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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Empiricism is Bankrupt

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know things. Two rival schools in the field of epistemology are rationalism and empiricism. The former states that we have certain ideas hard-wired into us wholly apart from our sense experience. The latter states that there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. Modern psychology, especially infant studies, provides very strong support for the position that some of our ideas are hard-wired into us, since infants in those studies have knowledge of things they could not possibly have obtained through sense experience. I may discuss these in another post. For now, let's stick to purely philosophical arguments.

Greg Bahnsen has already showed that atheistic empiricism cannot account for most of what we consider knowledge, and I covered his argument pretty well in Atheism and the Problem of Knowledge. Edward John Carnell has a series of arguments against theistic empiricism.

Innate Knowledge
Empiricist theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Maimonedes argued that we do not have innate knowledge. Everything that we know begins in sense experience. The empiricist cannot know that knowledge of the past gives us knowledge about the future. The theistic empiricist has that difficulty plus the problem of how we can possibly have knowledge of God, who is not perceived by the senses.

To an empiricist, all concepts must come from experience, but all that experience tells us is what is not God. If we do not have innate knowledge of God, then we cannot know the essence of God.

Problem of Predication
When we take a look at what sense perception delivers to us, the problem gets worse. All concepts are useless when applied to God, for God occupies a different realm of being than the world of sense experience. On empiricism, our concepts cannot apply univocally to God.

This would lead us to conclude that a proposition about a creature necessarily loses all meaning when applied to God. It follows from such a principle that if we take our starting point from the world of sense experience, we can know nothing of God nor prove anything concerning him without continual equivocations.

Negative Theology
Might we not come to God by way of negation? Can we build a theology using only negations such as "God is not ignorant" and "God is not mortal"? Such an endeavor cannot be sufficient to know anything about God. We must know God to be able to say that he is not this or that. How could we tell him from this or that if we did not first know him? To say that a piano is not a banana is to give us no clues as to what a piano has which separates it from all other things which are also not bananas.

For example, we know that a piano is not a banana, but that does not distinguish it from a yacht, which is also not a banana. We need more than negation to help us. Negative theology alone leads to skepticism and agnosticism.

Analogical Theology 
Aquinas admitted that from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known. Still, because creation is an effect with God as the cause, we can be led from creation to the creator. Remember that a term can be used in three ways: with the same meaning (univocally), with a different meaning (equivocally), and with a meaning that is partially the same and partially different.

The term "animal" can be predicated univocally of a cat, a dog, and a horse. The term "Greek" is predicated equivocally when we apply it to the language and then to the philosopher Socrates. The term "loud" is analogical when we apply it to both sound and to the color of one's shirt.

Analogy is based on a comparison which can only be obtained when there is neither complete agreement nor complete disagreement between two things. There are two glaring fallacies in analogy when prevents it from being a way that the empiricist can know about God based on experience.

First, it is built on a contradiction. Aquinas says there is no univocal element in the terms that we apply both to the world and to God, yet he affirms that we understand God through analogy. The one and only thing that separates analogy from equivocation is its univocal element. When we say that the mind is to the soul as the eye is to the body, the univocal element is "light" or "guide." When we say "the foundation is to the house as the heart is to the organism," the univocal element is "sustaining basis." The success of any analogy is non-analogical. IF there is no univocal element, it is just like comparing two unrelated things, and this is equivocation. No meaning is conveyed. Without meaning, there is no truth, for truth is properly construed meaning.

If there are no terms which apply univocally to God, then there can be no element from which we can draw analogies. Hence, we are no better off than verificationists. Where, in the whole gamut of our sensory experience, can we find that univocal element which a successful analogy requires, that we may use it in making a comparison between God and man? How can the non-spatial be abstracted from the spatial, the spiritual from the material, the eternal from the temporal, the changeless form the flux? The intellect may be active ,but cannot take from sensory experience what is not there.

