A Paradox of Infinite Knowledge

For every proposition we know, we can reflect upon it to create a new piece of knowledge. For example, if I know that I exist, I can likewise say that I know that I know I exist. Again, if I comprehend this statement, then I could truthfully say that I know that I know that I know I exist. Because I can always add a further “I know that” statement to the previous piece of knowledge, this can continue ad infinitum. In this way, even if I only started with a single proposition I know to be true, it is possible to infinitely multiply the number of propositions I know through self-reflection.

The infinitely many propositions would take this form:

  1. I know I exist.
  2. I know that I know I exist.
  3. I know that I know that I know I exist.
  4. I know that I know that I know that I know I exist.
  5. I know that I know that I know that I know that I know I exist.
  6. I know that I know that I know that I know that I know that I know I exist…

…And on it goes.

Infinite knowledge would be the knowledge of this entire series from 1 through ∞.

But this may be cheating. Adding “I know that” statements may not even substantially increase our knowledge. Even assuming “I know that” statements do in fact add to our knowledge, it is much less clear how it an individual could grasp an infinite series.

Let us suppose, for the time being, that “I know that” statements are not merely vacuous and do increase our knowledge. Let us also assume it is possible to grasp the infinite series which arises from adding these statements ad infinitum. Hence, you know an infinite series of propositions, but of course this does not mean you possess all knowledge. This only means you know infinitely many things relative to the starting proposition. Given these assumptions, something strange happens.

What if this was our starting proposition: “I know an infinite series of propositions”?

This starting proposition seems to entail a paradox. The paradox arises from the fact that, in order to first know an infinite series of “I know that” propositions, we would need to begin with a proposition that does not include knowledge of an infinite series. Knowledge of the infinite series only arises once we begin with a proposition that does not reference the infinite series. Propositions like “I exist” and “Water is H2O” both do this because they are finite. These finite propositions go on to entail knowledge of infinitely many “I know that” propositions, but to say “I know an infinite series of propositions” turns the procedure on it head by asserting infinite knowledge to begin with.

This starting proposition devolves into a paradoxical story of the chicken and the egg; which comes first? For the statement to be true we would have to begin with an infinite series, but in order to get the infinite series we must begin with the finite proposition…

…And on it goes.

This is just one example of the many paradoxes that can arise from self-reference. Here’s another example of a paradox: “This statement is false.” If it is true that it is false, then it is false and not true. But, if it is false, then it is true.

Paradoxes also arise in set theory. Set theory, to put it simply, is the study of the qualities of sets and their implications. For instance, the set of all cats contains all cats in the world. Sets are like theoretical categories containing things in the world that fall under that category. But, sets can also contain sets. There is ‘the set of all individual sets of every mammal species’, which would contain the set of dogs, cats, lions and every other mammal. There can also be ‘the set of all sets’. In this case, the set of all sets would contain itself, because the set of all sets is itself a set!

But then, how would we make sense of ‘the set of all sets that does not contain itself’? This does not seem possible, for the set of all sets that does not contain itself would have to contain itself in order to be a set. But it couldn’t be a set because then it would contain itself. It must be a set, it can’t be a set, it must contain itself, but it can’t contain itself…

And on it goes.

Bertrand Russel and Alfred Whitehead tried to solves these paradoxes that would arise in set theory by making each set non self-referential. The sets could not refer to themselves, because these paradoxes would arise when they mentioned themselves.

Then Kurt Gödel came along with his incompleteness theorem and complicated matters even more.

At any rate, my paradox of infinite knowledge takes the same form as many other paradoxes which arise from self-reference. If we begin with a finite proposition of possessing knowledge of infinite propositions, we would first need the infinite series. But to get the infinite series, we need the finite proposition.

And on it goes.

Alvin Plantinga on Theodicy

In Alvin Plantinga’s book, God, Freedom and Evil, Plantinga uses rigorous methods unique to the western analytic philosophical tradition to discuss the relation between the Christian God and the existence of evil. In this way, Plantinga presents topics in Theodicy, a term first coined by the 17th century thinker Gottfried Leibniz. A theodicy is an attempt to explain “the problem of evil” in a theistic context. The dilemma generally states that the existence of suffering or evil in the world is contradictory or inconsistent with the existence of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God. If God is truly omnibenevolent and omnipotent, as the argument goes, then he would not allow evil and suffering. Since Christianity simultaneously affirms these divine attributes and the existence of evil, Christianity is internally incoherent and ought to be abandoned. Plantinga argues that these propositions are perfectly consistent with one another, appealing to what he calls “a Free Will Defense”, which I shall later critique.

Plantinga first quotes well-known figures, like the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, to give us a sense of the many forms of suffering present in the world:

“Remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair – who has ever passed through life without cruel inroads from these tormentors? How many have scarcely ever felt any better sensations?…All the goods of life united would not make a very happy man, but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed” (8).

All humans experience some form of suffering. The worst off experience disease, pain, poverty and so on. Even the wealthiest and most comfortable of people experience boredom. How then could a good God exist?

Although human suffering is awful, the existence of suffering in the world does not explicitly contradict the existence of God. As Plantinga indicates, unless there is a formal argument able to demonstrate their mutual relevance, the so-called “problem of evil” poses no problem to belief in God. It would be like asserting backpacks exist and therefore honey does not exist. What do backpacks have to do with honey? Likewise, what does evil or suffering have to do with God’s existence? What we need is a formal argument able to specifically indicate how these two propositions contradict one another. Plantinga provides us with such an argument based upon comments made by the 20th century Australian philosopher John Mackie.

After distinguishing between implicit contradictions and explicit contradictions, as well as logical truths and a posteriori truths (Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction), Plantinga addresses Mackie’s argument. Mackie asserts:

“…good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible.” (16)

Before Plantinga translates Mackie’s comments into a formal argument, Plantinga rightly points out the vagueness of Mackie’s assertions. For instance, is it really correct that “there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do”? Can an omnipotent being make contradictions true? To the contrary, scripture says God cannot lie or contradict himself (2 Timothy 2:13, Titus 1:2), so there are limits to what God can do. Also, is it necessarily true that “a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can”? Or is Mackie just asserting erroneous premises? Why couldn’t God eventually eliminate all evil rather than be required to eliminate evil immediately? Plantinga raises objections and counter examples like these against Mackie’s argument. These help demonstrate the premises Mackie asserts are not as self-evident as they may first appear.

In an attempt to make Mackie’s formal argument against the existence of God the most plausible, Plantinga reformulates Mackie’s premises into the following form:

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. God is omniscient
  4. Evil exists
  5. And omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate
  6. There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do (21)

In order to present the argument as it is now, Plantinga had to help Mackie clarify his own argument. Plantinga added proposition 3, while also reformulating propositions 5 and 6 to make them more relevant. Because Mackie’s original set of claims was wholly insufficient to provide any definitive conclusions, it is no mystery Plantinga states:

“One wonders…why the many atheologians who confidently assert that this set [of propositions] is contradictory make no attempt whatever to show that it is. For the most part they are content just to assert that there is a contradiction here.” (23)

Many, like Mackie, love to say that evil and suffering contradict God’s existence, but fail to explicitly indicate where the contradiction lies. Perhaps the problem of evil is so popular that many philosophers and theologians are content to merely assume there is a contradiction, or at least an apparent one. Plantinga brilliantly challenges this mindset. So far, Plantinga succeeds in elucidating this common failure by providing specific counter-examples, as well as providing the reader with a brief explanation of the logical concepts involved in these types of arguments.

However, it is at this point in the book where I have serious disagreements with Plantinga. The solution he offers to the problem of evil is what he calls “a Free Will Defense” which he juxtaposes with “a Free Will Theodicy” (28). Free Will Theodicy attempts to explain what God’s reason really is for allowing evil in the world, while Plantinga’s Free Will Defense is only what God’s reason might possibly be for allowing evil in the world. By giving a Free Will Defense, Plantinga only aims to prove that the set of propositions listed above are not necessarily contradictory to God’s existence.

Although I reject free will with the utmost severity, I would find value in the Free Will Defense if we could use it for different purposes. Contrary to Free Will Theodicy, Free Will Defense claims to be a hypothetical postulate rather than an actual solution. Because of the hypothetical nature of its claims, Plantinga’s Free Will Defense is a fascinating launch pad from which to discuss possible worlds, hypothetical human depravity and other philosophically relevant modal concepts. This Free Will Defense, though I disagree with Plantinga’s approach, helps to demonstrate that there is no necessary contradiction between human suffering and the existence of God. However, I will soon argue that the Christian solution to the problem of evil is so much less complicated and does not rely upon false postulates like human free will.

Before I attempt to refute Plantinga’s general approach, I want to respond to some of the initial claims he uses to support it. Not only is his entire approach misguided, but it is based upon a variety of false smaller premises. Plantinga describes his Free Will Defense in the following way:

“What is relevant to the Free Will Defense is the idea of being free with respect to an action. If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will per­form the action, or that he won’t.” (29)

This account of free will is fair. An individual is not causally determined by antecedent conditions” or external forces that would render their choice certain. This does not state we are left unaffected by circumstances, like being sleepy or hungry, but that we have the real possibility of choosing differently from how we actually chose in any given situation. This definition aligns with common intuitions about what free will is.

In addition to defining free will, Plantinga tells us what he means by being “significantly free” and “moral significance”:

“an action is morally significant for a given person, if it would be wrong for him to perform the action but right to refrain or vice versa…a person is significantly free, on a given occasion, if he is then free with respect to a morally significant action” (30).

Both definitions, in my estimation, are fair and plausible. I am perfectly happy to accept Plantinga’s stipulative definitions of “morally significant” and “significantly free” in this context. He has not yet asserted anything that is contrary to my theological paradigm because he is only here defining terms.

Though I have no problem with these definitions, what Plantinga next asserts is a huge leap in reasoning which I oppose vigorously.

“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, an else being equal, than a world contain­ing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” (30)

First I would like to examine some of the claims Plantinga makes in this paragraph and then I will critique his general approach. These are a few of the premises in this paragraph that are completely baseless:

  1. A world with significantly free creatures is more valuable than otherwise.
  2. Creaturely free will does not contradict God’s omnipotence.
  3. A world with creatures that commit both moral good and evil is more valuable than a world without moral good or evil.

