is to come"). Not all Christians receive information about future events directly from the Holy Spirit. While the phrase "what is to come" could be interpreted as a reference to events that were in the future at that point, but would be past events when they were disclosed by the Holy Spirit, it's more natural to read the phrase as a reference to prophecy. Nothing in the text or context suggests that we should limit "what is to come" to events that were still to come only at that point in time, but would be past events at the time of the disclosure. And we know that the apostles did receive knowledge of future events from the Holy Spirit, such as in the book of Revelation.

The broader implications of that last point should be emphasized. We know a lot about what happened after the events of John 14-16. We ought to interpret the passage with that context in mind. Given what that larger context tells us about the uniqueness of the apostles and what sort of activity they were involved in after the time of John 14-16, it doesn't make sense to read that passage as referring to the apostles as having the same relationship, or nearly the same relationship, with the Holy Spirit as other Christians. Just as we today refer to all Christians as having the guidance of the Holy Spirit, yet distinguish between the guidance received by the average Christian and that received by a prophet or apostle, the same distinction could have been made by the Biblical authors. And surely it was. There are some similarities between the two types of guidance, often highly vague similarities and sometimes closer similarities, with the same or similar terminology used. But there are differences as well.

Even within John 14-16 and its surrounding context in the gospel of John, we're repeatedly told that Jesus is addressing His disciples (13:5, 16:29). He interacts with them as individuals (13:6, 13:25, 14:5, 14:8, 14:22). He makes references to them that wouldn't be applicable to all Christians or the leadership of a post-apostolic denomination (14:26, 15:27, 16:32). Jesus is preparing a group of agents who are qualified to testify on His behalf in a manner in which other Christians, especially those of later generations, cannot (13:20, 14:26, 15:27, 17:20).

What, then, are we to make of phrases like "He will teach you all things" (14:26) and "He will guide you into all the truth" (16:13)? I don't think we know all of the answers. But we have some idea of what was meant, and what we do know has some significance for the canon.

A phrase like "all things" or "all the truth" would refer to an "all" within a limited context. Omniscience, an attribute unique to God and something that the apostles repeatedly deny having, isn't in view. Apparently, some sort of revelatory category is in mind, similar to the "all things" Jesus refers to in 15:15. As Jesus communicated all that He had been sent to communicate, so would the apostles.

Keep in mind two of the themes of this passage that I've discussed above: the guidance of the Holy Spirit and prophecy (John 16:13). Both are often associated with scripture (2 Peter 1:21). As I mentioned in my last post in this canon series, the early Christians would sometimes refer to the Old Testament as "the prophets". Jesus' comments in John 14-16 address more than what the apostles wrote, but their writings would be included.

Compare some of what Jesus said in this passage and its surrounding context to John's comments at the close of his gospel. Note the highlighted words:

"you are My disciples...But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you....When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also...I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word" (13:35, 14:26, 15:26-27, 17:20)

"these have been written so that you may believe...This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." (20:31, 21:24-25)

John is one of Jesus' disciples, one of those Jesus addressed in John 14-16. Notice that he first introduces himself as the beloved disciple shortly before the passage in question (13:23). The reader knows, therefore, that the author was one of the recipients of Jesus' promises in John 14-16. Jesus said that His disciples would testify, and John testifies through his gospel. Jesus said that His disciples would be guided by the Spirit of truth, so John's readers know that his testimony is true. Jesus said that the Spirit would "bring to your remembrance all that I said to you", and John tells us that he knows of much more than he's recorded in his gospel.

It seems that John saw his gospel as a fulfillment of what Jesus spoke about in John 14-16. Craig Keener writes:

"Many scholars, such as Marinus de Jonge, have contended that the Fourth Gospel argues for its own inspiration: 'The Fourth Gospel presents itself as the result of the teaching and the recalling activity of the Spirit within the community of disciples leading to a deeper and fuller insight into all that Jesus as the Son revealed during his stay on earth.' Muller similarly suggests that John felt that Jesus' word continued to work in his Gospel, and Dietzfelbinger, that it claims to be inspired by the Paraclete. Some have gone so far as to identify the author and the Paraclete (see below), but even if this position goes beyond the evidence, the close association of functions indicates that the author felt that the Paraclete was inspiring his writing....If 1 John assumes or interprets the Jesus tradition in this Gospel, then the Gospel was functioning as scripture in Johannine circles at an early stage....The inspiring Spirit was generally associated with prophecy [John 16:13] in early Judaism...the inspiration aspect of the Spirit imparted to Jesus' followers is significant to the composition of the Fourth Gospel, for if it does not purport to be a recollection and proclamation of Jesus (cf. 14:26), what does it purport to be?...The concept of the Gospel's inspiration is not a corollary of the later process of canonization in early Christianity. The writer and first readers of the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly assumed its inspiration, and thus ceded the document authority because they affirmed that Jesus stood behind and spoke in the document....Whether they viewed it as authoritative in the way that Scripture was (John 2:22; 20:31) is less clear; cf. 2 Pet 3:16" (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 116-117, 122, n. 320 on p. 122)

John's gospel doesn't identify itself as scripture as clearly as 2 Peter 3 identifies Paul's letters as scripture, but it seems likely that the document was viewed as such by John and his earliest readers. We know that it was widely viewed as scripture among Christians of the second century.

Four other documents are attributed to John, and other documents are attributed to other disciples who were part of the audience Jesus addressed in John 14-16. The widespread early Christian consensus that such documents are scripture makes more sense if Jesus taught such a high view of the apostles and, by implication, their writings.

Would all of the apostles' writings be scripture, or just some? When Peter comments on Paul's letters, he refers to all of them as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter's error in Galatians 2 seems to have been an error of action, not teaching, and we don't have any apostolic correction of a New Testament document like Paul's correction of Peter. The apostles considered themselves capable of sin (1 Corinthians 4:4) and sometimes included themselves in references to sin in the Christian life (James 3:2, 1 John 2:1-2), but the New Testament documents aren't in the same category as an apostle's thoughts or his competence in mathematics or giving directions to get from one location to another, for example. What we have in the New Testament are documents written with the intention of addressing the Christian faith and perceived as an exercise of apostolic authority by those who received the documents. I don't know of any means by which the early Christians claimed to distinguish between true and false apostolic teaching, and I don't know of any document that was widely considered apostolic without being considered scripture. Whatever some individuals may have thought about some documents that didn't make it into the canon, the general trend seems to have been to include every apostolic document, as I outlined in my last post. As Serapion put it, in the context of addressing documents attributed to the apostles, "we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ" (Eusebius, Church History, 6:12). Such a high view of their writings seems to make more sense of what Jesus said about the role of the apostles as His messengers (Matthew 10:40, John 13:20) and what the apostles said about their own teachings and writings. What Jesus and the apostles said about apostolic authority and the manner in which the early Christians responded to the apostolic documents are better explained if the writings of the apostles were intended to be scripture rather than a mixture of truth and error.