There is one way to complete an abstraction from nature: bu setting aside the differentiating aspects of each item and retaining the aspects which are common. For example, if I examine all animals, such as cats, cows, worms, and sardines, as long as I examine vertebrates, I can arrive at the abstract idea of vertebrates. When I take in worms, I then have to take a more abstract concept. When I add plants to the list, I need the further abstract notion of a living being. As long as animation is common to all of the items examined, I cannot discard it.

If I know all of being by way of sensible beings, I can never discard from my final abstract ideas the element of sensible being, for all my knowledge is loaded with it. By abstraction, therefore ,I have no basis for believing that from sense perception I can rise to a knowledge of the necessary, eternal, and immaterial in God. Wherever my ideas go, there trails along the notion of the sensible being, in common to all concepts abstracted from sensation which cannot be discarded.

To admit simultaneously that we have no univocal knowledge of God, that all our knowledge comes from sensation, and that we can avoid ambiguity and equivocation by referring predication to the analogy of being, is a contradiction in terms. The only element in analogy which distinguishes it from equivocation is the univocal. If the univocal element is admitted, then how do we account for it if there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses? We either give up empiricism or admit that talk about God is meaningless.

Secondly, analogy alone makes God unknowable. If God's essence is unknown (as Thomists admit), then it follows that his existence is equally unknowable (since God's existence is supposed to be the same as his essence). The Thomist will quote Romans in response.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20) 
To argue that Romans 1:20 supports empiricism is to argue in a circle. If this view can be coherently explained from any non-empiricist standpoint, then the argument loses all of its force. God may be known through sense perception, but this does not rescue empiricism. May it not be equally true that having innate knowledge of God, we are reminded of him by his works?

Empiricists believe that the principles of proof originate in sense perception. It follows from this that all that exceeds the sensible worlds is unamenable to proof. God exceeds all our senses and sensible objects, but his effects are often sense objects. Yet the fact remains that under theistic empiricism, any knowledge that we could have of the supersensible comes solely from our knowledge of the sensible. But we msut remember that in the argument where we argue for the existence of God, we cannot take as a principle the essence of God, which is unknown to us. The proof being impossible, the only road that can lead us to a knowledge of the creator must cut through the things of sense.

Thomists also argue that God has two sides: as he is eternally in himself, and also as he appears to us in our examination of the content of our sense perceptions. This does not help. How can we possibly know that a thing exists when we do not know what it is? What is it that we are talking about? If we cannot first know him as he is, then how can we draw any connection between God in himself, and God as he appears to us? It does not even seem meaningful to speak of God's essence, for we have no known means of ascertaining what the term "God" even means. Without meaning, truth is absent. So this position is contradictory.

For the Thomist who bites the bullet and states that we can know God even if we do not know his essence, then this opens the gate to other unknowables when one defends an unknown God. If we can talk about God whose essence we do not know, then we can talk of blarps and blegs and splinth and other nonsensical terms with equal clarity. No one knows enough to assert the existence of an object of which they know nothing. The assertion that an object of which nothing can be known reduces to total skepticism. The right of each of us to assert this kind of unknowable throws all objectivity into confusion; and the implicit contradiction contained in asserting that something cannot be known cuts the foundation out from any and all knowledge.

The end of empiricism is verificationism, and the end of positivism is Cratylus, who could not so much as speak, but only waved his hands.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 42