1. This assertion is the most egregious. To the contrary, I hold that a world with no significantly free creatures is more valuable than otherwise. I accept Plantinga’s definition of significantly free, but an individual being significantly free is not itself significant or valuable. Plantinga inserts this assumption into his reasoning most likely because he believes freedom is necessary for moral good, which I argue is false in response to number 3. There is no inherent value in freedom and it has not necessary relation to moral goodness.

2. Asserting that God would still be omnipotent even if he created significantly free creatures is contradictory on its face. This would involve God willing that which is contrary to his will or opposing that which he wills. Under Plantinga’s formulation, even if God knows “Billy” will commit sin contrary to God’s will, God wills “Billy” to commit the sin anyway, because he wants Billy to be free. Hence, God is “omnipotent” enough to create creatures able to oppose his omnipotence. God wills for creatures to be free so that they can oppose his will. This is as nonsensical as saying God is so powerful that he can prevent himself from being powerful. This is not real omnipotence but a fundamental contradiction. (Calvinism escapes this contradiction by demonstrating that there is two senses God “wills”: (1) God’s will of command and (2) God’s will of decree. Therefore, God may freely decree that which is contrary to his commands because he wills these in two different senses. But as for the free will position, God really really wants people to obey his commands, but fails to accomplish this. In fact, God’s priorities are so confused that he would rather his creatures possess the freedom to sin and experience eternal Hell, contrary to his will, than to determine the actions of any of his creatures.)

3. The capacity for sin is not a prerequisite for moral goodness. It may be true that for an individual to be significantly free they must be capable of both moral good and evil, but not for an individual to be capable of moral goodness in general. To the contrary, God could have determined all people’s actions in such a way that they only committed moral goodness. Clearly they would not longer be significantly free, but Plantinga presents no argument, philosophical or otherwise, demonstrating why freedom is a necessary prerequisite for moral goodness as such. Freedom is necessary to freely perform morally good actions, but not all morally good actions must be free. Take God for example. God only commits morally good actions while it is also impossible for him to commit evil. There is no reason why God could not have created creatures only capable of moral good just as he is only capable of moral good. It may be true that certain good states of affairs would require evil in order for them to obtain, but it is not true that all good states of affairs require evil or the possibility of evil.

These comments oppose what Plantinga says next:

“The heart of the Free Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God has a good reason for creating a world containing evil.” (31)

Notice how Plantinga qualifies his statement by saying “or as much moral good as this world contains”. He assumes that God is forced to create a world in which there is the most good, and that this world we inhabit happens to be the one containing the most good. I would like to point out that believing one of God’s goals was to create a world containing the most possible good is completely unwarranted (pun intended, Plantinga wrote two books titled Warrant and Proper Function and Warranted Christian Belief). He presents no argument  in favor of this; he merely assumes it. But even if he can demonstrate one of God’s goals in creating the universe was to make one containing the most good, it is ridiculous to say that this world is that world. As I already pointed out above, not all moral good requires the existence of a moral evil accompanying it; only significantly free good moral actions require the simultaneous possibility of moral evil.

Furthermore, it is vague what Plantinga means by “as much moral good”. If there were a million people who never sinned throughout history, as opposed to our world where billions of billions of people commit both moral good and evil, it seems cheap to say that our world containing billions of people contains more moral good. Sure there may be quantitatively more morally good actions in the latter case, but there is also innumerably more evil actions in our world than the former. The “atheologians” Plantinga refers to would probably argue that a world with no evil is of greater importance than a world containing the most moral good.

What justifies Plantinga’s preference over the other, and where does scripture state any of this? The fact is, is that God could have created a world without the possibility of any evil while simultaneously determining human actions in such a way that they only performed morally good actions. If humans only performed morally good actions, the Fall would never have taken place and there would be no death nor suffering. Why then did God create the world knowing suffering would take place? Plantinga resorts to saying that God has a good reason for allowing evil because it somehow maximizes the amount of good in the world. This answer is not satisfactory. 

This is why Plantinga’s approach to this issue is problematic: not only because the answer is unsatisfactory, not only because Plantinga has to posit unwarranted and undemonstrated assumptions into the content of his argument, but because Plantinga assumes along with the atheologian that there is a problem that needs to be solved in the first place. Plantinga admits that there is some problem of evil and then sets out to solve it by positing an absurd doctrine.

The problem of evil is first and foremost a pseudo-theological problem. Christians who want to solve the problem ignore the fact that they are attempting to respond to an argument whose very premises are antithetical to the Christian faith. It should not be so profound to theologians or philosophers like Plantinga that atheistic premises entail atheistic conclusions. What ought to happen is for the Christian to reject the atheistic premises to begin with, rather than to accept the premises and grope for a different conclusion.

However, the atheists themselves would object to my comments and say that they are not formulating atheistic premises, but drawing upon Christian doctrines themselves to demonstrate the internal incoherence of Christianity. If God is loving, and is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, good, omniscient and the rest – assuming a valid argument can even be formulated – all of this contradicts the existence of moral evil and suffering. There is just no way around it, they may say. But, what they do not tell you is that they apply non Christian definitions to the Christian terminology used in the argument. Hence, “good” means “cannot allow evil”, “God is loving” means “God cannot allow evil” and “omnibenevolent” means “cannot allow evil”. Scripture itself never defines these terms in the manner atheists want them to be defined.

If we let scripture define these terms, then, by definition, these words cannot possess these definitions. Atheists and their Christian counterparts believe themselves to be participating in a profound discussion of vast philosophical and theological significance, when in reality both parties are guilty of mere equivocation and careless application of definitions.

In reality, God not only allows evil, he causes all evil. Not only that, God loves only his elect. Also, God intended evil to come into the world in order to redeem the elect and punish the reprobate. God is good and loving for doing so. This is because scripture defines these words in a manner that is internally consistent, but inconsistent with the meanings applied to them by atheists and confused Christian theologians. What God does is just and good by definition, so if God wants to create a vessel of wrath, fit it for destruction and then destroys it, he does so without ceasing to be good. If God causes evil, he does not himself commit evil, and does not cease to be good.

Once Christians realize their atheist opponents use atheistic problem-of-evil premises to make atheistis conclusions, all the Christian has do to is reject their premises. Christianity disagrees with these definitions and premises to begin with, so there is no use arguing against the conclusion when the premises leading up to the conclusion is what is at fault.

Plantinga, in response to assertions against God’s existence, began wonderfully. He demonstrated that atheologians often do not even understand their own argument and cannot usually indicate explicitly where the contradiction lies. But, instead of continuing this strain of thought, Plantinga gives this nonsense argument the benefit of the doubt and proceeds to offer a theory to solve the issue which is likewise unchristian – the doctrine of free will.

Free will is the complete inversion of the Christian worldview. It makes God a creature and turns the creature into the Creator. It nullifies the grace of God in salvation and makes redemption dependent upon human initiative. Free will morphs utterly depraved wretches into morally neutral people generally capable of righteous actions. It turns the cross of Christ into a potential atonement rather than an actual payment for sin. Free will turns the Lord Jesus Christ into an effeminate beggar desperate for anyone to love him, as opposed to a powerful Savior who sacrifices himself for those whom the Father has given him. Free will turns Jesus into an adulterer who sacrifices himself indiscriminately for those who will spend an eternity in Hell rather than sacrifice himself for his Bride alone. Free will is the single most evil doctrine in the history of the Christian Church. Its implications are so wide-ranging and destructive that one cannot help but question the mental wellbeing of such a person. Such a person is either ignorant of the issues or on the verge of insanity.

Not all philosophers should comment on theological issues; Alvin Plantinga is one of them. Free will, and thus Plantinga’s entire Free Will Defense crumbles in response to a single sentence:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

God works in us to will.

This means God controls the wills of his people.

A thousand other passages can be cited which speak of God hardening hearts of wicked men, stirring up people’s spirits, of predestination, of working all things according to his own will, of controlling the outcome of battles, of manipulating the hearts of kings, of God accomplishing all that he wills to come to pass…

But still, philosophers want to talk about free will. Plantinga wrote a 100+ page book to solve a pseudo-problem with a hypothesis explicitly contradicted by scripture. This is a man who is well-respected and well-known in the philosophical community, who has contributed significantly to our understanding of modal concepts and who knows what else; yet, he cannot understand one of the most fundamental truths of Christian theology.

Theory or Reality?

Some of the words we commonly use are vague. To fight against this vagueness, some people try to rigorously define these words to clarify their meaning. There are at least two possible outcomes to this:

1. A definition for the word cannot be found, either because there are too many rival definitions, or because the components of the definition all agree upon is too general to be useful.

or,

2. A definition for the word can be found, but it is so limited and precise in meaning that it seems to be unable to fully capture the concept it implies.

Simply put, the meaning of some of the words we use faces the problem of generality versus particularity, and non rational intuition versus rational exactitude. A word could have so general a meaning that the one using the word must rely on the non rational intuitions of those they are speaking to. Since the word in this scenario has no formal definition, there could arise confusion, equivocation, and sharp disagreement. On the flip side, when we want our definitions to be precise, we find that the definition we formulate seems to stop short of adequately signifying what we want it to signify. We find examples where we would normally call something “X”, but our prior definition excludes us from calling it “X” even though it seems proper to do so.

Since this is the case, it is possible to face serious categorical problems. How do we know when one thing fits into a category and when it does not? Are all or some of our categories arbitrary? Which of our categories are useful and which are nonsensical? Which of our categories and definitions seem to truncate reality and inhibit our ability to learn? Our linguistic categories and definitions are not trivial issues, but deeply epistemological, and have the potential to drastically influence how we speak about and interact with the world.

One example where this dilemma occurs is our definition of a line. Intuitively, we believe that two lines that are parallel to one another on a plane will never intersect. This is the case in Euclidean geometry, and looks like this:

fc_paralines_41731_md

No matter how far these lines extend in space, they will always be an equal distance apart. Simple enough right? However, what happens when we redefine what a line is? I am not asking what if we redefine “line” to mean “donkey”, but what if we base our definition of “line” upon different geometrical formulas and assumptions? What we get is elliptical and hyperbolic geometry.

As opposed to Euclidean geometry, both elliptical and hyperbolic geometry conceive of space as curved. Whereas Euclidean geometry considers lines as flat and two dimensional, the plane of elliptical geometry is three dimensional and spherical like this:

Long

Because space is curved like a sphere, eventually all straight lines will converge at the center point shown at the top. Therefore, “parallel lines” do not extend infinitely into space, remaining at an equal distance between one another, but eventually intersect.