Correcting a Misquote of Calvin

Much has been made recently of John Robbins’s quote of John Calvin as having 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.” Unfortunately, Robbins didn't reference Calvin, although after some searching I was able to find it.

Before we examine the context of the quote Robbins used, let us look at the place where Calvin systematized his views. While reading through Calvin trying to track down the quote, it is apparent that the biggest problem with Robbins’s use of Calvin is that Calvin used a variable definition of knowledge. He used it in various ways depending on what subject he addressed, yet he took great pains to describe exactly how he was using the term. For instance, Calvin showed how he used the term differently when he stated: “Here I do not yet touch upon the sort of knowledge with which men, in themselves lost and accursed, apprehend God the Redeemer in Christ the Mediator; but I speak only of the primal and simple knowledge to which the very order of nature would have led us if Adam had remained upright” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 1. 2. 1). Calvin differentiates between knowledge that lost men have and knowledge that would be gained from nature were it not for the sinful effects of Adam’s fall. These are obviously two very different things, yet Calvin had no trouble using the same word (“knowledge”) for both concepts.

Calvin’s ease of using the term “knowledge” in multiple ways is found in the pains he takes to be specific as to which version he is using in any particular case. For example:
First, as much in the fashioning of the universe as in the general teaching of Scripture the Lord shows himself to be simply the Creator. Then in the face of Christ [cf.
2 Corinthians 4:6] he shows himself the Redeemer. Of the resulting twofold knowledge of God we shall now discuss the first aspect; the second will be dealt with in its proper place.

(Ibid. 1. 2. 1, italics mine)

First in order came that kind of knowledge by which one is permitted to grasp who that God is who founded and governs the universe. Then that other inner knowledge was added, which alone quickens dead souls, whereby God is known not only as the Founder of the universe and the sole Author and Ruler of all that is made, but also in the person of the Mediator as the Redeemer.

(Ibid 1. 6. 1)
If we delve even further, we see that Calvin believed that one gained real knowledge from the external senses—knowledge of God, even if not salvific knowledge. For we read:
We see that no long or toilsome proof is needed to elicit evidences that serve to illuminate and affirm the divine majesty; since from the few we have sampled at random, whithersoever you turn, it is clear that they are so very manifest and obvious that they can easily be observed with the eyes and pointed out with the finger. And here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart.

(Ibid. 1. 5. 9)
We have taught that the knowledge of God, otherwise quite clearly set forth in the system of the universe and in all creatures, is nonetheless more intimately and also more vividly revealed in his Word.… We, however, are still concerned with that knowledge which stops at the creation of the world, and does not mount up to Christ the Mediator.

(Ibid. 1. 10. 1)
Indeed, the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him.

(Ibid. 1. 10. 2, italics mine)
The examples could be multiplied. In fact, it is rather easy to simply do a word search through the Institutes, looking for “knowledge” and you’ll see that Robbins’s quote is inadequate for us to know what Calvin meant. Indeed, given the pains with which Calvin sought to clarify which concept of “knowledge” he was currently addressing, Robbins’s quote looks to be no different than any of the above. In other words, for that section Calvin limits “knowledge” to Scriptural knowledge. And since we have seen Calvin use the term “knowledge” in things that manifestly were not related to Scripture, it is improper for Robbins to have used that quote as if Calvin was a Scripturalist.

And once we look at the context of Calvin’s quote, it becomes very clear. For Robbins did not even quote the entirety of the sentence Calvin wrote. The entire (English--the Latin is actually longer) sentence is:
And I have said that religion ought not to be separated from knowledge; but I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, or what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets.

(Calvin’s Commentary on Jeremiah 44, italics in original)
In other words, it is as if Calvin said, “Religion should not be separated from knowledge of Scripture.” That doesn’t convey nearly the sense that Robbins wished this passage conveyed. And if one is a student of the Reformation, he will already know exactly to whom Calvin’s comments were addressed before I even quote the entire paragraph:
This ought to be carefully observed; for at this day were any one to ask the Papists by what right they have devised for themselves so various and so many modes of worship: devotion alone they say will suffice, or a good intention. Let us then know that religion, separated from knowledge, is nothing but the sport and delusion of Satan. It is hence necessary that men should with certainty know what god they worship. And Christ thus distinguishes the true worship of God from that of vain idols, “We know,” he says, speaking of the Jews, “whom we worship.” (John 4:22) He then says that the Jews knew, even those who worshipped God according to what the Law prescribes, — he says that they knew whom they worshipped. He then condemns all good intentions in which the superstitious delight themselves, for they know not whom they worship. And I have said that religion ought not to be separated from knowledge; but I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, or what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets.

(Ibid, italics original)
In other words—and this should be no shock at all—when Calvin taught sola Scriptura, he limited the use of the term “knowledge” to a knowledge of Scripture. When Calvin quoted Jesus as saying of the Jews, “We know whom we worship,” it was because the Jews had Scripture. That was how the Jews knew who they worshipped.

It is therefore a butchery of logic to attempt to wield a portion of Calvin’s sentence as a claim that Calvin agreed with Scripturalism.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Quick Note on Scripturalist Context

Clarkians (like Turretin Fan) or sympathizers (like Tim Harris) have made some claims lately.

Tim, for example, says Clarkians don't believe that justified belief in logic must be due to its ability to be deduced from the Bible, rather, it's innate. However, John Robbins, putative Clark expert, demurs. Thus, Robbins:

"Logic -- reasoning by good and necessary consequence -- is not a secular principle not found in Scripture and added to the Scriptural axiom; it is contained in the axiom itself."
TF has claimed that we have "innate knowledge." However, this is at odds with what putative Scripturalist experts have taught us. For Robbins says,

"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 it seems that these men are tearing down the Scripturalist house in order to defend it. That's fine. It needs tearing down. But T-bloggers shouldn't be criticized for our criticisms of Scripturalism. You can't very well expect us to critique a hitherto unknown statement of Scripturalism.

On the Propriety of Asking Scripturalists Whether They Know X, Y, or Z

Some commenters (e.g., Tim Harris, Turretin Fan, etc) have complained that we keep asking how Gerety knows all the assertions he makes. They think there's some impropriety in doing so. Well, here's some quick, helpful tips:

1. If a person doesn't know the premises of a deductive argument, he knows not the conclusion either.

2. Speaking for myself, I'm not in the habit of letting an opponent score a point with what he admits is nothing but an opinion. A mere, unjustified opinion at that.

