Tag Archives: epistemology

Trust in relationships

I recently took my daughter to see Tangled. In the movie Rapunzel is stolen from her parents and raised by the evil witch for her own ends (to keep your young).

After the movie ended I asked my daughter how she knew her mother and I weren’t like the evil witch. After some exploration she came to the conclusion that she couldn’t really know, although there were a few. The most important, of which, is the knowledge that my wife and I are, in fact, her biological parents. We created her and it logically follows that we should seek the best for her.

Later on I decided to revive this line of questioning in regards to her grandmother. Our answer here, however, was different. The answer to the question of why my daughter should trust anyone other than her parents is found in her parent’s relationship with them. Either we trust them and thus my daughter is warranted in placing her trust in them, or else (as in the case of her Grandmother) they are related to us and thus trust is implicitly implied by virtue of a chain of creation.

And this is when it dawned on me that our relationship with the Father plays a critical role in our relationship with others.

How would we know whom to trust, how to interact with, and how to love others without at least a rudimentary relationship (like being created in His image) with our Father? We could say that our relationship with God is foundational to all of our subsequent relationships.

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Faith is not a gift, its a conclusion. A verb, not a noun.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Faith is not the gift, Jesus is. Faith is what everyone operates on at some level as we are not omniscient beings who can possess knowledge with 100% certainty. Faith is trust and trust must have an object. It is on the object of our faith that the strength of our faith may be built. If that object is weak, so will be our faith.

Faith, along with our ability to reason and love are both vestiges of the image of God in us. Also, faith is not a work under the law, so even if it were volitional (which it isn’t) it doesn’t count as a work meritorious unto salvation.

Now many (mostly of the reformed variety) like to argue that such a view of faith entails a view of men wherein we are somehow independent of God. We are not wholly independent beings, and quite frankly that is not the issue, its more like a red herring. The issue is whether we are

  1. accountable for our own sins and
  2. whether we are obliged to freely trust (believe/have faith in) Christ that He is who He claimed to be and is able to save us like He claimed to be able to do.

So yes, my faith did come from God, the ability to faith propositional statements (or trust/believe them), and the object of my faith came from God as well. However the responsibility to turn our wills towards Christ in response to the calling of the Holy Spirit is wholly our own.

Faith is not blind (it cannot be and is not prescribed in Scripture). Jesus Himself appeared to be very interested in giving definitive proofs of His resurrection. He argued theologically and historically with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and He provided His body for physical examination by all the disciples (not just Thomas).

Finally, the Greek word translated as faith may be marked as a noun in lexicons. However a noun is defined as:

a content word that can be used to refer to a person, place, thing, quality, or action
the word class that can serve as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or in apposition

Faith is an action, the object of grace, what grace is intended to lead us towards, specifically faith or trust in Christ. In that sense faith is synonymous with believe and trust. Belief or trust or faith are commonly portrayed in the Bible in the context of a marriage relationship, so my faith in Christ is akin to the faith I have in my wife. Both are based on love, and both are ongoing attitudes I take towards persons I love.

Here are a few more resources on the subject of faith:

Naturalism’s problem with the mind

Here is a 3 part video set that shows what naturalists think the fate of philosophy will be in the “age of neuroscience”

Our biological similarities with animals should serve as evidence that our real cognitive differences do not lie in our biological/physical make-up. However, neuroscientists like the ones above are quite happy to paint humans as mere machines responding to stimulus around them (aka, naturalism). The problem they face (and have yet to address) is that human’s regularly display patterns of mental activity in the absence of any stimulus. It’s called dreaming and it is the experimental Achilles heel of neuroscientists who think their field will supplant fields dealing with metaphysics like philosophy and theology.

Now neuroscience does a great job in showing us how the brain functions and how it may affect our cognitive abilities, but when it makes claims like “our cognitive faculties are only material, nothing else” it steps outside of empirical science and into philosophy. Even if it were true that we are nothing more than molecules in motion, there would be no epistemically valid reason for us to believe it.

Also, “I can’t imagine” is not an accurate representation of the current argument against philosophical naturalism. This is what the neuroscientist above arrives as at when pressed on the implications of their views in regard to the free will, a phenomenon all humans experience. The real argument is based on the logical contradiction found in epistemically closed system1. If the physical is all there is, then our brains are causally directed by the world around us. The will is rendered a myth and our appearance of thought is merely an illusion (which also begs the question as to where this illusion came from in the first place). It’s odd that she brings up the commonly believe and ultimately false scientific notion that the universe had no beginning. If our brains are nothing more than complex machines, then our thoughts had no beginning either.