As for hyperbolic geometry, its plane is shaped kind of like a horse saddle, or a Pringles chip:

Hyperbolic_space

Rather than the lines converge inward into themselves, as in elliptical geometry, the parallel lines in hyperbolic geometry diverge away from themselves. Once again, the difference between this account of a line and the other two is due to its different theory of space, because it is based up different fundamental theorems.

Altogether, if we had an arial view of all of these lines, they would look something like this:

2013-02-15-graphic4

In each of these examples, its conclusions are based on a prior theory or set of definitions. In Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Hofstadter gives these three geometric paradigms as examples of how our prior theories and definitions shape our conclusions, saying:

“one can let the meanings of ‘point’, ‘line’, and so on be determined by the set of theorems (or propositions) in which they occur” (Hofstadter 93).

The way in which the alternate geometries were formed (elliptical and hyperbolic) was by mathematicians attempting to ground Euclid’s parallel lines in a set of theorems. The mathematicians would come up with these foundational propositions, and then try to conform it to Euclid’s definitions, much like how Procrustes would conform the length of his victims to the length of his bed. Whenever Procrustes’ victims were too short, he would stretch them out; whenever they were too long, he would chop off body parts. Likewise, mathematicians would find themselves in a similar situation when attempting to incorporate their theorems into a Euclidean framework. It was always too short or too long, and so they would labor to metaphorically lengthen or shorten their theorems to conform to the length Euclid’s geometrical bed.

However, as Hofstadter states above, instead of striving to conform these new theories to a previously accepted set of definitions (which were grounded upon intuition), why not instead allow the new theorems determine new definitions? If the basic propositions of hyperbolic geometry and elliptical geometry produce an internally consistent system, why must the validity of its definitions be judged in accordance with an alternate geometry, whose definitions were partially based upon mere intuition? With the advent of a new set of geometric axioms, a new paradigm in geometry was born:

“The [non Euclidean geometric] propositions are only ‘repugnant to the nature of the straight line’ if you cannot free yourself of preconceived notions of what ‘straight line’ must mean. If, however, you can divest yourself of those preconceived images, and merely let a ‘straight line’ be something which satisfies new propositions, then you have achieved a radically new viewpoint” (92).

By creating a new theory, our definitions seemed to inform us of something about reality, whereas previously it was thought that reality informed our theories. The purpose of theories (or definitions etc.) is to correctly represent or mirror the way things are, but the difficulty lies in this: in order to understand reality, we formulate theories and definitions which we think represent it, but in order to know whether or not our theories do correctly represent reality, we must know reality to begin with. This degenerates into a paradoxical circle, a story of the chicken and the egg. Which comes from which? How can reality judge the validity of our theories when we need our theories in order to conceptualize what reality is in the first place? The following is a diagram of this dilemma:

Isomorphism or Reality?

It seems like we must judge our theories in accordance with reality, but the reason we have theories is to conceptualize reality in the first place.

This paradox in knowledge is basically Meno’s Paradox found in one of Plato’s dialogues, only with a different flavor. While discussing the definition of virtue, Meno poses this epistemological dilemma to Socrates:

“And how will you search for something, Socrates, if you don’t know at all what it is? What sort of thing from among those you don’t know will you make the target of your search? Or even if you were to hit upon it with complete success, how will you know that this is the thing you didn’t know?” (Sedley 14).

In order to inquire about (“search for”) something, we must first know what it is. However, if we first know what it is, then we do not need to inquire about it since we would already know it. Socrates responds:

“For he [who searches] wouldn’t be searching for what he knows, since he knows it, and someone like that, at least, has no need to search; nor would he be searching for what he doesn’t know, since in that case he doesn’t even know what to search for” (14).

Here’s the example my professor gave. Suppose you wanted to know how to spell a word, and suppose that someone suggests to look it up in the dictionary. However, in order to look it up in the dictionary, you first have to know how to spell the word, since you need to know the order of the letters in the word so you can turn to the right page. Since you do not already know how to spell the word, you first need to know how to spell the word in order to look it up. In order to first search for it, we must know it, but if we already know it, then we no longer need to search for it. This diagram gives us one of the possible interpretations of the situation:

Spell to Dictionary

The result is paradoxical with no obvious solution. We must already have knowledge in order to learn, but doesn’t learning mean the acquiring of knowledge which we did not previously know? On and on the loop goes.

Whether it’s the definition of words or general concepts, this paradox poses a problem as to how we learn, and whether or not these theories truly represent the way things are. Perhaps our theories are only useful among ourselves and do not actually exist independently of us. Maybe they represent things in themselves and our minds extract meaningful information from the world. Or, maybe the information comes solely from our minds themselves, yet accurately correspond to the way things are. There are serious consequences for any answer given to this question.

Works Cited

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 2nd ed. New
York: Basic, 1999. Print.

Sedley, David, and Alex Long, eds. Plato: Meno and Phaedo. 2010: Cambridge
University, n.d. Print. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy.

Hegel Refuted

Georg W. F. Hegel was a German philosopher of the early 19th century. The main tenets of Hegel’s philosophy are rationalism and idealism. He believed that the world is rational and that the human mind can know the world through enough reflection. We do not learn through sensation, but through a dialectical process where we continually reflect upon concepts and provide a synthesis between them. Because knowledge of the world increases through this constant process of syntheses, theses, and antitheses, the world will ultimately continue until no more synthesis is required; only knowledge without any correction or qualification will remain. Through the dialectical process, the world increases in its knowledge until it reaches its zenith, and so Hegel’s philosophy of history is characterized by this idea of progress.

For Hegel, things do not exist independently of thought. This is what makes him an idealist as opposed to being a realist. For Hegel, the world itself is Mind, or Spirit (“Geist” in German). Spirit is reality, or the way things are. We are a part of Spirit by merit of being a part of the world, much like pantheism. Our intellectual life and our actions are the outworking of the reflection of the universal mind. As such, our ideas, though they are many, and different from others, are the result of the universal mind reflecting upon itself, as Hegel states:

“True reality is merely this process of reinstating self-identity, of reflecting into its own self in and from its other…” (Frieser 549).

and,

“The truth is the whole. The whole, however is merely the essential nature reaching its completeness through the process of its own development” (Frieser 549).

Truth is universal self-realization, or the process of Spirit “reaching its completeness through the process of its own development.” The universal mind becomes more and more self-conscious as it reflects upon itself throughout history, and the results of its contemplation can be partially seen through humanity’s intellectual history.

This process of universal realization, or “Zeitgeist”, is famously depicted in Hegel’s bud and flower analogy. Truth and falsehood are not rigid, mechanical concepts, but rather, they are fluid and organic:

“The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in the place of the blossom…But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole” (Frieser 542).

It is not that one philosophy supplants another, or that different beliefs are truly contradictory to one another, but that each are organically related to a higher unity. This higher unity is the Zeitgeist, the concrete universal, or the full self realization of the world. The higher unity is the goal towards which the whole world is progressing. Just as a plant begins as a bud, its ultimate end is to grow into a beautiful, blossoming flower. In light of its teleology, or end goal, there is no contradiction between a bud and the blossom, as if the blossom “refutes” the bud. There is no refutation of the former structures, but a surpassing of it. Likewise, there is never truly a refutation of previous ideas, but in light of the teleology of the world, there is only a surpassing of previously distinct ideas through a synthesis between them.

Past ideas served their contemporaries well, but it was necessary that these would be surpassed, according to Hegel’s theory of universal intellectual progress. Of course, Hegel was influenced by other thinkers, one whom was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Lessing was one of many who popularized the quest for the “Historical Jesus” in Germany. The New Testament does not show us who Jesus is, but is just the embellishment of his followers. Who he actually was and what he actually taught are the main questions those like Lessing wanted to answer. At any rate, Lessing came up with a theory about the New Testament similar to Hegel’s ideas of progress. Just as the New Testament superseded the Old testament, he believed that there would be a third movement that would supersede the New Testament. This third belief system would be the “third kingdom” or “third gospel”.

In this third kingdom, Lessing urged that religious doctrine, although it suited past generations, ought to be more about getting along than separating people. The true message of all religions is to treat one another well. This can be illustrated by Lessing’s play, Nathan the Wise, where the character, Nathan, argues that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a commonality between them. He does this through a story of a father that gives his three sons each a ring. The gist is, one of the rings is special in a way that only the father knows, and whichever son wears that ring will get the inheritance. The father dies before telling them which has the ring, and the brothers squabble amongst each other for the inheritance. Along comes someone else that tells them not to squabble. It does not matter which one was the special ring. There may have never been one. The only thing that matters is that the brothers ought to get along, because the father loved them all.

The brothers represent the three monotheistic religions, the rings represents the impossibility of knowing the true one, and the father represents God. Through this parable, Lessing desired to assimilate these different beliefs into a more general belief, a more generalized – and secularized – religion. The subsuming of concepts into new beliefs is characteristic of parts of Lessing’s works, along with Friedrich W. J. Schelling, and others who have influenced Hegel. (More can be read about this in Elie Kedourie’s book, “Hegel and Marx: Introductory Lectures).

For all this talk about progress and supplanting previous ideas, there came a day when Hegel’s philosophy had been widely discarded. What Hegel overlooked, or brilliantly ignored, was the fact that his own philosophy would become discarded just like past ones. History did not culminate in Hegel’s lifetime. Zeitgeist was not achieved under the Prussian government that Hegel so magnified. The problem with this section of Hegel’s philosophy of historic progress is that the world would then progress beyond Hegel’s ideas. In other words, progress itself is not excepted from progress, and we have moved beyond Hegel’s philosophy as a bud progresses to become a blossom. Gordon Clark comments on this ironic conclusion to views of progress:

“…if all the old concepts which served their time well are to be replaced by new and better concepts, does it not follow that the theory of progress will be discarded as an eighteenth and nineteenth century notion, which no doubt served its age well, but which will then be antiquated and untrue?” (Clark 30).

The answer is obvious. Of course such a view will become antiquated. Given Hegel’s premises, he has shot himself in the foot. His ideas about Zeitgeist and world as a self-reflecting mind now refute themselves in light of the fact that the world has progressed beyond them. Hegelianism was popular for a time, but we have moved beyond it. We, as a society, have taken what we liked from Hegel, and have assimilated it into something else. By his own standards, Hegel’s formulation about historical-intellectual progress is false. It is in this way that Hegel is refuted.