3. Epistemic virtues seem to require us to give up beliefs we believe have no positive epistemic status. Beliefs we know are unjustified or have no reason to believe. And Scripturalist opinions are unjustified, make no mistake. If the only way to justify an opinion is to find it in the Bible or deduce it from passages in the Bible, and opinion O is not to be found or deduced, then O is unjustified.

4. Sean Gerety himself has allowed us to do this. Surely my esteemed interlocutors won't begrudge me for holding a man to his convictions. Here's an interesting quote from Gerety I found online:

"I think it is more important to provide an account for the things you believe are true."

Hence Gerety just said that all of his opinions should have attendant deductions from Scripture to go along with them. So, every single assertion he makes, he probably believes it is true, and so he "thinks it is important to provide an account for them." So Tim, TF, and others, can't complain when we ask him to deduce from the Bible every cotton-picking assertion he makes. I'm just obliging the guy. :-)

Clarkian monophysitism

Some pages back a person was defined as a complex of propositions. A man is what he thinks, for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. G. Clark, The Incarnation, 64.

Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration or miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. G. Clark, The Trinity, 106.

Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of propositions.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of propositions too. And those who complain are as they think. Is a person to be considered unconscious, mute substance? Why is he not conscious thoughts? Of course, one may just say “thoughts,” for thoughts cannot be unconscious. Ibid. 106.

i) Let us pause for a moment to consider the implications of this. If a man is a collection of thoughts, a set of propositions; if a man is identical with his thoughts, then a man is a purely mental entity.

At a minimum, this commits Gordon Clark to anthropological idealism. Now, perhaps Clark limits his idealistic ontology to God, angels, and men, while switching to dualism or physicalism for the subhuman order. But for man and above, metaphysical idealism is the reigning ontology.

ii) Clark’s idealistic anthropology in turn entails an idealistic Christology. According to his idealistic anthropology, men don’t have physical bodies. Their “bodies” are, at best, mental projections.

In that event, the Son never became incarnate, was never crucified, or resurrected.

At most, the hypostatic union would involve a union between the Son and a human soul. But on Clark’s idealistic anthropology, Jesus never had a physical body. You can’t square that with Clark’s proposition definition of a human being. On his view, a man is constituted by his thoughts.

Hence, the Gospels are reduced to allegories. Berkeleyan allegories.

iii) Another odd consequence of his claim is that no man can be asleep or be in a coma. For we are what we think, and thoughts are conscious. How he accounts for the illusion of unconscious states I can’t say.

iv) If you combine Clark’s idealism with his doctrine of creation, this would logically lead to pantheistic idealism. If God is the Creator, and man is a collection of thoughts, then man is a collection of divine thoughts.

v) For folks who pride themselves on their orthodoxy and rationality, it’s striking how readily the Clarkians succumb to the most glaring heresies and absurdities.

For all their affectations of rationality, they are blinded by the personality cult of Gordon Clark.

I am woman, hear me...mope?

Greg Mankiw points out the failed (for the nth time) vision of liberal elites in this post on women and declining happiness. How many times do liberal visions and ideologies have to slam into the rock of empirical disconfirmation for people to get it?

A quick note on a quick note by TF

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.

Hume in sheepskin

I’m going to make some general observations about what’s wrong with Scripturalism.

1.Clarkians like Gerety and Robbins are Hume in sheep’s clothing.

I wouldn’t quite put Clark in the same category. Clark was one of those paradoxical figures, like John Wesley or Billy Graham, who has a capacity to do both great good and great harm.

Unfortunately, Clarkians like Gerety and Robbins reproduce all of his philosophical and theological vices without his compensatory virtues.

2.What’s the duty of a Christian apologist? In my view, a Christian apologist has a twofold duty:

i) Ascertain what the Bible teaches.

ii) Defend what the Bible teaches.

But Clarkians have a very different agenda. When confronted with an enemy of the faith like Hume, a Clarkian’s response is to say, “Okay, David, tell us where we’re allowed to stand. You draw the line. Wherever you choose to draw the line, we’ll move back behind that line. We know our place.”

Instead of challenging, or even questioning, an infidel like Hume, they capitulate. They obsequiously stand wherever he orders them to stand. They allow sworn enemies of the faith to set the boundaries. They then confine themselves to those boundaries, and begin to cultivate chamois interpretations of the Bible.

If an infidel like Hume says memory is unreliable, the Clarkian goes back two paces. If an infidel like Hume says sensory perception is unreliable, the Clarkian goes back two more paces. If an infidel like Hume says testimonial evidence is unreliable, the Clarkian goes back another two paces. If an infidel like Hume says induction is unreliable, the Clarkian goes back two more paces.

Instead of challenging the methods and assumptions of an infidel like Hume, they attack Christians who presume to challenge the methods and assumptions of infidels like Hume. They collaborate with mortal enemies of the faith. They become baptized Quislings for the cause of infidelity. They give cover and credence to the enemies of the gospel.

Instead of defending sources of knowledge which the Bible itself acknowledges, they defend Humean strictures on knowledge. Instead of supporting those who oppose Hume, they support Hume while opposing those who oppose Hume. Instead of defending the Bible against its adversaries, they defend its adversaries, then reinterpret the Bible to fall in line with its new overlords.

Hume in a sheepskin jacket. Hume in sheepskin slippers. Chamois epistemology. Chamois hermeneutics.

3.Instead of beginning with what the Bible says about the importance of memory or sense-knowledge or testimonial evidence, &c., they begin with what the infidel has to say.

This, in turn, then requires them to reinterpret what the Bible says to bring the Bible in line with their extrascriptural and antiscriptural philosophy. And this makes them indistinguishable from standard issue liberals.

They authorize the world dictate what Christians are allowed to believe. They then find creative new ways to interpret the Bible so that it echoes whatever the world allows them to believe.

So, for example, they reinterpret the sensory language of 1 Jn 1:1-3 as metaphorical language. You might as well be reading Mary Baker Eddy. Why not go all the way with a figurative Resurrection?

Indeed, haven’t they already crossed that line? If you interpret Prov 23:7 as a prooftext for idealism, if a man is just a set of propositions, if a man is identical with his own thoughts, then what’s a body? What rose from the dead on Easter morning? What was crucified on Good Friday? You reduce Holy Week to a Berkeleyan allegory. Reduce the nativity to a Berkeley allegory. Berkeleyan monophysitism.

Given their rejection of sense-knowledge, they can’t define a body. And they say you don’t know what you can’t define. So what’s left? Clarkian ontology has no place for the Incarnation or Resurrection. Clarkian epistemology has no place for the Incarnation or Resurrection. It’s just a bunch of ideas. Thinkers thinking thoughts.

A body is a sensory object. So what’s a body to a Clarkian? What does that even mean? What saves them from becoming Berkeleyan monophysites?

