Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective

May 9th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

I just finished teaching Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics this semester. This is the tenth year I have taught it, and every time I teach it, I more deeply appreciate its truth and importance. One reason for its importance can be found in the Wilson-Hitchens video that I discuss below.

Twenty years ago, I believed what is called divine command theory.1 I had grown up thinking that right and wrong were based on divine commands, and could be known only by knowing divine commands. At that time, I did not understand that divine commands concerning ethics were based on the natures of things, and that we can know right and wrong by the natural power of reason.

It was November, 1989. My brother and I were home for Thanksgiving break. I was home from the University of Michigan, and he from his first year at Wheaton College. The two of us stayed up until almost three o’clock in the morning, sitting in the family room debating divine command theory: I was defending it, he was opposing it. Drawing from Plato’s Euthyphro, my brother asked (and I’m paraphrasing and summarizing): “Are ethical truths true because God commands them, or does God command them because they are true?” I replied, “They are true because God commands them.” To which he replied, “Why does God command these and not others? If rape is wrong only because God commanded us not to do it, then if God commanded us to do it, rape would be right and good. (And we may replace the word ‘rape’ with any other term referring to some heinous atrocity, e.g. genocide, cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, abortion, blasphemy, etc.). “And in that case,” said my brother, “how would God be morally distinguishable from the Devil?” “But,” I protested, “God wouldn’t do that.” “Why not?” he replied. “Because”, I said, “that’s not His character.” “Well,” he replied, “then at least we now agree that the wrongness of rape is not because God commanded us not to do it, but rather because it is contrary to God’s character. But what is it about the act of rape that makes it contrary to God’s character?” “Well,” I replied, “God is loving and good, and rape is an act of selfishness and violation, completely disregarding the good of the other.” “So,” he said, “rape is wrong because it is not good and loving, and whatever is not good and loving is contrary to God’s character?” “Yes, I think so.” I said. He replied, “Well, now you are agreeing that rape is wrong because of something about the nature of rape; and that God commands us not to do that act because of the nature of that act in relation to His character.”

At that time I believed that man, through his natural power of reason, could come to knowledge of, say, botany or mathematics or cell biology or quantum physics. But I believed that unlike the truths in those sciences, ethical truths were fundamentally and entirely divine commands.2 And therefore, we cannot have a true ethical system without basing it on the ethical prescriptions and prohibitions laid out in Scripture. Even our conscience, according to my theology of twenty years ago, was simply a God-implanted blueprint of those divine commands, like pre-loaded software; that software had been corrupted by the Fall, but the original code was a kind of database of divine commands.

My brother did not persuade me that evening, but his criticisms were strong enough that I was less confident that I was right. I had an inkling that I was bringing philosophical assumptions to my interpretation of Scripture, but what those assumptions were, and how I was to evaluate them, was an inscrutably dark mystery to me, extending into an area that could be symbolized as one large question mark. Even the word ‘philosophy’ elicited defensive and highly skeptical affections within me, because the term ‘philosophy’ was for me associated with deception and man’s wisdom.3 I subsequently read Plato’s Euthyphro, and saw how Socrates presented Euthyphro with that fundamental dilemma: Is something good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good? I could give a glib answer: “It is good because it conforms to God’s nature”, but I did not know what that meant; it was a bit of semantic jargon to patch over a gaping intellectual hole. It left me with more questions, and I didn’t know how to answer them, or even how to begin to answer them.

Over the next two years I started reading books on the ethics of euthansia, and assisted suicide. I was a pre-med student, and I went to hear Dr. Jack Kevorkian (“Dr. Death”) give a talk at the Hillel Center near campus. He was in the prime of his publicity around that time, and the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide were hot topics for that reason. Nobody seemed to have good arguments against his positions. I started doing some research on the subject. Most of the books I was reading that opposed euthanasia were written by Evangelical Christians; these were books that I could find at local Christian bookstores. And these books generally approached ethical questions from the point of view of sola scriptura, which was the only Christian point of view I knew at the time. I noticed that the Christian authors whose arguments were more cogent and persuasive were incorporating philosophical claims into their writing; they were not being fully consistent with sola scriptura, at least in the “sufficiency” sense of sola scriptura.4 But I could see that the merely sola scriptura approach was not sufficient to deal with moral questions about beginning of life and end of life issues, especially those involving medical technology, i.e. those falling under the category of medical ethics.

The other major problem with the sola scriptura approach is that in a democratic society in which the majority of citizens do not believe in Scripture, a Christian’s only solution to the problem of the legalization of assisted suicide and abortion, is evangelism, i.e. saving souls. In the public square, the only thing a sola scriptura Christian can do is open his Bible and start pointing to verses. And if other people do not accept the Bible, the only thing a sola scriptura Christian can do is convert them to Christianity so that they accept the Bible as authoritative.

A few years later, in seminary I took a class on Christian ethics, and we were taught divine command theory. Natural law and virtue theory were dismissed in a rather cursory fashion. I distinctly remember asking the professor about the basis for divine command theory. He referred me to Richard Mouw’s book, The God Who Commands: A Study in Divine Command Ethics (1990). I immediately went to the library and read the book and was disappointed by it. It didn’t stand up to Thomas Aquinas, whom I had started to read at that time. I came to understand that Mouw’s divine command theory was based ultimately on a rejection of the entire Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical tradition. As I researched the issue more deeply, I came to see that divine command theory was based on two other interrelated philosophies, i.e. voluntarism and nominalism. These had their roots in the medieval thinkers Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, respectively. But the Protestant conception of reason as depraved and fallen similarly lends itself to distrusting reason.5 If reason is fallen, then we can’t trust reason, whether it be the reason of others, or even our own.

By the time I finished seminary, I saw that the doctrine of the fallenness of reason was often applied in a rather arbitrary fashion. Philosophy was distrusted, because it was a product of fallen reason. But all the other sciences, except those making claims that conflicted with our interpretation of Scripture, were generally trusted. Moreover, we trusted our reason when we approached Scripture, in textual criticism, translation and interpretation. We trusted the reasoning of our professors and pastors. Of course we believed that the Holy Spirit was helping us. But even that belief was itself something we determined by using and depending upon reason, in order to interpret Scripture as teaching that the Holy Spirit would help us. That leads me to this video, concerning the debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens.

Wilson believes that Christianity is “objectively good”. (4:18) He claims that Christians are not rationalists. He says, “Every position is a faith position.” (4:30) Wilson says, “Faith provides me with a basis for morality … faith provides me with an objective basis for moral considerations, moral values.” (5:00-5:15) A bit later he says, “I want to base everything on the Bible.” (11:02) He then considers the objection that, by starting with Scripture and defending his doing so by appealing to Scripture, he is begging the question. To that objection he replies, “If a person says, I want to base my whole worldview on reason, and I would say, Why do you do that?, when he turns to give me a reason, what’s he doing? He’s flipping open his Bible.” (11:20-11:35)

Wilson thinks that starting with reason is just as much an act of faith as starting with Scripture (or starting anywhere else for that matter). That’s why Wilson says that not only are Christians not rationalists, even rationalists are not rationalists. (4:25) In other words, for Wilson, there is no such thing as rationalism. There is only faith of some sort as an epistemic starting point. But ‘faith’ as an epistemic starting point is not what the Catholic Church teaches faith to be. If one’s epistemic starting point is faith, rather than knowledge of the world through our senses, then faith is an arbitrary, non-rational, leap in the dark. By contrast, the Catholic Church teaches that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind movement of the mind.”6 Rather, the assent of faith is guided by motives of credibility that are grasped by reason. Faith as an arbitrary, non-rational leap in the dark, is fideistic faith. And Wilson’s position is a form of fideism.

The fundamental mistake of presuppositionalism’s fideism is the philosophical skepticism upon which it is built. See here for my critique of presuppositionalism. Hitchens is an admitted skeptic not just about the existence of God, but about the possibility of acquiring truth. (See 7:30 – 8:20 in the video.) But Wilson is no less a skeptic, except that Wilson has added fideism to his skepticism. Both men exemplify the skepticism of our time, a skepticism that doubts that reason can get us to truth. This skepticism regarding human reason was the concern of Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensburg address in September of 2006. And it was the concern of Pope John Paul II in his papal encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998. There he writes,

Against all forms of rationalism, then, there was a need to affirm the distinction between the mysteries of faith and the findings of philosophy, and the transcendence and precedence of the mysteries of faith over the findings of philosophy. Against the temptations of fideism, however, it was necessary to stress the unity of truth and thus the positive contribution which rational knowledge can and must make to faith’s knowledge: “Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason. This God could not deny himself, nor could the truth ever contradict the truth.”7

And then

There are also signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God. One currently widespread symptom of this fideistic tendency is a “biblicism” which tends to make the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth.8

The fideism of presuppositionalism implicitly denies that grace builds on nature or perfects nature. That is because faith is to reason what grace is to nature; faith is a gift of grace, and reason belongs to human nature. So if our theology denies or rejects nature, our theology then loses a place for grace as such. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on ‘fideism’ explains how fideism destroys faith itself:

Fideism owes its origin to distrust in human reason, and the logical sequence of such an attitude is scepticism. It is to escape from this conclusion that some philosophers, accepting as a principle the impotency of reason, have emphasized the need of belief on the part of human nature, either asserting the primacy of belief over reason or else affirming a radical separation between reason and belief, that is, between science and philosophy on the one hand and religion on the other. Such is the position taken by Kant, when he distinguishes between pure reason, confined to subjectivity, and practical reason, which alone is able to put us by an act of faith in relation with objective reality. It is also a fideistic attitude which is the occasion of agnosticism, of positivism, of pragmatism and other modern forms of anti-intellectualism. As against these views, it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of human knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself.

Given Wilson’s fideism, there is no common rational ground by which to adjudicate between the positions of Wilson and Hitchens. That is why Hitchens is exactly right when he says, “There is no bridge that can suffice.” (6:39) But that’s also why Hitchens is wrong when he goes on to say, “One of us has not just to lose the argument; one of us has to admit real moral defeat.” (6:49) The idea of losing an argument or being defeated in a debate implies a shared standard. If there is no shared standard, then there is only “winning according to my worldview” or “losing according to my interlocutor’s worldview”, and then in principle at least, each participant can claim victory, and neither need admit defeat. But then there’s no point in debating in the first place, except to gain publicity; there is no shared means of mutually discovering truth and agreeing upon its truth.

If one’s whole epistemic edifice is built upon a mere leap-in-the-dark assumption, as Wilson’s is, then since nothing can be any more certain than that upon which it rests, one still does not get any certainty. You can’t ‘boot-strap’ certainty. Your conclusions cannot be more certain than your premises. So if you start with a leap-in-the-dark assumption (and you have no idea whether it is true or not), then nothing that is built on that assumption can be any more certain. Hence the fideist as such is, in principle, no less uncertain of the truths of faith than the skeptic is uncertain of the truth of anything at all. And that applies no less to moral truths.

In the video (8:50-9:08) we see Hitchens criticizing a Jewish rabbi (presumably), precisely by assuming that if there is a God, God’s relationship to morality must be that of divine voluntarism, and then pointing out the implications with respect to the arbitrariness of good and evil. The voluntarism that underlies Wilson’s fideism makes Wilson’s position susceptible to precisely this very criticism. In his Regensburg address in 2006, Pope Benedict said the following:

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.9

In the broader context of that address, Pope Benedict is critically addressing the moral implications of the divine voluntarism implicit in an Islamic conception of God. But Pope Benedict’s criticism is the very same objection Hitchens raises to the Jewish rabbi, and to which Wilson’s fideism is similarly subject.

Twenty years ago, I didn’t understand that ethics was about living according to reason, and that sin and vice were so because they are contrary to reason. According to my way of thinking at that time, fallen reason is quite incapable of showing us moral truths, and so, apart from Scripture we are left without access to objective truths regarding morality. There are only individual instances of moral reasoning, and “who is to say who is right?” But, we know that that cannot be right. That is why if we do not know true philosophy, and especially if we have fallen for the epistemological skepticism of our time, Wilson’s fideism is attractive, because by our very nature we long for truth, and we’ll even make an irrational leap to get to a position of believing that we have attained it.

That is why Aristotle is so important. Aristotle shows how from what we already know through our common human experience of the world, we can understand virtue and vice, and their epistemic grounding in philosophical truths about human nature and the human person. Our shared human nature provides the shared rational framework and criteria by which to adjudicate between various hypotheses, and so reason together. It is only by this mutual participation in rationality that Hitchens and Wilson can criticize each other’s positions, in something more than a solipsistic way. What both are missing, is Aristotle. And that is why watching them debate is like watching the skeptic Sextus Empiricus debate Nicolas of Autrecourt, whose fideism was condemned by the Catholic Church in the fourteenth century.10 So when I reflect on ten years of teaching Aristotle, in light of my position twenty years ago, I see the way in which Aristotle provides an important philosophical understanding of nature, the very nature that grace perfects and upon which grace builds.

UPDATE: The entirety of the film Collision can now be watched in nine parts on YouTube; part 1 is here.

  1. Divine command theory is the notion that what makes a good action good, and what makes an evil action evil, is fundamentally a command of God. This position is also called divine voluntarism. []
  2. I once was told that in order to learn mathematics, we should start from Scripture, and find every verse in Scripture that uses math or relates to math, and then build from there. The methodology was clearly ridiculous to me at the time, precisely because I recognized that there are many kinds of truths, including mathematical truths, that we can recognize as objectively true, apart from Scripture. []
  3. Cf. 1 Cor 1:18-25; Col 2:8 []
  4. The term sola scriptura has different senses, and I’m using it here in the sense popular among Evangelicals as meaning that Scripture is entirely sufficient to deal with all questions involving faith and morals. []
  5. Consider Martin Luther’s comments about reason:

    “Reason is the devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom . . . Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is, and she ought to be, drowned in baptism . . . She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets [i.e. toilets].” (Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148)

    Francis Schaeffer, in his book Escape from Reason blames Aquinas for not recognizing the fallenness of reason; according to Schaeffer, Aquinas is for that reason the pivotal figure responsible for the rationalism that eventually led to nineteenth century theological liberalism and the subsequent loss of faith in Scripture. I think Schaeffer is quite mistaken on this point. What led to theological liberalism and rationalism was not a failure to recognize the fallenness of reason, but a rejection of the Church as the divinely appointed teacher (magisterium) and interpreter of Scripture. []

  6. First Vatican Council 3.3.6 []
  7. Fides et Ratio, 53 []
  8. Fides et Ratio, 55 []
  9. See here. []
  10. Cf. Denzinger 553-570 []
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188 comments
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  1. Thank you to Bryan Cross for that excellent treatment of reason, natural law, and fideism. Pieces like this one are more and more needed as the push for same-sex marriage heats up. The only way to argue effectively against same-sex marriages is to return to the notion of natural law, in this case applied to human sexuality. There is an increasing number of attempts to argue for same-sex marriages by appealing to the Constitution but these attempts are devoid of any effort to ground constitutionality of the proposal in a moral framework based on natural law. Christians who rely on Scripture only are doomed to lose the debate. Only those who see moral norms arising out of normal human life will be effective. Human dignity and its enhancements requires a return to the wisdom of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.

  2. Ken,

    Thanks for your comments. Yours and Bryan’s words are so very true. The great crisis in proposing the faith today is the fact that so many have suppressed the truth as the Apostle says (Romans 1:18). A return to Natural Law and its embrace is the only way out of the mess we have made for ourselves in the West.

  3. Excellent article. Definitely a useful insight in the relationship between church and state. Everyone is bound under the natural covenant to the will of God, which they know through their consciences. So, for example, to legislate against Gay marriage and abortion is not to bring Church into State, but to bring Science into State, if you will.

  4. Wilson’s fideism leaves him “feeling bleh” when listening to Wright (who is not a fideist) on the subject of sexual ethics. Notice what Wilson says in response to Wright:

    What I see here is profound disagreements on the nature and object of scholarship, and on the nature and object of debate. What Wright says at the beginning about how he was brought up to debate rationally, and how debate was meant to work thoughtfully to a conclusion, is all very well, and works very well on a wide range of issues. Academic rules of rational discourse are very helpful when it comes to the identity of Shakespeare, the authorship of Hebrews, or the root causes of the Civil War. They are no good at all when the serpent is telling us that we will not die. Die? How do you define die? To enter into dialogue at this point is not to uphold the truth, but to compromise it at the outset. I have often said in sermons that sin doesn’t make sense. If it made sense, it wouldn’t be sin. If someone is enticing you to leave the way of God, the temptation is to run headlong down the path with no light. And when you get down there, you can’t see. Longing for the day, as Wright clearly does, when the devil will starting playing fair, when he will starting arguing like a gentleman, is to mistake radically the kind of situation we are in.

    For Wilson, reason works well in some areas, but apparently when we get into ethics and theology, to enter into dialogue with those who do not share our belief in the authority of Scripture, is not to uphold truth, but to “compromise it at the outset.” Attempting to reason with such persons about their false ethical beliefs, according to Wilson, is like reasoning with the devil, i.e. with someone whose reason is so corrupted that there is no shared rational ground for showing why his false ethical beliefs are false. How, I wonder, could Plato, a pagan, have written his allegory of the cave? Apparently, for Wilson, the philosopher only drags the prisoners into another cave. In the Wright video the modus tollens for Wilson’s fideism arises at 4:20. That’s where Wilson is either reduced to silence or to pounding the table harder, because he has no recourse to “motives of credibility”, or what Ralph McInerny writes about as the praeambula fidei that can be grasped by reason, and by which Christianity is not reduced to fideism. Though Wright doesn’t use the term ‘fideism’, fideism within Christianity (and/or insufficient understanding of philosophy) is what reduces what should be rational debate to shouting matches or mutual avoidance.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. The idea of losing an argument or being defeated in a debate implies a shared standard. If there is no shared standard, then there is only “winning according to my worldview” or “losing according to my interlocutor’s worldview”, and then in principle at least, each participant can claim victory, and neither need admit defeat. But then there’s no point in debating in the first place, except to gain publicity; there is no shared means of mutually discovering truth and agreeing upon its truth.

    This is the uncomfortable truth that has haunted me about my own worldview for so long. That, plus the whole concept of “can I trust my own reason or not?”

    Still, let me ask you this: What of the serpent and mankind? Wasn’t the goodness of Adam’s response predicated upon his faith in the divine command? I guess what I’m asking is would it have been possible for Adam and Eve to have reasoned through the whole thing according to natural law (ie without the divine command) and arrived at the happy conclusion?

    God bless!

  6. John,

    That, plus the whole concept of “can I trust my own reason or not?”

    Notice the alternative. If your reason were unreliable and untrustworthy, what would be your alternative? There is no alternative. You don’t have a backup rational faculty. Moreover, you can’t bypass your allegedly faulty rational faculty to access something (e.g. Scripture) that is reliable and trustworthy. We access Scripture through reason; we read it or hear it, and interpret it with our reason. So if our reason is fallen, then we can’t trust our interpretation of Scripture, so as to bypass our faulty reason. Once you lower yourself down into the pit of skepticism, there is no way to bootstrap your way out, not even with a ‘skyhook’, since you have no reason to trust the skyhook. You have to go back in your mind, to what you once knew, and recognize that none of your epistemic mistakes/illusions rationally justified a wholesale distrust of reason. Given your degree of certainty regarding your basic knowledge of the world, you entered the skeptical pit by mistakenly (i.e. irrationally) treating skeptical arguments as modus ponens, when you should have taken them as modus tollens.

    What of the serpent and mankind? Wasn’t the goodness of Adam’s response predicated upon his faith in the divine command? I guess what I’m asking is would it have been possible for Adam and Eve to have reasoned through the whole thing according to natural law (ie without the divine command) and arrived at the happy conclusion?

    Recently, in this comment, I said:

    When Eve was faced with her choice in the garden, the tempter could have given her this very line. But it wasn’t for her to determine for herself whose word was true (God’s or Satan’s), but in obedience to trust as true the One having the higher authority. That’s the whole purpose of faith in this present life.

    Rationality is not nullified by an act of trust in a higher authority. Abraham was not being irrational in obeying God when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. There is a middle position between rationalism and fideism. Rationalism would require Abraham to figure out for himself (on independent grounds besides God’s command) whether it was best to sacrifice Isaac. Fideism would entail that Abraham could rightly follow any voice, or no voice, simply to do whatever his will willed to do, for no reason at all, or for any reason at all. Likewise, rationalism would require Eve to figure out for herself the reasons why or why not eating the fruit would be good/bad for her. And fideism would entail that Eve could rightly follow either voice (God’s or Satan’s), or more likely Christian fideism would simply stipulate (*pound table hard*) that Eve should have followed God.

    But the Catholic teaching is that Eve acted contrary to her own reason when she ate the fruit. She knew, both by her natural power of reason and by the preternatural gift of infused knowledge, that God, being God, is entirely trustworthy and deserving of absolute obedience. That is the rational “motive of credibility”, which makes it entirely rational to trust God, even when the reasons for the divine command are otherwise inscrutable to us. If reason had no place in the obedience of faith, then Eve would have had no more reason to trust God than to trust Satan. And in such a situation, she would become by default her own highest authority; that’s rationalism. Rationalism would be true if man were the highest being. But since man is not the highest being, rationalism must be false. Yet, that does not leave us stuck with fideism. It is precisely by and through reason that we know that God is to be trusted, honored, and obeyed. Grace doesn’t bypass reason, or ‘inject’ faith into the soul in a way that bypasses reason; grace elevates reason, so that we know (through our reason) God as Abba Father, and love Him as Father. So reason makes possible true faith (as opposed to a fideistic leap), even though faith itself is a supernatural gift of grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Bryan,

    Great article. As a former student of Wilson’s and a great fan of Hitchens (despite his militant atheism, he is an extremely gifted writer and cultural critic) I’ve been both pleased with the way Wilson ably handles many of Hitchens’ attacks and, on another level, displeased by Wilson’s retreat to fideism.

    That said, is there a place for the presuppositional argument Wilson mounts? Hitchens’ only real apology for human morality seems to be the presumed human solidarity necessary for the preservation of the species. But this argument clearly falls flat. If an individual human wants to act in a way that violates this solidarity instinct, he is free to do so. There is no absolute claim that can compel him to act in consideration of the good of the species if he doesn’t want to.

    But an atheist like Hitchens has no care or concern for the argument from reason as to why homosexuality is wrong. It simply doesn’t enter into it for him. Is it a wholly fruitless route to argue that homosexuality is wrong because God has declared it so and God, as Supreme Being, has the right to declare it so? Especially when confronted with Hitchens’ arguments that it doesn’t matter where anyone puts their genitals, it seems that the rationalist Hitchens needs to be confronted with the absolute truth of God’s law.

    Put another way, how could one appeal to a rationalist like Hitchens to persuade him that homosexuality is wrong with an argument based solely on reason?

  8. Hello Matt,

    The weakness of Hitchens’ proposed justification for human morality does not mean that we must resort to some kind of presuppositionalism to defend morality. In other words, we can point out the problem with Hitchens’ argument, without presupposing the truth of the Bible or Christianity, so long as the persons to whom we are speaking agree that this problem is a problem. To reason with Hitchens, we have to find common ground. But when you are dealing with a skeptic, finding common ground is not easy. When I deal with skeptics (by which I mean not skeptics about the existence of God, but about truth in general), I do not discuss anything with them except their skepticism. There’s no point in discussing anything else, because as long as they are mired in skepticism, there is almost no common ground by which to reason together about anything else.