Works Cited

Clark, Gordon. A Christian View of Men and Things. Trinity Foundation, 1998. Print

Frieser, James, and Norman Lillegard. A Historical Introduction to Philosophy.
New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Claims and Self-Reference

Whenever someone makes a claim, it is a good idea to apply the claim to itself to see if it is self-contradictory. This is an important tool in critical thinking, and may save you some headaches when you are arguing or debating with someone.

In the philosophical study of logic, formal systems, and linguistics, this phenomenon is called “self-reference”. For example, “lion” can both denote a large carnivorous creature found in Africa, but it can also denote a four letter word. When “lion” is used to speak of a type of animal, it is used as a sign that signifies (or points to) a reality beyond itself. However, “lion” can also be used as a sign that signifies itself.

Augustine gives a funny example of this distinction in his treatise De Magistro. While two men were talking, the first man had the other admit that everything we say comes out of our mouths. Later in the conversation, the second man said the word “lion”. Since the second man said “lion”, the first man “insisted that, since he had confessed that what we say comes out of our mouth…therefore…he had let out a horrid beast from his mouth” (Burleigh 86).

Obviously words come out our mouths, but the things that are signified by these words do not come out our mouths. Therefore, not only can we talk about objects and things in the world, but we can talk about words themselves. When we use words to talk about words, we are using words to reference or signify themselves. This forms a type of loop where a word loops back onto itself and speaks of itself in terms of itself. This loop can be called “self-reference” or “self-signification”.

This loop, or “self-reference” can be applied to claims as well. Not only do claims assert something about a reality beyond itself, but claims often make claims about themselves, and thereby reference themselves. All critical thinkers should apply these self-referencing claims to themselves to see if they are internally consistent. If you have been confused up to this point, some examples will clarify what I am talking about. Consider the claim:

“All claims are false”

This claim states that all claims are false: the claim that the sky is blue, that roses are red, or that communism is good, are all false according to this sentence. However, the claim that “All claims are false” is itself a claim! Therefore, if it is true that all claims are false, then the claim that all claims are false would be false. This sentence becomes paradoxical, because if it is true, then it is false. This claim is included in the set of all claims that it negates. Consider the following illustration:

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We can see visually that the circle “All claims are false” is included in the very same circle that it is negating. Therefore, since it is included in the circle that it is negating, it negates itself. In order for this claim to be internally consistent, it must point away from itself, and not include itself in its negation, like in this picture:

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The original claim was turned into “All other claims [besides this one] are false”. This claim is no longer self-referential. Since it now points away from itself, it is not self-negating like it was before. Of course it is an absurd claim, but it is no longer internally inconsistent.

This self-referencing analysis of arguments and claims is one of the most basic tools of rational thought that we have. If a statement refutes itself, then no more analysis is needed; it is false by definition.

Here are some more examples:

“Everything not proven by science is false” cannot itself be proven by science, and is therefore false.

When someone says, “You shouldn’t tell other people what to do”, they are telling you what to do. Since they shouldn’t do that, you can ignore them and tell them what to do.

“Only believe what can be experienced” is an assertion which itself cannot be experienced, and therefore you shouldn’t believe it.

“Question everything”, why?

If “Knowledge is not possible”, then we can’t know that knowledge is not possible.

“There is no truth” cannot itself be true.

“There are no rules” is a rule.

“There are no standards” is a standard.

“People shouldn’t claim that they are right and others are wrong”; then the one making this claim should stop claiming that they are right and other people are wrong for saying that they are right and others are wrong.

Notice how there are logically incoherent self-referential claims and ethically incoherent self-referential claims. Logical incoherence is when a claim negates itself, and ethical incoherence is when a person negates their own action of claiming the claim through the act of claiming it. In other words, logical incoherence makes one insane, while ethical incoherence makes one a hypocrite.

When we realize that statements have a tendency to reference themselves and contradict themselves in this way, it helps us avoid nonsense. This is what my post Stupid Objections is all about. In that post, I was responding to a comment made on one of my blogs, and nearly all of their comments were either self-refuting or hypocritical. All I had to do was apply the standards to the person and to the standards themselves to demolish all of their objections. The same goes with my other posts A Mess of Self-Contradiction and Talking Contradiction. Having this in mind, go out into the world and see how often people refute themselves, and how often claims self-destruct.

Works Cited

Burleigh, J. H. S, ed. Augustine: Earlier Writings. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1953. Print.

Enthymeme

Gordon Clark explains the definition of the word “enthymeme” in his book Logic, “Such an argument, one in which a part is omitted or taken for granted, is called an enthymeme” (Clark 3). In other words, enthymemes are arguments containing unspoken assumptions and premises. Enthymemes are incredibly common, since often not all premises of an argument need to be explicitly stated for the argument to make sense to the listener.

A trivial example can be the following:

Person 1: Be sure to wear a jacket when you go outside.

Person 2: Why?

Person 1: Because it is cold outside.

This argument is an example of an enthymeme because there are unspoken premises. Why ought Person 2 wear a jacket? Why would it matter if it was cold outside? We can state the argument explicitly:

Premise 1: Staying warm rather than being cold is comfortable.

Premise 2: Jackets keep people warm when it is cold.

Premise 3: It is cold outside.

Conclusion: Therefore, Person 2 ought to put on a jacket when they go outside.

Premise 3 was the only premise which was explicitly stated, and the other premises were assumed. We all know the purpose of jackets is to keep us warm, and that being warm is more comfortable than being cold, so these premises were assumed in the argument rather than stated. It’s possible to even add a fourth premise stating that people ought to pursue comfort. Premises like these are commonly accepted, and so it is easier to assume them when making an argument rather than to meticulously state them. To meticulously state each of these premises is redundant and a waste of time.

All of this seems trivial since the argument above is a trivial example, but knowing about enthymemes helps to prevent confusion and makes people better critical thinkers. Not only does this aid critical thinking in general, but it is also a useful tool that Christians can use to refute objections to the Christian faith.

All objections against Christianity are invalid because Christianity is the truth of God. Since God has spoken to us through the Bible, what the Bible says is true; as Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “your word is truth.” Because the Christian worldview found in scripture is divine truth, as such, it is invincible and impervious to refutation. Therefore, all arguments that conclude in opposition against the Christian faith stem from one or more false premises. These false premises are often assumed rather than stated explicitly, so it is the duty of the Christian to clarify these premises in order to refute them and show how stupid they are.

A common objection against Christianity is that God cannot exist because there is so much evil in the world. This argument against God’s existence is often called the problem of evil, or theodicy. In response, professing Christians often accept this objection at face value and stumble over themselves to find a solution. The solution given is usually an incoherent appeal to mystery or attempting to console the objectors’ psychological needs.

Rather than taking the objectors’ argument at face value, the Christian ought to realize that it is an enthymeme, and demand that its unspoken premises be clarified. The argument can be restated in a syllogism or some type of logical form so that the premises that were once implicit in the argument can be stated explicitly. The argument above, when stated explicitly in syllogistic form, looks like this:

Premise 1: If evil exists, then God cannot exist.

Premise 2: Evil exists.

Conclusion: Therefore God cannot exist.

The structure of this argument is called a conditional syllogism, also known as a modus ponens. The logical form of the argument is “If P then Q. P. Therefore Q.” The validity of the conclusion “Q” is conditioned upon whether or not the premise, “P”, is true. Premise 1 is the assumption of the original argument. Since we now know about the objectors’ unspoken assumption, we may better refute the argument.

In order to refute this argument, all the Christian has to do is deny Premise 1. That is all. We do not have to appeal to mystery, we do not have to invent a metaphysical system that defines evil as a privation, we do not have to appeal to human free will, and we do not have to soothe people’s emotional needs. In all of these objections against Christianity, the objector imports an unjustified, anti Christian premise into their argument, and then boasts about how they have thrown a monkey wrench into the Christian system. In reality, in order to make these objections against Christianity, the objector imposes an unjustified premise upon the Christian that the Christian denies in the first place. Since these premises contradict the Bible and Christianity, all the Christian has to do is point out that they reject Premise 1. All premises that oppose the truth of Christianity are unjustified and do nothing more than beg the question.

Unfortunately, many professing Christians uncritically accept the validity of these arguments because they accept the validity of anti Christian ideas. They give more stock to man-made philosophy than the teaching of scripture. Theodicy is nothing more than the imposing of unjustified, anti Christian premises upon the Christian faith. If theologians and philosophers of the past had realized this, then they would have saved themselves much time and headache. Theodicy is solved since there was never any problem to begin with. 

Another common enthymeme is the argument in favor of free will. The argument is that God cannot hold us morally responsible for our actions if we do not have free will. Pelagians and Arminians use this argument to defend their theological views. The argument stated explicitly in syllogistic form looks like this:

Premise 1: Free will is necessary for moral responsibility.

Premise 2: God holds us morally responsible for our actions.

Conclusion: Therefore, free will exists.

Just like the previous argument, Premise 1 is false. Nowhere in scripture does it teach that free will is the necessary prerequisite for moral responsibility. To the contrary, scripture teaches us that God controls everything, including people’s wills. God controls hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), he influences the wills of believers (Philippians 2:13), and he causes some people to believe lies by sending deceptive spirits (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

This argument is the enthymeme of centuries of theological discussion and confusion. All of these free will speculations come crashing down in a moment when we realize that scripture does not teach that free will is the necessary prerequisite of moral responsibility. In reality, God controls all things, including our wills, and God has the right to hold us responsible for the actions that he causes us to do. To say that this is unjust or immoral is to impose unchristian definitions of justice and morality upon Christianity. God is the definition and source of morality; he does not kneel before moral principles external to himself. God does not submit to the standards that humans make up and impose upon him. Instead, God is the standard, and he has the right to do with his creation whatever he wishes. There is no problem and there is no mystery.

When we examine the unspoken premises of enthymemes like these, we discover that there is no basis for them. People who impose these premises upon Christianity do nothing more than beg the question, since scripture denies them in the first place. They smuggle in anti Christian ideas into their arguments and then proclaim how incoherent Christianity is. Judged through the lens of their stupid philosophies, Christianity would indeed be incoherent, but God rejects their philosophies. God has made foolish the so-called “wisdom” of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20). Christians ought to beware of being bamboozled into accepting invalid, arbitrary arguments that are made up by enemies of the faith. Enthymemes can be a source of endless confusion when we are unaware of them. However, when we realize that an argument is an enthymeme, all we have to do is reject its unwarranted assumptions, and exhort the one making these assumptions to repent and believe the Gospel.

Works Cited

Clark, Gordon. Logic. 3rd ed. Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 1998. Print.