John 2:4, "Jesus saith unto her (viz., to his mother Mary), Woman, what have I to do with thee?" and ibid, chapter 19:26, "When Jesus, therefore, saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother. Woman, behold thy son." If he had believed that his mother had miraculously given birth to him, and still continued in her virgin state, would he not have addressed her by the more endearing and exalting appellation than the simple term woman? The mode in which he addressed his mother here, and on various other occasions narrated in the New Testament, shows that he was not at all impressed with the sanctity of the commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother." 
I don't see how any doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is even relevant to this discussion. Addressing someone today by the term "woman" is quite rude, but ancient Greek did not have such a stigma. J.P. Holding writes:
Critics often accuse Jesus of being rude to his mother here; however, as parallel phrases in Greek literature show, this is not a phrase of derision or rudeness but of loving respect (as our NIV correctly captures). Consider this relevant data:
  1. The term here is "Jesus' normal, public way of addressing women" (John 4:21, 8:10, 19:26, 20:31; Mt. 15:28; Lk. 13:12). It is also a common address in Greek literature, and never has the intent of disrespect or hostility. [Brow.GJ, 99].
  2. The same term is used in Josephus Antiquities 17.17 by Pheroras to summon his beloved wife. [Beas.J, 34]
  3. As for the second part of the response, it reads literally: "What to me and to you?" This is a Semitic phrase that indicates that the speaker is being unjustly bothered or is being asked to get involved in a matter that is not their business. It can be impolite, but not always. (cf. 2 Kings 3:13, Hos. 14:8) [Brow.GJ, 117] The intent must be determined by the context, and the first part of Jesus' saying does point to the latter intent.
Malina and Rohrbaugh [Social-Science commentary, 299] add that such implication of distance was in fact quite proper in a society where men were expected to break the maternal bonds by a certain age. Jesus' reaction is entirely respectful and appropriate in this context.
I like to add non-Biblical examples on things like this, since we (and even Biblical scholars) are accused of making this stuff up. J. K. Campbell in Honour, Family and Patronage [164] describes how among the Sarakatsan of Greece, a young man of a certain age is expected to be even "ruder" to their mother than the critics suppose Jesus to be: He rejects her gestures of affection, and will (for example), if it rains, ignore dry clothes she puts out for him. "Particularly between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, he is given to outbursts of rudeness towards his mother and his sisters. By this abruptness to the women of his family he hopes to give a further demonstration of his growing manliness." Mothers, by the way, are not offended by this, but "are amused and also a little proud as they observe these antics of their young sons. They understand their feelings and approve of them."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 41

John 1:21, "And they asked him. What then? Art thou Elias? and he said, I am not. Art thou that prophet? and he answered. No."

This verse completely contradicts the statement made in Matthew 11:13, 14, according to which John is included in the list of prophets, and is held to be the last of them. The words used in that book, which we have had occasion to adduce, run as follows: "All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if ye will receive it, this is Elias [Elijah], which was for to come." In Matthew 17:12, 13, Jesus, in alluding to John, affirms that the forerunner of himself as a Messiah had come, although he had not been acknowledged as such. He says there, "Elias [Elijah], is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake of John the Baptist."

Once, on representing this contradiction to a Christian, he evaded a direct answer by the retort, that Samuel likewise denied his true mission, for he told Saul that he was on his way to offer up sacrifices, while his real object was to anoint David as king of Israel.

The cogency of this reply is not apparent, for Samuel made no secret of his mission to David to whom he had to communicate the Divine will, but observed the necessary caution with Saul, to whom he had not been sent. Different, however, was the case with the pretended Elias.

If he [John], had to bring the Jews the tidings of the advent of the Messiah, he very strangely performed his duty, by denying his character and concealing his message.
John the Baptist spent his career living in strange and impoverished circumstances, and calling people out to repentance. After centuries, the gift of prophecy had returned to the people of Israel. Malachi foretold that God would send Elijah the Prophet in that great and terrible Day of the Lord. Jesus explained that Elijah himself had not returned in person. The religion of Israel believed in resurrection, which is not compatible with reincarnation. Jesus said that Elijah has come, since John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

So what is the problem with John denying that he is Elijah the prophet? John probably did not see himself in the same glowing terms as Jesus saw him. John likely expected that the terrible Day of the Lord was the great apocalypse that would hail the end of the world, and he would have thought that Elijah would have been resurrected and come on that day. And maybe that's the case.

