Category Archives: Epistemology

Calvin’s Modest Method

I have been reading Calvin this semester and have been quite enjoying it. One of the most wonderful things is his insistence on contentment with God’s self-revelation. Calvin is a champion of having a humble epistemology, a modest theological method. In speaking of the Trinity he says:

“Here, indeed, if anywhere in the secret mysteries of Scripture we ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure … Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God’s essence when it cannot even get to is own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself. For, as Hilary says, he is the one fit to witness of himself, and is not known except through himself. But we shall be ‘leaving it to him’ if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us, without inquiring about him elsewhere than from his Word.” (1.13.21)


Who is qualified as a witness? pigeon-flyers are right out!

I’ve been doing a little bit of reading for my class on NT backgrounds. I’ve started reading the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin; i.e. the laws and sayings concerning the court and legal cases. (The Mishnah was compiled around AD 200, but likely reflects long standing tradition)

This law is in the context of deciding who would be a fit witness in a civil case concerning property. Those involved in the case can refuse to admit the other’s witness on the grounds that they are kinsfolk or ineligible. This section outlines what would be deemed an ineligible witness.

3. And these are they which are not qualified [to be witnesses or
judges]: a dice-player, a usurer, pigeon-flyers, or traffickers in Seventh Year produce.1 2 R. Simeon said: Beforetime they used to call them ‘gatherers3 of Seventh Year produce’, but after oppressors4 grew many they changed this and called them5 ‘traffickers in Seventh Year produce.’ R. Judah said: This applies only if they have none other trade, but if they have some other trade than that they are not disqualified.

1 All footnotes are from Danby’s 1933 Edition, p. 385

2 When all crops were deemed ownerless property and free to all. Lev. 25:1ff.

3 i.e. who did not let their fields lie fallow.

4 Tax-gatherers, who exacted dues even in the Seventh Year

5 This category of ineligible witnesses and judges.

This little bit illumines some of the possible interpretive pitfalls the gospels may have been trying to avoid, (or possibly confront); this may be why we have no gospel written by James, Jesus’ brother, and yet it also makes one wonder about Matthew. Was he trustworthy? He may have made a case for his legitimacy as a witness in outlining his abandoning his work as a tax-collector.

Overall, this is interesting to me because I am curious what sort of criteria of testimony our gospel writers might be conforming to. I am particularly interested in why John has in mind about his own gospel, especially give his heavy handed use of “testimony,” “witness,” and “truth” themes.

At the end of the day, I’m just glad my pigeon-flying days are behind me


January Work

Since I didn’t take a class during the three week term in January, Beth graciously agreed for me to have a few hours everyday for research. Toward the end of the month this time was used for reading ahead for the Spring term. However, for the first week or so I was able to let some thoughts percolate that otherwise had been stifled by the many assignments hanging over my head.


Epistemology and John:

Testimony is a dominant theme throughout the book, in fact John says at the very end of the book “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24). We are to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ (20:31), because of his testimony. And yet Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have believed” (20:29). So our belief in John’s testimony is epistemically as justified as empirical beliefs which we would call verifiable (and even veridical); Thomas puts his hand in the risen Jesus’ side. However, though testimony is no less epistemologically justified its justification is derivative to the empirical fact. Another way this relationship could be construed is in terms of authority: John and Thomas’ eyewitness testimony is much more authoritative than mine would be.

The odd and great thing about this testimony is that there is still much wiggle room for the person hearing it; i.e. you can still reject it and have your reason intact. Testimony is not the same as logical proof (though I often wish it was when I am in the midst of conversations!) Even after the most convincing statement from a trustworthy source you are still left to decide whether you believe them. It is different from empirical ‘data’ insofar as the source of the putative belief is still in question, however none of us question our senses (ceteres paribus).

Yet, my sense is that John goes through much trouble to demonstrate that his testimony to the reader (not to mention Jesus’ testimony to Israel and the Pharisees), is credible in every regard. All of the criteria which we might bring to evaluate whether his claims are trustworthy are met with flying colors. So although his testimony is credible and sufficient (again, not exhaustive), it has not been accepted (as seen in the case of the Pharisees (cf. esp. John 5). It seems then that some corrolaries can be traced out which might help to further eludcidate our understanding of the biblical account/doctrine of the noetic effects of sin/the fall.