Common Sense or Rationality?

Thomas Reid was an 18th century Scottish philosopher who expounded a philosophy of common sense. Up until this point in time, philosophy was dominated by skepticism and idealism. David Hume, for instance, was a contemporary of Reid. Hume concluded that causality does not exist, but is an idea that originates from mere habit. Hume also argued that no valid conclusions can be drawn from our sensations. Since Hume was an empiricist, basing all knowledge upon sensation, Hume essentially denied the possibility of knowledge. Within the rationalist tradition, philosophers like Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz disparaged the trustworthiness of our senses in favor of axiomatic, self-evident principles which would then form the foundation of the rest of human knowledge. Many of their systems logically resulted in idealism, the belief that the physical, external world does not exist, but that only minds and perceptions exist.

Reid wished to refute all of these speculations and to replace these philosophies with his own. He reasoned that the previous century and a half of philosophy had proven nothing, accomplished nothing, and took us to the edge of insanity. This is why Reid wanted to replace the philosophical milieu of his time with a common sensical epistemology: to oppose all the skepticism, contradiction, and obscurantism that had come to dominate the European landscape. Reid wanted to return again to a realist understanding of the world:

“Poor untaught mortals believe, undoubtedly, that there is a sun, moon, and stars…But philosophers pitying the credulity of the vulgar, resolve to have no faith but what is founded upon reason…[Since these philosophers have failed] I despise Philosophy and renounce its guidance: let my soul dwell with Common Sense” (Reid 11).

Notice how Reid pits philosophy against common sense, arguing that the rational formulations of these philosophers lead to error. Reid says that when these philosophers “resolve to have no faith but what is founded upon reason,” they falsify the world around them, and this is why common sense is necessary. Thus, common sense and human reasoning share no point of similarity; the one is opposed to the other. But what is meant by “common sense?” What is meant by “rationality?” Why ought we base our beliefs upon common sense? Why shouldn’t we base our beliefs upon rationality? What is preferable about either of them?

Etienne Gilson criticizes Reid in his book, Thomist Realism & The Critique of Knowledge, on this point. Reid ends up plunging us into the same skepticism that his common sense philosophy was meant to save us from. In his survey of common sense philosophies, Gilson quotes François Fénelon and Claude Buffier, recounting the history of common sense and those who have influenced Reid. In light of the evidence, Gilson defines their common sense as a series of unjustified, spontaneous judgements:

“[Common sense is a] badly defined innate faculty, concerning which all that was known was that it promulgated infallibly true judgements, although these judgements were neither immediately self-evident nor founded upon experience nor were conclusions of a process of reasoning” (Gilson 38).

Reid’s solution for philosophy was to replace the systems of his contemporaries with a vague concept of a mental capacity which enables us to spontaneously conclude true judgements. He never actually explains how this works or how this is possible, but merely asserts that common sense is true by definition. Reid believed that his spontaneous judgements were beyond examination, yet he never justified them. Hence,

“[Reid] attempted to base the whole edifice of true knowledge upon instinctive and, therefore, irrational judgements” (38).

Common sense philosophy devolves into irrationalism. If all of my instinctive judgements are true, then there is no real criterion of truth except my personal preference. If any spontaneous judgement of mine can be considered infallible, without reference to a process of reasoning, then anything goes. According to my common sense, physical objects are not composed of electrons, neutrons, and protons. According to my common sense, the world is flat, and the stars are not light years away. There are all types of common sense judgments that contradict not only scripture, but even the same scientific theories that Reid believed in. What happens when scripture contradicts his common sense? What happens when Reid’s scientific beliefs contradict his common sense? Reid wanted to cling both to his common sense and his scientific theories, but in doing so he rejects rationality, he makes common sense an enemy of scientific theory and faith, and unknowingly plunges himself into the skepticism he vowed to oppose:

“although invented as a remedy to skepticism, common sense thus conceived is quite at home with it. It has landed us upon the very rock from which it was meant to save us” (Gilson 39).

Common sense, especially when it is ill-defined, is worthless. It is worthless because valid reasoning is excluded. On top of that, for Reid to even explain what he means by common sense, he has to engage in the very thing he criticizes other philosophers for doing: formulating a philosophy based upon reasoning and not upon common sense. Reid must still give reasons for why we ought not have to base all of our beliefs upon reason. He is in a catch-22. If Reid cannot explain what exactly he means by “common sense,” then his position is undefinable and we have no idea what he is talking about. However, if Reid is required to provide us with a philosophical system, he must provide us with his own philosophical reasoning for why we don’t have to justify certain beliefs. This is self-contradictory. This philosophical reasoning is no longer common sense, but a philosophical system. Once Reid articulates his common sense into a system, it is no longer common sense but philosophy, but if Reid does not organize common sense into a definable philosophical system, then we have no clue what he means.

In summary, common sense is not as easy as it seems. Common sense philosophy is philosophy in disguise. Either it is a vague and undefinable concept, or else it must be made into a philosophical system like all other systems, making it no more common sense. Although it was meant to be a remedy to skepticism, as we have seen, Reid’s common sense devolves once more into skepticism. Its spontaneous, instinctual judgements are inimical to rationality. Common sense is a fallacious fraud.

Common Van Tillian Misrepresentation of Clark’s Epistemology

Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til were 20th century, Reformed Christian philosophers who represent two distinct systems of thought within the Reformed tradition. These differences manifest themselves in their approach to apologetics, presuppositionalism, epistemology, theology proper, hermeneutics, and so on. The followers of their systems are commonly called “Van Tillians” and “Clarkians.” Some of these followers of Van Till include John Frame and Greg Bahnsen, while notable Clarkians include John W. Robbins and W. Gary Crampton. The purpose of this post will be to examine a common misrepresentation of the Clarkian position by Van Tillians.

A while ago I posted this article on Facebook written by John W. Robbins, arguably the most outspoken Clarkian ever, who proved that C.S. Lewis’ salvation is questionable. If indeed it is true that C.S. Lewis,

“taught and believed in purgatory…said prayers for the dead…believed in baptismal salvation…rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and justification by faith alone, as well as the doctrines of total depravity and the sovereignty of God”

then Lewis was a heretic. His wide-ranging popularity amongst Calvinists and other evangelical Christians continues to be perplexing.

At any rate, I posted this article written by John W. Robbins on Facebook with the following reply:

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John W. Robbins was the one who wrote the C.S. Lewis article, and so Keith was asking if I thought Robbins was in heaven. Robbins was known for his emotive language and severe criticisms of popular Reformed theologians such as John PiperR.C. Sproul, and of course, Cornelius Van Til. By asking me if I thought Robbins was saved, Keith was showing his distaste for Robbins. Since Keith has produced a documentary (which can be found here) utilizing the apologetic system of Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, it is clear that Keith opposes critics of Van Til generally and opposes Clarkians specifically, like John W. Robbins. He continues:

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The reason Keith gives for believing that Robbins was not saved is because Keith believes that Robbins often and consistently misrepresented Van Til’s positions. Since Robbins supposedly practiced this deceit and hatred of the truth, he was most likely unregenerate, and the Holy Spirit did not dwell within him.

As an response to this, I would like to remind everyone that Van Tillians, Van Til included, have often misrepresented Gordon Clark. Misrepresentation is bound to happen, especially if you’re so confused as to think that “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory” as Van Til once asserted. The following is a classic misrepresentation of Clark by John Frame, a follower of Van Til:

“Clark gave to Aristotle’s logic the same authority as Scripture” (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought)

Many Van Tillians like John Frame claim that Clark placed logic as a higher authority than God. However, as Crampton indicates in the same article, Clark did not pit logic against or over scripture, but rather claimed that logic is identical to how God thinks. Since logic is how God thinks, and since scripture is a partial revelation of God’s mind, we must interpret scripture logically. To pit logic against scripture is as absurd as pitting God’s mind against his own mind. “Logic” is not a word meaning “autonomous human reason,” but rather, the word “logic” here indicates a formal system representing the necessary preconditions of rational thought. Clark is often labeled as a rationalist for this in Van Tillian circles – accused of beginning with autonomous human reason – when in reality Clark just wanted to understand the Bible correctly, and in order to do so, we cannot maintain contradictions or paradoxes in our theological systems.

Keith cites a short letter written by Greg Bahnsen (a Van Tillian) as evidence of John Robbins’ deceit and misrepresentation:

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Here is where the conversation gets interesting. In order to provide evidence of Robbins’ deceitful misrepresentations of Cornelius Van Til, Keith cites an article where Greg Bahnsen misrepresents both John Robbins and Gordon Clark. In essence, in order to prove Robbins’ unreliability, due to his supposed misrepresentation of Van Til, Keith cites a letter that misrepresents Robbins. Bahnsen states the following:

“Clark insisted that we cannot know anything on the basis of sensation and that our knowledge is restricted to the content of the Bible. Philosophically, this is outrageous. On this view, Clark could not even ‘know’ what the Bible taught since he relied upon sensation – reading, hearing – to learn it.”

To the contrary, Bahnsen’s understanding of Clark’s epistemology is what is outrageous. Given that Robbins agreed with Clark’s epistemology, the above quotation proves that Bahnsen had little to no clue what either man believed. Keith, not realizing Bahnsen’s blunder, sent this letter to me as a reason why he opposes Robbins. In reality, this letter, if anything, is a reason to oppose Greg Bahnsen and his Van Tillian philosophy. But first let me explain Bahnsen’s mistake.

Gordon Clark expounded an epistemology known as scripturalism (a discussion of which can be found here, here, and here). Essentially what this epistemology teaches is that true, indubitable knowledge can only be found in scriptural revelation, and that true, indubitable knowledge cannot ever be derived from experience, sensation, autonomous reason, natural theology, or anything else. Here is where Bahnsen, and many other Van Tillians, get confused about Clark’s epistemology. As Bahnsen objects, how is it possible to deny that sensation provides us with knowledge when we use our senses to read and listen to scripture? Since we use our senses (sight, hearing) to understand scripture, it is outrageous to conclude that we cannot know anything on the basis of sensation.

What Bahnsen, and Keith, did not realize is that Clark regarded sensation and the acquisition of knowledge as two distinct events. Sensation itself does not teach us anything, but rather God directly illuminates his word to us on the occasion that we read it. It is not sensation itself that causes us to acquire knowledge, as Petersen explains:

“Some may ask, ‘How can Clark avoid the fact that Clark has to read The Bible in order to know what it says?’…Clark held that God ultimately causes all things that come to pass…Because God is the one-true cause, there is no causal relation between reading The Bible with our sight and obtaining enlightenment from the scriptures.”