    The Aristotelian response to the radical skeptic, for example, does not start with an attempt to find common ground according to the skeptic’s present beliefs about the external world. The Aristotelian response to the radical skeptic does, however, find common ground (as common ground must be found if the resolution of the disagreement is to be rational) with the skeptic in the skeptic’s memory of his prior state as a non-skeptic. Through that common ground, the process by which he became a skeptic can be mutually and rationally evaluated. This evaluation process is very difficult, because it like reversing a series of ingrained bad habits.

    But an atheist like Hitchens has no care or concern for the argument from reason as to why homosexuality is wrong.

    A person who has no care or concerns for arguments cannot be reasoned with. But anyone who wants the truth (and Hitchens seems to me, in some respects at least, to be someone who wants the truth) will care about arguments. A truth-lover cannot not care about arguments. He might not find an argument persuasive, but he will care about it, especially if the conclusion of the argument is contrary to his own position.

    Is it a wholly fruitless route to argue that homosexuality is wrong because God has declared it so and God, as Supreme Being, has the right to declare it so?

    If a person does not believe in the Bible, it is fruitless to appeal to the Bible to prove your position. It simply begs the question. The point of rational dialogue is to find the truth together and come to agree that it is true. So begging the question does not serve the purpose of rational dialogue.

    Especially when confronted with Hitchens’ arguments that it doesn’t matter where anyone puts their genitals, it seems that the rationalist Hitchens needs to be confronted with the absolute truth of God’s law.

    I engage in two-sided discussions quite frequently. I’ve learned to recognize the ad hominem as a sign of weakness. Whenever my interlocutor resorts to ad hominems I immediately know that he does not know how to refute my claim or position. Because he can’t refute my claim or position, and because he is unwilling to say “you’re right” or “I need time to think about this,” he is forced to resort to insulting me. If he had the means to refute what I have said, he would turn to those instead. So in frustration at his inability to refute what I have said, he can only insult me. But he doesn’t realize that resorting to ad hominems only reveals to me the weakness of his position. If he knew how to refute my position, or had evidence or argumentation that refuted my claims and arguments, he would never resort to ad hominems. He wouldn’t have to resort to the ad hominem. He could (and would) simply show my position to be false and my arguments to be not cogent. So by insulting me he shows to me that he has nothing by which to refute my position or argumentation; he has no evidence, no insight, no tools by which to falsify my claim. So insults (in response to positions/arguments/claims) are a sign of weakness and desperation, and recognizing this produces a different emotional response: pity and compassion, instead of offense and hurt.

    Similarly, confrontation, rather than rational dialogue, is interpreted by a rationalist such as Hitchens as “I have no argument.” It actually has the opposite effect from the one intended. If we want to persuade Hitchens, we have to find common ground, and work from there.

    Put another way, how could one appeal to a rationalist like Hitchens to persuade him that homosexuality is wrong with an argument based solely on reason?

    Hitchens is not just a rationalist; he is also a kind of skeptic about truth. So we’d have to start with basic epistemological questions about truth and knowledge, and what makes certain actions and right and other actions wrong. We’d essentially have to start at square one, to make sure that we have the common ground necessary in order to evaluate a more specific question such as the one you posed above. When we are dealing with a person who has such a different position from our own, it is easy to despair, and resort to confrontation. It takes a great deal of commitment and patience and determination to work backward, together, to discover our common ground, so that we can then work forward from that common ground to adjudicate rationally our fundamental points of disagreement. There is no use trying to find agreement on the homosexuality question when we disagree about the more fundamental and underlying beliefs about sexuality, teleology, rationality, virtue, nature, and ethics. The philosophy of human nature from the point of view scientism is quite different from Aristotle’s philosophy of human nature. So that issue has to be addressed before the issue of homosexuality can even begin to be addressed. Otherwise, we’re miles apart, and don’t have the necessary common ground (and common point of view) to address directly the homosexuality question in a way that allows us to reach the same conclusion through a process of rational dialogue.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Hitchens is not a skeptic. He is a total non-believer, except in his own opinions.

  10. Graeme,

    See 7:30 – 8:20 in the video, and you’ll see what I mean when I say that Hitchens is a skeptic. Insofar as he believes he has found certain truths (e.g. there is no God), his position is thus internally inconsistent. Either he must make some exceptions to his skepticism, and allow for the discovery of certain such truths, or he must qualify the certainty with which he holds claims such as “there is no God”. Insofar as you are pointing out that certainty and skepticism don’t go together, I completely agree with you. :-)

    My point in this post was not to criticize Hitchens’ position, but to show the difference between the Catholic position on the relation of faith and reason, and the fideism of Wilson’s presuppositionalism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Mr Cross,

    Do you understand the statement that “all explanations [or arguments] come to an end?”

    Do you understand that *rational* knowledge depends upon non-rational knowledge? When we trace the deliverances of reason backwards, we must come, soon or late, to that of which we must say, “I know this is true because I know this is true.” — This is properly called intitional knowledge. The problem, of course, is that we mistake some claims for intitional knowledge when they are not.

    Do you understand that a being who knows all truths knows these truths non-rationally, that is, intuitionally?

  12. Hello Ilion,

    (I closed the italics for you.) First, I should say something about form. It is not good form to ask “Do you understand x?”, because it begs the question and is somewhat patronizing. Better is this: “Do you agree that x?”

    Yes, I agree that all explanations come to an end; Aristotle teaches this. However, in order to evaluate your claim that “rational knowledge depends on non-rational knowledge”, I would need to know more precisely what you mean by “rational knowledge” and “non-rational knowledge”. First principles are not non-rational. A first principle such as the law of non-contradiction or the first principle of practical reason is not demonstrable from any prior premises, but it is not non-rational. If by “rational” you actually mean demonstrable from prior premises, then sure. But traditionally we use ‘rational’ for the rational faculty or something known by the rational faculty. And the knowledge of first principles is by an act of the rational faculty, and is therefore said to be rational. And that would apply likewise to your last claim, about God knowing “non-rationally”. If you mean “non-discursively”, then I agree. But ‘rational’ need not be limited to discursive reasoning.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Mr Cross,
    Thanks for closing the italics.

    Brian Cross:First, I should say something about form. It is not good form to ask “Do you understand x?”, because it begs the question and is somewhat patronizing. Better is this: “Do you agree that x?”

    Oh? Do you mean something like that “schooling” someone generally come across as patronizing?

    I didn’t *mean* to ask “Do you agree that x?” I meant to ask “Do you understand that x?” That’s why I asked precisely that, after all.

    Agreeing and understanding are two different things; one can understand a thing but not agree with it. Moreover, one can’t *rationally* dispute a thing if one does not understand it. Now, in the case of this particular thing, the person who does indeed understand it, and yet disputes it, shows himself to … well, to have some other issues.

    If a person is intent to take anything I say as patronizing, well, I can’t control that. But I will point out that when I intend to patronize, there is no doubt of it.

    If I had said simply, “Do you understand that x?” and nothing more, it would be reasonable (though, not necessarily correct) to infer that I had intended to be patronizing. But, I didn’t simply say that; I explained what I meant by the question.

    Brian Cross:… because it begs the question …

    If someone really does understand what “all explanations [or arguments] come to an end” means, and yet denies it, then he and I have literally nothing to talk about, for we have no basis at all upon which to discuss anything. It’s almost always the case that such a person wishes to both assert that ‘Thus-and-Such‘ is a first principle (frequently, ‘Thus-and-Such‘ is also his “conclusion”) and simultaneously privledge it from critical examination.

    =======
    Brian Cross:However, in order to evaluate your claim that “rational knowledge depends on non-rational knowledge”, I would need to know more precisely what you mean by “rational knowledge” and “non-rational knowledge”.

    Well, let’s see: “When we trace the deliverances of reason backwards, we must come, soon or late, to that of which we must say, “I know this is true because I know this is true.”” And: “This is properly called intitional knowledge.

    Or, how about this: “A first principle such as the law of non-contradiction or the first principle of practical reason is not demonstrable from any prior premises” — which is precisely to say that the law of non-contradiction does not fall within the ambit of rational knowledge … ergo, if it is indeed knowledge, then it must be classified as non-rational knowledge.

    Consider the most basic knowledge which you possess, namely that you yourself exist. Reason did not tell you this; you know it non-rationally, intuitively. Now, reason may certainly tell you that the denial that you yourself exist is absurd … but then, once again, we back into intuitional, non-rational knowledge: that self-contradiction is both absurd and false; that reason can be used to discern/identify falseness; etc.

    Brian Cross:First principles are not non-rational. A first principle such as the law of non-contradiction or the first principle of practical reason is not demonstrable from any prior premises, but it is not non-rational.

    Non-rational knowledge is not irrational, much less is it anti-rational; it is simply that knowledge which we did not arive at via reasoning; it is that knowledge which we understand to be true due to the fact and act of understanding the content of the proposition(s).

    Brian Cross:But ‘rational’ need not be limited to discursive reasoning.

    We do not know, for instance, the law of non-contradiction, via reasoning to it. That’s the very point; if we could reason to it, then it would be rational knowledge … and there would be some non-rational knowledge further behind it in the chain-of-reasoning.

    =======
    I can’t begin to tell you how odd it feels to be, at least in part, defending Brother Wilson against what I take to be an unfair criticism of some statements in a film-clip. Oh, I don’t mean odd that I’m opposing a criticism I take to be unfair; I mean odd in the sense that his fellow Calvinsts like to unfairly savage me on his blog and he never says anything about it.

  14. Ilion,

    One power can act in more than one way. And that is the case here. The same power (i.e. the intellect) by which we reason from premises to a conclusion, is the same power by which we apprehend intelligible truths, including the truth of first principles. Aquinas makes this point in Summa Theologica I Q.79 a.8 co., where he writes:

    Reason and intellect in man cannot be distinct powers. We shall understand this clearly if we consider their respective actions. For to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth. And therefore angels, who according to their nature, possess perfect knowledge of intelligible truth, have no need to advance from one thing to another; but apprehend the truth simply and without mental discussion, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. vii). But man arrives at the knowledge of intelligible truth by advancing from one thing to another; and therefore he is called rational. Reasoning, therefore, is compared to understanding, as movement is to rest, or acquisition to possession; of which one belongs to the perfect , the other to the imperfect. And since movement always proceeds from something immovable, and ends in something at rest; hence it is that human reasoning, by way of inquiry and discovery, advances from certain things simply understood–namely, the first principles; and, again, by way of judgment returns by analysis to first principles, in the light of which it examines what it has found. Now it is clear that rest and movement are not to be referred to different powers, but to one and the same, even in natural things: since by the same nature a thing is moved towards a certain place. Much more, therefore, by the same power do we understand and reason: and so it is clear that in man reason and intellect are the same power.

    The relevant point for my post is that our (i.e. human) epistemic starting point is not an arbitrary act of the will, or a fideistic leap. In the video Wilson claims that starting with Scripture is no more an act of faith than is starting with reason. Both, according to him, are equally acts of faith. But our reasoning processes do not start with acts of faith or arbitrary leaps in the dark. The same power (i.e. intellect) by which we reason discursively from premises to a conclusion is the same power by which we apprehend or understand intelligible truths, including the truth of the first principles in the order of knowing. These first principles are not obtained by fideistic leaps in the dark; they are naturally known to be true by all humans (through the intellect), even when they can’t be consciously articulated. By contrast, the truth of Scripture is not a first principle in the order of knowing; it is not something naturally known to be true by all humans. Rather, by way of our intellect we can apprehend the motives of credibility for believing that Scripture is divinely inspired.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Friends,

    Here’s another example of fideism. Notice what the speaker says beginning at 6:15 in the video:

    His argument goes like this.

    Allah stated in the Koran that the hostility between us [Muslims] and the Jews is eternal. So whoever talks about dialogue, cut off his tongue. There is no room for dialogue. Since Allah said our hostility toward the Jews is eternal, therefore whenever someone comes along talking about brotherhood, this contradicts the Koran. Anyone who contradicts the Koran is an infidel. Ergo …

    According to the speaker, there is no “room” to dialogue in an effort to establish peace, let alone discuss whether the Koran is or is not the Word of God. Why? Because fideism cuts off reason, by making something other than reason the epistemic starting point.

    Here’s the problem (and why I mention this). Given fideism, there is no basis for arguing that one fideistic position is any better than another. If Wilson makes Scripture his epistemic starting point, and this Muslim makes the Koran his epistemic starting point, then ultimately, each of their arguments to each other will necessarily be question-begging. If this speaker makes the Koran his starting point, and Doug Wilson makes the Bible his starting point, then the only way the two can resolve their disagreement is through mutual avoidance (which is no longer feasible in a global society) or violence. The option of rational dialogue is ruled out, because they each have a different starting point, and rational dialogue requires a *shared* common ground from which to reason and deliberate together. Fideism eliminates the possibility of showing that Scripture has motives of credibility that the Koran does not, and that the Koran has motives of discredibility that the Scripture does not. Fideism eliminates the possibility of showing that we should believe the Bible and not believe the Koran.

    I’ll put it more strongly. Hitchens sees that Wilson and this Muslim speaker are epistemically equivalent in their fideistic starting point. When Christians like Wilson adopt fideistic positions, they unwittingly play right into the hand of the atheists who are arguing that religion is intrinsically irrational and potentially deadly. Fideism is indeed irrational and potentially deadly.

    Fideism is precisely the problem that Pope Benedict was addressing in his Regensburg address of 2006. He sees that only by embracing reason and avoiding fideism, does a non-violent option remain open to us for resolving our disagreements.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan,

    I believe your utilizing the wrong word here; this seems more like outright “fundamentalism” as opposed to fideism.

    Fideism to my mind sparks images of a person who relies solely on God for his enterprise instead of employing reason (Logos) along with Faith.

  17. Roma,

    I’m using the right term. Fundamentalism is typically fideistic; that’s precisely what’s wrong with fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a rather vague term, and so it is quite unhelpful. (There are, in fact, fundamentals of the faith.) Fideism is a much more precise term, and it is an error (rejected by the Church, as I mentioned above), and it is the underlying problem in fundamentalism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. When it comes to *actual* reason, you’re really not much better than the typical atheist, are you?

    Let’s see if I can employ the same sort of “reasoning:”
    Moslems have these little bead things they worry over. Catholics have these little bead things they worry over. Moslems are in serious error … plus, they’re physically dangerous to everyone else, including other Moslems. Ergo, Catholics are in serious error and are probably physically dangerous to everyone else.

  19. Ilíon,

    That conclusion is a non sequitur, and no one here has made a parallel argument. The claim that fideism is “irrational and potentially deadly” is altogether different from the claim that Christian fideists are “irrational and potentially deadly”. The former is a claim about a philosophy; the latter is a claim about persons.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. I remember that conversation. Your recollection of me is a lot more sophisticated than I ever was. Thoughtful post.

  21. Bryan,

    I’ve been mulling over this thought provoking exchange and have started on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Perhaps you can point me in a couple of profitable directions. On the intellectual apprehension of “first principles” and “the preternatural gift of infused knowledge”–I’d like to read an extended treatment of what we ought to take as first principles and how we can be sure that we have made the right judgments about what constitutes first principles. Could you give me a short answer on this and a book or two of suggested reading?

    Second, having read Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief,” I’m wondering if what he talks of as “the deliverances of reason” coincide with what you are referring to as “first principles,” and how both relate to “proper basicality.”

    Thanks for the help. My philosophic background is sketchy.

    Craig

  22. Craig,

    I recommend Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, and Aquinas’s commentary on it. I also recommend Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics, and Aquinas’s commentary on that. And also Aristotle’s On the Soul, and Aquinas’s commentary on that (Commentary on De Anima). See also Summa Theologica I-II Q.57 a.2. See also Summa Theologica I Q. 78,79, 84-86. I would also recommend Etienne Gilson’s Thomist Realism & the Critique of Knowledge, and also Wilhelmsen’s Man’s Knowledge of Reality: An Introduction to Thomistic Epistemology.

    There are some important differences between Plantinga’s position and that of the Thomistic tradition, but there is plenty of common ground. Plantinga seems to use this term “deliverances of reason” for beliefs that are prior to experience or independent of experience (Cf. WCB, p. 146), or deduced from them. Aristotle and Aquinas argued that all our knowledge, including first principles, comes from experience, through our senses. But Plantinga does grant that “perception” (as another rational power) gives us knowledge, and that “perceptual beliefs” are “basic”. (See WPF, 5) That’s sufficiently close (for my purposes) to what I’m arguing in this post, concerning the falsity of fideism. In other words, with respect to the basicality of perceptual beliefs and “deliverances of reason,” [where by ‘basicality’ I mean true-and-not-derived-from-prior-premises] Plantinga is on the side of Aristotle and Aquinas, and not on the side of fideism.

    But this is also related to the problem with Plantinga’s argument against naturalism. His argument presupposes that the reliability of our cognitive faculties is uncertain, such that the naturalist should reach the conclusion that “one who believes both naturalism and evolution should reject the thought that our minds are reliable.” However, if (as in Aristotle or St. Thomas) the reliability of our cognitive faculties is certain, and more certainly known than the premises of the argument, then naturalists should never reach the conclusion that it is not probable that our minds are reliable. Instead, given those same premises, naturalists should reach the conclusion that we actually attained a result that was improbable. Plantinga’s presupposition that the reliability of our cognitive faculties is uncertain is, from a Thomistic point of view, a concession to skepticism.

    UPDATE: Here’s a relevant interview with Plantinga: It is the “Arguments about God” interview Robert Kuhn did with Plantinga.

    Plantinga treats belief in God’s existence as a properly basic belief. The notion that belief in God’s existence is properly basic is something alien to the Thomistic tradition. And that is because God is immaterial, whereas we know only through our five senses. Therefore until the beatific vision, our belief in God’s existence cannot be basic, but only by inference from causes, or by testimony. Plantinga treats God’s existence as “hard-wired,” as he does our belief in other minds, and the incorrigibility of perceptual beliefs, and belief in the past. But this very way of thinking about belief-formation, namely, as being hard-wired to form a true belief [i.e. that God exists] neither by inference nor by direct perception of God, disconnects intellect from reality. It does this by proposing that the intellect forms belief by a mechanism, rather than by receiving forms only through the senses. But from a Thomistic point of view, characterizing the intellect as jury-rigged to arrive at truth, rather than as directly perceiving the truth itself insofar as it is able through the senses, starts already with a concession to skepticism, i.e. we’re already cut off from reality, and have to hope that this mechanism by which we arrive at beliefs is reliable. Our belief in God props up our belief in the reliability of our cognitive faculties, and all the beliefs they produce. By contrast, in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, our belief in God is inferred from what we already know (with certainty) about the world around us through our senses and through reason. In this way Plantinga’s position stands in the Cartesian tradition by which knowledge of the world depends first on positing or believing in a God who would make us with reliable cognitive faculties and would not allow an evil demon to be deceiving us.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. retro,

    In another thread, you wrote:

    I do believe in objective truth but only because I believe in God and that he knows the proper interpretation of all data and events.

    Why do you believe in God, and why do you believe that there such things as data and events?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Bryan,
    The fundamental reason why I believe in God is a gift of faith. But I believe in the gift of faith because of the Scriptures, they are my ultimate authority for knowledge. I believe in events because the Scriptures teach me about an orderly God, who made an orderly universe, who is active and is the originator of all truth and all things. This is the basis for events, I know things happen and that they aren’t illusions. God is an absolute God, whose laws and truths cannot change or else he would be contradictory. Humans are made in his image, with certain communicable attributes, including the ability to think, reason, and use logic consistently. This is the basis for data, I know that objective truth exists in the mind of God and that by the renewing of my mind I can obtain (and interpret) the data he chooses to reveal.

    What about you?

  25. retro,

    It looks like you are saying that you believe that there are events, and that there is data, because you believe the Scriptures. If so, then why do you believe the Scriptures? In other words, how do you know that the Scriptures exist, that they are true, and that your reason is adequate to understand them?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  26. I believe the scriptures because of the scriptures. If I appeal to any other source the Scrips would not be my ultimate authority. I know they exist as Gods word because they say so, and I know they are true because of the gift of faith, which then enables me to see other truths such as its lack of inconsistencies, etc. Hard to academically explain such a supernatural mystery. I know I can understand them with the HS’s indwelling bc god gave me a mind to reason with. The scrips reveal, not conceal. My fallen mind keeps me from understanding all parts completely, thus it is an ongoing process. Which is also why I don’t look to my own skills, I rely on the works of much smarter men. Tradition of course is vital. Scripture wouldn’t exist without it and who knows where I’d be if my parents hadn’t have raised me as a Christian.

    Why do you believe in God, data, events and scripture?

  27. retro, (re: #26)

    You wrote:

    I believe the scriptures because of the scriptures. If I appeal to any other source the Scrips would not be my ultimate authority. I know they exist as Gods word because they say so,

    Ok, this is exactly what I suspected, and is the reason I moved the discussion to this thread. The position you are describing is fideism. It begins with an arbitrary irrational leap in one direction, out of an infinite number of possible directions. In doing so, it rejects as true and known what the individual already knows to be true (hence it is fideism built on skepticism).

    Any Muslim could say that he believes the Qur’an, because it is claimed to be divine revelation. Any Mormon could say that he believes the Book of Mormon because Joseph Smith claims it to have been revealed to him by God. If your operating principle is to follow something because it claims to be divine, then you’re a sucker for a whole host of folks, including this guy:

    Of course, you don’t follow this guy. But again, if your method is “If it claims to be divine, I follow it”, or “I follow it because it claims to be divine” then it is entirely arbitrary that you follow Scripture rather than this guy. And if you were one of this guy’s followers, and I asked you, “Why do you follow him?” and you replied, “Because he claims to be God”, my response would be, “Do you believe everything you hear?” Imagine that you encountered one of this guy’s followers, and you asked him, “Why do you follow this guy?” and he answered, “Because he claims to be God.” What would you say? Would you say, “To each his own. Have a nice day”? That’s about the only thing you could say, because your position is no less fideistic.

    Or you could have followed Jim Jones, who claimed to be Jesus Christ reincarnated:

    Given fideism, there is no reason to follow one claim to divinity over another, to follow Scripture rather than Jim Jones or David Koresh (who claimed to be “the Son of God”), or José Luis de Jesús Miranda. And there is nothing you can say to people who choose to follow such men, since they are using the very same fideistic (if it claims to be divine I follow it) mentality that you’re using. So if you criticize them, they can just say to you, “Tu quoque.” You just didn’t happen to follow the claim to divinity that they follow, but methodologically, your approaches are identical.

    Jesus Christ did not expect people to believe Him to be the Son of God merely because He claimed to be so. He demonstrated it by His miracles, and by His resurrection from the dead. And likewise, the Apostles demonstrated that they were Christ’s Apostles, and that their message is true, by performing miracles. Grace builds on nature; grace does not destroy nature. Fideism makes grace destroy nature, by rejecting reason, and making faith an irrational leap.