The prediction that Elijah would come is only found in Malachi, and the Day of the Lord is left vague. It could mean the coming of Messiah, or it could mean the end of the world. There is nothing in the Messianic prophecies that says that the coming of Messiah and the end of the world will both happen within one lifetime. There could be 10,000 years between the two, for all we know.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Infinity and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

If you haven't seen the video on the Kalam argument, please have a look at the video. It is short, and gives the background needed to understand the rest of this post:


In response to the arguments against the infinite, opponents have stated that there is a fully coherent system of transfinite mathematics which proves the system coherent. The problem is that coherence in a formal system is quite different from coherence in reality. The main point of this article is that mathematicians can either hold to a realist view of numbers or can hold to infinity as a legitimate mathematical concept, but not both. For an introduction to infinity, I recommend this video by Bill Shillito. The actual lecture starts at 2:00.

Formal Systems vs. Sciences
We need to draw a distinction between a formal system and an investigation of reality. A formal system is a bit like a game. You have objects, rules for manipulating those objects, and various starting positions which are called "axioms." Think of the game of chess. You have pieces such as the king, rook, and knight. You have an object called the chessboard. You have rules for manipulating those objects. You also have a starting board position, which serves as your axiom.
  Theorems are like board positions in chess other than the starting board position.
You can prove that a board position is a theorem of the chess game by showing all the moves that get you from the starting point to that position.
You can also prove that board positions, like this one, are impossible given the rules of chess and the starting position. For example, you can show that both sides start with 16 pieces, and then go through the rules one by one to show that none can increase the number of pieces that a side has. Therefore, a board position where one side has 40 pieces is provably not a theorem of the system.

The fun thing about formal systems is that you can make the rules as arbitrary as you want. For example, you can stipulate that there is such a thing as "all the black squares" and that there is such a thing as "all the white squares" while denying that there is such a thing as "all the black and white squares."

That's what formal systems are: games based on stipulated rules which may or may not have anything to do with reality. This is distinct from investigations of reality, where you have to give some account as to why you think it works a certain way. You cannot just make things up as you go along, the way you can when creating a formal system.

Georg Cantor, the inventor of the mathematics of infinity, believed that he was investigating facts about reality. His system was based on naive set theory, which defined numbers as kinds of sets, and sets as "any well-defined collection of things." So, you could have a set of book on the table, or a set of marbles in the drawer, or a set of other sets, which is how set theory defines numbers.

The problem with naive set theory is that it has been proven to contain contradictions. Here are just three of the paradoxes that arise from this set theory:

Burali-Forti Paradox: Set theory defines an ordinal as the order type of a set. The set of all ordinals would also have an ordinal number. But if the set of all ordinals had an ordinal number, then that ordinal would have to be in the set, and hence would not be the order type of all ordinals. The set of all ordinals is part of naive set theory (since it is a well-defined collection of things) and yet is self-contradictory.

Cantor's Paradox: A cardinal number is the number of elements in a set. The power set is the set of all subsets in a set. Since Cantor proved that the power set must always be greater than the set, what about the set of all cardinals? Again, the set of all cardinals is a well-defined collection of things, but for any value you give it, you can always derive a higher cardinality from the power set operation. So the set of all cardinals is also self-contradictory.

Russell's Paradox: An impredicative definition is one that includes itself. 'Phrases in the English language' is an example, since that is itself a phrase in the English language. The set of all sets would be a member of itself. The set of all horses would not, since sets are not horses. What about the set of all sets that are not members of themselves? If it is a member of itself, then it fails the definition, and should not be included. If it is not a member of itself, then it fits the definition and should be included. In other words, if it is included, then it should not be included. If it is not included, then it should be included. Contradiction.

Escaping the Paradoxes
Mathematicians escaped these paradoxes by creating axiomatic set theories, such as Zermelo-Fraenkel or New Foundations. In these set theories, a set is something defined by the axioms. Axiomatic set theory turns set theory into a formal system, like the game of chess. Rules are stipulated as arbitrarily as you want. Axiomatic set theory can rescue set theory from the paradoxes, but it cannot rescue mathematical realism from these paradoxes.