It is absolutely necessary to understand that Clark denied that we derive knowledge from sensation itself, but rather that God is the cause of our increase in knowledge. As Petersen explains, Clark held that since God is the sole cause of everything, God is the one who illuminates our minds. There is a strict line of severance between sensation and knowledge. One never implies the other. The burden of proof is upon the empiricist to justify the assertion that sensation produces knowledge. The empiricist never does justify this, but like Bahnsen, merely asserts it. Bahnsen also accused Clark of the following:

“[Clark] suggested that everything we read on the inked lines of the Bible was already in our knowledge internally – which contradicts WCF 1:1. What men know innately by general revelation is ‘not sufficient’ because it does not include all the message of Scripture.”

Although I do not have access to the reference cited, this seems to be another subtle misrepresentation of Clark by Bahnsen. From what I know, Clark’s position on innate knowledge resembles that of St. Augustine in his epistemological treatise called De Magistro. The purpose of the De Magistro is to demonstrate that no person truly teaches another person, and that words themselves do not teach anyone, but Christ does. Clark did not hold to some Platonic theory of recollection, but believed that Christ – in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge – is the true light of men, who is the cause of all our understanding. Burleigh summarizes part of Augustine’s position:

“Knowledge is of universals, and these we do not learn by means of words. We must consult the Eternal Wisdom of God, i.e., Christ, who dwells in the inner man, gives men to see the truth according to the ability of each” (Burleigh 67).

If indeed Clark spoke of this innate knowledge, he was certainly not referring to a type of knowledge that we get from general revelation, but rather Clark claimed that special revelation is the source of all of our indubitable knowledge, and that we understand the special revelation of the Bible through this internal illumination of God’s word. One of the evidences of this is the fact that words themselves do not teach us anything. Words do not teach us about the things they signify, because if we do not know the thing signified, then we do not know what the words mean and cannot learn from them. However, if we do know what is signified by the words, then we already internally know the concepts that the words point towards. Therefore, we learn on the occasion that words are spoken, but the words are not what give us the knowledge:

“No man is really a teacher. The idea that some men are teachers arises from the fact that the apprehension of truth follows without appreciable interval on the words of the teacher, but the two processes are separable” [italics mine] (Burleigh 67-68).

Clark did not mean that everyone is born knowing the Bible, but that when we read it, we already know the things signified by the words of scripture. This is necessary because if we did not know the meaning of the words, then we would not be able to make sense of the Bible’s message. And once more, we derive our knowledge about things and the words that signify these things from “Christ, who dwells in the inner man,” that One who is “the light of men” (John 1:4).

Going back to Keith, Keith was interested in Bahnsen’s comments where he accuses Robbins of misrepresentation:

“the letter from Mr. Robbins only perpetuated the weak reasoning and misrepresentations of Van Til against which the reviewer had justly protested.”

That’s all. This is the only reference to Robbins’ suppose misrepresentation. It seems as though Bahnsen’s only specific argument against Robbins is that Robbins has often called Van Til’s system irrational. In order to prove that this accusation is a misrepresentation, the burden of proof was upon Bahnsen, and is now upon Keith, to refute the many arguments that Robbins has given to show that Van Til’s philosophical system is irrational. One would do well to interact with the arguments that Robbins has provided, rather than dismiss him.

I responded with the following:

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I made only two more comments directed at Keith:

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After that, Keith blocked me. Apparently he finds it acceptable to accuse Robbins of not being saved, but I cannot call a single quotation of Van Til irrational.

If Robbins has misquoted or misrepresented Van Til, show it. If there is a flaw in Robbins’ reasoning, show it. Perhaps Robbins does misrepresent him, but for Keith to give me a link to a letter written by one of Van Til’s followers, where the Van Tillian himself misrepresents Robbins and Clark, is the ultimate irony. Once again, as evidence of Robbins’ misrepresentation of Van Til, Keith gave me a link to a letter written by a Van Tillian who egregiously misrepresented both Robbins and Clark. This can teach us a lesson. Representing one another is difficult, especially if we disagree with it. Let this be an example of how to pursue truth for the glory of Christ.

Check out Keith Thompson’s videos and documentaries on his YouTube channel. His most outstanding documentary, in my opinion, is his Reformed Answers on the Roman Corruption of Christianity. I wish Keith did not block me since he has been a great resource in my walk with the Lord. I did not write this post to embarrass or attack Keith since I really like the guy. I decided to reveal his name in the Facebook screenshots because I was planning on giving a link to his YouTube channel anyway. Keith may or may not be aware of these Clarkian and Van Tillian squabbles, but at any rate, he’s a great brother in Christ and I hope you will benefit from perusing his YouTube channel and also his website: Reformed Apologetics Ministries. I also hope this post was helpful.

Works Cited

Burleigh, J. H. S, ed. Augustine: Earlier Writings. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1953. Print.

Laws of Nature Don’t Exist

What people normally refer to as “the laws of nature,” do not exist. Whereas in a previous post I focused upon the problem of demonstrating the existence of gravity due to induction, for this post I want to show how the laws of nature are not explanations of reality, but are mere descriptions of events that we commonly perceive.

It does not matter what the particular label may be. Whether we are talking about gravity, principles of magnetism, or the law of refraction, none of these laws actually exist, and even if they did exist, we could never prove that they exist. The only thing these labels do is impose a description upon phenomena; they do not actually explain anything.

Suppose a child asks why a book fell to the ground. You respond confidently that the reason that the book fell to the ground is because of gravity. But what is gravity? You answer again, telling the child that gravity is an attractive force between objects which causes all objects to move closer to one another over time. Therefore, the book fell to the ground because of gravity, and gravity is an invisible force or principle of attraction between all objects in the universe.

Look at the above reasoning closely. The answer to the child’s question degenerates into saying that the book fell to the ground because objects on Earth contain a quality of falling to the ground. This is meaningless. Imagine if I tried to use this type of reasoning as an explanation for anything else. The reason the the eyes see is because they contain a quality of sight. Fish breathe underwater because they contain a quality of breathing underwater. Fire is hot because it contains a quality of being hot. None of these serve as real explanations; they only tell us what happens, but not why they happen. Consider Gordon Clark’s comments on this point:

“Why does a stone fall? What makes it fall? The usual answer is, the law of gravitation. This law as applied to freely falling bodies is that the body falls with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. Now, to substitute the law itself for its name, the question, Why does a stone fall? is answered by saying that it falls because it falls thirty-two feet per second per second. But how does a statement of the rate of the fall explain what makes the stone drop in the first place?…Does it not become clear upon reflection that the law of gravitation is not an explanation?” (Clark 36).

As Clark indicates, these labels that we attach to phenomena such as gravity, magnetism, refraction or whatever else it may be, are only labels of phenomena. These labels serve as descriptions, not as explanation.

Let’s also look at magnetism. All objects with the same charge repel one another. Why is this the case? Because the laws of magnetism dictate that objects with opposite charges attract and ones with the same charge repel. As with gravity, we have not given an explanation about how this process works by labeling the phenomenon as “magnetism.” We have only described the event in different terms. All scientific laws are worthless interpretations of the nature of reality.

These examples highlight the issues involving the proper role of science. Science – if we grant it the stipulative definition of the process of developing conclusions based upon observations of laboratory experiments – must be understood in terms of a preconceived framework. Therefore, a philosophy of science is necessary in order to determine science’s scope, its worth, and its application. Unfortunately, a naive philosophy of science grips the minds of the majority of western civilization.

The problem with our common, cultural understanding of the role of science is that science is the tool through which humanity will be able to properly interpret reality, as Karl Pearson said, “The goal of science is clear – it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe” (Clark 53). This is why so many still speak of science in such dogmatic and authoritative terms, without having any concept of its definition or proper function. For example, Pearson was too stupid to realize that science is unable to interpret his own statement: that science is the complete interpretation of reality. Since this statement itself is non scientific, Pearson’s statement cannot possibly be a true interpretation of reality.

Science cannot ever be an axiomatic principle of the interpretation of reality, since science itself is subordinate to the framework imposed upon it by the individual scientist. To give an oversimplified example, scientists may sometimes choose to present their data in terms of the data’s average, median, or mode. It is possible for the very presentation of the data to be based upon personal preference, and by implication, scientists’ conclusions drawn from this data may be a reflection of their biases. In reference to issues of geocentrism and heliocentrism, Fieser and Lillegard observe:

“How we observe the world ultimately rests on the theoretical presuppositions that we make. We learn little about reality by simply observing flickering stars and planets across the sky. Knowledge of the heavens is only attained when we interpret our observations from within the context of some theory…Whether our presuppositions are good or bad, they are nevertheless assumptions…” (Fieser 286).

Generally speaking, there is nothing indubitable about the conclusions of these scientists. We must understand their conclusions in light of the preexisting framework that shapes their interpretations of the data in the first place. This framework belongs to the realm of philosophy.

Pearson’s assertion above seems to resemble logical positivism. Logical positivism is an anti-metaphysical, philosophical position which states that statements are only meaningful if they can be scientifically or logically verifiable. The only problem is that logical positivism is itself a metaphysical position that is not scientifically or logically verifiable. While positivists exhort other people to abandon metaphysics, they hypocritically exhort you to accept their anti-metaphysical metaphysic. By mixing distinct categories of thought, positivism reduces itself to absurdity. Oblivious to the fact that they are making philosophical claims concerning the nature and application of science, they deceive themselves into thinking that they are being scientific, truthful, and eliminating superstition, when in reality they are being irrational. Similar to the irrationality of Pearson, Etienne Gilson quotes Sir James Jeans:

“Before the philosophers have a right to speak, science ought first to be asked to tell all she can as to ascertain facts and provisional hypotheses. Then, and then only, may discussion legitimately pass into the realm of philosophy” (Gilson 121).

This statement is itself philosophical. Jeans wanted to exclude the comments of the philosophers in order to establish the supremacy of science, but in doing so he had to make philosophical claims. Words like “ought” and “legitimately” are likewise non scientific, and belong to the realm of philosophy. Asserting that science has the capacity to ascertain facts is to make assumptions about the nature of truth and our ability to know the truth, which belong to metaphysics and epistemology. If Jeans’ assertion is true, then it is false, since science says nothing about people’s rights, what is legitimate, what ought to be, the nature of truth, and the nature of our knowledge of the truth. Jeans’ statement is the exact opposite of what is the case. In order to examine the purpose of science, it is necessary to establish a philosophy of science which establishes a preconceived framework through which we may create scientific experiments and interpret scientific data. Only after this philosophical framework is defined may discussion legitimately pass into the realm of science. Gilson comments on this confused mixing of scientific and philosophical categories:

“mistaking existential, that is, metaphysical, questions for scientific ones, they ask science to answer them. Naturally, they get no answers” (Gilson 123).