  • There is a natural ability to listen to the testimony and even understand it. It seems like Jesus assumes that Nicodemus ought to understand regeneration by the Spirit though he is clearly not regenerate. This runs up against what seemed to me basic to our reformed apologetic: in order to believe, your fundamental assumptions/allegiance has to be altered, and your person has to be the subject of the Spirit’s regenerating work. So, by God’s common and sustaining grace, fallen humanity is able to understand the testimony though not accept it.
  • The question then is, “is this rejection not evidence of a further more fundamental level of deception as a result of the noetic effects of sin?” What is the exact locus, or effect of sin on the mind? I am convinced that there is both an element in which the mind cannot understand revelation and stubbornly will not humbly receive revelation apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit. Thus Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” Again, John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
  • Wherever the locus of the fall on the mind and the will is, there is nonetheless an Ethics of Knowing which comes into play. The will is displayed in your beliefs more than anything else. You are no neutral observer, but a willful agent in the whole matter, choosing to believe one set of claims over against another for various reasons (none of which are epistemological checkmates).
  • The big question is how does all of this relate to Natural Law?
  • After all, revelation takes place with cultural/intellectual categories
  • Yet some element is either rejected or unable to be accepted
  • The end game seems to be that a fundamental shift of loyalty is needed with the mind and will. The illuminating work of the Spirit is needed.

If some of this is slightly confusing; I apologize. I tried to provide a bit of context for some of my comments as well as some dialectical conversational dynamic. But this is only fragments of the whole; it is not all said and done.


PS: Just to demonstrate the importance of epistemology…. I’ve been thinking about one of the sticking points between Catholics and Protestants lately; Tradition vs. Scripture. This is essentially an epistemological question.

Demystifying Logos: A Life Beyond Reason

A few excerpts from this excellent article on how a man who prized intellectual aptitude was disabused of his own blindness when he was given a son whom he loves, who has severe mental disabilities.

My son, August, has a number of quirks that distinguish him from the typically developing 10-year-old. He lives with cerebral palsy, is a spastic quadriplegic, has cortical visual impairment (meaning he is legally blind), is completely nonverbal and cognitively disabled, has a microcephalic head, and must wear a diaper. Moreover, he is immobile—he can’t crawl or scoot around or hold himself up or even sit in a chair without being strapped in it. If someone were to put him on the floor and leave him there, he would be in the same location hours later, give or take a foot.

As I grew older, I was inspired by Socrates’ statement that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Similarly, Aristotle’s dictum that man is the animal having "logos," the power of reasoning, impressed me. The notion that the human being is a rational animal made sense, and I internalized it as a basic assumption, as I did Socrates’ pronouncement. At San Francisco State University, I became intrigued by the Enlightenment. John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant fascinated me. Who would not want to be enlightened? Who in his or her right mind would choose in favor of a benighted past of superstition, ignorance, and blind faith in custom? I put my faith in reason. Eventually I obtained my doctorate at Stanford in 18th-century British literature—the age of reason: Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson. In sum, I grew up prizing intellectual aptitude—not that I am a candidate for Mensa—and detesting "poor mental function."

After his birth, as I entered the intensive-care nursery, I was deeply ambivalent, having been persuaded by the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer’s advocacy of expanding reproductive choice to include infanticide. But there was my son, asleep or unconscious, on a ventilator, motionless under a heat lamp, tubes and wires everywhere, monitors alongside his steel and transparent-plastic crib. What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this, the shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant.

Especially in an academic environment that rewards being smart, how do I broach the idea that people with intellectual disabilities are fully equal? We academics advance in our careers by demonstrating how clever we can be, and because so much depends on flaunting intelligence, it is harder for us than for most people to steer clear of prejudice. In posing my awkward questions, I have focused on teaching literature and disability-studies courses and writing articles that examine the rhetoric and representation of intellectual disability.

We wrongly assess our value in terms of our contributions, skills, aptitudes. Humanities value is in bearing the image of the Father.

Bearing true witness: not the same as proof

In reference to the structuralist interpretive school among those who have agreed with the dichotomy between absolute objective knoweldge, and radical skepticism.