    Here is the relevant section from Vatican I that explains the need for motives of credibility, such that faith is not irrational, and fideism is avoided:

    4. Nevertheless, in order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.

    5. Hence Moses and the prophets, and especially Christ our lord himself, worked many absolutely clear miracles and delivered prophecies; while of the apostles we read: And they went forth and preached every, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it [18]. Again it is written: We have the prophetic word made more sure; you will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place [19]. (Vatican I, Session 3, chapter 3)

    I also recommend the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Fideism. (See also paragraph numbers 1622-1627 in Denzinger online.) Also I recommend reading the papal encyclical Qui Pluribus (On Faith and Religion), written by Pope Pius IX in 1846. And of course I recommend Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).

    Because grace builds on nature, it is important to get things right at the level of nature. And that means, in this case, getting your epistemology straight. You already know, simply by direct observation by means of your senses, many many things. You know that you exist, that other human beings exist, that trees, flowers, and birds exist. You know right and wrong, beauty and ugliness. Skepticism would have you toss out all that you already know, as though you don’t really know it. And fideism builds on that skepticism, by calling you to make an arbitrary, irrational leap. The lure of fideism is premised on such skepticism. Once you abandon skepticism, fideism will no longer be a temptation. No one *wants* to make an irrational leap. You make an irrational leap only when you think that’s your only option. But when you recover reason, then you see that there can be motives of credibility for faith, and there is no more need for an irrational leap. And then we see fideism for the error that it is.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Bryan,
    Either I wasn’t clear enough or you didn’t read my post close enough. I didn’t say I believe the Scriptures are God’s word merely because they claim to be. I said:

    “I know they exist as Gods word because they say so, and I know they are true
    because of the gift of faith,”

    You asked me how I know the Scriptures exist. I was building off of my first premise, saying that we can know the things around us exist and are not simply illusions because God is an orderly God, who made an orderly universe where objective truth exists, and he gave us minds to reason and think critically (Yes, I got all of that from the Scriptures). So, I know they exist because the paper is in front of me and I can know that the paper with those words really is in front of me. But they are not just words on paper, they are divine Scriptures, which is what I thought you were asking – How do I know they exist as divine Scriptures? My first answer was that they claim to be. But how do I know their claims are true? My answer was by the gift of faith. I cannot give you an academic explanation for the gift of faith. I believe it is much more mysterious than that. I’m still wondering how you would explain your belief in the existence of God, data, events, Scripture, faith and reason?

    You continued to say that any religious person can say the same thing about their respective religion. Of course they can say it, but that doesn’t mean it’s valid or makes any sense. At some point, everyone has to have a measure of faith. Atheists, for example, cannot account for the existence of moral or logical absolutes within their worldview without God. Yet, they still believe in morality and logic in principle and in practice. They impose a criteria of evidence before they can believe in God, but they don’t require that same criteria to believe in reason. This is where their ‘faith postition’ comes in. By faith they have to assume reason exists, that it’s objective and that we can use it properly to gain knowledge. Christians believe all that, but we have a reason to believe it (God’s told us through special revelation). In this sense, the atheist is a fideist because he has no reason to believe in the things he does. It’s irrational given his worldview. Once we realize that all worldviews have a measure of faith at the bottom, how we distinguish between rational faith and irrational faith is one of consistency. As you know, all non-Christian worldviews are contradictory and inconsistent. They cancel themselves out. Christianity is the only possible rational faith position because it is entirely consistent within itself and can account for all realities. Thus, it is rational faith. There is no dichotomy between faith and reason.

    But this does not trump nor discount the supernatural, mysterious washing of regeneration that pulls the scales from our eyes. Indeed, the latter gives way to the former. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world’s empty philosophy, which is why they refuse to see the completeness of Christianity. We must have the spirit of God to understand the things of God. It sounds like to me you are saying an individual trusting the work of the Spirit within him is irrational and fideistic. How much cognitive knowledge or rational evidence does he need before his faith is no longer irrational? How long did it take you to have faith after you realized how consistent and reliable the Scriptures were? I still want to know how you decided the Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium were true apart from faith! If we get down to it, my guess is that you’ll end up arguing in a circular, faith position just like I am. To which I could easily say, “tu-quoque, brother.” The difference is whose worldview is most consistent given their own premises.

    You said:
    “You already know, simply by direct observation by means of your senses, many many things. You know that you exist, that other human beings exist, that trees, flowers, and birds exist. You know right and wrong, beauty and ugliness.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re implying that any given person with their natural, unaided reason knows things objectively and properly by direct observation through their senses. How do they know this? How do they know that what they are sensing is correct? That it’s real? That it’s not an illusion? That their senses aren’t deceptive? Furthermore, how/when does any person observe anything without a particular bias? Aren’t we all products of cultural conditioning? Don’t we all bring preconceived notions to the table? I’d love to see an example of how this methodology would actually work within the mind of a person to bring him to epistemic certainty. I maintain that it cannot without the washings of regeneration. Any position maintained without Christ being the cornerstone is irrational fideism. That doesn’t mean they won’t know truth, they will because we all live, move and have our being in God. But their non-Christian worldview has no reason to believe it.

    So, is trusting divine revelation “because of divine revelation” a faith position? Certainly. Is it irrational to trust divine revelation? Certainly not. Ergo, it’s not fideism.

  29. retro (re: #28),

    You claim that you know the claims of the Bible are true by “the gift of faith.”

    So, how do you know that the “gift of faith” that you have is a reliable indicator of truth?

    In other words, how do you know that the burning in your bosom is any more reliable than the burning in this guy’s bosom?

    Or this woman’s:

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  30. retro satana,

    I have one question for you on what you’ve said. It’s actually something I’ve wondered about with presuppositionalism for a while anyway, but you said it specifically in your post, so I want to make sure I’m understanding you rightly:

    At some point, everyone has to have a measure of faith. Atheists, for example, cannot account for the existence of moral or logical absolutes within their worldview without God. Yet, they still believe in morality and logic in principle and in practice. They impose a criteria of evidence before they can believe in God, but they don’t require that same criteria to believe in reason. This is where their ‘faith postition’ comes in. By faith they have to assume reason exists, that it’s objective and that we can use it properly to gain knowledge. Christians believe all that, but we have a reason to believe it (God’s told us through special revelation). In this sense, the atheist is a fideist because he has no reason to believe in the things he does.

    Am I correct in saying that your position is as follows: “Everyone must have faith in the basic presuppositions of their worldview. Atheism has reason, moral absolutes, and logical absolutes as basic presuppositions in their worldview. Christianity has the same, as well as divine revelation of the Triune God in its worldview. Both Christians and Atheists believe in these presuppositions by faith. Therefore, there is no principled difference in the way each one believes in his worldview.”

    If this is your position, then my question is this: it would seem that reason, moral absolutes, and logical absolutes are basic, self-evident things which are apparent to everyone. Divine revelation of the Triune God in Scripture is not something that is properly basic to the way a human views the world (because of total depravity). Thus, my question is this: what is the principled difference between someone arbitrarily choosing, by presuppositional faith, to believe in Islam, and someone arbitrarily choosing, by presuppositional faith, to believe in Christianity? And if there is no principled difference, then how can we know that we are believing the right things?

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  31. retro

    Correct me if I am wrong but I see two main points with your post. One you seem to believe that wihtout the scriptures, knowledge is impossible. In other words the only reason we know anything is because of the scriptures. If this is what you are saying then I would say that pricinple is not found in scripture but must be assumed prior to any other received knowledge from the scripture which would be self contradictory, your first epistemic principle cannot be different then what you claim as the ONLY source of knowledge. Now you might say your first principle is deducible from the scriptures, but I would challenge that assumption in this way. In order to even begin to try to deduce that principle you must reduce the communication of God to the sole means of the scriptures, but again just like your proposed first principle, this is not found in the scriptures.

    This reduction of the communication of God to only the scriptures brings me to what I see as your second point and the problem with it. Knwoledge that one gains through their natural senses and natural reason are not done independantly of God’s communication but are natural means of His communication. We can know truths through are senses because they are God created and are experienced in His created world. When a Thomist or a classical apologist uses terms like common ground or a neutral point, they don’t mean that their are truths and a common epistemic ground that God has vacated, but only mean points of agreement.

  32. Retro,

    One point you continue to make is: “the Scriptures claim to be divine”. The question I have is where does, for example, Matthew make the claim that his Gospel is divine, or where does 2nd John, for example, make the claim that his letter is divine? The same question can be asked of many of the individual books that comprise the canon.

    I am truly interested in how you would answer a Mormon. I think Bryan’s question is an excellent one.

  33. Spencer, Andy, and Tom,
    I appreciate your questions but due to the holidays and my circumstances I will not be able to put much time into responding to every post directed to me. I’m mostly concerned at the moment about my discussion with Bryan. He hasn’t really answered any of my questions to him yet, but I hope it will become more than a one-way conversation. Over the course of the next few days I will try my best to respond to your questions.
    Merry Christmas!

  34. Bryan,
    I’ve already said that the gift of faith I have is reliable because it is the only position that provides a basis for all of creation and conceptual realities. All other faith-positions (even Christian cults like Mormonism) are full of inconsistencies that cannot be account for. If you want a logical argument that proves my faith is the right one with full certainty, that’s about all I can do. “The impossibility of the contrary” is probably a familiar term to you. But even this reasoning alone will not convince anyone. It takes regeneration of the HS to open one’s eyes to the truth. When Jesus said to St. Peter, “This has been revealed to you from above,” there was no logical syllogism necessary to know if Peter could really trust this special revelation from above. You wouldn’t say Peter knew Jesus was the Christ by his natural reason just because he performed miracles would you? Others have performed miracles. Or maybe Peter’s perception of Jesus was a false one? No, Peter’s profession was true because it was true, and he knew it by special revelation of the HS. This is a great mystery. I’ve not said or implied that I receive some “faith-stuff” and then I proceed to determine what’s true or false as if it were a metal-detector. If anything, my receiving of faith and assenting to the truths of Scripture would be simultaneous. After all, the Scriptures are the means by which I receive faith! They go hand in hand. Why are you trying to separate them? I’m staying completely consistent within my worldview, because everything I believe is based on the Scriptures. I know about the gift of faith from Scripture, I know about reason and logic from Scripture, I know about Holy Tradition from Scripture. Yes, I even know Scripture “because of Scripture.” I happily accept this circularity. It’s necessary, and it’s not an illogical circle. If we ever get around to your views, I think we’ll see that you argue in a circle as well. Whether or not it’s a logical one is the question.

    You are assuming that my faith is merely a burning in the bosom, a strong feeling. This is hardly the case and it makes me wonder how you would describe your own faith. I’m not an existentialist nor an empiricist. I’m fully aware that my experiences and my senses can deceive me because I believe we have a fallen nature. Faith is fundamentally a relational-trust which as it grows into maturity includes cognitive assent and loyalty. But it’s a supernatural mystery as to “how” it happens, words cannot explain it. Can you? I’m all ears. Our Mormon friend does not have true faith, he has an irrational feeling that is based in lies. All he has is a burning in the bosom. If I had the opportunity to talk to him I would attack his own presuppositions and show him how his worldview is inconsistent with itself and with the historic Christianity it claims to have restored. He’s holding on to a faith-position, examining everything around him with his Mormon-lenses. He’ll refuse to see it unless the HS gets ahold of him and gives him new glasses, but at that point it’s out of my hands. Does anything burn in your bosom, Bryan? (The Pope being the infallible interpreter of revelation, by any chance?) How is yours any different than his? How would you prove him wrong?

    BTW, I’m still waiting for why you believe in God, data, events, Scripture, faith, reason, that people can be unbiased in any given situation, that unbiased persons can accurately interpret their sense-experience and know they aren’t being deceived, and how much knowledge is needed before someone’s faith is rational. Have a blessed Christmas Eve!

  35. retro, (re: #34)

    In #593 of the other thread, you wrote:

    I do believe in objective truth but only because I believe in God and that he knows the proper interpretation of all data and events.

    There you claimed that you believe in objective truth only because you believe in God.

    So, in #23 I asked you why you believe in God. And in #24 you replied:

    The fundamental reason why I believe in God is a gift of faith. But I believe in the gift of faith because of the Scriptures, they are my ultimate authority for knowledge.

    So your belief in objective truth is based on your belief in God. And your belief in God is based on your gift of faith. And you believe in the gift of faith because of the Scriptures.

    So in #25 I asked you, Why do you believe the Scriptures?”

    In #26 you replied:

    I believe the scriptures because of the scriptures. If I appeal to any other source the Scrips would not be my ultimate authority. I know they exist as Gods word because they say so, and I know they are true because of the gift of faith

    So there you are claiming that you believe the Scriptures because of the Scriptures, and because of the gift of faith.

    Putting it all together so far, the chain of reasoning looks like this:

    Your belief in objective truth is based on your belief in God. And your belief in God is based on your gift of faith. And you believe in the gift of faith because of the Scriptures. And you believe the Scriptures because of the Scriptures, and because of the gift of faith.

    Already you’ve got two circles. The smallest circle is your believing Scripture to be God’s words written, because Scripture claims to be from God. The other circle is that you believe in the gift of faith because of the Scripture, and you believe in Scripture because of the gift of faith. So I pointed out in #27 that a fideistic position puts all religions/cults on equal footing, because any Muslim or Mormon or Moonie could use an arbitrary irrational leap to posit an authority, and then use circular reasoning by appealing to the ‘authority’ he arbitrarily posited, as the basis for his belief in that authority. This is precisely how cults work. Fideism destroys the possibility of true faith, by basing faith on an irrational and arbitrary leap in one of many different possible directions. The person who makes an arbitrary leap in one of many different directions, has no reason to believe that what he believes, on the basis of his arbitrary leap, is true. In this way, fideism sucks truth out of faith.

    In #28 you replied:

    But how do I know [Scripture’s] claims are true? My answer was by the gift of faith.

    So in #29 I asked you how you know that the “gift of faith” that you have is a reliable indicator of truth, more reliable than the “gift of faith” claimed by Mormons?

    In #34 you replied:

    I’ve already said that the gift of faith I have is reliable because it is the only position that provides a basis for all of creation and conceptual realities.

    Putting it all together so far, the chain of reasoning now looks like this:

    Your belief in objective truth is based on your belief in God. And your belief in God is based on your gift of faith. And you believe in the gift of faith because of the Scriptures. And you believe the Scriptures because of the Scriptures, and because of the gift of faith. And you believe your gift of faith is reliable because it is the only position that provides a basis for all of creation and conceptual realities.

    Here we have a third circle. You started off claiming that your belief in objective truth is based on your belief in God. But when we trace back why you believe in God, we come to your belief in “all of creation.” You start with belief in “all of creation,” and then try to make sense of it, and provide a basis for it. Scripture provides you with a basis for “all of creation,” and also grounds your belief in the “gift of faith.” And this “gift of faith” grounds your belief in God. And your belief in God grounds your belief in objective truth.

    If you already believe in “all of creation” at the beginning of this process, then you already believe in objective truth from the get-go, and the principle of parsimony makes short work of the whole [third] circle.

    You might reply that what you mean by “all of creation” is not objective truth, but something merely subjective. In that case, Scripture too is merely subjective, because it would be ad hoc to claim that “all of creation” is merely subjective, but Scripture is not merely subjective. It is not as though you have two sets of cognitive faculties, one that you use on all of creation (which only gives you subjective beliefs), and another that you use only when you read Scripture (which gives you objective knowledge). If you start from the merely subjective, you can never reason your way to the objective as anything more than something possible.

    All other faith-positions (even Christian cults like Mormonism) are full of inconsistencies that cannot be account for.

    First, you are assuming that consistency is a sufficient condition for truth. If consistency is not a sufficient condition for truth, then merely showing that Christianity is consistent only shows that it is possibly true. You are assuming that no false worldview can be internally consistent. How do you know that? Second, you are applying your own worldview’s criterion for truth (i.e. an emphasis on internal consistency) to other worldviews, as though they can be evaluated by your own worldview. But a Mormon or a Muslim or Moonie could do the same thing, i.e. use their own worldview’s criteria for truth to evaluate Christianity. So you are using your worldview to ‘show’ that your worldview is better than the other worldviews, and in that respect you are reasoning in a circle, i.e. begging the question, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question. And when you use your own worldview to criticize other worldviews, you make all worldviews ‘equal’ (or, more precisely, incommensurable), because every other worldview could do the same thing. The fundamental problem here is your denial of that there are worldview-transcendent standards by which to adjudicate between worldviews.

    As for answering your other questions, I’m willing to do so, but first I intend to show what’s wrong with your fideism. If you think there is nothing wrong with fideism, then there’s no point in my explaining the correct position.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  36. I’ve already said previously that the Scriptures were the means by which the HS opened up my eyes and gave me faith. I’m a covenant child, brought up in the faith. I’ve always been a Christian. My parents faithfully taught me the Scriptures and I believe. It’s not a second circle to say that I believe in Scripture because of Scripture, “which is only possible to believe by the gift of faith.” The scriptures are what tells me that faith is necessary to accept the Scriptures on their own terms. I’m still appealing to Scripture as my ultimate authority. My exact words were, “I know they are true because of the gift of faith.” There is a difference in believing something and knowing why you believe something. This is why we’re talking about epistemic authority. We all have faith in some position, and we appeal to some authority outside of ourselves (supposedly) to justify that faith. I appeal to Scripture for knowing what my faith is and why I have it. RC’s appeal to the 3 legged stool. A Mormon appeals to Mr. Smith. But the Mormon’s position is contradictory and inconsistent within itself (infinite regression of gods, the Church apostasizing in spite of Christ’s promise that hell would not prevail against her, etc). A proper summary of my circle looks like this: Objective truth because of God. God because of special revelation (faith). Faith because of Scripture. And Scripture because of Scripture, which itself is a gift of faith. This is the position I’ve held all along. That all worldviews start with a faith position. My faith position is Scripture’s infallibility. It’s still circular at the ultimate authority. If I started over and appealed to something else, e.g. objective truth, then it would be an illogical circle. But I don’t believe in my faith “because of my faith”. That would be irrational and untenable. I still need an infallible source to tell me my faith is true and from the HS. If I didn’t, then any truth claim I make is merely subjective, and any conclusions I make from those subjective premises have no certainty.

    I didn’t say I believed in “all of creation” from the beginning of this process. In my first post here I said that I believed in the created world because Scripture tells me to. The Scriptures teach me that I’m a rational person, that what I see around me is not an illusion, and that everything exists because God created it. Please tell me how a person with unaided natural reason can know for certain that the world was created by the Triune God and not a product of chance. Aside from special revelation, by what standard can they know? If it’s just a burning in the bosom they have when they look to the stars, according to you it’s merely subjective and anything else they conclude from that feeling cannot be reliable. Creation and Scripture are objective truths, but I don’t know that without special revelation. Which is precisely why I don’t start with either. I’ve consistently said that any worldview starts with a faith position. The Scriptures are a form of divine revelation, which give me the basis for believing they are the codified words of God. If you disagree that we need special revelation to believe Scripture, for the sake of argument please explain how a fallen person with natural reason can know for certain the Scriptures are objectively true.

    My faith in divine revelation (Scriptures) is not merely subjective. My personal faith in it is subjectively received/known, but the faith itself is objective because it is true! Is it irrational to believe something that is true? You’re the one that thinks some things are naturally known to be true by all people. Why is it those things don’t need divine confirmation, but having faith in an equally true thing (i.e. Scripture) needs X amount of criteria void of faith? In private emails with another CTC writer, he said that starting with presuppositions or faith positions are irrational and fideistic. However, he also said that “It’s not irrational to trust divine revelation. Reason itself tells us to do so.” Well, I thought Scripture was part of divine revelation. But I also thought reason itself couldn’t tell you what the Scriptures were, because you need the infallible Magisterium. But even the truth of the Magisterium is part of divine revelation. So, how does the Thomist get around this? Is it irrational to believe in Scriptures but not irrational to believe in the Magisterium? Do all other forms of revelation need an infallible interpreter to be believed rationally, except for the authority of the Magisterium? If your premise is true – that starting with a faith position is irrational – then you have no less fideism than I do because you have to use faith that Rome’s claims are true prior to submitting to her. Therefore, according to you your conclusions can be no more certain than mine. But starting with faith is not necessarily irrational. We all have to do it. The question is if it is a rational faith or not. I do find it ironic that you defend natural reason by appealing to the Pope. Why? Didn’t you know that apart from him? Shouldn’t I? Why do you need an authority to appeal to except for your natural reason alone?

    Yes, I do presuppose consistency is a condition for truth because the Scriptures (that I also presuppose) tell me about objective truth that cannot contradict. I’ve already stated this previously. I do believe in transcendentals but only because of God, which knowledge I receive from the Scriptures. How can a non-Christian, an unbiased, neutral person account for transcendentals? You believe they can, so please explain how. If they can’t, they are operating on faith by believing in them anyway. It’s merely subjective given their premises and thus it is an irrational position and no certainty can be acheived from it. This is how the transcendental argument (TAG) doesn’t just make Christianity a possibility. We show it to be true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Thomism on the other hand, with it’s inductive reasoning, has to assume certain premises that cannot be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt (hint, hint: faith-position). So, any conclusion the classical arguments make are the ones that make Christianity possibly true, not certaintly true. I’ve been condemning fideism this whole time. I don’t believe presuppositional faith in Christianity is irrational. You’re the one that hasn’t explained why trusting the supernatural regeneration of the HS is irrational. Merry Christmas!

  37. retro,

    Merry Christmas to you as well!

    You claimed (in #36):

    This is the position I’ve held all along. That all worldviews start with a faith position.

    How do you know that “all worldviews start with a faith position”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  38. How I know all worldviews start with a faith position:
    1. All truth has its foundation and existence in the mind of God (Colossians 1:17, 2:3; Romans 11:36).
    2. Because God created all things and we were made in his likeness, it is in him that we live, move and have our existence. It is integral to our being. Apart from him we can do nothing and we would be nothing (Proverbs 1:7; John 1:9, 15:5).
    3. Any attempt of man to live, move and have being apart from God is foolish and any thing built upon that foundation is in vain (Psalms 14:1, 127:1; 1 Corinthians 3:19).
    4. Because of sin, man’s mind is hostile to God and he desires to be a law unto himself. This means he will fight against God at all costs. Because of his fallen nature, he filters everything around him (and in him) by his sin in order to defy God (Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 6:9, 29:12; John 3:19; Ephesians 4:17-18; Romans 1:18,25, 3:10-11, 8:7; 1 Corinthians 1:21, 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
    5. Thus, the only way a person can come to true, rational, saving knowledge is by the renewing of their mind by the HS (Luke 16:31; John 3:3; Romans 12:2).
    6. Therefore, it follows that since non-believers do not have the Spirit, do not have the fear of the Lord, do not seek after God and they continually rebel against him, they do not have any rational basis for believing in anything they believe (even their own existence). Indeed, they do still live on God’s world and are surrounded by his truth (Psalm 19), which is why they still admit that they “exist.” But they have no epistemic certainty of that ‘fact’ given the premises of their autonomous worldview. Hence, their admittance of their own existence is a matter of faith. They cannot account for why they believe any one thing, but continue to believe it regardless, thus making their belief void of reason and completely fideistic.
    7. In contrast, Christians can only accept the truths of God by special revelation (living faith) of the HS (John 3:3). Hence, every worldview a person could espouse – Christian or Non-Christian – must start with a measure of faith. The difference? The Christian faith is the true one, the non-Christian faith is not.