She also misrepresents Galelio, his error was making wild claims without sufficient proof in arrogant ways. Much like what naturalists do when they claim to have answers they don’t.

Using fire as a deconstruction linguistic tool to lead into their definition of free will. Culminates in a great big “we don’t know”. We don’t know? Really?

Something tells me that, like the death of God, the death of philosophy is greatly exaggerated.

  1. That is, a system where new knowledge cannot be acquired. In this case new knowledge is impossible if our minds are causally controlled by purely physical forces. []

A tribute to Alvin Plantinga

Tonight I’ll have the privilege of seeing Alvin Plantinga deliver a lecture on the incompatibility between science and naturalism at this year’s Evangelical Philosophical Conference. Dr Plantinga is widely recognized as one of the foremost philosophers in the world today. He is best known for his groundbreaking work in the area of epistemology (the study of how we know what we know). His crowning works are his Warrant series of books which include:

Since he deals with the issue of the mind quite a bit, Dr. Plantinga has also developed a rather strong argument against naturalism’s inability to ground the cognitive reliability of the mind. In sum, Plantinga’s argument goes as follows:

If natural selection is preoccupied with the survival of the species, then it follows that the production of true beliefs in any surviving organism is not guaranteed. Hence, if we have evolved as naturalists say we have, then we have no reason to trust the cognitive faculties with which we are currently endowed.

For a full presentation of Plantinga’s argument, I recommend this lecture from BeThinking.org titled “An Evolutionary Arguement Against Naturalsim” (audio here)

Was Jesus an advocate of blind faith?

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. -Hosea 4:6a

The Bible does not require of even condone the “blind faith” of Immanuel Kant.

On the dangers of doubt

Unmitigated doubt is a cancer.

What I mean by that is not that doubt itself is a bad thing. IT isn’t. Men are borne with doubts and fears which naturally lead to a sort of curiosity about the world around them and about the larger philosophical questions such as meaning, purpose, existence, origin, etc.

Socrates famously put it this way: The unexamined life is not worth living.

So doubt itself is not a problem. The problem comes in when we doubt and have no end in mind, no clear requirement as to what could possibly satisfy our doubt. This type of doubt is what Pascal had in mind when he wrote:

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

I must agree with Pascal here. He notes that a person who refuses to ground his doubt in something is not to be pitied like the person who makes an honest effort of seeking answers through careful and diligent study and yet, for whatever reason, comes to hold wrong beliefs and ideas. No, the person who does not ground their doubt in anything, like most modern atheists who are blinded by the post modern notion that any objective answers concerning the deep and fundamental questions of life, are to be scorned as being intellectually lazy.

That is, they should strive to take up the challenge of honestly examining what it is they reject. As Pascal also says:

In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

Questions beg to be answered. Or at the very least explored. The worst place is to end up in a state of perpetual and unending doubt. Doubt which does not drive one forward to a further examined life, but paralyzes with fear unto inaction.

Unmitigated doubt, therefore, is a cancer. And that cancer will spread until it is terminated in something. For those who choose not to stop the spread of their doubt themselves, the cancer, when fully developed, will lead inexorably to apathy.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8 (emphasis mine)

When you ask questions, expect answers.

Scientific knowledge

“scientific knowledge” is a misnomer in itself as science does not stand by itself but is rather a means by which we may form and fashion our beliefs. In other words, facts are not self-interpreting.

Many say there is not a shred of evidence to support ID, and I would grant that they are correct..

..provided your criteria for acceptable evidence is dictated by your prior commitment to philosophical naturalism as opposed to a truly open commitment to truth regardless of where it may lead. Scientifically speaking, this would not negate the prior formation of a working hypothesis. But it does negate the stubborn refusal to accept the plausibility of an alternative explanation. Especially when that plausible alternate explanation carries with it more answers than questions (which is the unfortunate case in regards to all Darwinian theories).

Many also amusingly claim that theists like myself believe in magic. Well nothing is more magical than the claim that the universe suddenly sprang into existence uncaused out of nothing. All I am positing is that the universe suddenly sprang into existence out of nothing by a cause that transcends natural (which includes recurring) phenomenon.

As Plantinga also notes in a recent debate of his, the question really comes down to whether evolution was guided by an outside force or whether it was unguided. Coincidentally we have more than enough evidence to claim that the process was guided and that consequently strongly points to an intelligent being that did the guiding. I find it interesting that even astrophysicists (like Hawking) will grant that the process appears to have been guided, but then react so viscerally when the concept of an intelligent designer is posed. It’s not surprising, however, as we all know what such an admission of an intelligent designer would mean to how we conduct our lives and see ourselves in relation to the Cosmos (with a capital C, Sagan would be so proud).