For it is not enough to fill our minds with biblical ideas, vocabulary, and images, unless we think that by ddoing so we are being led to think true thoughts about what is actually there – that the Bible actually refers to peope, events and even God himself, as living outside the Bible, and that the Bible bears true witness to them (even though, transparently, it cannot bear exhustive witness to them, or produce ominscient knowledge of these extra-biblical realities among those who read about them in the Bible’s pages). We are not saved by biblical ideas: this is a narrowly intellectualist approach. We are saved by the God and the biblical events to which the Bible refers, bearing true witness.

Pg 65, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed., Carson and Moo.

The usage of witness and testimony in the NT, especially John, is prolific. It seems to stand as a symbol of a godly epistemology: a humble but trustworthy approach. I am becoming more and more interested in the sort of knowledge the Bible expects us to have, and expects us to gain by believing; its not exhaustive, and its not skeptical.


Recent Guess work on Genre and Epistemology in Genesis

My guess: Partiality reflects testimonial communication. Detail and Sober mood asks for full acceptance but does not communicate exhaustively. This text is to serve as foundation of all other beliefs, and is to be accepted as true testimony. Belief in testimony relies on recognition that the believer isn’t able to make final critical judgment from privileged epistemic status. Knowledge of believer is true yet partial. Just as Adam and Eve, this knowledge is to be subject to God and yet is given much evidence for trusting in it, and much liberty within its constraints. The appeal to submit to and follow God does reject our reason, but gives every reason available. Yet the request to submit is not communicated in terms that assume our epistemological independence or authority.

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Schaeffer on Epistemology; He is there and he is not silent pt. 3

In Schaeffer’s third chapter, he continues to his positive account of Christian philosophy, this time in parallel to the accounts he has already given in ethics and metaphysics. He spends the last two chapters of the book, (this and the next) on epistemology, because, it seems, he understands it as the central problem in our day. I agree.

Apologies for the long quotes previously, I will try to skim and synthesize more this time (not in a Hegelian sense though).

The Challenge of Epistemology

Summarizing epistemology for the Greeks:

“Are the Fates simply the vehicle of the action of the gods or are the Fates the universal behind the gods and do they manipulate the gods? There is this constant confusion between the Fates and the gods as the final control. This expresses the Greeks’ deep comprehension that their gods simply were not adequate: they were not big enough with regard to the Fates and they were not big enough with regard to knowledge. So though Plate and the Greeks understood the necessity of finding a universal, and saw that unless there was a universal, nothing was going to turn out right, they never found a place from which the universal could come either for the polis or for the gods.” (40)

On Nature and Grace:

“In nature you have the body; in grace you have the soul. But eventually we always come down to the problem of particulars and universals. In nature you have the particulars; in grace you have the universal.” (41)

“…there is a principle here; that is, if nature or the particulars are autonomous from God, then nature begins to eat up grace. … Here you can see the fridt toward modern man and his cynicism. It was born back there. We are left with masses of particluars but no way to get them together.” (41-42)

On Da Vinci and the Modern Drift:
“He understood that if you began on the basis of rationalism  – that is, man beginning only from himself, and not having anyoutside knowledge – you would have only mathematics and particulars and would end up with only mechanics” (42)

“Leonardo really became very much like the modern man. He said we should try to paing the universals. This is really very close to the modern concept of the upper-story experience. So he painted and painted and painted, trying to paint the universals. He actually tried to paint the universal just as Plato had had the idea that if we were really to have a knowledge of chairs, there would have to be an ideal chair somewhere that would cover all the kinds of chairs. Leonardo, who was a Neo-Platonist, understood this, and he said, ‘Let man produce the universals.’ But what kind of men? The mathematical man? No, not the mathematical man but the painter, the sensitive man. So Leonardo is a very crucial man in the area of humanistic epistemology.” (41-42)

“In my earlier books I have referred to Whitehead and Oppenheimer, two scientists – neither one a Christian – who insisted that modern science could not have been born except in the Christian milieu. … As Whitehead so beautifully points out, these men all believed that the universe could be found out by reason. This was their base. Modern science is the original science, in which you had men who believed in the uniformity of natual causes in a limited system, a system which could be reordered by God and by man made in the image of God. This is a couse and effect system in a limited time span. But from the time of Newton … we have the concept of the ‘machine’ until we are left with only the machine, and you move in to ‘modern modern science,’ in which we have the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, including sociology, and psychology. Man is included in the machine.” (43)