4.From the standpoint of pastoral theology, it’s very harmful to the faith of Christians to allow Humean attacks on Biblical epistemology to go unchecked. Indeed, to defend the assailant.

You’re telling Christians to reject sensory evidence, memorial evidence, testimonial evidence, and so on and so forth, then telling them to slam on the brakes as their car hurtles over the cliff. Well, at that point it’s two yards too late for the brakes to do much good. Once the car left terra firm and is presently heading into thin air, applying pressure to the brake pedal will do nothing to halt, or even slow, the irreversible descent.

A differential diagnosis

What's the most accurate portrayal of medicine on television today? According to some folks, it's . . . well, I won't ruin it for you. See here, here, and here.

From the trenches

An ER physician's number one 'pet peeve' in Emergency Medicine:
#1. Asking for a Prescription for Motrin or Tylenol - I really wish that President Obama could spend just one day with us in the ER before formalizing his plans for universal health-care. The current government insurance program, Medicaid, is so frequently abused that if we nationalize it, the collapse of the stock market and major banks would be a pleasant memory in comparison. This program was made available to low income and special needs families so that their children would not suffer from an inability to pay for medical care. If someone is financially treading water and they need a prescription for Tylenol, I would be so happy to write it for them. So why the fuss?

The people most commonly asking for these prescriptions usually show up to the ER with their $100 specialty manicure, cigarettes poking out of their pocket or purse and talking incessantly on their $300 cell phone. Or immigrants who for some reason are on Medicaid and want to save an extra $10 to send “back home”. Both of these specialty populations show up with febrile children who haven’t had a dose of fever medicine since their fever spiked. And it is our responsibility as tax-payers to foot the bill.

Why this annoys me so much is because there are loads of other people out there with legitimate medical needs and no way of getting assistance – Autistic kids that can’t get treatments because they’re so expensive and their parents make just enough money to not qualify for assistance, cancer patients (young and old) who cannot afford chemo for the same reason, people with outrageous medical bills that are at the brink of bankrupcy [sic] and the list goes on. Taxing Medicaid with over-the-counter prescriptions as well as inappropriate ambulance rides and ER visits (for example, to get a pregnancy test) ends up taxing the medical system so that others suffer. There must be a way to prevent this wholesale abuse, but I for one, have not figured out how just yet.

Brothers at War

HT: Justin Taylor.

Fr. Confessor or Fr. Molester?

"Catholic Church shamed by Irish abuse report"

HT: Eric Vestrup.

The Truth About Angels & Demons

"This website sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary is a response to Sony Columbia Pictures movie Angels and Demons based on Dan Brown's novel."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Before he died, Gordon Clark published an article The Trinity Review in which he summarized his objections to empiricism.

Let’s examine his objections:

"The theory of knowledge that presumably accords
best with common sense is the theory that we learn
by experience. We learn that bees sting and
rattlesnakes kill through our perceptions of pain.
We learn that roses are red and violets are blue by
the sensations of sight. All our knowledge comes
through sensations.”

That’s a straw man argument insofar as one doesn’t have to believe the senses are the source of all knowledge to believe the senses are the source of some knowledge. While empiricism entails sense-knowledge, sense-knowledge need not entail empiricism.

This distinction is important to keep in mind since Clarkians constantly conflate sense-knowledge with tabula rasa empiricism, then imagine that by disproving tabula rasa empiricism they thereby disprove sense-knowledge.

But it’s quite possible for a thinker to believe that some knowledge is innate while the senses mediate other kinds of knowledge. Indeed, these can be complementary positions.

For example, we can enumerate concrete objects because we enjoy an innate knowledge of math. At the same time, we don’t enjoy an innate knowledge of the concrete objects we enumerate. So you need both types of knowledge to complete the operation.

“However plausible this theory may be, it raises
some exceedingly difficult questions. For the
moment let us set aside the complexities in trying to
rise from fleeting sensations to the knowledge of the
incorporeal and eternal God. Instead, let us first
attend to the most simple parts of empiricism.”

He doesn’t bother to explain why that’s a problem. However, one of the standard theistic proofs treats what is fleeting as evidence for the need of something that isn’t fleeting to ground what is fleeting. So that’s not a problem belief in God. To the contrary, that’s an argument for God. What is fleeting is contingent. What is contingent is ultimately contingent on something that is necessary.

“Let us start with the red of a rose and the blue of a
violet. First, a description of sensation will show
that it does not give knowledge so readily as
common sense imagines. Not everybody sees roses
as red and violets as blue. There are some people
who we say are color blind, and there are degrees of
color blindness. It is difficult to tell what is color
blindness and what are color illusions. The real
color is very hard to settle upon. The condition of
the organ, the eye, a disease, temporary sickness, a
headache or extreme sensitivity change our color

How would a genetic defect like color blindness prevent color from being an object of knowledge? If you’re color-blind, the color of an object is not an object of knowledge for you, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an object of knowledge for someone with normal vision.

Why would we delimit the scope of knowledge by reference to a genetic defect? By that token, would we also say the past can’t be an object of knowledge because some people suffer from senile dementia?

“Let me give you one little example. If you would
take a course in art, oil painting, you might take a
square of canvas and put some color paint on the
top half of it and another color on the bottom. It
could be red and blue or any two colors you wish
just so long as they’re different. And then after they
have dried, take a brush full of gray paint and just
bring it down vertically over the two parts of the
square and you will see that that one stroke of brush
has put two different colors on the canvas, the color
of the gray at the top is not the color of the gray at
the bottom half of the canvas. So the color that you
see depends on the background against which you
see it. And since there is always a background, you
never see anything as it is all by itself.”

Why does knowledge of color depend on seeing a color as it is “all by itself”? In the nature of the of the case, color perception involves the appearance of an object.

“I could also mention some optical illusions: the
Texas rancher who was sure he was seeing a mirage
and drove his pick-up truck into a lake.”

How could Clark identify an optical illusion in the first place if the senses are totally unreliable? To detect the difference between a mirage and a lake assumes the basic reliability of sensory perception.

“Some of my friendly opponents try to meet my argument against empiricism by claiming that I merely parrot the
ancient skeptics. I’m afraid of two things: The ancient skeptics didn’t know anything about Texas, and, in the second place, if I am parroting the ancient skeptics, that is not a sufficient answer to their arguments.”

i) True, but I just dealt with his example.

ii) To the extent that a Scripturalist is raising objections to sense-knowledge, he needs to limit himself to Scriptural objections. For a Scripturalist to raise extrascriptural objections to sense-knowledge would be self-defeating.