    Bryan, does the natural light of reason provide certainty that God exists? Yes or no?

  39. retro, (#36)

    You wrote:

    The Scriptures teach me that I’m a rational person, that what I see around me is not an illusion,

    If you were an irrational person and everything you see around you were an illusion, then you (being irrational) couldn’t reliably interpret Scripture or trust your interpretation of Scripture, and Scripture would itself be part of the illusion you see all around you. So if you were an irrational person and everything you see around you were an illusion, Scripture couldn’t teach you anything about reality. In order for anything outside of you to teach you that you are a rational person and that what you see around is not an illusion, you must already recognize that you are a rational person and that what you see around you is not an illusion. And therefore, if you don’t already know that you are a rational person and that what you see around you is not an illusion, Scripture can be of no use to you in extricating you from your skepticism.

    In general, you’re making the standard presuppositional mistake I explained in my post titled “Presuppositionalism: Fideism built on skepticism“: namely, you’re conflating the order of being and the order of knowing. That is, you are assuming that if something is first in the order of being, then it must therefore be first in the order of knowing. But as I explain there, for creatures the order of knowing is directly inverse to the order of being.

    As for your question about knowing with certainty that God exists, through the natural power of reason, Vatican I answers as follows:

    The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason (Vatican I, Session 3, chtpr. 2, para. 1)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. Bryan,
    In (#39) you said:

    If you were an irrational person and everything you see around you were an illusion, then you (being irrational) couldn’t reliably interpret Scripture or trust your interpretation of Scripture, and Scripture would itself be part of the illusion you see all around you.

    Agreed.

    So if you were an irrational person and everything you see around you were an illusion, Scripture couldn’t teach you anything about reality.

    Of course not, Scripture wouldn’t exist. And if everything were an illusion, I suppose I wouldn’t exist either. I’d like to clarify that I have never said anyone was irrational. I’ve said they hold irrational positions. I have consistently held that humans are made in the image of God with the faculties of reason. Which is why in (#38), point 4 I said the nonbeliever filters everything by his sin in order to defy God. I didn’t say he actually could defy God. Which is why I also said in point 7 that nonbelievers still have to admit truths such as their existence. They still believe in logic, morality, etc. There’s no way they could not, for we cannot escape the concepts of “right”, “good”, “truth” or “false”. They would be completely unintelligible if we could consistently deny them. We’re God’s image, on God’s world, using God’s gift of reason… this is the only common ground we have. The point is that they have no way of accounting for those things given their anti-Christian worldview. They know but they don’t “know”. Do you believe that an atheist can consistently hold to logical absolutes and morality while denying the existence of God at the same time? He cannot, it doesn’t make any sense given his premise. Which is why his position is therefore irrational and arbitrary. His only option to be consistent with his premise is to abandon all concepts of morality, logic, absolutes, making judgment calls against other people/things, etc. But no one can do this, proving their dependence upon God. The sinner’s problem is not intellectual, it’s ethical.

    In order for anything outside of you to teach you that you are a rational person and that what you see around is not an illusion, you must already recognize that you are a rational person and that what you see around you is not an illusion. And therefore, if you don’t already know that you are a rational person and that what you see around you is not an illusion, Scripture can be of no use to you in extricating you from your skepticism.

    Again, I’ve already said that all humans are rational beings. That’s not the point. The point is that once they deny the Triune God of Christianity, they no longer have any reason to believe in anything. They are fools. But what it sounds like you are saying is that every person, no matter their belief or view of God, can accurately believe they are rational beings and can properly “know” certain truths apart from their recognition of God without being inconsistent. Indeed, you are saying this must happen before the divine Scriptures could ever be of any use to them. But what about regeneration of the HS?! How can the Scriptures be of any use of anyone without the Holy Spirit imparting faith? Your continual denial of the mystery of salvation and power of the Spirit to enlighten even the most illiterate, foolish mind is starting to concern me. I say that with all humility and with no personal bitterness.

    I’ve read your blog on Presuppositionalism previously, perhaps I’ll re-read it and respond to it accordingly when I have more time. I especially want to re-read the issue of order of being/knowledge. But I do remember you saying that presuppositionalism is not based on the Bible. I don’t know or care which presuppositionalists you’ve studied, but I gave you a completely Biblical defense of presuppositionalism that you did not even care to respond to. I remember you also saying that we don’t need to base certain things on the Bible (like mathematics). You are assuming that all people everywhere, completely unbiased, no matter their understanding of God or their sinfulness, can come to absolute truth claims. But the Scriptures teach this is not the case. In fact, some Monists deny an plurality whatsoever. 2 + 2 = 4 is just an illusion. How does that fit into the Thomist’s view? Clearly, all things, even mathematics and science, must be grounded in God’s word. If it is not, any position is simply irrational, unaccounted for and fideistic.

    I asked you if the natural light of reason provided certainty of God’s existence. You answered in the affirmative. If this is so, does it follow then that a person does not require the Papacy for theological certainty? Thanks.

  41. retro (re: #40)

    In #36 you wrote:

    The Scriptures teach me that I’m a rational person, that what I see around me is not an illusion,

    In #39 I gave an argument, having the following as its conclusion: “So if you were an irrational person and everything you see around you were an illusion, Scripture couldn’t teach you anything about reality.

    In #40 you replied:

    Of course not, Scripture wouldn’t exist. And if everything were an illusion, I suppose I wouldn’t exist either.

    So how do you know that you are a rational person (such that your interpretation of Scripture is reliable) and that Scripture is not an illusion?

    If your answer is “An act of faith”, then why couldn’t the irrational person in an illusory world do the very same thing, i.e. simply make an act of faith to believe that he is rational (even though, unbeknown to him, he is irrational) and make an act of faith to believe that what he sees around him is real (even though, unbeknown to him, it is illusory)?

    If your answer to that question is, “He could”, then how do you know that you are not that person? (“Scripture tells me so” is not an option here, for the reason I have just explained.)

    In #40 you asked:

    does it follow then that a person does not require the Papacy for theological certainty?

    A person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  42. Bryan,
    Sorry for the delayed response. I had a 9 hour drive yesterday, which turned into 11 hours due to icy roads, followed by another family Christmas party that lasted until the wee hours of the night. But I’m back in full-swing now, which will cure our audience of their boredom (if anyone is still paying attention!)

    In #41 in you said:

    how do you know that you are a rational person (such that your interpretation of Scripture is reliable) and that Scripture is not an illusion?

    If your answer is “An act of faith”, then why couldn’t the irrational person in an illusory world do the very same thing, i.e. simply make an act of faith to believe that he is rational (even though, unbeknown to him, he is irrational) and make an act of faith to believe that what he sees around him is real (even though, unbeknown to him, it is illusory)?

    If your answer to that question is, “He could”, then how do you know that you are not that person? (“Scripture tells me so” is not an option here, for the reason I have just explained.)

    I understand your theoretical question, but this really is kind of a false analogy since I’ve maintained that all humans are rational beings. Even the atheist, is a rational being and he knows he is, just like he knows God exists and that he knows morality and logic exist. What I’ve been saying is that apart from the Christian worldview (accepted by regeneration of the HS), they have no rational basis for believing those things. Hence, why I said in #40, “they know but they don’t ‘know'”. Therefore their position is irrational. This actually makes them fideistic since they accept certain truths without being able to account for them. This is what epistemology is all about. The study of knowledge and how/why we “know” what we claim to know. The irony here is that you are the one accusing presuppositionalists of fideism, because we have no “rational basis” for believing what we believe, it’s a “blind leap of faith built on skepticism.” But when I press an atheist, or a Roman Catholic, or whoever on what his basis is for believing any one thing, either I’m not answered at all or the answer is essentially, “it doesn’t matter.” Supposedly, it doesn’t matter how he comes to certain truth, or if he knows how to account for it or not, just as long as whatever he believes is true. He can properly and consistently believe X, Y or Z without knowing how or why he believes X, Y, or Z. How is that not fideism, Bryan? Interestingly, this position would beg the question even further, because what determines what is true? How do you know, Bryan, that you aren’t the irrational person living in an illusory world? Again, this takes it back to the epistemological issue I’ve been talking about all along: by what standard do we believe the things we believe? If you don’t think that’s a relevant question, then it doesn’t make sense for you to criticize presuppositionalists for essentially doing the same thing that an atheist, a rationalist, an empiricist, or a Thomist has been doing all along.

    But I’ll take the bait and answer your question. Yes, my answer would be by the gift of faith. I understand that anyone else could say this same thing, because everything else is an imitation. But that doesn’t negate the genuine. I have certainty that I am not the irrational fool that lives in an illusory world by the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. Because of that faith, because of the renewing of my mind and submission to God, I have the ability to think wholly rationally, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (for example: an atheist and a Christian can observe the same thing but see two different things. The atheist sees an animal that is the product of time and chance acting on matter. The Christian sees a creature of God, walking on God’s world, eating God’s food, glorifying God. The atheist does not possess the truth, the Christian does. There is no neutrality in any sphere or faculty of life.) If you disregard that as a valid answer, because I need some logical, textbook argumentation to be legitimate, then I think you’d be elevating reason over and above faith, instead of placing them side by side as you should. How would that not be lessening the power and authority of the HS, God himself? Oh yeah, and it’s by the Scriptures that I know all this stuff. So, to answer “because of the Scriptures through the renewing of my mind by the HS” is not invalid. Do you believe in faith at all? If so, what it’s purpose? Is it significant for anything? If so, what?

    This is all non-sense to you since I’m “begging the question.” I’d like to hear an argument from a Thomist as to how you can avoid arguing in a circle when dealing with ultimate, epistemic certainty. With that, I ask this question: Bryan, how do you know for certain that a person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator?

  43. Spencer,
    Your summary is quite alright. I don’t have any major objections at first glance. It’s true that moral and logical absolutes are basic to all people, this is how God has made us. Which is why even the atheist that consistently says there is no objective truth must necessarily make an objective truth statement to say so, thus their first contradiction. I do believe all people have an innate knowledge of God, for we are made in his image. There’s no way we can escape our creatureness, it’s the core of our being. This knowledge is distinct from intimate, saving knowledge (the difference between special faith and mere belief – James 2:19), but it’s suppressed by our wickedness. An atheist may have deceived himself so much that he no longer consciously knows God exists, but all of his actions prove that he does. The only problem I have with your question is that you threw out the word “arbitrary.” Presuppositional faith in Christianity is not arbitrary. It’s not irrational. It’s not fideism. I think your usage of “arbitrary” shows that you assume it means “without valid reason.” But there are valid reasons for accepting this presupposition: 1) It’s true. 2) Regeneration. 3) All of life would be unintelligible without it. 4) No other worldview is consistent within itself. There is no principled difference in how we interpret the world (as I argued in the Sola/Solo thread): we all have to look through the lense of some worldview. To deny this is even a certain worldview. The difference is why we look through that particular lense and if that lense can account for itself. That’s how we can know the Christian lense is the right one.

    Andy,
    I’m not saying knowledge does not exist outside of the Scriptures. The Scriptures did not always exist, I obviously believe knowledge has always existed. I didn’t say the Scriptures were the only source of knowledge, I said they were the ultimate authority for knowledge. In other words, Prov. 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. That truth has always existed even before the Scriptures were codified. If God himself or the writer of Proverbs orally spoke that to me without it being written down, it would still be authoritative. Nevertheless, it was in God’s providence that it be codified in order for me to read it and believe it (since the writer of Proverbs isn’t around anymore!) The Scriptures speak of truths that are eternal and objective, so all other sources of knowledge (e.g. school text books) must be in accord with those truths for them to be valid. No protestant is putting the physical Scriptures above God or the Apostles themselves, just as a RC isn’t putting the Magisterium above God himself. Yet, I recognize that the Scriptures are the source by which I know infallible truth, just like the RC recognizes the Magisterium is the source by which he knows infallible truth. I’ve not reduced God’s means of communication. I affirm Oral Tradition and the deposit of faith, but only because Scripture tells me to (2 Thess 2:15). I also believe all men possess knowledge of God and that we all recognize the existence of logic and morality, but only because the Scriptures tell me so (Gen. 1:26; Romans 1, 2:15). I understand the Thomist position, but my point is that you couldn’t hold the Thomist position without special revelation. This is an inconsistency on your part. You say we can properly know truths through our natural senses because they are God created and are experienced in His created world, but you can’t know for certain that they are “God created” or “experienced in his created world” without special revelation telling you so.

    Tom,
    Sorry for not being more clear. I don’t mean every piece of Scripture must have a specific claim of divine authority, e.g. “Greetings readers, this book is divine!” Of course not. What I mean is that the writers claim divine authority (being prophets and apostles, etc). If a writer does not specifically claim divine authorship in a specific book, that does not prohibit others with divine authority to recognize it as such and pass it down in the deposit of faith. When I say Scriptures claim divine authority I mean as a collective whole. The argument looks something like this: St. Paul claims divine authority in numerous writings, in 2 Timothy 3:16 he says that all Scripture is God-breathed. In light of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, any other writing passed down as Scripture is included in Paul’s claims of divine authorship. Scriptures must be in complete agreement and unison together since they are God-breathed and God cannot lie or contradict himself. Therefore, all other Scriptures would accept Paul’s claim in 2 Timothy as their own. There is no contradiction in saying Scripture is my ultimate authority while also relying on Oral Tradition handed down by the Apostles. It is by the Scriptures that I know to appeal to Oral Tradition. I believe there are different stages of redemptive history and with each stage/transition there is a respective source by which people must ultimately appeal to. For those of us in the New Covenant age, I believe the ultimate source is the Scriptures. Hope that helps.

  44. retro (re: #42),

    You wrote:

    Sorry for the delayed response. I had a 9 hour drive yesterday, which turned into 11 hours due to icy roads, followed by another family Christmas party that lasted until the wee hours of the night.

    No problem. I’m glad you arrived safely. My van was crushed by a semi-truck today on the highway. (No injuries)

    Even the atheist, is a rational being and he knows he is, … What I’ve been saying is that apart from the Christian worldview (accepted by regeneration of the HS), they have no rational basis for believing those things.

    First, why does a person need a “rational basis” for knowing what he already knows?

    Second, what is your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview to be true?

    Third, if your answer to my second question is Scripture, then what is your rational basis for believing Scripture to be true? And if your answer to my second question is “the gift of faith”, then what is your rational basis for believing your “gift of faith” to be reliable? And if your answer to my second question is “consistency”, then what is your rational basis for believing “consistency” to be a reliable indicator of truth?

    (One way to improve the our conversation is to keep your replies as brief as possible — i.e. one paragraph or less is best. That will also save you time, and help us get more quickly to the bottom of the disagreement.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Ouch! Sorry to hear about the van. Glad you and the family are safe.

    First, why does a person need a “rational basis” for knowing what he already knows?

    Because God made us as rational beings, which means with the ability to reason, to think critically, to come to right conclusions of data, events, etc. He calls us to study and obtain his objective truth (Isaiah 1:18). If one has no rational basis for any particular belief, then it is by definition irrational. Irrationality is the opposite to how God thinks, how he made us and how he commands us to be. When we are irrational, we are essentially perverting and denying the image of God within us.

    Second, what is your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview to be true?

    It’s true. Regeneration. It accounts for all areas of life, even life itself. The impossibility of the contrary. (All of this information I obtain from the Scriptures).

    Third, if your answer to my second question is Scripture, then what is your rational basis for believing Scripture to be true? And if your answer to my second question is “the gift of faith”, then what is your rational basis for believing your “gift of faith” to be reliable? And if your answer to my second question is “consistency”, then what is your rational basis for believing “consistency” to be a reliable indicator of truth?

    I didn’t list Scripture as a prime answer, rather the source by which I know those things. But I’ll answer anyway. I believe Scripture is true about being the word of God and being infallible by the renewing of my mind and spirit by regeneration of the HS (faith). My faith is reliable because it is from God himself, not a product of my rebellion against him. Consistency is a reliable indicator of truth because truth cannot lie, contradict or be irrational. Rationality itself presupposes consistency, or else we wouldn’t be able to make syllogisms.

    Bryan, how do you know for certain that a person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator? Blessings!

  46. retro

    If God communicates a truth to a person and the truth becomes known to them then what they know is certainly true. Of course supernatural revelation conveys more truths then natural revelations but if natural revelation can communicate a truth that truth is just as infallible as the truth communicated through special revelation. You claim that even atheists have knowledge of God but then say that the Scriptures are the only source of knowledge. I assume you mean that God has implanted within the intellect knowledge of Himself, morality, and logic. But even this implanting is truth being communicated by God through a means that is not the Scriptures, which would be another source of knowledge. Therefore you logically could not maintain both positions.

    The biggest issue I have with presuppositionalism is this idea that you must have certainty to know anything. Again if a person is communicated from God a truth through his natural experience and reason then how could you say that he doesn’t really know it until it has been verified by supernatural revelation. If a person sees the logic of Aquinas’s five ways and believes in the existence of God and then it’s verified later on by supernatural revelation that his reasoning was correct. Do you mean to say that he didn’t really know it before hand? If you answer yes, then this is why I say you reduce God’s communication to supernatural revelation. God would not communicate through natural means if on the receiving end of the communication he had not made a natural way for the person to grasp and know what fact was being communicated.

    The Catholic would agree with the protestant that what we sense is not always trustworthy and that our reasoning can be faulty. But this does not render these ways in which we come to know truth useless in knowing truths about God. If one reasons naturally and through that denies God, the problem is the reasoning not reason itself. Just like your ultimate source of knowledge. If someone reads the scriptures and through his readings believes heresy. The problem is not the scriptures. The problem is the interpretation. Things known by faith build on and perfect things known by reason derived from the senses or through metaphysical rationalization. There does not have to be a conflict.

  47. retro, (re: 45),

    I had asked you the following question: “First, why does a person need a “rational basis” for knowing what he already knows?

    You replied:

    Because God made us as rational beings, which means with the ability to reason, to think critically, to come to right conclusions of data, events, etc. He calls us to study and obtain his objective truth (Isaiah 1:18).

    None of that actually shows why someone who already knows something, would need a “rational basis” for knowing it, and would be irrational for believing [what he already knows to be true] without a “rational basis.”

    Then I asked you the following: “Second, what is your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview to be true?

    You replied with multiple answers. First you wrote:

    It’s true.

    If the “rational basis” for believing something to be true is that it is true, then my rational basis for believing that it is presently snowing outside can simply be that it is true that is snowing outside. In that case I don’t need “the Christian worldview” as the rational basis for my knowledge that it is snowing outside, or that my senses are reliable, or that I am a rational person.

    You continued:

    Regeneration. It accounts for all areas of life, even life itself. The impossibility of the contrary. (All of this information I obtain from the Scriptures).

    Let’s keep the larger context of this discussion in view. You’re claiming that all knowledge must be based on Scripture. I pointed out that unless you already know that you are a rati0nal person and that your senses are reliable, you can’t access Scripture, and so therefore Scripture cannot be that which shows you that you are a rational person and that your senses are reliable. You replied that apart from the Christian worldview, no one has a rational basis for believing that he is a rational person or that his senses are reliable. I replied by asking you for your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview to be true. (My purpose was to show that either it will be ad hoc to require a rational basis for everything other than the Christian worldview, or your consistent application of the requirement for a rational basis for every belief will entail an infinite regress.)

    So, you replied that your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview is true is “regeneration.” But, that just pushes back the question, “How do you know that you are regenerated and your regeneration guarantees the truth of the Christian worldview?” You also replied that your rational basis for believing the Christian worldview to be true, is Scripture. But, as I already explained, unless you already know that you are a rational person and that your senses are reliable, you have no access to Scripture. So your reasoning looks like this:

    You: Apart from the Christian worldview a person has no rational basis for trusting his senses and reason.

    Me: So how you know the Christian worldview is true?

    You: Scripture.

    Me: You have no access to Scripture without knowing that you are a rational person and that your senses are reliable.

    You: I have regeneration and the “gift of faith”.

    Me: How you know that your “gift of faith” is a reliable indicator of truth; many persons (who disagree with you) claim to have the gift of faith.

    You: The Christian worldview is the only consistent worldview.

    Me: How do you know that consistency is a sufficient indicator of truth?

    You: Scripture.

    Me: As I pointed out above, you have no access to Scripture without knowing that you are a rational person and that your senses are reliable.

    You: I know the Christian worldview is true, and I’m regenerate.

    Me: How do you know the Christian worldview to be true.

    You: Regeneration.

    Me: Do you realize that you are entirely arguing in circles?

    You: Every worldview starts with an act of faith in that worldview. Everyone reasons in circles. Circular reasoning is good. My circles are the most consistent.

    Me: How do you know that everyone reasons in circles? How do you know that every worldview starts with an act of faith?

    You: My worldview tells me so.

    Me: How do you know that your worldview is true?

    You: My worldview tells me so.

    Me: No one thinks that his own worldview is false, and yet you yourself believe that many worldviews are false. So your believing that your own worldview is true, does not show that it is true.

    You: Of course. I’m not claiming that my belief that my worldview is true is what makes it true. It is already true.

    Me: How do you know it is true?

    You: It is the most consistent.

    Me: Again, how you know that consistency is a reliable indicator of truth?

    You: My worldview tells me so.

    Me: That begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely what is in question.

    You: Everyone reasons in circles.

    Me: I agree that *you* are engaged in circular reasoning. But I don’t reason in circles.

    You: According to my worldview, you too necessarily engage in circular reasoning.

    Me: In that respect, your worldview is false.

    You: That’s impossible.

    Me: How do you know?

    You: Because I’m regenerate, and I have the Holy Spirit and the gift of truth. Necessarily, I’m right and you’re wrong.

    Me: So why are you even discussing anything with me?

    You: To show you that your position is wrong, and that my worldview is true.

    Me: How are you going to do that?

    You: To show you that my worldview is more consistent than yours.

    Me: I don’t have a worldview.

    You: What?! You have to have a worldview.

    Me: How do you know that? Nevermind. I already know the answer: your worldview tells you so.

    You: You’re catching on.

    Me: Yeah. I spent a whole summer talking with Mormons, so I’m quite familiar with circular reasoning.

    You: Well, their circle isn’t as consistent as mine.

    Me: Did you ever consider whether circular reasoning itself is the problem?

    You: Sure, but my worldview —

    Me: Never mind; I shouldn’t have asked.

    I believe Scripture is true about being the word of God and being infallible by the renewing of my mind and spirit by regeneration of the HS (faith). My faith is reliable because it is from God himself, not a product of my rebellion against him.

    There’s your circle again: You believe Scripture because of regeneration, and you believe regeneration is a reliable indication of truth because of Scripture.

    Consistency is a reliable indicator of truth because truth cannot lie, contradict or be irrational. Rationality itself presupposes consistency, or else we wouldn’t be able to make syllogisms.