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau is crucial at this point, because he changed the formulation from ‘nature and grace’ to ‘nature and freedom,’ absolute freedom. Rousseau and the men around him saw that in the area of ‘nature.’ everything had become the machine. In other words, ‘downstairs’ everything was in the area of positivism, and everything was a machine. ‘Upstairs’ they added the other thing, that is, absolute freedom. In the sense of absolute freedom upstairs, not only is man not to be bound by revelation, but he is not to be bound by society, the polis, either. This concept of autonomous freedom is clearly seen in Gaugin, the painter. He was getting rid of all the restraints, not just the restraint of God, but also the restraint of the polis, which for Gaugin was epitomized by the highly developed culture of France. He left France and went to Tahiti to be rid of the culture, the polis. In doing this, he practiced the concept of the noble savage which, of course Jean-Jacques Rousseau had previously set forth. You get rid of the restraints, you get rid of the polis, you get rid of God or the gods; and then you are free. Unhappily, though not surprisingly, this did not turn out as he expected.” (44)

“It is only a step, really, from men like Gaugin to the whole hippie culture, and as a matter of fact, to the whole modern culture. In one sense there is a parenthesis in time from Rousseau until the birht of the hippie culture and the whole modern culture which is founded on the view that there are no universals anywhere … We can easily see the moral confusion that has resulted from this, but the epistemological confusion is worse. If there are no universals, how do we know reality from non-reality?” (45)

“Kierkegaard, and especially Kierkegaardism that followed him, teachers that that which would give meaning is always separated from reson; reason only leads to knowledge downstairs, which is mathematical knowledge without any meaning, but upstairs you hope to find a non-rational meaning for the particulars.” (46)

“The distinctions between the forms of existentialism do not change the fact that it is the same system even though it has different expression with these different men, namely, that rationality leads only to something horrible in every area, including knowledge.” (46)

“I am convinced that the generation gap is basically in the area of epistemology. Before, man had a romantic hope that on the basis of raiontalism he was going to be able to find a meaning to life, and put universals over the particulars. But on this side of Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard, this hope no longer exists; the hope is given up.” (47)

“So man makes his leap ‘upstairs’ into all sorts of mysticisms in the area of knowledge …. modern man’s mysticisms are semantic mysiticisms that deal only with words; they have nothing to do with anything being there, but are simply concerned with something in one’s own head, or in language in one form or another.” (48)

“And truly there is probably not a chair of pihlosophy of importance in the world today that teaches positivism. it is still held by the undergraduate and by the naiive scientist who, with a happy smile on his face, is building on a foundation that no longer exists.” (48)

“Polyani argues thta positivism is inadequate because it does not consider the knower of what is known. It acts as though the knower may be overlooked and yet have full knowledge of certain things, as though the knower knew without actually being there. Or you might say positivism does not take into account he knower’s theories or presuppositions. You can assume that he approaches the thing without any presuppositions, without any grid through which he feeds his knowledge.

But there is the dilemma, as Polyani shows, because this simply is not true. There is no scientist in the positivistic position who does not feed knowledge through a grid – a theory or world view through which he sees and finds. The concept of the toally innocent, objective observer is utterly naiive. And science cannot exist without an observer.” (49)

“Within positivism as a total structure there is no way of saying with certainty that naything exists. Within the system of positivism itself, by the very nature of the case, you simply begin nakedly with nothing there. You have no reason with the system to know that the data is data, or that what is reading you is data.” (50)

On Wittgenstein:

“…in this early stage,” that of the Tractatus, “he argued that down here in the world (in the area of reason) you have facts: you have the propositions of natural science. This is all that can be said; it is all that you can put into language. This is the limit of language and the limit of logic. ‘Downstairs’ we can speak, but all that can be spoken is the mathematical propositions of natural science. Language is limited to the ‘downstairs’ of reason, and that ends up with mathematical formulations.