In terms to the damage you (this was, as usual, part of another conversation, apologies for the rough transition here) think Christianity has done. I would like to remind you that Christianity is what gave birth to modern science. No other world view (even a naturalistic one) can rationally sustain the belief that the universe contains order and that we, through the proper application of our epistemic faculties, can accurately understand it (something Darwinism has no rational basis for).

I would also like to point out that we just emerged from the most secular, and consequently most bloody century in human history. The cold reality is that it is atheism, not Christianity nor any other religion, that offers such an unrestrained view of mankind’s moral obligations (indeed, as Ivan eloquently noted in The Brothers Karamazov, without the promise of immortality anything is permissible). This unhinged view of moral obligation has led to bloodshed on an epic scale in the 19th century. I find it amusing how you like to bring up admitted failings of Christians throughout history but you give a gloss to atheistic regimes. Yes, I know some will claim that Hitler claimed to be a Christian, but take a minute and ask yourself whether his actions matched the words of Jesus Christ or Friedrich Nietzsche.

Whence cometh reason?

Can atheists Trust the truth detecting ability of their own minds?

By that I mean; In a theistic universe we are given reason to trust that our senses are capable of accurately detecting the world around us because we hold to the notion that they were properly designed to operate in the environment in which we employ them.

The naturalistic alternative here is that our senses simply evolved through random chance and mutation towards an undirected end. In this case we simply cannot reasonably trust our senses, much less our cognitive abilities to understand the world we find ourselves in. In this model, we might as well be protoplasmic lumps in a cosmic vat that is manipulating our synapses into forming sensory perceptions of a purely artificial environment.

“Fittest” does not entail the production of true beliefs. I think this can be made abundantly clear by simply pointing out how many animals (and humans) posses faulty or flat out false beliefs and who nevertheless manage to survive and thrive.

I believe Idiocracy makes this point quite clearly. (Welcome to Costco, I love you.)

One example would be how easily animals are trapped in the wild. Sure, some figure out the traps and manage to avoid being caught or eaten, but only for a while. If the production of true beliefs were integral to the survival of the species or a criterion of “fittest” in the evolutionary sense of the word we should expect that animals today would not be so easily overcome by traps designed in the stone ages.

Another example would be human malice, greed, evil, etc. According to philosophical naturalists like Sam Harris our collective morality has grown up because it is somehow evolutionarily beneficial. That is contributes to “the survival of the species”. However if this were true then we should expect fewer and fewer systems propagating false beliefs such as obscure cults, Scientology, etc.

No one, to my mind, doubts that natural selection is a mechanism that operates in the world we find ourselves in. We are merely want to point out that what natural selection “selects for” is still hotly debated even among the Darwinist crowd1, and nevertheless not aimed at the production of true beliefs (and to my mind no naturalist has ever tried to make the claim that it was either).

The fact is also that evolution must be seen as random in order for it to avoid the sticky implications, if a system existed, of a guided evolutionary process. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, though many like Dawkings try, either evolution is thoroughly random or else it is guided. And not merely guided by a system that conveniently “selects for” what we, at the end of the process, deem to be evolutionarily beneficial. That is not scientific observation any more than it is wishful thinking or blind faith (which is why many like myself make no distinction between Darwinian evolution and other systems of faith).

At any rate; I believe this, the inability to ground or explain the origins of our cognitive faculties, will ultimately be the Achilles heel of Darwinian evolution.

Well, along with the sheer lack of evidence, massive changes in the underlying theory, and general disagreement on rather large details such as the definition of evolution, selection, and qualifications of “fittest”.

However if you can’t even lay a proper epistemic framework I don’t see how you can reliably build anything at all. Without a proper ground for our cognitive facilities we might as well be howling at the moon for who’s to say we are any better off cognitively than our ancestors?

  1. In fact, there is a rather large debate as to whether it is even legitimate to claim that natural selection “selects for” anything as such would entail guided as opposed to unguided evolution. []

Depravity, is it total?

In a recent discussion on Facebook with a few Calvinistic brethren of mine, we ran across the topic of Total Depravity. Here is a segment of that conversation wherein I discuss the Reformed view of this doctrine’s flaws.

Jared, your view of man’s depravity seems to be rather chaotic and confused. Much like Luther and Calvin’s views on the matter were. Especially Calvin.

I remember reading in the Institutes on several occasions where Calvin would say in one chapter that Man was unwilling to submit to Christ while in the next he would go on about how man was unable to submit to Christ. Which is it? It seems fashionable in Reformed doctrine to attempt to have both. To have your epistemic cake and eat it too. However this is not merely a mystery (the favored escape hatch of Calvinists when faced with the logical and philosophical paradoxes elicited by the conclusions of their theological system). Rather, such notions of man’s inability to do good is antithetical, or logically opposed to the notion that man is unwilling to do good.