    If from your reason alone, you already [prior to knowing Scripture] know that contradiction is incompatible with truth, then you already [prior to knowing Scripture] know that you are a rational person. Your reason then, is already serving as a rational basis for your knowledge of Scripture, because you are believing Scripture by using your reason not only to interpret Scripture, but also to evaluate what Scripture says, by comparing its degree of consistency to that of the world around you (and thus depending on your senses), and by depending on your prior understanding of the relation of truth and consistency. You are basing your [belief in Scripture] on your senses and reason, but you are claiming that you are grounding your belief [that you are a rational person, and that your reason and senses are reliable] on Scripture. It is as if you do not realize what is actually at the epistemic foundation, i.e. senses and reason. You think that Scripture is your epistemic foundation, but in fact, you are using reason (and its consistency metric) to evaluate Scripture and compare various worldviews, to conclude that Scripture and the Christian worldview are true.

    Bryan, how do you know for certain that a person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator?

    I know this in two ways: one, through reason alone, and another, through the teaching of the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  48. Bryan,
    You told me to keep the responses brief. So I did my best. You asked me how I knew the Christian worldview was true, and I gave all the reasons why it’s true. The first of which being that it’s true! That means it’s not true just because I think or feel it to be. But I can only accept that objective truth (that it is true) by regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Who’s confusing the order of being and order of knowledge now? Do you deny that someone must have faith from the Holy Spirit before they can believe Christianity to be objectively true?

    I’ve not said that anyone was irrational or unable to use their sense-experience. I’ve admitted that they must, for it’s the way God made us. No presuppositionalist denies this. My point all along has been that apart from submitting to God, no one has any rational basis for believing in anything. I’m honestly shocked that you disagree with me. Does an atheist have proper grounds for believing in logical absolutes? You say just because they are true makes it OK, he doesn’t have to account for it. If that’s true, Bryan, then it shouldn’t matter to you why I believe in Christianity, even if it is irrational skeptical fideism. After all, my ‘shot in the dark’ was the right one, wasn’t it? It shouldn’t matter that a Protestant “can’t account for the Canon”, should it? You are the one condoning fideism, as long as someone’s fideism brings a true conclusion. Correction, what you believe to be a true conclusion. What I’m asking is this: What determines truth? It doesn’t suffice to simply say, “it doesn’t matter that he can’t account for X, because X is true.” How do you know X is true? You couldn’t unless you had a rational basis for believing it (unless you are admitting to being a fideist now). My answer is faith and reason together, hand in hand, on the same floor (not a two-story house). So far, all you’ve offered is reason. Where does faith come in in Thomism and what’s its purpose? We know that belief in God has nothing to do with faith in Thomism, since that’s an act of pure natural reason, per Vatican I.

    We could go round and round on this forever. You’ve successfully proved in your last post that I argue in circles, which is what I began this discussion admitting. What have we gained? Whether or not someone agrees with my premises or my conclusions, I’m confident that I’ve stayed consistent within my own worldview and what I claim to believe. I’ve given Scriptural reasons as to why I believe everyone must start with faith. All you’ve done is say how silly I am and try to show I’m wrong, but you’ve yet to offer an alternative. I’ve asked you several questions about your view, in order to understand it, but you’ve only bothered to answer 3 of them. And those had to do with Vatican I claims, not so much your epistemic methodology directly. You say you don’t argue in circles, I say you do, but you refuse to answer my questions in trying to point that out. I understand we have normal lives and are busy, which is why I’ve been patient. But please, for the sake of trying to persuade me, could you answer some of my questions? I know I’m the pupil and you’re the teacher here, but humor me. This is your chance to show me that you don’t argue in circles.

    You said you did not need the Papacy for theological certainty derived from creation (even though the Papacy itself infallibly teaches this). So, I asked you how you knew for certain that you didn’t need the Papacy for theological certainty derived from creation, and your answer was 1) Reason alone and 2) The Papacy. Initial observation: it looks as though you have “two circles” just like you accused me of in #35. Reason alone tells you for certain that you don’t need the Papacy for theological certainty derived from creation, and the Papacy also tells you for certain that you don’t the Papacy. I wonder why the Papacy needed to infallibly declare this to be true if everyone could already know it was certainly true that our reason alone can gives us theological certainty without the Papacy? Regardless, what you’ve done is argue in two circles. Let me demonstrate.

    Circle 1:
    Bryan: I know for certain that a person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator. Reason alone is sufficient.
    Retro: But how do you know that for certain?
    Bryan: Sola Ratio.

    Circle 2:
    Bryan: I know for certain that a person does not require the Papacy for certainty about theological truths derived from creation, including the truth that there is a Creator. Reason alone is sufficient.
    Retro: But how do you know that for certain?
    Bryan: The Papacy says so.

    So, you know reason alone can give you certainty by “reason alone” and you know the Papacy can give you certainty that reason alone is sufficient by “the Papacy alone.” Unless I’m missing something here, I think the burden of proof is on you to show how this isn’t circular reasoning.

    Pax!

  49. Andy,
    In #46 you said,

    You claim that even atheists have knowledge of God but then say that the Scriptures are the only source of knowledge.

    Not true. I said Scriptures are the ultimate source of knowledge, not the only source. There’s no contradiction for me to believe in various sources of knowledge. Scripture is the normative means by which God reveals special revelation unto us. All other sources of knowledge (e.g. school textbooks) must be in line with what the Scriptures say. If they aren’t, throw it out. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The beginning of knowledge (reason, logic, interpretations, facts, data, events, etc) must start with the fear of the Lord. Anything else is foolish and irrational because the “fool says in his heart there is no God.” Apart from submitting to Christ’s Lordship, their beliefs are in vain and deceitful. It’s not “knowledge” in a true, full, sense. If this is not right, please explain that verse to me.

    The biggest issue I have with presuppositionalism is this idea that you must have certainty to know anything.

    Then why do RC apologists always harp on Protestants about not knowing the Canon for certain or being able to account for it? Supposedly, any interpretation of Scripture that I affirm is void and unwarranted since I don’t have the Pope to give me infallible certainty. Certainty is important, for as Bryan Cross has pointed out previously, if you start with uncertainty, any conclusion you make will also be uncertain. If anything, it makes your conclusions probable or possible, but not certain. You might have gotten lucky and landed on the right answer, but we wouldn’t know that for certain. Thus, the Catholic would have no more theological or ecclesiological certainty than a Protestant or a Mormon.

    There does not have to be a conflict.

    I’m not making any conflict. I say faith and reason go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. I believe the former gives way to the latter. For example, we are all trained up in some tradition from very early in our children. Not just in theology, but in all areas of life. We have trust that our parents and what we were taught is true. This is faith. So, whenever I view things around me or try to understand the world I will always filter everything through the lenses of my particular worldview (i.e. whatever tradition I was raised in). There is no way we can avoid this method. There’s no point in anyone’s life where he can trace back to when he was not biased towards a certain worldview. Then as we grow and mature and think critically we can start to ask ourselves if that worldview really makes any sense, examine other worldviews, etc. We see which one is most consistent and logical. This is the presuppositional method. You start with faith. Then you reason from that faith, until you reason from another worldview (even a “skeptical worldview” while comparing other worldviews). This is why we say we all start with faith positions. The difference is if that faith is rational or irrational.

  50. retro, (re: #48)

    When we first begin to ask philosophical and theological questions, we do so already in a state in which we know many things. We know that there are trees, flowers, birds, cats, dogs, other human beings, etc. We never start our active inquiry from a state of absolute ignorance. (That would be impossible.) We encounter the world epistemically from our earliest childhood. Children know many things about the world, not because this knowledge was pre-programmed into them (it wasn’t), but because they learn quickly about the world through their experience of the world and all that is in it.

    So in order to become a skeptic, a person must abandon (irrationally) what he already knows to be true. No one becomes a skeptic directly from a state of absolute ignorance. This is why skepticism is irrational. If we retrace the process of reasoning by which the skeptic went from a child who believed that the things around him were real, and that he knew them, to being a skeptic, we can put our finger on the point where he made the mistake [given what he knew at that time] of rejecting something about which he was more certain, for reasons about which he was less certain. In fact, one way of attacking reason is, as Aquinas says, by adopting what is less certain and using it to overturn what is more certain. Aquinas writes, “Whoever by his own reasoning does away with certain [principles] which are better known to him than the ones which he posits, adopts an absurd position.” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, 990a17-22) In this way such a person took as a modus ponens, what he should have taken them as modus tollens.

    The notion that one must make some arbitrary leap of faith in order to trust one’s senses and one’s reason, is a form of skepticism. He thinks we can’t trust our senses and reason without first believing in God in order to believe that they are reliable, only because he has previously and irrationally succumbed to skeptical doubt about the reliability of our senses and our reason. He has [irrationally] called into doubt what he already knew as a child to be true. So the fideist who claims that we can’t know anything from our senses or our reason, unless we believe in God, is a skeptic who is using fideism to attempt to get out of the skeptical pit. But the solution to skepticism is not a fideistic leap out of the skeptical pit, but not to fall into the pit in the first place, or, for the one already in the pit, to retrace the steps by which he fell into the pit.

    We already know objective truth (e.g. that our dog Fido exists) even as a child. We don’t have to believe in God first, in order to know that Fido really exists, and that we are not hallucinating, and that Fido is not an illusion. That was one of Descartes’ most serious mistakes. He doubted his senses and reason, and then tried to appeal to God in order to restore their reliability. But he failed, utterly. Once we call into question our senses and reason, we have no way to know that God exists, or that our beliefs about God are true. We are utterly cut off from reality, and there is no way to get back to the objective world, without realizing that our mistake was to doubt our senses and reason in the first place.

    We reason to God from the things He has made, reasoning from effects to their Cause. But in order to reason from effects to their Cause, we must already know the effects, i.e. we must already know that dogs and mountains and trees, and oceans, and persons exist. In this way the order of being (from First Cause to effects) is the opposite of the order of knowing (from effects to First Cause). Presuppositionalism mistakenly conflates the two, thinking that if God is first in the order of Being, then we must start (epistemically) by believing in God in order to know anything else. It is true that angels know God immediately, from their first moment of existence, because they are pure spirits. But humans are rational animals. Because we are animals, all of our knowledge comes through our senses. And our senses are material, and receive sensible forms. But God is immaterial. This is why He cannot be sensed with our five senses. And this is why God is last in the order of knowing (for humans), even though God is first in the order of being (as the source of existence for all things, because He is the Creator of all things).

    Let me clarify one thing. You wrote:

    You said you did not need the Papacy for theological certainty derived from creation (even though the Papacy itself infallibly teaches this). So, I asked you how you knew for certain that you didn’t need the Papacy for theological certainty derived from creation, and your answer was 1) Reason alone and 2) The Papacy.

    First, I’ve already shown why knowing something from reason is not circular: the epistemic starting point is not a leap, but an intelligible encounter with reality by reason through the senses. Second, you’re assuming that if I know something on the basis of the Magisterium having pronounced it, therefore I must be reasoning in a circle. But that conclusion does not follow. Reason, on the basis of the motives of credibility, shows us where is the Church Christ founded, and what she teaches. Faith assents to what Christ revealed, on the basis of motives of credibility shown by reason. Likewise, faith assents to what the Apostles taught, on the basis of motives of credibility shown by reason. And on basis of many motives of credibility shown by reason, faith assents to what those whom the Apostles authorized, taught concerning the revelation handed down by the Apostles.

    Faith is assenting to what is revealed by divine authority. Reason can and should be used to determine (on the basis of motives of credibility) who has divine authority. Otherwise, faith would be a leap in the dark. But, if a person refuses to believe what has been revealed by divine authority, until he can verify its truth for himself by way of his own natural reason, he lacks the [supernatural] virtue of faith. So in that respect, reason is incapable of attaining to the level of faith (because reason is natural, and faith is supernatural). But reason is related to faith in two ways: first, prior to faith, as that by which we determine, on the basis of motives of credibility, where is divine authority, and second, after faith, as that by which we seek to understand more perfectly and deeply what we already know by faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. retro

    Trusting one’s natural senses and reason is not a faith position. You said that the presup method is to start with faith and then reason. But then you say we can judge if our worldview or our “faith position” by determing, through reason, whether our worldview is consistent or incosistent. So if faith is the starting point, prior to reason, and our worldview clouds our reason, how can we judge, by our reason, the logic of our worldview (or faith position)? This reasoning is why the presup position is accused of being fideistic. If faith is prior to reasoning, then what is prior to reason (the faith position, or worldview), is determined irrationally. Or just accepted prior to any other knowledge.

    The RC would not say that you do not know that part of the canon is divine revelation. (I say part because of the disputed deutorcanonical books) But they would claim that you can’t give a reasonable acount for the canon without believing in a divinely authorized teaching office. If you did become Catholic, they would not say “Now you know the 27 books of the NT are divine revelation.” This goes with any other Catholic dogma a protestant believes prior to conversion to the Catholic Church. But this is another talk for another time on another thread.

    Knowing something true and knowing it fully (or understanding the truth) are two different things. If to know something is to know it fully then no person knows anything, for as I believe, each event or fact that we ponder or experience is a fabric in the tapestry of salvation history which we only know in part.

  52. Bryan,
    You keep saying you don’t argue in circles. I showed how you argued in two circles. You then denied arguing in circles, and your defense was that knowing something from reason is not circular because it’s “an intelligible encounter with reality by reason through the senses.” You say it’s “not a leap.” Well, who said it was? You are the one assuming all circular arguments are irrational leaps. Your defense really looks like this: “Knowing something from reason and the senses is not circular because I know it by reason through the senses.” Hmmm. Perhaps I should ask how you know you should trust your reason? How do you know your reason is a valid factor in determining truth? If your answer is “reason” then you’ve argued in a circle. If your answer is “because the Magisterium tells me my reason is sufficient”, and then I ask why you trust the Magisterium, and you say “reason guides me to divine authority”, then you’ve argued in another circle. Let’s combine both circles and see what we get: Natural reason tells me, that the Pope says, that natural reason tells me that the Pope is right, because natural reason assures me, that natural reason assures me it’s true. Still not seeing how it’s not circular. Could you please elaborate?

    Aside from that, I do have some questions for clarification if you ever find the time. It’s lengthy, so no rush. We have many points of agreement (you started off sounding like a presuppositionalist!) But also various points of disagreement. Short, clear answers will suffice.

    1. If no knowledge is “pre-programmed” into us and the intellect really is a “tablet on which nothing is written” (blank slates void of faith), how do you explain Scriptures that talk about paedofaith (Psalm 22, 71, 139), the work of the law written on hearts (Romans 2), that our minds our hostile to God (Romans 8, Colossians 1), and we are inclined to sin (Jeremiah 17, CCC 403, 405)? Those don’t sound like things that emerge from a certain amount of sense-experience, or the lack thereof. Those sound like things that are either innate or supernaturally received from the very beginning, before our personal consciousness or understanding.

    2. What does this say about Jesus? Was his human mind a blank slate at conception? Did he only have reason until faith was imparted to him at some future experience? Remember, in the Incarnation his two natures are united but “without change or confusion”. Whatever you say about Jesus’ human epistemology must be true or possible for us as well. The only case you could make is that the difference with Jesus is that he was the sinless Last Adam and could have innate faith, knowledge, etc. But that would mean that’s how Adam was created, meaning that’s how human nature was created, meaning the only difference now (after the fall) is that our minds are in rebellion to those truths, not that we don’t start out with them. In other words, not blank slates.

    3. Even from a strict naturalist view (no faith and no divine intervention), a person with a blank slate ceases to be a person with a blank slate from the earliest stages of infancy. We are immediately taught things by other people. I start out trusting these things to be true. I cannot reason or interpret anything that I observe or experience apart from those beliefs. Even if I grow up and change my beliefs, there’s no point where I can rid myself of all biases or conditioning. Once I accept a new belief I’ve gained a whole new bias. If you disagree, how does a Thomist go about ridding himself of all biases and assumptions in order to start fresh and properly trust his reason and sense-experience? If that’s not necessary in Thomism, then how does he know that what he was taught as a child or at any point in life is true? You just keep saying he shouldn’t doubt his senses. Why not? You obviously don’t think our reasoning and senses always teach truth to us, or else we wouldn’t be having this debate.

    4. How does a Thomist with natural reason dileneate which truths are natural and which are revealed? You have to have a certain notion of the dividing line. Whatever that standard is, wouldn’t it have to be natural also? How does it make sense that natural reason tells you there is one divine essence, and revealed truth that he’s a trinity, but natural reason also gave you the standard by which to judge between the two? It’s the same human mind that learns both truths, so the presuppositionalist says both truths ( all truths) are revealed truths.

    5. On what basis do you know that Aristotle’s order of being/order of knowledge distinction is correct? Just to say because “we’re rational animals and all of our knowledge comes through our material senses, but God is immaterial, therefore…” assumes the blank state proposition that is still under question. You keep saying we cannot start with knowledge of God, for he is the last thing we discover with reason. If it’s a reasonable belief void of faith, then which God does the Thomist believe in? Does he just believe in the concept of a god-in-general, since all he believes in is a divine essence, but no trinity until faith is imparted? Furthermore, how do humans not have an innate knowledge of God – the Triune God – since we are made in his image, we live, move and have our being in him, we operate on his world with his moral and logical absolutes. Everything about us points to his existence from the beginning. God has made himself plain to all so that none have excuse (Romans 1:19-20). If their disbelief in God is merely a lack of proper reasoning skills, or not knowing enough Socratic logic, sounds like they have a pretty good excuse. What about the infant, the mentally retarded or the human vegetable? They just didn’t make the cut?

    6. Presuppositionalism is not fideism. We don’t believe in arbitrary leaps of faith. We know people do it, like atheists and skeptics, but we think it’s a false practice. A presuppostionalist never says we can’t know anything from our senses or reason. I’ve reiterated this more than once already. Why do you keep making the charge? Even Van Til believed in the distinctions of a proximate starting point and an ultimate starting point as outlined at http://www.thirdmill.org/files/english/html/th/TH.h.Pratt.VanTil.1.html.

  53. Andy,
    In #51 you wrote,

    If faith is prior to reasoning, then what is prior to reason (the faith position, or worldview), is determined irrationally.

    Actually, I say faith and reason go hand in hand. There’s really no way to separate them. I’ve maintained this consistently. When I say faith provides the basis for rationality, I’m talking about 2 things. 1) How we have to assume that our reason and our senses are not deceiving us. That what we are taught as children is the truth. That is a faith-position. 2) That faith in the Triune God is the only true basis for all rationality and sense-experience. I believe all people know God exists, by the very fact that we do use reason, sense-experience and faith commitments. In this sense, everyone is a Crypto-Christian. The nonchristian’s problem is his rebellion, not his intellect.

    But if you are right, and all faith positions are determined irrationally, then anything you believed as a child from your parents is irrational. Right? Maybe their claims were true, but the act of you believing them was irrational. You heard them, observed their actions, but there was no way for you to impose some empirical data requirement to make sure what they told you was the truth. It could’ve been a lie. But you believed them anyway. Did you ever abandon all of your biases from infancy/childhood and start fresh with a blank slate so you could make sure what you always believed was rational?

    they would claim that you can’t give a reasonable acount for the canon without believing in a divinely authorized teaching office.

    Exactly. I know Scriptures exist, but only the RCC can account for them, since she determines and interprets them. So it’s inconsistent on my end to accept the Scriptures while denying the RCC. This is exactly what I say to the nonchristian. He can’t give a reasonable account for reason or sense experience without the Triune God of Christianity. It’s therefore inconsistent of him to accept those without accepting the Triune God of Christianity. But according to Bryan, that doesn’t matter. The nonchristian can keep believing in reason and sense-experience apart from God and there is no problem in him doing that. So, why should it matter that I can’t account for the Canon? This is not a Canon debate. This is just an example of how the RC apologist is inconsistent with his own methodology.

  54. retro, (re: #52)

    You wrote:

    Your defense really looks like this: “Knowing something from reason and the senses is not circular because I know it by reason through the senses.”

    Circular reasoning involves saying “A because of B”, and “B because of A”. I’m saying that we begin our philosophical and scientific inquiry already knowing many things. I’m not saying “A because of B” and “B because of A”. Therefore, I’m not reasoning in a circle.

    Perhaps I should ask how you know you should trust your reason?

    I don’t “trust” my reason. I don’t have to. Only a skeptic asks that question, because only for a skeptic is one’s epistemic relation to the world a matter of trust. The skeptic denies what he already knows, requiring a leap (where no leap is required) in order to apprehend the world. But no leap can apprehend the world, and so by requiring a leap (where none is required) the skeptic cuts off the possibility of knowledge.

    By contrast, the true philosopher begins his investigation of human knowledge with what he already knows, namely, the world around him, and that he knows many things about the world around him. His question is not “how do I know I should trust my reason”, but “how is it that I [already] know all these things about the world? How is it that I already know what is true about the world?”

    How do you know your reason is a valid factor in determining truth?

    I don’t know what you mean by “valid factor”. But we already know truth when we begin our epistemological investigation (i.e. our reflection on our knowledge and our knowing). So if the question is how reason gets us to the truth we already know, then it is a question that the epistemologist asks (and can answer). But if the question is how we can show our reason to be reliable in order to get to knowledge, then the question presupposes skepticism, and so is a misguided question. Those are two different questions. The former acknowledges what we already know, and seeks to explain it. The latter denies what we already know, and then [from that skeptical stance] requests proof that we can (or do) know. In this way skepticism is the natural version of what the Serpent said to Eve: “Did God really say?” The Serpent called into question the divine revelation they already knew; skepticism, likewise, calls into question the truth man already knows when he encounters skepticism.

    1. If no knowledge is “pre-programmed” into us and the intellect really is a “tablet on which nothing is written” (blank slates void of faith), how do you explain Scriptures that talk about paedofaith (Psalm 22, 71, 139), the work of the law written on hearts (Romans 2), that our minds our hostile to God (Romans 8, Colossians 1), and we are inclined to sin (Jeremiah 17, CCC 403, 405)? Those don’t sound like things that emerge from a certain amount of sense-experience, or the lack thereof. Those sound like things that are either innate or supernaturally received from the very beginning, before our personal consciousness or understanding.

    Paedofaith is a supernatural gift of God, not a natural endowment. If it were a natural endowment, there would be no such thing as original sin. Paedofaith is received after conception, except in the case of the Blessed Mother, who received grace and the theological virtues at the moment of conception.

    As for the law “written on our hearts”, this is again, the principle of grace building on nature. By nature, the natural law is written on our hearts. This does not mean that all the propositions of the law pre-exist somewhere in our soul at the moment of conception. Rather, reason necessarily acquires them in its encounter with being (by which it apprehends, among other things, the law of non-contradiction), and its encounter with being under its aspect of goodness, by which it acquires (among other things) the first principle of natural law, namely, that good is to be done and evil avoided. The secondary principles of the natural law are likewise apprehended from the very natures of things; they are not derived from prior propositions. This is why they are first principles.

    By the reception of sanctifying grace (wherein agape is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit – Rom 5:5), we are given a share in the Logos (Reason itself), and so we grasp the law of love, through which the whole law is fulfilled. The person who loves God and loves his neighbor, fulfills the whole law. So in this way, grace builds on nature. The supernatural law is written on our heart supernaturally, as the natural law is written on our heart by our very nature (i.e. by being rational creatures by nature).