…. Even in his early days, there were already the elements of mysticism. In the ‘upper story’ he put silence, because you could not talk about anything outside of the known world of natural science. But man desperately needed values, ethics, meanings to it all. Man needs these desperately, but there is only silence there. Wittgenstein says that there is only silence in the area of the things man desperately needs most – values, ethics, and meanings. Man knows it needs to be there, he argues, but he cannot even talk or think about it. Values, ethics, meanings are all upstairs. No matter how much we need them, there is only silence.” (52)

“The ‘old’ Wittgenstein and the existentialist really are very, very close at this particular point, though it you move from England to the Continent in the study of philosophy you find that people ususally assume that they are completely at variance.” (52)

“Thus we are left with two anti-philosophies in the world today. One is existentialism, which is an anti-philosophy because it deals witht he big questions but with no rationality. But if we follow the later Wittgenstein’s development, we move into linguistic analysis, and we find that this also is an anit-philosophy, because wehere it defines words in the area of reason, language leads to language and that is all. It is not only the certainty of values that is gone but the certainty of knowing.” (53)

“Whether we are dealing with Heidegger saying, ‘Listen to the poet,’ and offering an upper story semantic mysticism which seems to give hope, or with Wittgenstein who moves in the opposite direction and is more honest in saying that there is noly silence upstairs and therefore all we can do is define words which weill never deal finally with meaning or values; whether we looks at Heidegger or Wittgenstein, who move in opposite directions at the point of language, the interesting thing is that modern man has come to conclude that the secret of the whole thing lies somehow in language. This is the age of semantics at this very basic point.

Notice what this means to us. The whole question with Heidegger and Wittgenstein … is whether there is anyone adequately there in th euniverse to speak. … Positivism, which was an optimistic rationalism and the base of naturalistic science, has died, It has been proved to be an insufficient epistemology. But the remaining alternatives – existentialism on the one hand, and linguistic analysis on the other – are anti-philosophies which cause man to be hopeless concerning ethics, values, meaning, and the vertainty of knowledge. So in epistemology we are surrounded by a sea of anti-philosophy.” (54)

Reality and Fantasy, and Other Minds:

“… the modern cinema and other art forms go beyond the loss of human and moral categories. They point out quite properly that if you have no place for categories, you not only lose categories where moral and human values are concerned, but you also lose any categories which would distinguish between reality and fantasy.” (56)

“How do we have any categories to enable us to move into the other person’s though world? This is the modern man’s alienation; this is the blackness which so many modern people face, the feeling of being totally alientated. A couple can sleep together for ten or fifteen years, but how are they going to get inside each other’s heads to know anything about the other person as a person, in contrast merely to a language machine? It is easy to know the facade of a language machine, but how you get in behind the language and know the person in this kind of setting? This is a very special modern form of lostness.” (57)

He hits the nail on the head so many times. What is so exciting about Wittgenstein and others is that as you read them you can hear the image of God crying out “something is wrong”. I would love to work on a project of a theological critique of the later Wittgenstein, epsecially in his work On Certainty.

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Schaeffer on Ethics, He is there and he is not silent, pt. 2

As noted before, I have really enjoyed Schaeffers little book. I was particularly impressed with his ability to tie metaphysics in with ethics. I usually hate ethics. It is boring to me particularly because so much time is spent talking about the hot topics. And usually people discuss ethical issues like they discuss flavors of ice cream. Ethics becomes interesting when one of two things happen: 1) Meta-ethics is considered. How we go about choosing ethical norms, as well as choosing the criteria for choosing ethical norms. What motivates our establishing ethical norms as well as our actual practice is profound in meaning. 2) Ethics is related to metaphysics and epistemology. Schaeffer builds on metaphysics. Frame and Newbigin would both say that knowledge is ethical; there is an element of the will and morality in submitting to God and gaining true knowledge of the world. Knowledge of creation depends on a moral choice to not consider yourself judge over God.

Schaeffer evaluates ethical positions on metaphysical bases. This is his genius. He sets out two main options: an impersonal beginning, and a personal beginning. The personal beginning has two options within itself: man is continuous now as he was created, or he is discontinous, changed.