“Take one thing that certainly the ancients didn’t
know. Get a nice piece of bristle-board cardboard
and paint one-half of it with black India ink. Leave
the other half white and then put little swiggles of
black on the white half. Then get something that
will rotate at about 500 revolutions a minute, and
what color will you see? Will you see black? Will
you see gray? Well, if you haven’t done this
experiment I’m pretty sure you just don’t know. I’ll
tell you: You’ll see purple; you’ll see red; you’ll see
green; you’ll see some sort of brown. You will see
all these colors just from a mixture of black and
white, and this gives you considerable difficulty in
trying to say that you see the color of anything at all
or to paraphrase a little bit from Augustine, there is
nothing given (das Gegebenes, if you know the
German technical term), nothing given in sensation
without intellectual interpretation.”

i) Once again, color perception concerns the appearance of objects. Naturally the appearance of an object varies with the empirical conditions under which it’s viewed (e.g. background, lightening). That, however, doesn’t mean the color of an object can’t be known. Rather, an object will appear one way under certain conditions, and another way under different conditions.

For example, the apparent scale of a mountain is observer-relative. Mountains look smaller at a distance. Would we conclude from this fact that mountains have no objective size?

ii) The appearance of the object is still a determinate object of knowledge. The appearance varies with the determinants, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be known. While color perception has a subjective dimension, it also has an objective dimension. For instance, the composition of the surface will reflect or absorb certain wavelengths of the visible spectrum.

iii) Even at a subjective level, human beings are designed to register certain color qualia. Barring genetic defects (e.g. color-blindness) we share common qualia.

“And just to protect myself from these people who
think I’m as old as the Greek skeptics – I am getting
a little ancient, but I’m not quite 2,000 years old, I
guess I’m about 95 or something like that – but I
was traveling along the road from St. Louis to
Indianapolis on one occasion. This was before the
interstate was there, and as I looked ahead, I saw a
small truck standing by a barn. This was
approximately 1,500 or 2,000 feet ahead of me. And
it wasn’t a passenger car, it was a truck because the
front and the back were both vertical. There was the
truck standing by the barn. Now as we drove along
– and going at 75 m.p.h. you cover a few feet pretty
quickly – this truck suddenly became a mailbox on
a post. Now was it a truck or was it a mailbox?
Well, that depends on how far away from it you are.
And time forbids the multiplication of such
examples. Suffice it to say that they soon become
overwhelming. You have trouble with sensation.”

i) Now Clark is equivocating. He fails to distinguish between sensation and perception. He didn’t see a truck. He saw an ambiguous object–ambiguous due to the lack of visual resolution at that distance. He then interpreted what he saw as a truck. Perception involves an element of expectation.

ii) Moreover, Clark’s illustration is self-defeating since it ultimately depends on his ability to distinguish between what the object appeared to be at a distance, and what the object really was when he saw it close up. The comparison only works if he can distinguish between appearance and reality.

iii) Furthermore, as rational agents, human sensory perception was never meant to operate in isolation to human reason. Reason can correct for misperceptions. For example, M.C. Escher was fond of depicting optical illusions. We know these depictions are physically impossible. That’s part of their charm.

iv) Incidentally, isn’t it unethical for a man who denies sense-knowledge to get behind the wheel of a car? Given his denial of sense-knowledge, does Clark think there’s no difference between driving sober and driving drunk? Does Clark think it makes no difference which side of the road you drive on?

“In the second place, this empirical theory, after
making such a poor beginning with sensation,
requires a theory of images to account for the
retention of knowledge after the sensation has
stopped. When you talk about the sensation, when it
is gone, and you have an image that is retained,
there are other difficulties.”

i) Why that’s a difficulty, Clark doesn’t say. Does he mean reliance on memory is a difficulty, or reliance on remembered mental images in particular?

a) If the former, the rationalist has to rely on his own memory as well. For example, logical inference requires a recollection of the premise.

b) If the latter, what’s the problem? As long as my memory of what I saw (or heard or felt or tasted or smelled) corresponds to what I saw at the time, is there some additional problem?

ii) Why does Clark think empiricism or sense-knowledge depends on mental imagery, per se? It’s possible to remember that you saw something even if you don’t remember what you saw (in the sense of retaining a mental image of the event).

iii) Why does Clark restrict recollective mental representations to imagery? We can also have mental representations of auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory sensations.

“If perception is an inference from sensation, and images follow the perception, how can one determine when the
inference is valid?”

This question is so wide-open that it’s hard to tell where he thinks the problem lies. I spot a snakeskin in my backyard. From this I infer the existence of a skin-shedding snake. What’s wrong with that inference?

“At one time, I inferred that I saw a truck. Another
time, a few minutes later, I inferred that I saw a
mailbox. But how do you tell whether either
inference is valid?”

But Clark himself tells us which is which. And he gives the reason. In this case, relative distance between the observer and the object was the differential factor. It also depends on visual acuity.

“And then in the second place, some people, especially scientists, not artists, but especially scientists, don’t have any images. And that’s a difficulty I don’t see how the empirical philosophy can ever overcome. They seem never to have thought of the existence of such people. Thomas Aquinas and David Hume, best known for their theories of images, just seem to believe that all people have images. But that isn’t so. There are some people, and I know one fairly well, who have no images at all.”

i) How is the absence of a particular sensation a difficulty that empiricism is supposed to overcome? Some men are blind. Some men are deaf. How does the inability of some individual to see or hear because they lack functional sense organs amount to an argument against the possibility of sense-knowledge for percipients who do enjoy normal sight or hearing?

Some males suffer from a birth defect known as aphallia or penile agenesis. Does this condition invalidate the science of andrology?

ii) How does deficient sensation in one sensory organ invalidate sense-knowledge generally? If you’re blind or color-blind, that doesn’t mean you can’t hear or touch or smell. And, as we know, different animals vary in their sensory aptitudes and acuities.

“Now, third, even for people who have visual or
auditory images, the formation of concepts by
abstraction, as Aristotle and Locke require, is
impossible for reasons I won’t go into. And if
Bishop Berkeley did nothing else, at least he clearly
showed that empiricism cannot allow or justify
abstract concepts.”

Since he won’t go into it, there’s nothing to refute.

i) Why can’t empiricism justify abstract concepts? Does he mean empiricism can’t justify abstract universals? But even if enumerative induction can’t justify a universal inference, that doesn’t mean you can’t form an abstract concept on the basis of enumerative induction. There’s a difference between an abstract concept and an abstract universal.

If I hear a clock chime four times in a row, I form the abstract concept that it’s four o’clock. Several elements go into the formation of that concept: memory; auditory perception; a concept of numerical relations.

Now, I happen to think that our knowledge of numerical relations is innate. I don’t think empiricism can account for mathematical knowledge.

But, as I’ve said before, belief in sense-knowledge doesn’t commit you to empiricism.