    ‘Blank slate’ is about knowledge. It is not about grace. When a child comes into existence, at that moment he has no knowledge. But he does have original sin — that is, he lacks sanctifying grace, and thus he lacks friendship with God. So the fact that children come into the world with original sin, is fully compatible with their beginning their existence as epistemic ‘blank slates’.

    2. What does this say about Jesus? Was his human mind a blank slate at conception? Did he only have reason until faith was imparted to him at some future experience? Remember, in the Incarnation his two natures are united but “without change or confusion”. Whatever you say about Jesus’ human epistemology must be true or possible for us as well. The only case you could make is that the difference with Jesus is that he was the sinless Last Adam and could have innate faith, knowledge, etc. But that would mean that’s how Adam was created, meaning that’s how human nature was created, meaning the only difference now (after the fall) is that our minds are in rebellion to those truths, not that we don’t start out with them. In other words, not blank slates.

    From conception Jesus had the preternatural gifts that Adam and Eve had, one of which was infused knowledge. Preternatural gifts are not part of our nature. They are gifts that transcend our nature. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost those preternatural gifts. In addition Jesus (in his human mind) knew all things through the Beatific Vision. He had sanctifying grace from conception, and thus agape from conception. But He did not have faith. God cannot have faith, because faith presupposes the absence of the Beatific Vision. (See 1 Cor 13, where it says that faith will be done away, but not love.) Christ had the Beatific Vision; therefore He could not have had faith. Adam and Eve, by contrast, did not have the Beatific Vision, though they had faith, hope, and charity.

    3. Even from a strict naturalist view (no faith and no divine intervention), a person with a blank slate ceases to be a person with a blank slate from the earliest stages of infancy. We are immediately taught things by other people. I start out trusting these things to be true. I cannot reason or interpret anything that I observe or experience apart from those beliefs.

    They are not all mere beliefs. You know many truths, even as a child. In addition, you have many beliefs, some of which are true, and some of which are false.

    Even if I grow up and change my beliefs, there’s no point where I can rid myself of all biases or conditioning. Once I accept a new belief I’ve gained a whole new bias. If you disagree, how does a Thomist go about ridding himself of all biases and assumptions in order to start fresh and properly trust his reason and sense-experience?

    The question presupposes skepticism. We don’t seek (Decartes-like) to “start fresh” or “properly trust his reason”. We use what we already know to be true, to evaluate what we don’t know to be true.

    If that’s not necessary in Thomism, then how does he know that what he was taught as a child or at any point in life is true?

    He evaluates things not known to be true by what he does know to be true.

    You just keep saying he shouldn’t doubt his senses. Why not?

    Globally doubting one’s senses is doubting what one already knows to be true. It is the natural equivalent of “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness”.

    You obviously don’t think our reasoning and senses always teach truth to us, or else we wouldn’t be having this debate.

    Errors in philosophy and theology arise from ignorance of truth (i.e. not having encountered a truth) and from not rightly using reason about those truths one has received. Error does not entail that reason is untrustworthy; it indicates that we need to reason more carefully, i.e. make better use of reason.

    4. How does a Thomist with natural reason dileneate which truths are natural and which are revealed?

    Truths that are natural are truths that can be known by the natural power of human reason. Truths that are supernatural (and not also natural) are truths that cannot be known by the natural power of human reason. We can know them only if they are divinely revealed. They transcend the natural power of our reason.

    You have to have a certain notion of the dividing line. Whatever that standard is, wouldn’t it have to be natural also? How does it make sense that natural reason tells you there is one divine essence, and revealed truth that he’s a trinity, but natural reason also gave you the standard by which to judge between the two? It’s the same human mind that learns both truths, so the presuppositionalist says both truths ( all truths) are revealed truths.

    We can know, by the natural power of reason, that there are truths that transcend our natural power of reason, and that God would have to reveal them, if we were to know them. So the distinction between natural truths and supernatural truths, can be known by the natural power of human reason. But the content of those supernatural truths, cannot be known by the natural power of reason.

    5. On what basis do you know that Aristotle’s order of being/order of knowledge distinction is correct?

    Since you agree that God is the first in the order of being, I won’t defend that point. So your question is essentially, How do you know that God is not first in the order of knowing? I’ll answer that below.

    Just to say because “we’re rational animals and all of our knowledge comes through our material senses, but God is immaterial, therefore…” assumes the blank state proposition that is still under question. You keep saying we cannot start with knowledge of God, for he is the last thing we discover with reason.

    Because we are animals, we acquire all our knowledge through our senses. There is no evidence that we have the ability to access reality apart from our senses, or that humans already have knowledge at conception. If God were going to implant knowledge at conception, then it would do away with the need for our sense organs, making them superfluous. But God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t make anything superfluous. He did not make us as angels, or as angels trapped in bodies. The Cartesian notion is called (by Maritain) ‘angelism’ precisely for this reason — it treats the human as though he were an angel trapped in a body. And denying that our knowledge comes through our senses would treat us as angels trapped in bodies, only accidentally or stipulatively connected to bodies and their sense organs.

    If it’s a reasonable belief void of faith, then which God does the Thomist believe in?

    The only God that exists — the First Cause of all other beings.

    Does he just believe in the concept of a god-in-general, since all he believes in is a divine essence,

    A concept is not an extra-mental being. An extra-mental being is not a concept. What you said is like claiming that if Jews don’t know that God is a Trinity of Persons, they only believe in a concept of “god-in-general”, and couldn’t believe in the God who created the heavens and the earth. But that’s actually a heresy. Christians worship the same God the Jews worshiped (to deny that is to fall into Marcionism).

    how do humans not have an innate knowledge of God – the Triune God – since we are made in his image, we live, move and have our being in him, we operate on his world with his moral and logical absolutes.

    We are made in His image in that we have rationality, and thus a capacity for friendship with God. Cows and horses and mice have no such capacity. Being rational doesn’t entail innate knowledge of God.

    All material creatures (e.g. cows, horses, mice) live and move and have their being in Him, but do not have innate knowledge of Him. So the fact that we live and move and have our being in Him does not entail that must have innate knowledge of Him.

    Everything about us points to his existence from the beginning. God has made himself plain to all so that none have excuse (Romans 1:19-20).

    I agree. God has made Himself plain through the things that He has made. That means, because we can see the effects, we can reason back to their Cause (i.e. God). They all, like works of painting or sculpture, point back (as effects) to the Artist who made them.

    If their disbelief in God is merely a lack of proper reasoning skills, or not knowing enough Socratic logic, sounds like they have a pretty good excuse.

    I agree. Their disbelief is not merely a lack of proper reasoning skills. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness, much as we find in skepticism.

    What about the infant, the mentally retarded or the human vegetable? They just didn’t make the cut?

    I don’t understand the question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  55. retro

    How is trusting that your senses are not decieving you a faith position? It seems you reduce proof to only things demonstrable, denying that rational capacity to understand first principles that are the starting points of our demonstrations. These first principles are known through our natural reason and lack the quality called faith. For instance, its repugnant to the mind to deny the law of non contradiction and impossible to show that it is false. But the law of non contradiction cannot be demonstrated because its a first principle of a demonstration. We naturally gain knowledge through our experiences and naturally use our reason to understand them without question as to whether we are being decieved. Even when a skeptic will attempt to raise the question of the validity of knowledge through our senses and natural reason; he has to use the same rational method he is attempting to cast doubt upon.

    I agree that the only explanation for the world around us is God, but to show this is to presuppose that we can know the world prior in our intellects to knowing God. To say that I must first believe in God to know the world around me is to already assume the world in question, and to assume what is in question, something must be known about it.

  56. Bryan,
    In #54 you wrote,

    Circular reasoning involves saying “A because of B”, and “B because of A”. I’m saying that we begin our philosophical and scientific inquiry already knowing many things. I’m not saying “A because of B” and “B because of A”. Therefore, I’m not reasoning in a circle.

    If this is your example of circular reasoning, then I have not been arguing in circles either, contrary to your accusation. I agree that “A because of B”, and “B because of A” is a circle. It’s an illogical circle. But a logical circle looks like this: “C because of B, B because of A, A because of A.” This is what I’ve been doing all along in regards to Scripture (remember, we’ve been talking about the source of epistemic authority, which I maintain is rooted in the teachings of Scripture). If I went back to C when asked “why A?” then I’d be guilty of an illogical circle. But if I accept A on it’s own terms for being what it is, then it’s not illogical to say “because A says so” (e.g. “because Scripture says so”, “because God says so”, or “because the Pope says so”, etc.) Everything I know infallibly comes from the revealed truths of Scripture. It’s by them that I put my trust in God, not my fallen and fallible reason and sense-experience. Yes, I use reason and sense-experience, but it’s the renewing of my reason and senses by the HS that I’m able to assent to the truths of Scripture, not some blank slate, neutral ground of “common sense” truth.

    When you say, “Knowing something from reason and the senses is not circular because I know it by reason through the senses”, I believe it is at least a consistent circle, if reason and sense-experience are your ultimate authorities for knowledge. You are consistently saying, “Reason because of reason”, just as I say, “Scripture because of Scripture”. But when it comes to the Magisterium, and you say, “The Pope because of natural reason, natural reason because of the Pope” (which is a summary of your statement in #47), you’re guilty of an illogical circle. How is that not doing the same thing your quote above condemns?

    My point in bringing up paedofaith was that you cannot hold both positions. On one hand you say that we all start off as blank slates void of faith, and God is the last thing we discover with natural reason. Yet, if you grant that paedofaith is a reality, then you cannot say that we all start out as blank slates void of faith with God being the last discovery of natural reason. Indeed, the infant has faith in the Triune God (supernaturally imparted) from the earliest stages of development. This means the child did not use logic or observe nature to reason up to God. He knew God from before he could remember, before he could make any cognitive thought. So, he had faith prior to exercising any reasoning skills, prior to sense-experience of nature, which in turn would mean he was not a blank slate. The Scriptures do not place an age or time restriction on when paedofaith may occur, so you must grant that it is possible for this to occur at conception. If the Psalmist can say he had it in the womb, is it really necessary to debate when it happened in the womb? Where do you get that this only happened to the Mother of God at conception but it cannot for anyone else?

    If you’re right, and we all start out as blank slates void of faith, without knowledge of God, then does Thomism affirm God creates us as atheists? If so, that would mean that he creates us as fools, not rational people, since the fool says there is no God. If the problem with man not submitting to God and his Church is his lack of reasoning, or as you put it, his lack of discovering certain truths, then how can he be held accountable? If he never matures form his primitive state and never sees the brute facts of natural reason that God exists, then how is that not an excuse? Can natural reason bind anyone’s conscience to mature in their rationality and to accept God? This is why I asked the question about the mentally retarded. But we can throw anyone into the mix. You want to say that God has made himself plain to all, so if they don’t see this plain truth, they have a mental problem. Then you want to say its not just a mental problem, because they suppress this truth in unrighteousness. But how can they suppress truth in unrighteousness if they don’t know the truth yet? Wouldn’t you have to know or see the “plain truth” in order to continue to rebel against it? Furthermore, when does God make himself plain to all? If God is supposedly made plain to all by his creation, even the creation of ourselves, then we should immediately have knowledge of him simply by our own existence, including reason and intellect. It seems like a contradiction to say both: “we don’t know God innately, we have to reason up to him, in fact he’s the last thing we learn through natural reason” and “God has made himself plain to all people without exception, no one has an excuse at any point in time to deny him, they see the truth but are suppressing it due to their rebellion.” Which is it? Or does it differ for each individual?

    It seems to me that in Thomism’s attempt to put reason in its proper place, and while denying the noetic effects of the Fall, that you end up doing a greater injustice to man’s intellect. When it comes down to it, if man doesn’t accept God’s existence, it’s because he’s not smart enough to see it or reason up to him. Maybe he’s just stupid. Tough luck. But in Reformed Presuppositionalism, we say that man’s mind is effected by sin, but he still has the same capacity to use reason and his intellect. His problem is not that he’s stupid or hasn’t sensed all the right truths yet, his problem is that he is a sinner in rebellion against the truth he’s known all along. His problem is ethical, not intellectual.

    When did Jesus’ human nature have the Beatific Vision? (A little off topic, I know. But I’m interested in knowing how/when this happened).

    Jesus didn’t/doesn’t have faith? When Jesus prayed in the garden to have the cup removed from him, but then he asked for his Father’s will to be done and not his own, was that not is human nature exercising faith in his Father’s will? What about Hebrews 3:1-3? I always thought faith was an important factor of keeping covenant (even in the old covenant). Jesus wasn’t a covenant-breaker was he? He fulfilled all of the Law, or did that one not apply to him?

    Where does 1 Corinthians 13 say faith will be done away with?

    Do you admit that belief in God in Thomism has nothing to do with faith?

    Do you admit that faith is not valid evidence for any proposition or truth claim?

    FYI, I will be away from the computer for the next 3 days. I’m making the pilgrimage to the Federal Vision mecca today in Monroe, LA. Be blessed.

  57. retro, (re: #56)

    You wrote:

    But a logical circle looks like this: C because of B, B because of A, A because of A.” This is what I’ve been doing all along in regards to Scripture (remember, we’ve been talking about the source of epistemic authority, which I maintain is rooted in the teachings of Scripture). If I went back to C when asked “why A?” then I’d be guilty of an illogical circle. But if I accept A on it’s own terms for being what it is, then it’s not illogical to say “because A says so” (e.g. “because Scripture says so”,

    It is not circular reasoning for humans to use what humans already know to explain or defend what we already know. This is how first principles can be defended and explained, even though they are first in the order of knowing. We use first principles (e.g. the law of non-contradiction) in our explanation and defense of first principles; but we do not use first principles to demonstrate first principles, because they, being first, are not demonstrable from prior principles, as Aristotle explains in his Metaphysics.

    But fideism treats something as though it were a first principle in the order of knowing that is not in fact a first principle in the order of knowing. The knowledge that Scripture is the Word of God written is not a first principle. Humans are not born with this knowledge. Nor do we acquire it naturally in our encounter with being, nature, or society. What is supernatural is not naturally known. But Scripture is supernatural, because it was supernaturally revealed. Children already are using reason (in some sense) from early infancy. They are already knowing the world through their senses and through reason. But, unless they are being taught Scripture at this early age, they do not know Scripture or that Scripture is the Word of God written, or even that God exists (unless someone tells them). The use of reason does not require some jump or leap. The world is given to us already through senses and reason, before we even come to understand that we are using senses and reason. We know the truth of the reality around us before we even know that we know it, or how we know it.

    For something that is not a first principle, but which one comes to believe by some process of study, inquiry, inference or investigation, the appeal to it as the authoritative basis for why one believes it, is circular; it begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely what is in question between the two persons who disagree about it. For example, imagine that a person comes to believe that José Luis de Jesús Miranda is the Christ. We then ask this person why he believes that. He says, “Because José Luis de Jesús Miranda says he is, and whatever the Christ says must be true.” Obviously that’s a case of circular reasoning. He is appealing to this alleged authority as the basis for its authority. But what allows this to be a case of circular reasoning is that “José Luis de Jesús Miranda being the Christ” is not a first principle in the order of knowing. Our interlocutor wasn’t born with this belief, nor did he immediately intuit it or deduce it from his encounter with being. He came to believe it through some process involving observation, inferences, study, testimony, etc. Because he came to believe it through this process involving other principles, and not as a first principle in the order of knowing, therefore his appeal to José Luis de Jesús Miranda’s statement as the basis for believing that José Luis de Jesús Miranda is the Christ, is circular reasoning. So likewise, the appeal to Scripture as the basis for believing in the authority of Scripture, is circular reasoning.

    But the very idea of circular reasoning as irrational depends (epistemically) on a shared recognition of what is rational. So the use of our rational power in defense of (not demonstration of) the first principles of reason, is not circular reasoning, because one is using what is already known by all participants (not starting with a leap, then using the leap to support the leap), and because the defense amounts to a clarification (of what is implicitly known), not a demonstration.

    When you say, “Knowing something from reason and the senses is not circular because I know it by reason through the senses”,

    The quotation you cite is not something I said. If you engage in attributing made-up quotations to me, I will not participate in the conversation. I only participate with persons whom I believe are sincere, honest and ethical in their search for the truth.

    You are consistently saying, “Reason because of reason”,

    Again, you have just made up that quotation.

    But when it comes to the Magisterium, and you say, “The Pope because of natural reason, natural reason because of the Pope”

    Here again, you are making up a quotation. Do you know that quotation marks around a statement communicate that the person actually said or wrote those words? I’m guessing that you are unaware of the rule that you never use quotation marks if the person you are citing didn’t actually say those words.

    The fact that a Catholic knows from the Church that the natural power of reason is capable of attaining certainty regarding the existence of God does not mean that the only (or foundational) way of knowing the veracity of natural reason is from the Church. The truth of a thing can be known in multiple ways. We can know, by the natural power of reason, that God exists. And we can know, by the supernatural gift of faith, that God exists. We can know the same thing at the same time, through both means. So in this case, our awareness that the natural power of reason is capable of attaining certainty regarding the existence of God can be known by naturally acquiring, by way of reason, certainty of the existence of God, and supernaturally through the de fide teaching of the Church that the natural power of reason is capable of attaining certainty regarding the existence of God.

    My point in bringing up paedofaith was that you cannot hold both positions. On one hand you say that we all start off as blank slates void of faith, and God is the last thing we discover with natural reason. Yet, if you grant that paedofaith is a reality, then you cannot say that we all start out as blank slates void of faith with God being the last discovery of natural reason.

    Sure I can. The order of nature and the supernatural order are not identical. What is true on the level of the order of nature can be superseded in particular cases by supernatural divine activity. So, naturally (in the fallen condition), children are conceived and born, not having faith. But through the supernatural operation of God, some children (e.g. the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist) attain faith even before birth. And by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, all baptized babies acquire, at the moment of their baptism, the supernatural virtue of faith.

    Where do you get that this only happened to the Mother of God at conception but it cannot for anyone else?

    Again, I never said that it *cannot* happen for anyone else. (To help prevent misrepresenting my position, please provide actual quotations from my comments when describing my position.) Nothing prevents God from giving faith to infants in the womb. However, faith is a supernatural gift. Because of the fall of Adam, children are not conceived and born in a state of grace, or with faith. Children are, since Adam, born with original sin, i.e. without grace, and without faith. That’s precisely why they need to be baptized. Baptism would be unnecessary if children were normally born in a state of grace, and hence with faith. Baptism is the ordinary means established by Christ by which we (children included) are translated from the state of original sin to the state of grace, union with Christ, and faith.

    If you’re right, and we all start out as blank slates void of faith, without knowledge of God, then does Thomism affirm God creates us as atheists?

    No. Not yet knowing about God is not the same thing as believing that God doesn’t exist. As I explained earlier, we naturally come to know that God exists, from the things that He has made. But this knowledge can be suppressed, not just by individuals, but even by societies.

    If the problem with man not submitting to God and his Church is his lack of reasoning, or as you put it, his lack of discovering certain truths, then how can he be held accountable?

    Because men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It is possible to reason falsely in a culpable manner, and also culpably fail to reason rightly.

    If he never matures form his primitive state and never sees the brute facts of natural reason that God exists, then how is that not an excuse?

    Unbaptized children who die before reaching the age of reason, and mentally retarded persons who never reach (mentally) the age of reason, are not culpable for the actual sin of disbelief in God, even though they do not have faith. They have never committed this sin. They have original sin, but not [that] actual sin. So in their case, never reaching the age of reason would be an excuse. But for those who have attained the age of reason, and have the use of their reason, as soon as they recognize that God exists, they are then culpable for how they respond to this knowledge.

    Can natural reason bind anyone’s conscience to mature in their rationality and to accept God?

    Yes, of course.

    You want to say that God has made himself plain to all, so if they don’t see this plain truth, they have a mental problem. Then you want to say its not just a mental problem, because they suppress this truth in unrighteousness. But how can they suppress truth in unrighteousness if they don’t know the truth yet? Wouldn’t you have to know or see the “plain truth” in order to continue to rebel against it?

    Correct. See the paragraph above.

    Furthermore, when does God make himself plain to all? If God is supposedly made plain to all by his creation, even the creation of ourselves, then we should immediately have knowledge of him simply by our own existence, including reason and intellect.

    That’s a non sequitur. Just because God is made plain to us by His creation, it does not follow that we immediately have knowledge of Him, simply by our own existence. In order to know God through what He has made, we first have to have attained the age of reason, i.e. the use of our reason.

    It seems like a contradiction to say both: “we don’t know God innately, we have to reason up to him, in fact he’s the last thing we learn through natural reason” and “God has made himself plain to all people without exception, no one has an excuse at any point in time to deny him, they see the truth but are suppressing it due to their rebellion.”

    That would be a contradiction. But I never said the second horn of that dilemma. (Again, to avoid misrepresenting my position, only quote what I’ve actually said, or ask me first if your paraphrase accurately represents my position, before criticizing your own construal of my position.)

    It seems to me that in Thomism’s attempt to put reason in its proper place, and while denying the noetic effects of the Fall, that you end up doing a greater injustice to man’s intellect. When it comes down to it, if man doesn’t accept God’s existence, it’s because he’s not smart enough to see it or reason up to him.

    If that were an accurate characterization of Thomism, you’d have a point. But, it is a straw man. Some people have not reached the age of reason, as I explained above. But others, having reached the age of reason, suppress the truth (about God) in unrighteousness.

    But in Reformed Presuppositionalism, we say that man’s mind is effected by sin, but he still has the same capacity to use reason and his intellect. His problem is not that he’s stupid or hasn’t sensed all the right truths yet, his problem is that he is a sinner in rebellion against the truth he’s known all along. His problem is ethical, not intellectual.

    That’s what Christians (and Thomists) were saying long before there was ever such a thing as “Reformed Presuppositionalism”.

    When did Jesus’ human nature have the Beatific Vision?

    From the first moment of conception.

    Jesus didn’t/doesn’t have faith? When Jesus prayed in the garden to have the cup removed from him, but then he asked for his Father’s will to be done and not his own, was that not is human nature exercising faith in his Father’s will?

    Persons have faith; natures do not have faith. There is only one will in God. So the Son’s divine will just is the Father’s will. For that reason, in the Garden the human will of the Son submitted to the divine will of the [Father and the Son].

    What about Hebrews 3:1-3? I always thought faith was an important factor of keeping covenant (even in the old covenant). Jesus wasn’t a covenant-breaker was he?

    You’re confusing faithfulness with faith.

    He fulfilled all of the Law, or did that one not apply to him?

    Of course He fulfilled all of the Law.

    Where does 1 Corinthians 13 say faith will be done away with?

    Faith is seeing through a glass dimly, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (1 Cor 13: 9-10). Now we know in part, then we shall see face to face (1 Cor 13: 12) When we see face to face, then faith is no longer possible, by the very definition of the term.

    Do you admit that belief in God in Thomism has nothing to do with faith?

    No, because that’s not a tenet of Thomism. As I explained above, one can believe in God through two means: through the natural power of reason, and through the supernatural gift of faith.

    Do you admit that faith is not valid evidence for any proposition or truth claim?