So without further ado here are the quotes:

Impersonal Beginning

Insignificance of Cruelty

Insignificance of Cruelty

“Thus to the pantheist, the final wrong or tension is the failure to accept your impersonality. If you look to those places in the East where pantheims has worked itself out more consistently than in our modern, libearl theology, or the hippie-type of pantheism, you will find that the final wrong int man, the final Karma, if you will, is the fact that he will not accept his impersonality. In other words, he will not accept who he is.

In the Hindu paneverythingism there is a hight development of the fact that there is no ultimate difference between cruelty and non-cruelty. This can be seen clearly in the person of Kali. … Interestingly enough, the feminine Kali is also always the destroyer. She is often pictured as having great fangs, with skilly hanging around her neck. Why? Because finally, cruelty is just as much a part of what is as is non-cruelty.” (pg 24-25)

“But, eventually as you examine the new theology as well as the pantheims of the East, you come to the place where you cannot rightly speak of right or wrong. In Western religious paneverythingism, we find men trying to stem off this situation, and to retain a distinction between cruelty and non-cruelty. They try to hold off the arrival at the place where they have to acknowledge that there is no basic meaning to the words “right” and “wrong.” But it cannot be done. It is like starting a stone downhill. Beginning with the impersonal, though one may use religious terms and even Christian terms, there is no final absolute and there are no final categories concerning right and wrong. Hence what is left may be worded in many different ways in different cultures, but it is only the relative – that which is sociological, statistical, situational – nothing else. You have situational, statistical ethics – the standard of averages – but you cannot have morality.” (pg 25)

Schaeffer rejects the impersonal beginning of creation as a basis for ethics. It is not true to what is there.

Personal Beginning:

“If man was created by a persona;-infinite God, how can we escape the conclusion that the personal God who made man cruel is himself also bad and cruel? This is where the French thinkers Charles Baudelaire and Albert Camus come on the scene. Baudelaire … has a famous sentence: “If there is a God, he is the Devil.” … [A] real Christian would agree with Baudelaire that if there is an unborken line between what man is now ans what he has always intrisically been, then if there is a God, he is the Devil. Although as Christians, we would definitly differ from baudelaire, we would agree with this conclusion if we begin with his premise.

Now Camus dealt with the same problem from a slightly different viewpoint. He argued that if there is a God, then we cannot fight social evil, for if we do, we are fighting God who made the world as it is. What these two men say is, I think irrefutable if we accept the absic premise that man stands where he has always stood – that there has been a continuity of intrinsic cruelty.” (pg 27-28)

“I have said that people who argue irrationality to be the answer are always selective about where they will become irrational. That is certainly true of this area. Suddenly men who have been saying that they are arguing with great reason become irrationalists at this point, and say that there is only an irrational answer for the questions of how God is good. Liberal moderna theology is firmly fixed in this classification.

Let us look at this more carefully . As soon as irrationality is brought in at this point, it will lead to tension in two directions at the same time. First, there will eb a motion back toward reason. As people argue that God is a good God against all reason rationality, there is something in them that is in tension. Consequently, liberal who offer this answer frequently split off back into reason, and every time they do, they lose this blindly optimistic answer. As soon as they enter reason, the optimistic answer is gone, because all the optimism concerning God’s goodness rests upon irrationality. If they step back into the area of reason, they are back into  pessimism; that is, if there is a God he is a bad God. … As one flees into irrationality at this point, there is the tendency to spin off back into pessimism.

The other tension that is immediately set up when people give this answer is to spin off in the opposite direction, towards making everything irrational. As they spin off towards irrationality, they ask, where do I stop? They tend to say that perhaps on should just accept the whole irrational chaotic situation, and decide that there is no meaning in the use of religious “god-words” at all. ” (pg 28- 29)

“Modern man has no real basis for fighting evil, because he sees man as normal – whether he comes out of the paneverythingism of the East or modern liberal theology, or out of the paneverythingism of everything’s being reduced (inclduing man) to only the energy particle. … [The Christian] has the solution for Camus’ problem” we can fight evil without fighting God, because God did not make things as they are now – as man in his cruelty has made them. … [Man’s cruelty and the results of man’s cruelty] are abnormal, contrary to what God made, and so we can fight the evil without fighting God.” (pg 32)

Schaeffer uses Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb as a great example of sorrow for death, and blinding anger at the evil of death, without being angry at God.