“My fourth objection to empiricism, and if you’ve
been counting them up, it may be the fortieth,
empiricism cannot produce norms of any kind. It
cannot produce moral and religious norms because
at the very best, empiricism can only tell you what
is. I don’t think it tells you even that little, but that
is all that empiricists can legitimately claim to do.
They cannot tell you what ought to be because you
cannot get an ought out of an is. And this applies
not only to moral and religious norms, but to the
very basic logical norms without which speech and
understanding would be impossible.”

That may well be true, but how is that an objection to sense-knowledge? Even if moral norms are either innate, revealed, or both, we must apply moral norms to sensory objects.

Consider the Biblical prohibition against theft. Suppose I own a red Alpha Romeo. Suppose my neighbor owns a yellow Alpha Romeo.

Differentiating the cars by color is one way of differentiating my property from his property. Suppose we both drive to the store. I park my car next to his.

Would Gordon Clark take the position that when I return from the store, I should pay no attention to the color of the car? If my neighbor left his keys in the car, does it make no moral difference whether I drive away with the yellow Alpha Romeo or the red Alpha Romeo?

Or do I have a moral obligation to distinguish my car from his on the basis of visual cues–like color?

“The argument is that every philosophy must have a
first principle, a first principle laid down
dogmatically. Empiricism itself requires a first non-
empirical principle. This is particularly obvious in
that most extreme form of empiricism called logical
positivism. To say that statements are nonsense
unless verifiable by sensation, is itself a statement
that cannot be verified by sensation. Observation
can never prove the reliability of observation. Since,
therefore, every philosophy must have its first
indemonstrable axiom, the secularists cannot deny
the right of Christianity to choose its own axiom.”

But if a Clarkian says you can’t know something unless you can account for something (i.e. give reasons), then an indemonstrable axiom can’t be known to be true.

If, therefore, we treat the Christian faith as an axiomatic system, we can’t know that it’s true. And there’s no reason to prefer it to a rival axiomatic system.

“The principle is sola Scriptura. This is a repudiation
of the notion that theology has several sources such
as the Bible, tradition, philosophy, science, religion,
or psychology. There is but one source, the
Scriptures. This is where truth is to be found. Under
the word truth there is included, in opposition to
irrationalism, logic and the law of contradiction.
Whatever contradicts itself is not truth. Truth must
be consistent, and it is clear that Scripture does not
both affirm and deny an atonement. God is truth.
Christ is the wisdom and Logos of God. And the
words he has spoken to us are spirit and are life.”

Several problems;

i) Given his denial of sense-knowledge, Clark needs to explain how the Bible can even be an object of knowledge.

ii) I don’t deny that truth excludes contradiction. However, notice that Clark made no attempt to exegete the law of contradiction from the Biblical concept of truth. You can’t simply read that off the occurrence of the word “truth” in Biblical usage. What Clark has really done is to begin with preconceived notion of what truth entails, then map that back onto the occurrence of the word in Scripture. He didn’t get that from Scripture alone.

iii) He also has a bad habit of equating the Greek word “logos” with the concept of “logic.” But that’s not what the word “logos” means in Johannine usage.

“The first passage for exegesis is the first passage in
the Bible. God created man after His image and
likeness. This image cannot be man’s body for two
reasons: First, God is spirit and has no body;
second, animals have bodies but they were not
created in God’s image. Therefore, the body cannot
be the image of God.”

That’s a fallacious inference:

i) An image is a physical representation. The fact that what the image represents may be incorporeal doesn’t mean the image itself is incorporeal.

ii) In context, the imago Dei is a finite manifestation of God’s dominion. Man is God’s representative or vice-regent on earth. The exercise of dominion is something he shares in common with his Maker.

iii) Apropos (i)-(ii), the human body is an instrument of dominion. Man can exercise dominion over the sensible world because he has a body. So his body is a necessary expression of that principle.

iv) This is not to deny that we also need certain mental properties to execute the dominion mandate. But Clark’s interpretation is too narrow to do justice to the passage.

“The divine image then must be man’s spirit, for the two elements which compose man are body and spirit. Genesis says that God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and out of these two elements man became a living soul. If the dust or clay is not God’s image, the breath or spirit must be. There is no other possibility.”

Once again, that’s faulty exegesis:

i) In Hebrew usage, man doesn’t have a “soul”; rather, man is a “soul.” A “living being” is not a synonym for “spirit.”

ii) The “breath of life” simply distinguishes a corpse from a living organism.

I myself subscribe to dualism. But you can’t get dualism from these passages. For that you must look elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Solomon, Open Theism, and the Divine Bluff

From Jeremy Pierce.

Can secular humanism be a kind of brainwashing?

Jeremy Stangroom explores the answer.

Ink marks on a page

Sean Gerety did a post a while back entitled “Ink marks on a page.” Normally, when I quote someone, I give the URL. However, an URL would be a sensory object. A string of meaningless numbers and letters. Since Sean denies sense-knowledge, it would be an exercise in futility for me to give the URL.

In his post, Sean attacks the notion that ink marks on a page convey knowledge. To make his case, Sean uses ink marks on a page to prove that ink marks on a page can’t prove anything.

Well, to be more precise, he uses electronically simulated ink marks on a page to prove that ink marks on a page can’t prove anything.

Assuming that Sean’s demonstration is successful, we can safely disregard his entire post, since his entire post consists of ink marks on a page.

Indeed, we can safely disregard his entire blog. Why bother to read his blog when his blog consists of electronically simulated ink marks on a page?

But, for the sake of argument, let’s waive his self-defeating exercise and press ahead.

“Which brings me to what may be the biggest hurdle most people have in coming to grips with Clark’s biblical epistemology and that is his complete rejection of the belief that sensation plays a role in knowledge. Needless to say, the rejection of sensation in the acquisition of knowledge seems counter-intuitive and not at all in accord with so-called ‘common-sense.’ Didn’t God give us sensations and sense organs so that we might come to know Him? Well, not necessarily. After all, and as Clark would say, God gave us stomachs too, but that doesn’t mean that stomachs have an epistemic function…although he was quick to add that it’s hard to study if you don’t eat.”

i) Is that supposed to be an intelligent response? What does that comparison amount to? Is that supposed to be an argument from analogy?

But when the question at issue is sense-knowledge, why think a stomach is analogous to an eye or ear? A stomach is not a sensory organ. It wasn’t designed to perceive the external world.

Gerety might as well say: “Didn’t silversmiths give us steak knives to cut steaks with? Well, not necessarily. After all, and as Clark would say, silversmiths gave us forks and spoons too, but that doesn’t mean you can cut a steak with a spoon.”

Well, suppose you can’t cut a steak with a spoon. Does that also mean you can’t cut a steak with a steak knife? Does that mean a steak knife wasn’t designed to cut steak?