Confused individuals like Pearson and Jeans concluded that since metaphysical questions cannot be answered scientifically, they are therefore meaningless. However, they are inconsistent. The question of whether or not science ought to be placed as the criterion of truth cannot be scientifically verified either, so there exists no system of thought which is able to place science as the criterion of truth, since any attempt to do so reveals its self-contradiction. If they were consistent, then they would have abandoned their irrational claims. Instead, they, and all of popular western culture, preferred to remain inconsistent, and propose scientific answers for metaphysical questions, and were satisfied to force metaphysical language upon scientific observations.

When they impose metaphysical language upon their scientific observations, they conclude that they have discovered a law, and pretend that these conclusions are observable, indubitable, and verifiable. Let alone that science cannot truly verify anything, since it commits the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent, science is never able to answer metaphysical questions. “Why do objects fall to the ground?” is an irrelevant question within science, along with all other questions of causation and existence:

“Scientists never ask themselves why things happen, but how they happen. Now as soon as you substitute the positivist’s notions of relation for the metaphysical notion of cause, you at once lose all right to wonder why thing are, and why they are what they are” (Gilson 112).

All we can examine within the scope of science is how things appear to operate. We can roughly calculate the rate at which things fall. We may observe how many colors come as a result of refraction. We can measure the amount of a magnetic charge of an object and how this object reacts to other objects surrounding it. However, we can never know their metaphysical cause – the reason why objects act in these ways – through scientific means. As Clark has elsewhere observed, science cannot even give an explanation to the problem of motion.

Autonomous laws of nature don’t exist and are non scientific. There exists no underlying, orderly arrangement or causal force called “gravity” existing in distinction from “magnetism” existing in distinction from “refraction.” It is ironic that so many materialists believe in the existence of the laws of nature, since laws of nature are not themselves nature. By definition, laws of nature are the underlying causal principle dictating the behavior of material objects. Obviously these laws cannot be the material objects themselves. As a result, materialists are forced to give up the notion of “law,” since laws are not material. If indeed they give up the notion of autonomous laws, and if they resign themselves to materialism alone, then this seems to imply that the universe is not rationally intelligible to us, since we cannot derive any of its orderly principles through scientific means, and neither can orderly principles exist in a world of true materialism. This in turn ought to be enough to plunge the materialist into skepticism. Since autonomous orderly principles run contrary to the philosophical position of materialism, all materialists who attempt to impose intelligibility upon the world do so out of habit and preference, not out of any rational justification. To escape this skepticism, a true metaphysic must be be offered which is able to not merely describe, but explain the metaphysical cause and underlying orderly principles of phenomena.

This true metaphysic is found in God’s revelation, which is the 66 books of the Bible. Revelation is necessary in order to end speculation about the metaphysical nature of things. The Bible teaches that the causal principle and orderly arrangement of all things in creation is God, since scripture calls Jesus Christ the logos, the rationality, the word, or the logic of God (John 1:1), and in Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). The metaphysical explanation for why objects move is God, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). The metaphysical explanation for all things is God, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Scripture teaches that whatever the event may be, God is the one who plans it and causes it:

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7)

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)

For the verse in Isaiah, two opposites are contrasted in order to explain that no matter what the event may be, God is the one who does it all. Lamentations explains that all things come by the command of God. Ephesians explains that God not only predestines his elect to salvation, but also that God works all things, meaning that he determines and controls all things according to his own will. Many other verses may be cited which teach God’s specific control over nations, over the weather, over animals, over people, and over crops, but the three verses above are enough to demonstrate that God is the sole metaphysical cause of everything. No matter what the event may be, it is God who does it.

The Bible teaches theistic determinism. The type of theistic determinism that the Bible teaches most resembles occasionalism. Occasionalism is the doctrine which states that upon any given occasion, or event, God is the direct metaphysical cause of it. Glass does not break when dropped to the ground because of some inherent force or quality between the ground and the glass, but because God directly causes it to break on the occasion that it hits the ground. The glass does not fall because of some autonomous law of gravity, but because God directly causes it to fall to the ground. I have no inherent causal power to type this blog, but rather God directly causes my fingers to move, God causes the keys go down on the occasion that my fingers touch them, and the words appear on the screen all according to God’s direct control, as Cheung comments:

“Calvin wrote, ‘Indeed, not even an abundance of bread would benefit us in the slightest unless it were divinely turned into nourishment.’ This sounds like my occasionalism. There is no inherent ‘nature’ or power in bread that always works with the body to provide nourishment, but it must be ‘divinely turned into nourishment’ each time it is consumed” (Cheung 14).

The above quotation becomes obvious in light of Biblical passages such as Exodus 24:18, 34:27-28, and 1 Kings 19:4-8. God has the power to directly sustain people without food and water, but it is through the means of eating and drinking that God nourishes our bodies. God often uses means to accomplish his ends, but as in the case of Moses and Elijah, rather than using regular food and water, God directly sustained them for forty days without either. God uses these means, but he never has to.

This is why Christians ought not believe in the laws of nature. Not only is it the case that science is formally fallacious and that there no scientific justification for the laws of nature, but positing the existence of autonomous causal principles contradicts scripture, since scripture teaches that God is the sole metaphysical causal principle of all things. Since the Bible is God’s word, since God only speaks truth, and since God’s word is true, scripture alone gives us the proper interpretation of reality. The true interpretation of reality rejects the existence of laws operating without reference to God. If one objects and says that laws of nature do exist, it is just God who controls the laws of nature, this would be self-contradictory and useless, since laws of nature are often considered as being free from God, and saying that God controls these laws of nature is to affirm that God directly controls all things anyway. There is no middle position for the Christian. Our options involve either skepticism (another word for disbelief), some form of deism where God passively allows creation to operate according to autonomous laws, or the scriptural position which states that God directly controls all things.

Since scripture denies the existence of autonomous laws of nature, people throughout the centuries confuse themselves when attempting to discover the relation between God and these laws. Unbelievers often object that God has to break the laws of nature in order to perform miracles. Rather than correcting the unbeliever by saying that God is the cause of these orderly events in the first place, many professing Christians attempt to reconcile their understanding of God to this unbiblical concept of the autonomous laws of nature. When they do so, they speak of God as intervening when he performs miracles. This is misleading language, since the word intervene assumes that God moves from a passive state to an active state concerning his creation. In opposition to this, the Bible teaches that God is never passive, but actively controls all things through his providence. Nevertheless, in spite of the Biblical doctrine of God’s providence, even professing Christians often regard God as passive, allowing creation to operate according to principles external to him.

By attempting to discover the relation between God and these non existent laws, the doctrine of God’s providence began to be disregarded, eventually resulting in the exclusion of God in the minds of scientists and philosophers, which in turn lead to deism, and ultimately atheism. This process began with the advent of the modern philosophy of René Descartes. Modern philosophy began with the fundamental idea that reality can be interpreted in terms of mathematical, mechanistic relationships:

“All natural phenomena…can be explained in terms of the arrangement and motion (or rest) of minute, insensible particles of matter (corpuscles), each of which is characterized exclusively by certain fundamental and irreducible properties, – size, shape, and impenetrability” (Moriarty x-xi).

The basis of knowledge revolved more and more around this mechanistic conception of the universe. Philosophers and scientists began to regard nature as being strictly governed by mathematical law, resulting in a type of naturalistic determinism, where humans and animal bodies are regarded as machines. As Russell Shorto observes in his book Descartes’ Bones, Descartes’ main purpose for his mechanistic hypothesis was to form a philosophy through which a successful medical practice could be formulated, and is quoted as saying, “The preservation of health has always been the principal end of my studies.”

For 1,500 years the ancient philosopher Galen had dominated western medicine. His medical theories involved bodily humors, astrology, and general superstition. Descartes wanted to end Europe’s reliance upon Galen’s outdated, primitive theories by advancing a philosophy which would rid physicians of the need to practice astrology, to consider supposed microcosms between the human body and the stars, and so on. By thinking of the human body in terms of a machine, Descartes desired to revolutionize medicine. Mechanistic and mathematical necessity became the new model of the human body in opposition to the organic, teleological model of the Aristotelians. With this new mechanistic model, Descartes theorized that cures for disease would be found that would heal people by necessity, just as a machine like a watch is repaired through repairing its gears and cogs. This eliminates the need to consult the stars and the rest, since these cures operate according to necessary laws, laws that exist autonomously without reference to the stars, spirits, or God.

Since Descartes wanted the human body to operate according to necessary mechanistic laws and for people to simultaneously possess a free will, he suggested that the human individual is not a unity of body and soul, but a composite of body and soul. The result is Cartesian Dualism. This dualism states that the body and soul are completely separate substances, an idea unheard of before Descartes. This idea was so revolutionary that a fistfight broke out at the University of Utrecht when Henricus Regius had one of his students defend Descartes’ thesis. Clearly, Cartesian Dualism “was perceived by contemporaries, not as reassuring or uplifting, but as downright strange” (Moriarty xxxviii). This dualism renders the human soul/mind free from the mechanistic necessity of material things, but poses the problem as to how the soul interacts with the body.

Descartes, in pursuit of his medical goals, established a philosophy of the world which states that all things are governed by necessary, mechanistic laws, and that the human soul exists as a completely separate substance in spite of these laws. Philosophers and theologians like Gisbertus Voetius correctly observed that Cartesian Dualism, and Descartes’ model of the world as being governed by strict mechanistic, mathematical laws, could lead to atheism. If the whole world is conceived of as a mechanistic machine, it takes little effort to move beyond Cartesian Dualism towards the outright denial of the existence of the soul and the existence of God. This is exactly what Thomas Hobbes did. If the world can be understood in terms of this mechanism, then we have no need of the soul or God; we can conceive of the world as material alone. As a result, God and the soul slowly began to be regarded as the vestiges of a primitive era. The existence of God was no longer necessary to explain the events in the world, and so deism came into vogue among European intellectuals around the time of the Enlightenment, eventually giving way to atheism.