And therein may lie another difficulty for us. For the good I speak of is good meritorious unto salvation. In that respect we can certainly make a case that no man seeks after God of their own accord. However we’ve thankfully also been shown that God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work in the world drawing all men unto Christ. So in the end, the Calvinist notion of no man seeking is only half true. The rest of the truth is that man has been given all he needs in order to “seek and ye shall find”. As such I completely reject the notion that I Corinthians 2:14 is a normative prescriptive statement regarding man’s noetic capabilities such that, apart from Christ, a man is wholly ignorant of all spiritual truths.

Regarding Matthew 7:11, the focus of the passage is on the father who gives the ultimately good gift of his son. The focus is on the giver, not the gift. This ought to be pretty plain since gifts cannot, in and of themselves, be either good or bad. It is the giver and their intentions in making the gift that determine the goodness or not of the gift. I would say that I am surprised that you attempted to avoid this relatively straightforward and simple teaching of Jesus but I must admit that I have come to expect theological contortions like this when one holds to a man-made theological system first and foremost as opposed to simply taking the text at it’s plain meaning.

What is a text’s plain meaning? I would argue that it is what someone, saved or not, would understand the author to have meant.

But therein probably lies another great gulf between us for I do not think one can make the honest case (without severe epistemic ramifications) that apart from Christ dwelling within us we can not know or be certain of our knowledge regarding any truths whatsoever.

Oh, and regarding the LBC, WMC, etc. I hate to tell you but none of them are Scripture. Further I would argue that they all suffer from the same philosophical short-sightedness in that they somehow manage to miss the glaring problem with evil, sin, and suffering they create by their view of God’s sovereignty and how all things that come to pass (including sin) were somehow ordained by God. You can cling to the notion of a greater good if you wish, but I would argue that the scores of people whose faith has been wrecked and destroyed by such a heinous view of God ought to be a clear warning that such a notion is not only logically and morally untenable, but that in practice the fruit it yields is far from serene comfort.

The fact is that God is not in league with what he claims to be waging war against (name sin, death, and hell).

The epistemology of pornography

Much has been said regarding pornography. It’s use, it’s consumption, it’s effects on both groups, and it’s effect on society.

I want to step back, however, for a minute and discuss how pornography itself constitutes a “way of knowing” regarding sex and how this method of knowing, this ideological grid, colors how we think about sex in general and our own personal sexual relationships in particular.

To begin with, we need to take a look at what pornography is, and isn’t.

The etymology of pornography is basically “writing about prostitutes/harlots/whores”. For our purposes we’ll take the first definition from The Free Dictionary: writings, pictures, films, etc., designed to stimulate sexual excitement So pornography is not merely a subjective description but one which is based on the intent (either stated or implied) of the author.

With that in mind we need to look at how pornography is often transmitted. The preferred medium pornography uses is often pictographic.

Videos and images.

Sure, there is such a thing as text-based pornography in the form of erotic stories and harlequin romance novels. However these are not what has propelled the pornography industry into a multi-billion dollar enterprise1.

Why is it important that most pornography is conveyed in the medium of images? Because the medium shapes the message.

In short; Context.

Pornographic images and even videos do not generally convey much context. Aside from a small amount of foreplay, mood-setting pretext, and, on the rare occasion, an “ending” to round things out, not much time is spent in pornography delving into the actor’s thoughts or feelings. Aside from obvious physical compatibility, the viewer is left not knowing what kind of person either participant is.

And herein lies the rub.

Pornography systematically destroys the context wherein sex normally lies and thereby produces a wholly unrealistic fantasy world.

Unfortunately many people in our culture, no doubt conditioned through countless hours of exposure to both soft and hardcore pornography, have tried to live out in real life what they have seen acted out in pornography. They embark upon serially monogamous relationships. Or, as is becoming more common, they embrace “open relationships”, “friends with benefits”, and the lure of so-called sexual liberation with wild abandon.

Why? What are they looking for?

Cheap entertainment.

You see, the antithesis to this sort of sexual epistemology is the one that has been traditionally accepted throughout the ages. That is, the idea that sexual activity takes place within the context of a long-term monogamous relationship. Or, to put it more specifically; the sexual epistemology of the past was rooted firmly in traditional marriage and family.

In the end, there are really only two ways of thinking about sex. Either it is within a specific context or it isn’t. Context-less sex is made to be appealing through the widespread proliferation of context-less pornography.

  1. You’ll be waiting quite a while if you’re waiting on a “Girls Gone Wild” novel. []