What possesses Gerety to think that Clark’s reply is any sort of counterargument to the issue at hand?

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we accept the comparison. While a stomach isn’t a sensory organ, per se, a stomach does sense certain things. If you drink a nauseating fluid, the stomach will make you feel nauseous. So even a stomach is a source of sense-knowledge.

“But don’t we have to read the Bible with the eyes in our heads? Clark’s critics routinely argue that even if we accept Clark’s position that knowledge is limited to those things set down in Scripture and their necessary inferences, don’t we first have to read the Bible with our eyes? Or, to put it another way, isn’t knowledge necessarily mediated through the senses? Again, not so fast. Clark would reply, and in good lawyerly fashion, by answering this question with the question: How do you know you even have a Bible in your hands?”

Several problems with that response:

i) Is that a Scriptural objection to sense-knowledge? Does the Bible ever pose that question?

ii) According to the Book of Acts, Paul would go into synagogues and reason with his fellow Jews from the Scriptures. Suppose one of his listeners tried to deflect Paul’s appeal by saying: “Paul, how do you know you even have a scroll of Isaiah in your hands?”

Does Gerety think that would be a sound objection to Paul’s practice? Is Paul begging the question by waiving their own copy of Isaiah in their face? Quoting from the scroll which the synagogue kept in its own library?

Gerety isn’t raising a scriptural objection to sense knowledge. Quite the contrary. Gerety is raising an extrascriptural objection to sense knowledge.

iv) What is more, he’s raising an extrascriptural objection to the scriptures. To the written record of God’s word. When a Christian turns to the Bible to quote a passage of Scripture, Gerety’s response is to say, “How do you know you even have a Bible in your hands?”

How in the world does Gerety think that’s a Christian response to the possibility of sense-knowledge?

v) Answering a question with a question is not an answer: rather, it’s a way of ducking the question.

Clark is trying to shift the burden of proof. But even if his opponent ought to be able to answer Clark’s question, that doesn’t absolve Clark of the corresponding requirement to answer the opponent’s question. And even if his opponent were unable to answer Clark’s question, that doesn’t absolve Clark (or Gerety) of shouldering his own burden of proof.

“To which Clark replied: The substantial question is how do we know the contents of the Bible. If Louis XIV or my wife could be replaced with an imposter twin, then maybe the Bible in my hand is a cunningly devised substitute. Mavrodes lays this on rather heavily, and I am glad that he does. So few people are willing to give the point any serious attention. He also mentions, and I wish he had discussed, solipsism; there are also the skeptical arguments of Carneades and Aenesidemus; and as well Descartes’ omnipotent deceptive demon. In fact, until these arguments are successfully circumvented, no one has a firm basis on which to object to my general position… I must point out that he has not met the issue when he says, ‘Sense experience is required for the derivation of such [Biblical] belief’ and ‘every consistent epistemology which assigns a role to the Bible…must assign a role of equal scope and in precisely the same area to sense perception.’ To make such assertions presupposes satisfactory answers to Aenesidemus and Descartes’ demon. Can it be shown that an imposter twin is impossible? Can we be sure that we have not overlooked a ‘not’ in the sentence? There are even greater empirical scandals than these. How can one prove the reliability of memory? Any test designed to show which memory is true and which is mistaken presupposes that a previous memory is true – and this is the point in question. In large measure the psychological force of my position derives from the impossibility of empiricism.”

Several more problems:

i) Once again, how does citing the objections of Carneades, Aenesidemus, and Descartes to sense-knowledge constitute a Scriptural objection to sense-knowledge? These are secular objections. Extrascriptural objections. Pagan objections!

But, according to Scripturalism, extrascriptural objections wouldn’t be knowledgeable objections. At best they’d be merely opinionated objections, and, at worst, ignorant objections. Moreover, you can’t tell which is which.

So why is a Christian “empiricist” obliged to answer objections to sense-knowledge which, according to Scripturalism, are nothing more than philosophers opining against sense-knowledge? These are merely the opinions of Carneades, Aenesidemus, and Descartes. But unless their arguments are demonstrably true, why is a Christian “empiricist” obligated to refute them?

ii) Suppose a Christian layman can’t circumvent the objections of Carneades and Aenesidemus? So what? Does Scripture require a Christian to be able to refute philosophical objections to sense-knowledge?

iii) Suppose a Christian layman, or even a Christian philosopher, can’t disprove a skeptical thought-experiment? So what? Does Scripture require us to refute skeptical thought-experiments?

For that matter, is it the case that we can’t know anything or justifiably believe anything unless we can refute a skeptical thought-experiment?

Why should we make that artificial demand a precondition of knowledge or warranted belief?

iv) What about solipsism? What about Cartesian demons? These aren’t objections to empiricism, per se. These could just as well be deployed against Scripturalism.

If Scripturalism affirms the existence of the external world while solipsism denies the existence of the external world, then even on Scripturalist assumptions no Christian has a justified true belief in the external world unless he can circumvent solipsism. And a Scripturalist can’t very well invoke the Bible to refute solipsism, for the Bible presupposes the existence of the external world–which is the very thing solipsism denies!

Likewise, Cartesian demons aren’t limited to sensory perception. Cartesian demons can be unleashed to bedevil absolute idealism.

The Scripturalist thinks that Jn 3:16 is a divine promise, but that idea was implanted in his mind by a Cartesian demon. How can Clark or Gerety disprove that hypothetical?

Hypothetically speaking, maybe Jesus had an imposter twin. Maybe his imposter twin was crucified. Maybe his imposter twin rose from the dead. Maybe the apostolic eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and Resurrection were (unbeknownst to them) actually witnessing his imposter twin.

Can Clark or Gerety disprove that hypothetical?

v) What about the possibility of overlooking a negation (“not”) in a sentence? To begin with, Clark expressed his opposition to sense knowledge in the form of sentences.

How can a Scripturalist make a case for Scripturalism without expressing himself in sentences? If you can’t articulate your case for Scripturalism without resorting to linguistic tokens, then the possibility of overlooking a negation vitiates the verbal case for Scripturalism.

vi) What about the reliability of memory? If a Clarkian questions the reliability of memory, that isn’t limited to empiricism. The same skepticism will infect Scripturalism.

Scripturalism equates knowledge with deducing propositions from Scripture. But that involves an act of memory. If you misremember the premise, you don’t know if the conclusion was validly inferred from the premise.

vii) The upshot is that if we take Clark’s skepticism seriously, not only would that prove the impossibility of empiricism, it would also and equally disprove the impossibility of Scripturalism.