“He was furious; and he could be furious at the evil of death without being furious with himself as God. This is tremendous in the context of the twentieth century.” (pg 32)

“It is important to remember that it is not improper for men to ask these questions concerning metaphysics and morals, and Christians should point out that there is not answer to these questions except that God is there and he is not silent. Students and other young people should not be told to keep quiet when they ask these questions. They are right to ask them, but we should make it plain to them that these are the only answers. It is this or nothing.” (pg 34)

Schaeffer saw clearly that if you do not submit to Christ on all these matters, and cling to the biblical philosophy, then you are left with a thorough-going nihilism. Nietzsche was the honest philsopher. He rejected Christ and was consistent in that rejection. Most others want to have their cake and eat it to; it just doesn’t work like that. I suppose it would be more like: either the Judaeo – Christian God of the Bible exists as does the cake that you can eat, or the cake, and nothing else exists.

Here is Schaeffer’s positive account of the ethical situation man finds himself in:

“Now we have come to the other possibility, the Judaeo-Christian position. There was a spcae-time, historic change in man. There is a discontinuity and not a continuity in man. Man, made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice from his proper integration point at a ceratin time in history. When he did this, man became something that he preciously was not, and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem rather than a merely metaphysical one. Man, at a certain point of history, changed himself, and hence stands, in his cruelty, in discontinuity with what he was, and we have a true moral situation: morals suddenly exist. Everything hands upon the fact that man is abnormal now, in contrast to what he originally was.” (pg 30)

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Schaeffer on Epistemology, He is there and he is not slient

I just finished Schaeffer’s little but powerful book on the three main areas of philosophy; Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology. I picked it up for a friend but ended up reading it before I gave it to him. There are so many priceless, insightful, and terse lines I thought I would share some. He cuts to the heart of the issue with some very beautiful summaries. Here are some of my favorites from the first chapter, the others will follow in later posts (I hope).

“Man is personal and yet he is finite, and so he is not a sufficient integration point for himself. We might remember another profound statement from Sartre, that no finite point has any meaning unless it has an infinite reference point. The Christian would agree that he is right in this statement.” (2)

“Christians have tended to despise the concept of philosophy. This has been one of the weaknesses of evangelical, orthodox Christianity – we have been proud in despising philosophy, and we have been exceedingly proud in despising the intellectual. Our theological seminaries hardly ever relate their theology to philosophy, and specifically to the current philosophy. Thus, men go out from the theological seminaries not knowing how to relate it. It is not that they [do] not know the answers, but my observation is that most men graduating from our theological seminaries do not know the questions.” (4)

“If a man held that everything is meaningless, nothing has answers and there is no cause-and-effect realtionship, and if he really held this position with any consistency, it would be very hard to refute. But in fact, no one can hold consistently that everything is chaotic and irrational and that there are no basic answers. it can be held theoretically, but it cannot be held in practice that everything is absolute chaos” (5)

He hits the nail on the head in so many of these. The last one is especially important when we consider Hume. He refutes the belief in induction as rationally based. There is no objective basis, when rationally considered, for believing that the future will resemble the past, or that x causes y. Yet, in spite of this ‘bombshell’ (as my profs used to call it), his approach to the philosophical life was a purely professional one. That is to say, philosophy is to be left in the study, and should not encroach on living a normal life. Hume was not willing to step off a cliff, because he knew that he would fall to his death. Yet, Nietzshce somewhat embodies a thotough going rejection of God, and trust in revelation…. and of course loses his mind at the end of his life.

“Perhaps you remember one of Godard’s movies, Pierrot le Fou,” (I dont, but thanks anyway) “in which he has people going out through the windows, instead of through the doors. But the interesting things is that they do not go out through the solid walll. Godard is really saying that although he has no answer, yet at the same time he cannot go out through that solid wall. This is merely his expression of the difficulty of holding that there is a totally chaotic unverse while the external world has form and order.” (6)

“…That which is personal began everything else, the very opposite of beginning with the impersonal. In this case man, being personal, does haev meaning. … These things are not abstract, but have to do with communicating the Christian gospel in the midst of the twentieth century. I get tired of being asked why I don’t just preach the ‘simple gospel.’ You haev to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is noo longer simple. The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem.” (11)