Beginning with the advent of modern philosophy and the scientific revolution, explanations of the universe began to exclude metaphysics and God. God began to be seen as a passive spectator of a self-sufficient world:

“God is no longer an active participant in the daily functioning of the universe…He is now a passive spectator to the physical events that he set in motion. The phrase ‘God of the gaps’ is sometimes used to describe the tendency of the scientific revolution to look for divine activity in those areas that science cannot fully explain. As science filled in the knowledge gaps during the scientific revolution, the role for divine activity lessened” (Fieser 295).

Scientific laws such as gravity, magnetism, and refraction, became to be seen as explanations of natural phenomena. Since people think that science is able to explain things, many feel that God is a superfluous and unnecessary concept. However, as I have already demonstrated, these so-called laws do not explain anything. They merely describe events:

“Does science explain anything?…Surely we want to know more than the path of the planets and the acceleration of a freely falling body. Facts such as these are interesting and important. But a statement of fact is not an explanation: It is the very things the needs to be explained. Viewed in this light, science explains nothing” (Clark 36).

By confusing statements about the world with metaphysical causes, atheists and professing Christians alike have fallaciously excluded God from his own creation. There is no rational or scientific justification for autonomous laws of nature. The existence of these laws of nature are nothing more than the assumptions of people who possess a false metaphysical position. Laws of nature do not explain why anything exists or why it exists in such and such a manner. In order to explain these things, philosophy and correct metaphysics is necessary. This correct philosophy is found in the form of theological doctrines derived from the Bible. Only with a consistent application of God’s revelation can we define the application and boundaries of science, explain why things exist and why they exist in the manner that they do, and maintain correct categories in our thought. The laws of nature do not exist; God and his providence exist.

Works Cited

Clark, Gordon H. The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 3rd ed. N.p.:
Trinity Foundation, 1996. Print.

Frieser, James, and Norman Lillegard. A Historical Introduction to Philosophy.
New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Gilson, Etienne. God and Philosophy. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University, 2002.
Print.

Moriarty, Michael, trans. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from
the Objections and Replies. Oxford: Oxford University, 2008. Print.

Nietzsche’s Paradox

Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th century German philosopher who, among other things, sought to provide a philosophical vision for a post-Christian world. Nietzsche witnessed the hypocrisy of the professing Christians of his day who were clinging to a moral system derived from Christianity, while simultaneously rejecting belief in God. Nietzsche mocked these double-minded people and prided himself in his new, daring philosophy:

“We prefer to live amid the ice than to be breathed upon by modern virtues and other southerly winds!…We were brave enough; we spared neither ourselves nor others” (Taffel 385).

Nietzsche would provide us with a new philosophy, a philosophy of the hammer, which would destroy the idols of our past ideals. He would “prefer to live amid the ice” by standing upon the ideological foundation of his own autonomous design, after having undermined the Christian foundation of western civilization. He envisioned a new generation of Übermensch, men who would transcend the slave morality of Christianity, and would live in accordance with the values of their own design.

The Übermensch

Nietzsche’s vision of the Übermensch sought for a generation of individuals who would introduce a new era. This generation would find itself within a post-Christian, post-God civilization. Nietzsche insisted that we must throw off the vestiges of Christian influence, whether they be moral, cultural, or philosophical. However, once we cast off these remnants of Christian influence, it is necessary to replace Christianity’s moral, cultural, and philosophical ideals with new ones, just as Onfray articulated:

“Do away with God, yes, but then what?” (Onfray 34).

Hence, one of these new ideals is Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Unfortunately there has been a wide variety of interpretation regarding this concept, as Ratner-Rosenhagen has observed:

“the Übermensch received the most intense interest while also posing the some of the most difficult interpretive problems for American readers. Contestation over interpretation erupted even among those of the same political affiliation. religious denomination, and literary sensibility” (Ratner-Rosenhagen 111).

Even though there has been so many nuanced interpretations and applications of the Übermensch, there seems to be a general consensus that Nietzsche meant some type of self-mastery, self-overcoming, an autonomous transcendence above commonly accepted virtues. The word has been translated into English as the “over man,” “beyond man,” and even “superman” (before the fictional superhero “Super Man” had been created). The connotation of the Übermensch is that of an individual who can go above and beyond the riffraff of commoners, those who forge for themselves their own values, who stand alone and unabashedly in the midst of a world without foundations. In essence the Übermensch,

“must be used to living on mountain-tops, and to feeling the wretched gabble of politics and national egotism beneath him…One must be superior to humanity in power, in loftiness of soul, in contempt” [italics his] (Taffel 383).

Nietzsche’s Paradox

Unfortunately for Nietzsche’s philosophy, it degenerates into a paradox. In order to follow his values, one must reject his values, and by rejecting Nietzsche’s values we simultaneously follow them. The following is an excerpt from the preface of his book called Ecce Homo, the last book he wrote. This passage comes out of the mouth of a fictional character named Zarathustra, who personifies Nietzsche’s Übermensch:

“Alone do I now go, my disciples! Get ye also hence, and alone! Thus I would have it…Ye say ye believe in Zarathustra? But of what account is Zarathustra? Ye are my believers: but of what account are all believers? Ye had not yet sought yourselves when ye found me. Thus do all believers; therefore is all believing worth so little. Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me will I come back unto you” (Taffel 454).

What Nietzsche calls for, through the character of Zarathustra, is an abandonment of the ideals that we have been handed from the past, most prominently Christianity, but also most of our western philosophical tradition. This abandonment calls for a reevaluation of all of our values in order to form new ideals. Nietzsche’s new ideal explains that people ought to stand upon their own two feet, to make for themselves their own values, to be free from the slavery of cultural practices and inherited religion. However, since Nietzsche proclaims his own ideals and values through the character of Zarathustra, in order to be consistent with his own framework, he must likewise call upon others to abandon his philosophy in favor of their own autonomous values. Hence, Zarathustra calls for his disciples to abandon him:

“[Nietzsche] called for unfaithful disciples who, by their betrayal, would prove their loyalty. He wanted people to obey him by following themselves and no one else, not even him” (Onfray 34).

Since people according to Nietzsche ought to stand upon their own philosophical feet and create for themselves their own values, people ought not follow even Nietzsche, since by following him it becomes impossible to become philosophically autonomous. Hence, to follow Nietzsche is to abandon him, and to abandon Nietzsche is to follow him.

Logical Oblivion

This is irrationalism, plain and simple. The framework that is presented above is self-refuting. Essentially what Nietzsche accomplished was creating a dogmatically anti-dogmatic worldview in which he sought to universalize relativistic principles. The problem is that Nietzsche’s anti-dogmatism is itself a dogmatism and that Nietzsche’s attempt to deny universal values itself becomes a universal value. Therefore, Nietzsche has no logical grounds for criticizing Kant when he says:

“One more word against Kant as a moralist. A virtue must be our invention…to possess a virtue merely because one happens to respect the concept ‘virtue,’ as Kant would have us do, is pernicious. ‘Virtue,’ ‘Duty,’ ‘Goodness in itself,’ goodness stamped with the character of impersonal and universal validity – these things are mere mental hallucinations, in which decline the final devitalisation [sic] of life…The most fundamental laws of preservation and growth demand precisely the reverse, namely: that each should discover his own virtue, his own Categorical Imperative” (Taffel 391).

Nietzsche critiques Kant for creating an ethic (Kant’s theory of the Categorical Imperative) that is “stamped with the character of impersonal and universal validity,” yet Nietzsche goes on to offer an alternate ethic that does the exact same thing. Nietzsche criticizes Kant’s universal moral claims, but is oblivious to the fact that he offers his own universal moral claims. In fact, Nietzsche proposes that there exists universal “laws of preservation” which necessitate that all people create their own values, in the same way that Kant states that there exists universal laws of rationality which necessitate the validity of certain values. Nietzsche criticizes the decadence of religion and “moralist” philosophers like Kant, but becomes one himself. If Nietzsche truly believed that there exists no values with universal validity, as claimed by Kant and Christianity, then Nietzsche would not have bothered to object to them, since his objection itself holds no universal validity.

Let me give an example. Suppose I follow Nietzsche’s advice by creating my own values. I can therefore strive to create my own values by rejecting Nietzsche’s values which state that I must create my own values. Thus, I may create my own values by adopting the values, faith, and morals of Christianity as taught in the Bible. No beliefs are off-limits within this framework; once again, to follow Nietzsche is to deny him, and to deny him is to follow him. Also, if Nietzsche’s axiom upon this matter is not universally applicable, then we may ignore it. However, if Nietzsche claims that his system is universally applicable, then he has no reason to criticize Christianity or Kant upon the basis that they claim universal validity, since Nietzsche himself claims universal validity.

In light of all of this, I find Michel Onfray’s comments in his Atheist Manifesto especially amusing when he advocates for this type of Nietzschean ideal:

“Nietzsche’s solutions are known to us…Being Nietzschean means proposing alternative hypotheses, fresh, new, post-Nietzschean, but assimilating his struggle on the mountain peaks” (Onfray 34).

If indeed we ought to continue proposing these new hypotheses, I propose a new hypothesis to dispose of Nietzsche’s project of constantly proposing new hypotheses of reality, God, and the world, and recommend that we return to the word of God found in the Bible for these answers. Let our civilization return back to possessing a reverence and fear of God and his word. Given that this option has been out of vogue for over a century, it is indeed a new, “fresh” idea which has not been seriously considered by contemporary intellectuals or culture. If indeed we take Onfray’s advice of continually inventing new ideas, we will never come to the knowledge of the truth, and we would even eventually deny the atheism that Onfray contends for in favor of a new hypothesis.

Conclusion

The world seems to have been captivated over the last several decades by a man who has argued in favor of self-contradiction. Nietzsche’s ideas are entertaining enough, but his ideas fall short of the possibility of any consistent application of them. Upon this point, we have no choice but to follow Nietzsche’s advice to disregard his advice and to carve out a trail of our own. As for me, I will not follow the slave-morality of my atheistic and new age surroundings which glorify godlessness, emotionalism, and irrationalism, but I will follow God’s revelation as found in the Bible. According to God’s grace, you too may escape from the snare of self-refuting relativism and derive your values from scripture, not the ramblings of a 19th century megalomaniac.

Works Cited

Onfray, Michele. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam. New York: Arcade, 2005. Print.

Ratner-Rosanhagen, Jennifer. American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His
Ideals. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012. Print.

Taffel, David, ed. A Nietzsche Compendium. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008.
Print.