Continuing with Gerety:

“For Clark, the acquisition of knowledge is not a sensory process and those who insist on a role for sensation are just begging the question. He argued that it is the Divine Logos ‘which lighteth every man’ and that Christ alone is the sin qua non of knowledge, not sensation.”

i) Clark’s appeal to Jn 1:9 is begging the question unless Clark can account for how he acquired his knowledge of Jn 1:9.

ii) Jn 1:9 was written in Greek. You can’t know Jn 1:9 in the original unless you know Greek. Knowledge of Greek involves a knowledge of comparative Greek usage. That’s inductive.

iii) Clark also misinterprets his prooftext. In context, Jn 1:9 has reference, not to general revelation, but special revelation.

“Clark writes: 'With less literary flourish than Malebranche’s peroration one may summarize by saying that truth concerns Ideas, Ideas are in God, and the mind can perceive them only there. These Ideas are alone the objects of thought. Nor can sensory images in any way be transformed into truth. In the language of antiquity and of modernity, abstract concepts can never be derived from sensory images. Though different human beings may and must have different sensations — for your pain is not mine — there is only one set or world of Ideas. It is the system of God’s mind, and we can see them only there'.”

Several problems:

i) How does Clark access divine ideas? Is Clark divine? If divine ideas inhere in God’s mind, how are they available to Gordon Clark?

He can’t appeal to the scriptures, for these are empirical objects.

ii) How does Clark know that different humans have different sensations? Does he mean that each normal human being has its own set of sense organs? I have a pair of eyes. You have a pair of eyes. Your eyes are different from mine?

If, so, how would Clark know, apart from using his own sensory receptors, that each human has his own set of sensory receptors? And doesn’t that also involve an inductive generalization?
iii) Clark fails to distinguish between raw stimuli and the use of sensory media to encode ideas in the form of sentences. Even if, for the sake of argument, you deny that raw stimuli can’t convey abstract concepts, it doesn’t follow that encoded stimuli can’t convey abstract concepts either.

Indeed, Clark is using encoded stimuli (written words) to transfer abstract concepts from his mind to the mind of the reader.

iv) Furthermore, it isn’t obvious why raw stimuli can’t be a source of abstract concepts. If I count 999 black ravens, then I form an abstract concept on the basis of my observation.

I observe 999 instances. I attach a number to my observations. That’s an abstract concept.

This doesn’t tell me that every raven is black. And I don’t derive my concept of enumeration from seeing a series of black ravens. But as a result of observing 999 ravens, I did form an abstract concept.

Likewise, if I play a game of pool, I observe a correlation between a given action and a given reaction. I don’t observe cause-and-effect. But I do observe a correlation. That’s an abstract concept.

Continuing with Gerety:

“Another way to think of Clark’s view, and one I think most Christians can easily grasp, is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith which states that belief in the truth of Scripture rests ultimately on ‘the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts’.”

This is a bait-and-switch tactic. There’s a fundamental difference between what makes something true or knowable, and what makes something believable. Belief is a relation between the subject of knowledge and the object of knowledge. That’s distinct from whether the object of knowledge is true. Or whether a given truth is an object of knowledge (i.e. knowable).

“As Clark would repeat over and over, the Scriptures are not black ink marks on white pages in a black book. They are the eternal thoughts of God. Ink marks may provide an occasion by which we might come to know some of God’s thoughts, even to the saving of our souls, but the ink marks themselves reveal nothing.”

Is that what Scripture says about itself?

“Dr. W. Gary Crampton in his book, The Scripturalism of Gordon Clark, defends Clark’s position this way: God’s Word is eternal; the printed pages of the Bible are not. The letters or words on the printed page are signs or symbols which signify the eternal truth which is the mind of God, and which is communicated by God directly and immediately to the minds of men…Since all knowledge is propositional, and since the senses interacting with creation yield no propositions, knowledge cannot originate, be conveyed by, or be derived from sensation.”

i) Where does Scripture ever tell us that “the senses interacting with creation yield no propositions, knowledge cannot originate, be conveyed by, or be derived from sensation”?

That is not a Scriptural claim. That’s an extrascriptural claim.

ii) If the word of God is “communicated by God directly and immediately to the minds of men,” then the scriptures are superfluous. Clarkian epistemology represents a full-frontal assault on the Bible.

It’s far more radical than Fosdick or Bultmann or Spong. It’s an attack on the credibility of every single clause in the scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.

iii) Does God upload the content of Scripture directly into the mind of every Christian? When does this occur, actly? Is this given in regeneration? Is every Christian a walking Bible, with every single verse at his cognitive fingertips?

iv) Or is this some form of occasionalism? If so, that has it’s own problems. To name a few:

a) Where does Scripture teach occasionalism?

b) Which version of the Bible does God upload?

c) Suppose a Christian is reading a unisex version of the Bible, like the TNIV. Does my idea of God’s word correspond to that occasional prop?

d) What if one Christian is reading an edition with the short ending of Mark while another Christian is reading an edition with the long ending of Mark. Does occasionalism upload rival editions?

“Ink marks, various pitched sounds, Braille, Morse code, sinographs, and whatever else that might be used to communicate are arbitrary conventions, and, in and of themselves, are meaningless signs signifying nothing. Black marks are neither true or false and cannot be properly the objects of knowledge for the simple reason that only propositions can be either true or false. Ink marks have meaning only insofar as rational minds assign them meaning.”

So what? There’s a reason why language is called symbolic discourse. The relation between word and object is a social convention.

To say these linguistic tokens are meaningless in and of themselves is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

It’s like a game of cards. By common consent, certain values are assigned to certain cards–from the deuce of clubs to the ace of spades. Same thing with chess.

Clark was reputed to be a fine chess-player. That involves the assignment of a distinctive “power” or set of “powers” to each chess piece. That’s a truth: an analytical truth. Truth by definition.

Analytical truths have their limitations. It’s not a good way to do history or science.

But it’s perfectly appropriate for games and sports and linguistic activities.

As a result, you can make truth-valued statements about a game of cards or a game of chess. Unless that’s possible, Gordon Clark could never win a game of chess. To win at chess, he had to form “justified true beliefs” about the various powers of the various chess pieces.

“Clark argued that if someone thinks there are truths embedded in ink scratches or which can somehow be derived by sensing them should provide some sort of argument to show how, starting with any number of black marks, they can arrive at any universal truth such as, ‘all men are sinners.’ Yet, not one of Clark’s critics even tried to overcome his challenge and to this day Clark’s critics merely beg the question when insisting on a role for sensation in the acquisition of knowledge.”

Is this paragraph true or false? Gerety’s statement is a series of linguistic tokens. Do these linguistic tokens embed truth-valued propositions?

He accuses us of “begging the question.” But “begging the question” is a verbal phrase. So Gerety is begging the question when he uses that verbal phrase to deny the truth-value of linguistic propositions.

Poor little Gerety keeps banging his birdbrain against the same window. He never tires of smashing his avian skull into that window.