    It depends on what you mean by the term ‘faith’ here. If by ‘faith’ you merely mean ‘belief in x’ then faith is not ‘valid’ evidence for the truth of x, because not all beliefs are true beliefs. But if by ‘faith’ you mean something much broader, including the practice of the Christian faith, including the heroic lives of the saints and the martyrs, then such faith is evidence for the truth of what those persons believe. As Aquinas says a number of times in the Summa, no natural desire can be in vain. In other words, the natural desire for God is evidence for the existence of God, because a natural appetite is evidence for the existence of the object of that appetite.

    Update: See, for example, Ed Feser’s “Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  58. Bryan,
    First of all, I was not misquoting you or putting words into your mouth. My quotations were merely summaries or paraphrases of your position as I’ve understood it (which is why I’m asking questions), and the use of quotations was used to distinguish between my thoughts and my understanding of your position. I know you didn’t say those phrases verbatim, as I would have listed the post number and html as I have consistently done in the past. I thought it would’ve been obvious, my apologies if you felt misrepresented. But to imply that I may not be honest or sincere is a stretch, I think. Obviously, we cannot exhaust every question and every possible road this discussion could take us. I had planned to officially bow out due to your week long absence, but your new post brings up a few more questions I’d like to ask. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible until my final response and stick to the main topics (presuppositionalism, circularity, innate knowledge of God).

    You believe first principles are self-evident in that they require no explanation or demonstration from any other principles. They simply are. You list the law of non-contradiction as one of these first principles. All people know it, all people use it. It’s inescapable. Even when someone denies it, they had to know/assume/use it before making their conclusion. Does this correctly summarize your position?

    If it is illogical question-begging to appeal to Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda as the Christ because he says so – since the truth or falsity of the claim is not a first principle – then is it also illogical to appeal to Jesus as being the Christ because he says so, since knowing Jesus is the Christ is not a first principle? If so, then does that mean that no one can accept the claims of Jesus by his own authority? e.g. “Jesus, because of Jesus.”

    You said that the natural desire for God is evidence for the existence of God. Does this mean that you believe all people (without exception, regardless of age) have a desire for God? If so, where does this desire come from if not innate within us?

  59. retro (re: #58)

    I understand that you thought you were accurately paraphrasing my position, but it misrepresented my position, so that’s why I recommend putting my actual statements words in quotes. And that’s also why we should follow the basic rule of not using quotation marks for statements that the person did not say. Just say: It seems to me that you are saying ______ .

    my apologies if you felt misrepresented.

    Thanks. No offense taken. I shouldn’t have assumed we were working with exactly the same set of communication rules. The difficulty is trying to avoid miscommunication, without the help of body language.

    You believe first principles are self-evident in that they require no explanation or demonstration from any other principles. They simply are. You list the law of non-contradiction as one of these first principles. All people know it, all people use it. It’s inescapable. Even when someone denies it, they had to know/assume/use it before making their conclusion. Does this correctly summarize your position?

    First principles (in the order of knowing) are self-evident from our encounter with reality, i.e. with being. They cannot be demonstrated, precisely because they are first. But they may require an explanation, for those who do not understand why they are first, how they have their basis in reality, that we are using them, or how to articulate them. They are not a priori. All persons (who have attained the use of reason) know the law of non-contradiction, even though they might not be able to articulate it, or even be aware that they know it and are using it. But yes, when someone denies it, they are using it to deny it.

    If it is illogical question-begging to appeal to Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda as the Christ because he says so – since the truth or falsity of the claim is not a first principle – then is it also illogical to appeal to Jesus as being the Christ because he says so, since knowing Jesus is the Christ is not a first principle? If so, then does that mean that no one can accept the claims of Jesus by his own authority? e.g. “Jesus, because of Jesus.”

    Yes and no. Lot’s of people are named ‘Jesus’. So if “Jesus because of Jesus”, then necessarily we’re polytheists. So it cannot be “Jesus because of Jesus”. We don’t follow Jesus as the Christ merely “because he said so”; otherwise we’d be no different from the followers of Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, just as gullible and foolish and “illogical.” So in that sense ‘no’. Jesus of Nazareth showed Himself to have divine authority, by His miracles that only God could do, especially His resurrection from the dead. Those are the “motives of credibility” that I have mentioned repeatedly in this conversation. And this is why belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is not a fideistic leap, but is rational (without being rationalistic). This is what Jesus Himself explained when He said, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) Jesus is pointing to the evidence for His Kingship, by pointing to His miracles in casting out demons and healing the sick.

    So in what sense is the answer to your question ‘yes’? Because once we have come to know Christ’s divinity, through the motives of credibility, then of course His Word [stating that x is true] is a greater reason to believe the truth of x than seeing the truth of x with our own eyes.

    You said that the natural desire for God is evidence for the existence of God. Does this mean that you believe all people (without exception, regardless of age) have a desire for God?

    Yes.

    If so, where does this desire come from if not innate within us?

    It is innate in us in the following sense; we are, by our very nature, rational animals. Because we are rational animals, we have the power of reason, which is our highest power. No other animal has this power. Because we have this power by our very nature, we bear the image of God, and are thus said to be made in God’s image. This power includes an appetite, which we call “the rational appetite.” There are other appetites, as well, such as for pleasure, and honor. But we alone, of the material creatures, have a rational appetite. And the rational appetite is aimed at the universal. It is not limited to the particular. It is aimed not finally at “a good”, but at “the good”, i.e. the Good. We want not just truths, we want Truth. We want not just beautiful things; we want Beauty itself. We want not just bits of wisdom; we want Wisdom itself. We do not just want to know causes; we want to know the First Cause. We do not just want moments of love; we want Love. We do not just want to know the meaning of this [particular] time; we want to know the overall meaning of life, of the whole of history, the whole of the universe — this is what we mean when we ask about the meaning of life. We want to know the meaning of everything, i.e. the Final End or Telos of all things. We do not just want to know beings; we want to know Being. We are not content with what is finite; we want to know the Infinite, the Eternal. The rational appetite is, by the very nature of reason, aimed at the universal in each case. And that is the sense in which the desire for God is ‘innate’ in every person.

    This desire is naturally in us all not as a conscious-desire-in-explicit-propositional-form-about-God. In other words, it is not the case that all persons having the use of their reason are walking around with the conscious desire “for God” on their minds. But, because we are rational creatures, only God can satisfy the rational appetite. Having a rational appetite is the sense in which the desire for God is innate in every human being.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  60. Bryan,
    This will be my last post unless I need to clarify my position in your follow-up. Hopefully this will explain my absence and the length of this post. I believe this discussion is starting to become redundant. We obviously disagree, and I’m sure neither of us are willing to change our positions. Thank you for your time and enlightening me to the RC/Thomist methodology. I realize that if one’s ultimate presupposition is that their ecclesiastical tradition cannot err and cannot have its lampstand taken away (apostasy), then we can only get so far in our debate. My goal in the Sola/Solo thread was to get into the presuppositions of RC dogma and show how it is inconsistent with itself as a worldview, regardless of any valid anti-Protestant argument you may have. We could both be wrong, after all. The RC-Protestant debate is not an either/or situation. You said that wasn’t allowed there since I’m a ‘fideistic skeptic’ and we had to get that settled first. Well, here we are, and not much has been accomplished. Indeed, nothing can be accomplished since your view is infallibly true, no matter how many leaps or hoops you have to go through to get there (props to Newman). I’m open to correction, but I’ve yet to see a convincing argument. All I’ve seen is a straw man argument against presuppositionalism and seemingly contradictory statements while explaining your own view. With all of that said, I would recommend a re-reading of Romans, especially chapter 11:17-24. Paul wrote your church a letter. The letter is still around and the church is still around, so I believe it is still relevant. I’d also advise actually reading a book by Van Til, or preferably Greg Bahnsen. Not saying you haven’t, but your accusation of fideism is unfounded and has been answered by Van Tillians from the beginning. I trust you know that all of my posts have been sincere, with no malice or rudeness on my end. I’ve taken great steps to make sure I properly represent you in my following paragraphs. Most times it was only necessary to cite the post-number of my source. I trust this is satisfactory to you.

    Presuppositionalism is the exact opposite of fideism. All the major presupps (Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, Gentry, and even Wilson) are all Van Tillians. Van Til was adamantly opposed to fideism, agreeing with you that it is a radical denial of rationality, which is in direct conflict with Christianity. He affirmed that the existence of God was rational and that it could be rationally proven as objective truth. He said that ALL things were evidence of the Triune God, and that God was an absolutely true necessity rather than a mere possibilty or probability. That doesn’t sound like fideism or skepticism to me! The difference is that he believed the Christian faith was the foundation of rationality. Without Christianity, reason could not function. Rather than jumping away from reason (as a fideist does) Van Til was being the most rational by affirming Christianity as its only basis. According to you, reason and the senses don’t need a basis to be believed: “why does a person need a ‘rational basis’ for knowing what he already knows?”, post #44. This question undermines the whole issue of epistemic authority that we’ve been debating: how does the person know that “what he already knows” is true? By what standard? Only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary preconditions of intelligibility, neither rationalism or empiricism can. Thus, unless Christianity is affirmed all wisdom is worldly and foolish, as Proverbs 1:7, Psalm 14:1 and 1 Corinthians 3:19 teach. Call it dumb, call it simple, call it unphilosophical, you just can’t honestly call it fideism. (Ironically, in a debate between Bahnsen and RC Sproul over apologetics – Sproul representing the Thomist view – it was Sproul who denied having certainty of God’s existence! http://blip.tv/file/1574122).

    I would argue that if any system is fideistic here, it’s Thomism. The person using his reason and sense-experience apart from acknowledging the Creator is the true fideist, not the presuppositionalist. He cannot account for anything around him, the tools he uses for truth (logic), his own existence or even the concept of “truth” itself. Granted, the unbeliever can’t help but using logic and reason, for this is how God made us. Hence, the presuppositional argument that they have to borrow from Christianity in order to function. His worldview has no precondition of intelligibility, all he has is the inductive principle. He has to take a leap of faith and trust that because he bounced a basketball today, that the basketball will bounce again next week given the same circumstances. But he can only use the inductive principle rationally if he believes in Jesus Christ who controls the uniformity of nature. If he does not, he has no rational way of believing that the ball will bounce again. Therefore, it’s an irrational leap of faith he must take, to believe that the ball will bounce again (in post #38, I gave Scriptural evidence for the necessity of every person to begin their inquiry with a faith commitment). This inductive method provides no certainty. Which is why natural man, using his “natural reason” to prove God will also not find any certainty. Aquinas’ 5 Ways all rest upon inductive reasoning. The premises must be assumed, they cannot be proven. And when your premises are uncertain your conclusion will be uncertain. At best, you can argue that God possibly or probably exists. Nothing in the argument proves that this “God” is Jehovah of Christianity. If anything, you have an impersonal “motion” that could be any god the unbeliever decides to pick. Also, the conclusion is fallacious because you go from natural causation to supernatural causation. And you say presuppositionalists take leaps of faith? Why does the first cause have to be supernatural? That’s a non sequitur if I’ve ever seen one. In the unbeliever’s mind, a natural cause for the world is sufficient and even if they accept the supernatural cause they will more than likely ask the typical questions: “then what caused God?” and “why can’t something go on for infinity?” Interestingly, this contradicts your previous statement in post #54:

    “Truths that are natural are truths that can be known by the natural power of human reason. Truths that are supernatural (and not also natural) are truths that cannot be known by the natural power of human reason.”

    God is supernatural/immaterial and because of this our senses cannot perceive him (#50) and supernatural truths cannot be known by natural reason (#54), but somehow our natural reason can prove supernatural causation? Unless you will argue that supernatural causation is both a supernatural truth and a “natural truth known by natural reason” at the same time then Aquinas’ proof caves in on itself. Again, if the unbeliever accepts the final conclusion, he had to take a leap of faith in order to do so. He is a fideist. By not demanding the unbeliever account for ‘first priniciples’ and by allowing him to think he can make right decisions apart from knowing his ethical status with God (being a sinner), the Thomist apologist is the one condoning and encouraging him to be a fideist. Without challenging his ultimate commitment to his mythical autonomy, he is still the final arbiter of truth in his own eyes.

    Relate this to joining Rome and you run into a similar problem. You have no more certainty that Rome is the true church than a Protestant who thinks he’s in the right denomination. Eventually, you have to take a leap of faith – based on your private judgment (see Sola/Solo thread, #585) – that Matt. 16:18 means what Rome says it means, that Rome is the exclusive church, that their tradition is the right one (versus the East), and that you are rightly understanding the ex cathedra statements. Speaking of which, where exactly is the infallible ex cathedra table of contents? Is there an agreed upon list of what infallibly is or is not ex cathedra? I’ve yet to receive a clear answer on this from my other Catholic friends. (I would love to say more about the circularity in the RC worldview, which I originally wanted to discuss in the Sola/Solo Thread, but I regress).

    By the way, just in case there is any confusion, when you hear presupps tell people to “start with” God, it doesn’t refer primarily to a temporal order of thought (think of God first, then think of yourself and the world). It refers to the pre-eminence of God within our thoughts, God directing us how to think, as he directs every other area of life. John Frame explains, “Nor should we emphasize the pre- in presupposition to suggest that a presupposition must be held at some point in time prior to all our other knowledge. The pre- in presupposition refers to the ‘pre-eminence’ of the presupposition with respect to our other beliefs”, cited from Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought. Now, we do believe that we have innate knowledge of God, since all truths and all universal laws “presuppose” a Law-Giver. If we have any knowledge at all, from any point of our existence, it’s because we have the knowledge of God that provides us with the conditions to be rational. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that God is not needed for truth to exist or that he is not a necessary requirement to our existence and functions. Hence, the Van Tillian critique that Thomism leads to the autonomy of man’s reason, as if ‘natural reason’ is some infallible, authoritative demi-god within each person’s intellect that need not be doubted. In the process of evangelism, the “presupposition” we are challenging is whatever position the unbeliever holds to be supreme in his interpretation of reality. Because of the necessity of God for anything to be intelligible, we can then show the unbeliever that he has known God all along even while denying him, exactly the same as you saying everyone knows the law of noncontradiction even if they aren’t conscious of it or try to deny it (#59).

    Romans 1 doesn’t tell us how people obtain the natural knowledge of God, except that “God has shown it to them” and that he has done this “through the things that are made.” This could indicate an empirical basis for the knowledge, but human beings themselves are among the things that are made and are in fact revelation themselves (i.e. the image of God). Given that fact, the only way to do exegetical justice to the text is for the knowledge of God to be part of who we are – i.e. innate – though it may be enhanced through contact with the other things God made. This knowledge of God must be universal. It is part of Paul’s argument, from 1:18-3:20, proving that everybody is guilty of sin and that all need Christ’s redemption. Since this knowledge is universal, it cannot merely be future knowledge. It is past, present, and future, and everybody already has it—even the youngest child to the mentally handicapped. The ‘age of reason’ has nothing to do with it. If our natures are not blank slates, then how can our intellect be? We don’t know much about the psychology of infants and pre-born children, but even they in some sense know God, and they are responsible to respond rightly to that knowledge. They also need the salvation that Christ offers. Therefore, everybody enters arguments with the knowledge of God. We are obligated to treat this knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought: Prov. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1-3, 10:31, 2 Cor. 10:5.

    In Thomism, you have to make Romans say things it doesn’t say. God’s truth is manifest in all men, even though somehow we don’t know about him until a point of rational-awakening. None are left with excuse, unless of course you haven’t reached the ‘age of reason’. And somehow we suppress the truth in unrighteousness, even though some of us may not have discovered that truth yet. The universality in context is completely eradicated in this interpretation. Since you’ve accepted Aristotle’s order of being/order of knowledge distinction as infallibly true, it makes sense that you must do this type of manipulation. Should we conform Scripture to Aristotle or Aristotle to Scripture? Why must we try to reconcile Aristotle and Scripture in the first place? No one would disagree that our knowledge is enhanced through sense-experience, going from ‘knowledge’ to ‘being’ in a certain sense. I might have knowledge that something exists in a wild jungle from discovering footprints and later discover the animal or being that left those footprints. The difference is that since all things would be unintelligible without God, not the animal, knowledge of God must be innate within us if we are functioning, rational creatures. To say that animals live, move and have being in God the same way humans do (#54) misses the vital distinction of humans being the image-bearers of God! Animals do not possess this attribute.

    Underneath it all, you and I don’t really disagree on the necessity of innate knowledge. We disagree on when knowledge is implanted. For you, it’s at an age of reason. I say this because in post #59 you said,

    First principles (in the order of knowing) are self-evident from our encounter with reality…

    And also,

    All persons (who have attained the use of reason) know the law of non-contradiction, even though they might not be able to articulate it, or even be aware that they know it and are using it.

    Considering you believe we are animals and all knowledge comes from sense-experience (#50 & #54), the above statements become problematic. The problem is that the law of noncontradiction is not empirical. It cannot be experienced or demonstrated. Sense-experience cannot account for the non-empirical, nor can there be any self-evident principles if everything we know must come from sense-experience! When does a person experience the constant, ever-present law of noncontradiction? The only option is for this knowledge to be implanted by someone (i.e. God), regardless of when it was implanted. But this would throw a wrench into your belief that all natural knowledge comes from the senses.

    You say first principles are known by everyone who attains the age of reason and anyone who questions these first principles (such as a few brainiacs into quantum mechanics) are just being irrational skeptics. They shouldn’t doubt these “first principles” because they simply are! They are self-evident. No matter how many times you deny it, this is a circular argument. The law of noncontradiction is so because of the self-attesting, self-evident law of noncontradiction! If someone asks, “how do I know the law of noncontradiction is true?” you may respond by telling them to not be silly, they know it’s true because it’s true! If you were to appeal to natural reason as the source by which they know it, then you’d still be arguing in a circle when asked about reason: reason is, because reason is! Saying it’s not circular just because it’s a self-evident first principle doesn’t really make it not circular, you’ve simply pushed the question back another step. Besides, to do so is only assuming that these things you define as first principles are in fact first principles. It still begs the question as to how you know for certain they are first principles and not just arbitrary concepts you’ve thought of, or perhaps secondary principles that you’ve wrongly labeled first principles. In the end, your certainty for any belief has to be from within your natural reason. Subjective natural reason at that (if one’s “natural reason” comes to a different conclusion than yours, how can we decide who is right?) But I admit that you are at least being consistent in this regard, since natural reason is your epistemic foundation: “It is as if you do not realize what is actually at the epistemic foundation, i.e. senses and reason”, quoted from post #47.

    In closing, I’d like to examine two other contradictions in your posts.
    1. You eventually admitted that we all have an innate desire for God (#57). But when I asked how this desire was innate if we do not have any innate knowledge, you turned around and said that the innate desire was actually a “rational desire” (not God-desire), but one that only God can fill (#59). And since natural reason can somehow bind the conscience to mature in rationality and discover God (#57), then this desire for rationality will lead us to God. Not only does this seem like you’re trying very hard to get out of a corner, I don’t see how it lines up with Scripture. If, by the natural power of reason, post-fall sinful man desires the Good, the Truth, the First Cause, Love itself, Beauty itself, and Wisdom itself (#59), then why does post-fall sinful man reject these things when they discover him? Contrary to your statement, the Scripture says sinful man does not seek God nor desire him (Romans 3:9-18). Sinful man is not searching for the Truth, he’s searching for his own autonomous gratification. Furthermore, it still doesn’t answer the question as to how any desire can be innate, without the knowledge of the subject of that desire being innate as well.

    2. In #39 you quoted Vatican I as saying that the natural light of reason can provide certainty that God exists. In #41 you said that a person did not need the Papacy for truths derived from nature (e.g. the existence of God). In #50 you said that God was the last in the order of knowing, echoing Aquinas’ view that God is the last truth discovered by natural reason. This means that a person without faith, can have certainty that God exists by natural reason alone. Then, when I asked you to clarify that belief in God within Thomism has nothing to do with faith, you answered: “No, because that’s not a tenet of Thomism”, #57. You continued, “one can believe in God through two means: through the natural power of reason, and through the supernatural gift of faith.” But if one can believe in God through two means, either by reason or by faith, or both, then you have to allow that some people’s belief in God has nothing to do with faith. You started out teaching this, then you ended up denying that it was a tenet of Thomism. Unless you misunderstood my question, I don’t see how you can reconcile this contradiction.

    As always, many blessings to you!

  61. retro, (re: #60),

    You wrote:

    Presuppositionalism is the exact opposite of fideism. … Without Christianity, reason could not function.

    The claim that “without Christianity, reason could not function” is fideism. It entails that prior to the coming of Christ no one was able to reason. It means that wherever the gospel of Christ has not been preached, those people cannot do math, or physics, or economics or logic, philosophy, or even recognize morality — anything that requires the use of reason. It entails that at best, persons in lands where the gospel has not been preached are like non-rational animals, like chimpanzees or apes. Preaching to such beings is like preaching the gospel to chimps or apes — it is not as though they understand and believe (since non-rational beings, or beings in which reason does not function) cannot understand. Rather conversion to Christ in response to preaching is equivalent to preaching to chimps and apes, who suddenly, miraculously, become rational beings. In some mysterious and magical way, the Christianity that they cannot understand (because they cannot understand anything, since their reason does not function), becomes the foundation for their understanding.

    Call it dumb, call it simple, call it unphilosophical, you just can’t honestly call it fideism.

    It is fideism. I can (and will) continue to call it fideism, because that’s exactly what it is, nothing less. It denies that reason can function without a leap to Christianity, as you just stated above: “Without Christianity, reason could not function.”

    Ironically, in a debate between Bahnsen and RC Sproul over apologetics – Sproul representing the Thomist view – it was Sproul who denied having certainty of God’s existence!

    Sproul is not a Thomist, not even close. The world is bigger than Reformed theology. Just because Bahsen and Sproul have a debate, that doesn’t mean that since Thomism is not presuppositionalism, therefore Sproul’s position must be Thomistic.

    But he can only use the inductive principle rationally if he believes in Jesus Christ who controls the uniformity of nature.

    The problem with that claim is that he has no access to Jesus Christ, without using his senses and reason. You are trying to appeal to knowledge of Jesus as the epistemic ground for induction (and the use of sense and reason). But one can only attain knowledge of Jesus through one’s senses and reason (e.g. reading the Bible, or hearing the gospel). So the knowledge of Jesus cannot be the epistemic ground for using senses and reason, since one must use senses and reason in order to attain knowledge of Jesus.

    If he does not, he has no rational way of believing that the ball will bounce again.

    Yes he does — he knows the very nature of the ball, which includes its intrinsic dispositions. Your claim presupposes Humean skepticism.

    This inductive method provides no certainty.

    You are following Hume here. But Hume was wrong — he was a skeptic in the empiricist tradition, influenced by Locke and Berkeley. Presuppositionalism is a child of the Enlightenment, and modern philosophy (1600s – 1800s). It is built on the philosophical errors of modern philosophers, especially Hume and Kant.

    At best, you can argue that God possibly or probably exists.

    That’s not true. We can show that necessarily God exists.

    Nothing in the argument proves that this “God” is Jehovah of Christianity.

    Of course. The five ways are not intended to show that the God who is the First Cause, is the God of the Bible. Other reasons and evidence are used to show that.

    If anything, you have an impersonal “motion” that could be any god the unbeliever decides to pick

    Not at all. Perhaps you should stop guessing what my position is, and let me explain it, so you avoid constructing such egregious strawmen.