“It is not that [Christianity] is the best answer to existence; it is the only answer” (15)

“…Man, beginning with himself, can define the philosophical problem of existence, but he cannot generate from himself the answer to the problem. The answer to the problem of existence is that the infinite-personal, triune God is there, and that the infinite-personal, triune God is not silent.” (19)

Schaeffer speaks so clearly on many of these topics. It has been a great encouragement to me to read him and be reminded of the positive account we have in the Bible, in God’s word. I often am consumed with the negative account of why postivism, rationalism etc. fail, but neglect the positive. The account that Schaeffer builds is exactly what we need. What I would hope to do at some point is use secular philosophers (like Wittgenstein, Quine, etc.) to frame the exact problems on a more technical level so as to more clearly explicate biblical beliefs in contrast to the emptiness of the worlds attempts to answer the questions. Some day…maybe.

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Authority V. Objectivity

We all know the difference between when someone hems and haws in answering a question, and when some speaks succinctly and with authority. Our Lord was One who spoke with authority unlike the scribes and Pharisees. This difference between Christ’s way of speaking and teaching (and the apostles for that matter), and the way the Pharisees is the difference between speaking with authority and speaking with an appeal to justification by objectivity. The second seems like a stronghold, but, in effect, neuters itself when analyzed by its own criteria. [If it isn’t subjected to its own criteria, and therefore rejected, it just comes across as pompousness, and we hate it anyway!]

Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine about an book called The Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers. It is a work on color theory, and is awesome. This friend said that this book was powerful not only for his demonstrations but because he spoke them so pointedly. You were forced to either agree with him, or disagree. Disagreeing, you were then propelled to think about what in particular you disagreed with.  Either way, you could not walk away unchanged, or without a stance on his proposal. [In fact much of what I realized recently has to do with my friend’s words about all this].

The author, on the subject of color, could have easily given statistics, and built a case stating why colors interact the way they do. Yet this would have been lacking the force needed to make the point clearly. In fact, if he were to have gone into a long discussion on what objections might have been made, or why his assumptions were justified empirically (for instance), his conclusion would have been weakened. A dialectic approach would have returned his thesis to nill, as our dismal and conclusive history of philosophy has shown us.

This does not mean I am advocating a discussion-less dogmatism, where objections are disregarded as dead weight. That would be nonsense. Rather I am opposing the traditional scheme we have of knowledge in the West. Objective knowledge is supposedly what we want. We act as if once we make reference to some epistemological buck stopper (e.g. empirical ‘facts’ gathered by scientific inquiry) our knowledge is holy and untouchable. Yet, this is simply a fiction we have sold ourselves at the cost of our judgment. Our faculty of judgment stands in contrast to the goal of Modern Objectivity; intuitive grasp exceeds the reach of objectivity.

Alston, Plantinga, Wittgenstein have all written agaisnt this sort of modern foundationalist approach. Alston’s account is the most powerful. Epistemic Circularity, Alston says, is what we fall under each time we reference some sort of foundational epistemological buck stopper.  To quickly demonstrate this let’s say: Empirical facts are the foundation for every true belief. In order for it to be true that empirical data is the foundation of true knowledge, it also has to be true that data got empirically is reliable. Why would empirical data be thought of as reliable and trustworthy then? Because empirical data is the foundation of true knowledge. So in order for our original assumption to be true, the implications that rely on it must be true. Thus because neither one arrives at a basic fact, niether is objectively true.

In a different way we see that objective knowledge is mythical creature. Often the criteria we use to judge whether a statement is true doesn’t itself hold up to its own criteria. I guess you could call it Epistemic Hypocrisy, (or at least I would). A statement like this “Only knowledge gotten scientifically is true”, is not itself a scientific statement and so loses savor in its own light, (it neuters itself).

So instead I want to propose (and begin working towards), authoritative knowledge. I call it authoritative because it does not attempt to claim ownership of the mythical creature “objectivity”, but claims to derive truth from the One who has authority over all things; our Lord. I know something, not because I can make reference to a long list of empirical facts, but because I live in God’s creation, and by His authority, I trust my senses and my understanding of the world.  My assumption is the trustworthiness of God and the faculties He has given me because I live in His creation.

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