The problem with mathematical realism is that there is no way to avoid these paradoxes. If sets really existed, then there is no justification to say that sets cannot be members of themselves. Clearly, there are categories that are members of themselves, such as the category of things in this post. And that is the difference between formal systems and reality. In formal systems, you can make up whatever rules you want, no matter how arbitrary. Reality is not so cooperative. For example, if sets existed, then we could categorize them in this fashion:

Or this fashion:

Or this fashion:

And in any of these three cases, our categorization brings rise to each of the three paradoxes. The only way around this is to stipulate that you cannot divide things into these categories. That works for formal systems, and that's the fun about playing a game. You can say that within the rules of your game, you can have sets that are members of themselves and sets that are not members of themselves, but make it illegal to create a category of all sets that are not members of themselves. When you are talking about the real world, however, you cannot just make things up like that when you are talking about reality.

For a fun video on mathematical realism and the arguments against it, I recommend this video on mathematical platonism by Kane Baker.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 40

Luke 23:34, "Then Jesus said, Father, pardon them, they know not what they do."

This appeal refutes the opinion of the Christians, who maintain that the Jews suffer the punishments of the Almighty for having put Jesus to death.

Can the Christians believe that God would not accept the supplication of Jesus?

Whether the supplication was accepted or not accepted, it is clear that the Jews do not lie under the punishment of the Almighty, in consequence of that deed. 
Clearly this prayer was heard, since the Jews were allowed to survive for a nation for another 40 years, and have been allowed to exist as a people group until this day. Not all instances of God's forgiveness mean that God has eliminated the consequences of the people's actions. David received forgiveness for his infidelity with Bathsheba, yet his child still died.
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14)
Also, the passage is not explicit that Jesus was talking about the Jews. He was on the cross, surrounded not by the Pharisees, but by the Roman executioners. The context indicates that it is the Roman soldiers who are the subject of this passage.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 39

Luke 16:22, 23, Lazarus is stated to enjoy after his death the bliss of immortality in the bosom of Abraham, whilst the rich man, who indulged in the pleasures of this world, is to suffer the torments of hell. It is further said, that there subsists an infinite distinction between the abode of glory and that of perdition.

According to this account, it does not appear that either Abraham or Lazarus were after their death doomed to the punishment of hell, although the alleged work of the redemption of mankind had not yet been achieved by Jesus. We are therefore at a loss to know what the Christians mean by salvation wrought by Jesus, and what can be the danger of the original sin, when we see that it did not affect those who died unredeemed. 
 Let's take a look at the parable in Luke 16 in its entirety.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

(Luke 16:19-31) 
 The main point of the parable is the ending. Those who do not pay attention to the teachings of God will not turn around and obey simply on the basis of seeing a miracle. Not even the resurrection of Jesus is enough to convince many people to follow him. This story also addresses objections by skeptics today. New Atheists often say that they would believe in God if only they would be shown a miracle.

Sure, they might believe in God, but mere belief is not enough. Even the demons believe in God. What God wants is not mere belief, but humble submission to his will. The Egyptians saw the open miracles performed by God, and yet did not repent. Their hearts were still hard, and they paid the ultimate price for it. God has provided enough evidence that those who are actively and humbly seeking him out will find him, while those who are not doing so, will likely not find him.

But to answer Troki's question, salvation was available to people before the time of Jesus because the faith of the people in God's redemption was counted to them as faith in Jesus. The abode of the dead is a temporary place until the final resurrection and judgment at the end of the world. This belief long preceded Christianity, having its origins probably in early Second Temple Judaism.

As far as Troki's objections about those who die unredeemed, remember that the salvation brought about by Jesus is ultimately for the final judgment at the end of the world.