    Why does the first cause have to be supernatural?

    Because nature is not sufficient to account for itself, for the very reasons laid out in the five ways.

    . In the unbeliever’s mind, a natural cause for the world is sufficient

    There are errors in many peoples’ minds. But such errors can be shown to be errors.

    and even if they accept the supernatural cause they will more than likely ask the typical questions: “then what caused God?” and “why can’t something go on for infinity?”

    And fortunately, questions are not refutations. There are good answers to those questions.

    God is supernatural/immaterial and because of this our senses cannot perceive him (#50) and supernatural truths cannot be known by natural reason (#54), but somehow our natural reason can prove supernatural causation? Unless you will argue that supernatural causation is both a supernatural truth and a “natural truth known by natural reason” at the same time then Aquinas’ proof caves in on itself.

    Supernatural truths are truths that, by definition are beyond the capacity of human reason to know by its own power. They must be divinely revealed, in order for us to know them. What makes a supernatural truth a supernatural truth is [per se] the inability of human reason to attain it by its own power, not [per se] the object of that truth. God is the only supernatural being; even angels are natural beings. But there are also natural truths (i.e. truths that are within the power of human reason to attain by its own power) about God (who is a supernatural being). There is no contradiction in there being natural truths about what is supernatural, and also supernatural truths about what is supernatural. That our world was made by God is a natural truth (i.e. can be known by the natural power of reason) about something natural (i.e. our world) and also about a supernatural being (i.e. God).

    I know you want to jump into the ecclesiology question, but we’re not even close to being ready to do that, given our present disagreement about epistemology.

    . If we have any knowledge at all, from any point of our existence, it’s because we have the knowledge of God that provides us with the conditions to be rational. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that God is not needed for truth to exist or that he is not a necessary requirement to our existence and functions.

    You are still conflating the distinction between the order of being and the order of knowing. So you assume that necessary dependence in the order of being (i.e. no creature can exist apart from God’s continually sustaining that creature in existence) automatically translates into necessary dependence in the order of knowing (i.e. no creature can know anything at all unless that creature has knowledge of God). But that’s not a safe assumption. Just because no creature can exist apart from God, it does not follow that no creature can know anything without first knowing God.

    Because of the necessity of God for anything to be intelligible, we can then show the unbeliever that he has known God all along even while denying him

    The problem is that that conclusion does not follow. The necessity of God (in the order of being) in order for anything to be intelligible, does not entail that the person who knows many things about the world has known God all along. The necessity of God (in the order of being) is not the same as the necessity of the law of non-contradiction (in the order of knowing). Everyone is necessarily using the law of non-contradiction, because it is first in the order of knowing. But God’s being first in the order of being, does not make Him first in the order of knowing. No one need know anything about God, in order to know the law of non-contradiction, or that this tree is green, etc. Yet, one must make use of the law of non-contradiction in order to know anything whatsoever.

    Romans 1 doesn’t tell us how people obtain the natural knowledge of God, except that “God has shown it to them” and that he has done this “through the things that are made.” This could indicate an empirical basis for the knowledge, but human beings themselves are among the things that are made and are in fact revelation themselves (i.e. the image of God). Given that fact, the only way to do exegetical justice to the text is for the knowledge of God to be part of who we are – i.e. innate

    That’s a non sequitur. I agree that human beings are the highest [material] creatures God has made, and therefore more clearly show the existence and nature of God than any other creature we observe. But it does not follow that therefore the knowledge of God is innate in human beings, or that St. Paul is teaching that the knowledge of God is innate. Rather, from the rationality, freedom, and personhood of human beings, especially in human love, and especially marriage, we see most clearly (by the natural power of reason) the personal nature of God. The fact that humans more perfectly image God than any other [material] creature does not need to be explained by saying that humans have innate knowledge of God; it can (and should) be explained by referring to our nature as rational beings, with the power of reason, understanding, love and choice.

    Since this knowledge is universal, it cannot merely be future knowledge. It is past, present, and future, and everybody already has it—even the youngest child to the mentally handicapped.

    Again, this is a non sequitur. You are imposing your own conception of what St. Paul must be saying, onto the text. St. Paul nowhere in Romans 1 says that this knowledge of God is “universal.” He definitely does not say that infants or mentally handicapped children know God.

    If our natures are not blank slates, then how can our intellect be?

    Our nature is what makes us the kind of creature we are. By this nature we have certain powers. One of those powers is the intellect. Our intellect acquires its content through our senses. So, our intellect is (initially) a ‘blank slate,’ because at the beginning of our existence we have not yet used our senses. But our nature is not a ‘blank slate,’ not only because our nature does not receive forms (the way our cognitive powers do), but because by our nature we have the powers we have. The fact of our having powers by our very nature, is fully compatible with one of those powers (i.e. intellect) beginning as a ‘blank slate’.

    We don’t know much about the psychology of infants and pre-born children, but even they in some sense know God, and they are responsible to respond rightly to that knowledge.

    You seem to be implying here a kind of dualistic anthropology, as if the condition of our body is irrelevant to the capacity of our soul to exercise its cognitive power viz-a-viz knowing God. I don’t share that dualism. I believe that the capacity of our mind to exercise its cognitive power is (ordinarily) limited by the organizational structure and development of our body and especially our neurological system and organs.

    We are obligated to treat this knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought: Prov. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1-3, 10:31, 2 Cor. 10:5.

    That’s a gross distortion of the meaning of those verses. Let’s start with Proverbs 1:7.

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

    Solomon is not using the word ‘knowledge’ here in the epistemological sense of whatever is known by the intellect. He is talking about wisdom, as the second half of the verse shows.

    In 1 Cor 1-3 St. Paul is speaking about supernatural knowledge of God. He is not saying in those three chapters (or anywhere else in his epistles) that we must treat the natural knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought.

    Likewise, St. Paul’s injunction in 1 Cor 10:31 that “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” does not mean that we must treat the natural knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought. Rather, he is exhorting the Corinthian believers to live their whole lives, in all that they do, for God’s glory.

    And St. Paul’s statement in 2 Cor 10:5, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” is not saying that we are obligated to treat the natural knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought. Rather, he is saying that as an Apostle, he is destroying false speculation about God and whatever is raised up against the knowledge of God. He is, through the gospel, taking all such thoughts of men, and making them captive (i.e. subservient) to Christ, such that they are in obedience to Christ. St. Paul is here exemplifying the principle that grace builds on nature. Faith is an aid to reason, both to correct it where it is in error, and to elevate it to where it could not go on its own power (i.e. to Christ).

    So, none of the verses you refer to show that that we are obligated to treat the natural knowledge of God as the supreme presupposition of our thought.

    In Thomism, you have to make Romans say things it doesn’t say. God’s truth is manifest in all men

    You yourself are making Romans say things it doesn’t say, because it never says that “God’s truth is manifest in all men.”

    None are left with excuse, unless of course you haven’t reached the ‘age of reason’.

    St. Paul does not say “None are left with excuse”. Those are merely your own words, not St. Paul’s. St. Paul says, “so that they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20)

    Since you’ve accepted Aristotle’s order of being/order of knowledge distinction as infallibly true

    I never said it is “infallibly true”. You (again) are misconstruing my position. What I have said, and what I believe, is that there is a real distinction between the order of being and the order of knowing. Do you think the order of being is identical to the order of knowing?

    The difference is that since all things would be unintelligible without God, not the animal, knowledge of God must be innate within us if we are functioning, rational creatures.

    That’s a non sequitur. (If you think it is not a non sequitur, feel free to show how [“knowledge of God must be innate within us”] necessarily follows from the two premises: [“we are functioning rational creatures” and “all things would be unintelligible without God”].) You can only get to your conclusion if you presuppose that what is necessary (in the order of being) for something to be intelligible to us, must be innate within us as first in the order of knowledge. You have (so far) not given any reason whatsoever to believe that presupposition to be true.

    Underneath it all, you and I don’t really disagree on the necessity of innate knowledge.

    On the contrary, we disagree. You think innate knowledge is necessary. And I deny that we have any innate knowledge.

    We disagree on when knowledge is implanted. For you, it’s at an age of reason.

    No. I do not believe that knowledge is “implanted,” not even at the “age of reason”. (Here, we are talking about natural knowledge, not the supernatural knowledge of Christ that is given to us by the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit).

    Considering you believe we are animals and all knowledge comes from sense-experience (#50 & #54), the above statements become problematic. The problem is that the law of noncontradiction is not empirical. It cannot be experienced or demonstrated. Sense-experience cannot account for the non-empirical, nor can there be any self-evident principles if everything we know must come from sense-experience! When does a person experience the constant, ever-present law of noncontradiction? The only option is for this knowledge to be implanted by someone (i.e. God), regardless of when it was implanted.

    No, once again you are simply trying to force my position into your paradigm. We acquire the law of non-contradiction from our encounter with reality, our encounter with being. It is the very nature of being, that it cannot both be, and not be, at the same time, and in the same sense. Just because a first principle cannot be “demonstrated” from prior principles, that does not mean that it cannot be acquired from our encounter with reality, and therefore that it must be innate.

    You say first principles are known by everyone who attains the age of reason and anyone who questions these first principles (such as a few brainiacs into quantum mechanics) are just being irrational skeptics. They shouldn’t doubt these “first principles” because they simply are! They are self-evident. No matter how many times you deny it, this is a circular argument.

    The first thing to clear up is what exactly is an argument, and how an argument differs from a statement. (See here.) First principles are known by everyone (who has reached the age of reason), with varying degrees of awareness, but manifested in their words and actions, and (at least) implicit in their reasoning. That’s not an argument; that’s a statement. I can support that statement, if you wish, by showing how first principles are implicit in our words and actions and reasoning.

    . The law of noncontradiction is so because of the self-attesting, self-evident law of noncontradiction!

    Your “is so” is ambiguous, because you don’t distinguish the order of being from the order of knowing. If you mean it in the sense of the order of knowing, i.e. “how can I know whether the law of non-contradiction is true?”, I will help the person see that he already knows that it is true. If you mean it in the sense of the order of being, i.e. “what is it, that makes the law of non-contradiction true?”, I will show how the law is grounded in the very nature of being.

    If you were to appeal to natural reason as the source by which they know it, then you’d still be arguing in a circle when asked about reason: reason is, because reason is!

    I’ve never said, “reason is, because reason is”. In the order of being, human reason comes from God. But in the order or knowing, human reason is something known only after knowing other things. Children know many things about the world before they know what human reason is.

    . It still begs the question as to how you know for certain they are first principles and not just arbitrary concepts you’ve thought of, or perhaps secondary principles that you’ve wrongly labeled first principles.

    Do you deny the law of non-contradiction? If not, then since you already know it, your questioning whether I can certainly know it seems a little disingenuous, don’t you think? If you’re not willing to question first principles, then your skeptical speculation that I can’t know them is hypocritical.

    You eventually admitted that we all have an innate desire for God (#57).

    I didn’t “admit” that we all have an innate desire for God; I stated that we all have an innate desire for God.

    But when I asked how this desire was innate if we do not have any innate knowledge, you turned around and said that the innate desire was actually a “rational desire” (not God-desire), but one that only God can fill (#59). And since natural reason can somehow bind the conscience to mature in rationality and discover God (#57), then this desire for rationality will lead us to God.

    The rational appetite is not a “desire for rationality”. It is a desire for the Good. Yes, this desire leads us to God [as known by natural reason], unless we suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    Not only does this seem like you’re trying very hard to get out of a corner, I don’t see how it lines up with Scripture.

    You seem to be trying very hard to see a “corner” where there is none.

    If, by the natural power of reason, post-fall sinful man desires the Good, the Truth, the First Cause, Love itself, Beauty itself, and Wisdom itself (#59), then why does post-fall sinful man reject these things when they discover him?

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “they discover him”. But, first, not everyone rejects God, at least not always. You and I are examples. Second, why some people reject God and others believe in Him, is an attempt to get behind the mystery of free will, and explain it away.

    If God were not the ultimate object of our rational appetite, then the gospel would not be good news. Seeing God in the Beatific Vision, and being with Him in His perfect beatitude, is the most perfect possible fulfillment of our deepest appetite (i.e. our rational appetite). Attaining this is the meaning of life, as I have explained elsewhere. The fact that some people reject God does not show that God is not the ultimate object of their rational appetite. Rather, we rightly say that they are making a serious mistake (in fact the most dreadful mistake possible), by turning away from what would most perfectly satisfy their deepest desire. If God weren’t the deepest object of their rational appetite, then it would not be a mistake for them to turn away from Him. In that case, something else (other than God) would be the deepest object of their happiness, and it would be true that they ought to pursue that other thing as the way to their perfect happiness.

    Contrary to your statement, the Scripture says sinful man does not seek God nor desire him (Romans 3:9-18).

    Seeking is an action. An appetite is not an action, but that intrinsic power, for the sake of which, we act. We have a rational appetite that is by its very nature aimed at God, as I have already explained. But, apart from grace, we do not seek God. Apart from grace we suppress the truth (about God) in unrighteousness, making ourselves our own god.

    Sinful man is not searching for the Truth, he’s searching for his own autonomous gratification.

    Correct, but that never satisfies him, precisely because his appetite is aimed at something much deeper, i.e. God.

    Furthermore, it still doesn’t answer the question as to how any desire can be innate, without the knowledge of the subject of that desire being innate as well.

    This is just a form of the Meno paradox. Think about the lyrics to this song:

    The insinuation is not “I’m looking for ____, and I haven’t yet found it.” Rather, the insinuation is, “I don’t even know what I’m looking for, but I know I’m looking for something.” And this raises the Meno paradox, because if we are looking for something, then it seems what must know what it is, in order to be looking for it. And yet, we can’t already have it, because if we did, we wouldn’t still be looking for it.

    The solution is that a thing can be present in more than one way. It can be present as the end to which an appetite is ordered. It can also be present actually, i.e. actually possessed by that appetite. As humans our rational appetite is ordered to God as its end, but that does not mean that all human beings possess God actually, i.e. rest in God in their rational appetite. But being the end to which our rational appetite is ordered does not entail that the knowledge of God is in our intellect, let alone innate in our intellect.

    . In #39 you quoted Vatican I as saying that the natural light of reason can provide certainty that God exists. In #41 you said that a person did not need the Papacy for truths derived from nature (e.g. the existence of God). In #50 you said that God was the last in the order of knowing, echoing Aquinas’ view that God is the last truth discovered by natural reason. This means that a person without faith, can have certainty that God exists by natural reason alone.

    Correct so far.

    Then, when I asked you to clarify that belief in God within Thomism has nothing to do with faith, you answered: “No, because that’s not a tenet of Thomism”, #57. You continued, “one can believe in God through two means: through the natural power of reason, and through the supernatural gift of faith.”

    Correct.

    But if one can believe in God through two means, either by reason or by faith, or both, then you have to allow that some people’s belief in God has nothing to do with faith. You started out teaching this, then you ended up denying that it was a tenet of Thomism. Unless you misunderstood my question, I don’t see how you can reconcile this contradiction.

    First, let’s get clear about what a contradiction is. A contradiction is two statements that are logically incompatible. If one is true, the other is false, and vice versa. So, when you accuse someone of a contradiction, you need to list both of the [allegedly contradictory] statements, and show how they are logically incompatible. As it is, I’m left guessing which two statements of mine you think are logically incompatible. Perhaps you think that the notion that “some people’s belief in God has nothing to do with faith” is logically incompatible with denying that “belief in God within Thomism has nothing to do with faith.” But the truth of the former statement is fully compatible with the falsity of the latter statement. If within Thomism it is possible that some people’s belief in God [as Creator] is by way of reason alone, and not the supernatural gift of faith [which is assent to what God has supernaturally revealed], this does not mean that within Thomism, belief in God has nothing to do with faith. Faith too is belief in God. But there is natural belief in God (i.e. God as known from creation), and faith, which is a supernatural gift of belief in God, because faith is the virtue by which one assents to what is supernaturally revealed.

    Your last comment (i.e. comment #60) was over 3100 words long. For the future, let’s keep your comments to 200 words or less. That way we will avoid the problem of misunderstandings compounding on each other over the course of a long comment.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  62. Bryan,

    Here is a citation from Dr. William Lane Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, describing his epistemic starting point:

    “I think that Dodwell and Plantinga are correct that, fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself… that such experiences provide one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it.”

    How would a Thomist make sense of this? And, is this a form of presuppositionalism?

    Thanks,

    Kevin

  63. Kevin,

    I will leave the Thomist response to Bryan (though I am a thorough-going Aristotelian-Thomist from an epistemological POV). I also enjoy and respect both Craig and Plantinga, from whom I have learned a great deal. However, I think this fundamental platform for Reformed epistemology leaves much to be desired. In my view it amounts to battening down the hatches of human conversation and dialogue at the most fundamental level, and retreating into one’s own private epistemological fortress (a POV view I share, ironically, with the so called “New Atheists”). Something like:

    I have a direct existential experience of the Christian God. Moreover, I have arguments which ‘warrant’ locating this private experiential knowledge at the very base of all other knowledge – for making it the epistemic “last stand”. Indeed, ‘warrant’ is all I need to go on living and believing as I do. If you claim to have had no similar experience, then our epistemic common ground (and conversation) has reached an end. In fact, truth be told, the real reason you don’t share my fundamental epistemic experience is likely because you have been resisting God’s existential overtures (or given a certain brand of Reformed theology perhaps your not among the elect??).”

    Anywho, IMO this stops dialogue with our fellow human beings at an unnecessarily abrupt point. A-T (Aristotelian-Thomistic) epistemology allows one to pursue common ground in discourse with all human beings at a much more basic level of commonality (sense knowledge, imagination, memory, intellection, particulars and universals, etc). After securing agreement with one’s neighbor on these rudimentary epistemic experiences and their implications; one can go on to make the case for the intelligibility (even necessity) of theism generally, and the historical case for positive Divine (Christian) Revelation in particular. So doing shows the unique philosophical and historical credibility of the Christian/Catholic claim in a way which allows for backward tracing all the way to universally agreed upon experiences – such as sense experience (i.e. five senses). In this way, the Christian’s task of arduous charitable dialogue with his fellow human beings is given its fullest scope.

    By contrast, ISTM than adherents to any number of religious (and even non-religious) worldviews could take the same epistemic detour as Craig/Plantinga with equally unassailable/warrant-able (and equally isolationist) results. Pulling up the epistemic draw bridge at the juncture of a religious experience which is only shared by a comparative few of our fellow human beings, strikes me as a sort of religious self-preservation reaction in the face of the philosophic and scientific challenges of modernity; a retreat into a religious castle that leaves the majority of the human race (who lack the crucial “God-experience”) hopelessly abandoned on the other side of an unbridgeable epistemological moat.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  64. Bryan,

    I have read or skimmed much of the above conversation between you and retro. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. There is a lot here to think about. I have considered myself a presuppositionalist for a long time but I have never considered myself a “leap in the dark” person. I have always believed that we know what we know for relational reasons. i.e. we know someone or something, develop a trust in them and then out of that trust relationship believe what they communicate to us. To put it in terms you were using, I believe in my senses and reason because I trust it. I believe most of what I know because I was taught by my parents who I trust, etc. etc…..

    I see the point regarding skepticism being an unnatural abandonment of reason….as someone who was not introduced to the whole Descartes method until college, my first response was it is patently absurd…as I got “wiser” I followed the chain better…but that is an unnecessary point, suffice to say, I agree that questioning our reason is unnatural, but it seems to me that there are two ways you can say that you doubt reason. While the faculty to reason is natural, not everyone exercises that faculty appropriately. So you can doubt that your faculty to reason is faulty or you can doubt that your use of the faculty to reason is being exercised properly. I am not intending to argue for why the skeptical method is correct. I honestly am trying to make heads or tails of the discussion you and retro had.

    So I see two ways someone can doubt their “reason” which are as follows:

    1) Doubting that one’s faculty to reason is functioning properly. (innate trait)
    2) Doubting that one is properly exercising a properly functioning faculty to reason. (learned trait)

    It seems to me that there are examples where both of these are out of order. I have a brother who works (well used to anyway, he quit yesterday) as an orderly in a mental hospital. He has a lot of really funny stories where one or the other of these two are not working right.

    I do agree with you that we should not start in skepticism. I do think, however, that we all naturally assume that our reasoning is correct, even when it isn’t. In fact, much of the training I am currently giving my kids regards learning how to properly reason. You probably have kids and know the oddball things they are always coming up with as they attempt to reason about why the world works.

    In relection, I am guiding them in regards in the development of point #2, the learned trait of reason. Obviously there are many people out there who have not learned to reason properly, shouldn’t they be taught to be skeptical of their ability if not their faculty?

    I’m not sure I’m trying to make a point in all this rambling. Or maybe I am, I think the point I am trying to make is this, even though we shouldn’t start out as a skeptic, shouldn’t we have a level of humility in our reasoning whereby we come to the table acknowledging that

    A) It is possible, without some confirmation to the contrary, that my ability to reason is impaired, maybe I was knocked on the head or something.

    And

    B) It is possible that I am not real good at the exercise of that reason if its not impaired.

    The more I think about this, (writing really does clarify thinking), the more I think the difference is this, a skeptic has no reason to doubt his reasoning, which he does anyway, and then no reason to cease doubting and believe, which he also does anyway. This is what I think you are calling Fideism. But not being either a professional thinker or theologian I don’t know.

    The non-skeptic does not doubt his faculty for reasoning unless he has a reason to do so…..but this seems a circle, he reasonably doubts reason…..The folks in the mental hospital are pretty convinced their reasoning is correct, their chair is straight and all the other chairs are crooked. If the faculty for reasoning is diseased, that person is in sad shape.

    On the other hand, the non-skeptic does not doubt his faculty to reason, but he should always be looking to improve the exercise of that faculty. Perhaps this is the point of confusion. If your faculty to reason is impaired, if you are mentally ill or retarded, there really isn’t a way you can get out of that box. Skepticism then, is positively believing that you are either mentally ill or retarded, with no grounds to do so, and then are going to pretend you aren’t and see how far you can get.

    I don’t suppose anyone would really want to put it in those terms, but I think this is true.

    But you still have to take the second point into consideratio. While you should positively assume that your faculty to reason is properly functioning, you still have to doubt your proper exercise of it. As an engineer I am constantly checking and double checking my work. Constantly doubting that I performed by work correctly. Did I punch the numbers into the calculator right? So it should be with anyone who wants to do good work. They should constantly go back through the steps, an error is so easy…. but this is very different from assuming one is mentally ill or retarded….

    So the term “reason” is not precise enough. It does not dilineate between the faculty to reason and proper exercise of it. Neal would probably tell me that if we were speaking Latin, this discussion would all go away because it is sooooo much more precise :) . But I might remind him that the Greeks have always thought the Latins were ameteurs at theology because Greek is soooooooo much more precise than Latin…. :) I don’t speak either and don’t really care. Silly sidebar, but its late and I’m tired.

    I would like to hear what you have to say on my discussion here. I really am trying to work through this and am not trying to argue a point.

    Another point on this I am considering is the phrase “The mind justifies what the heart has chosen” The scripture I think about in relation to this is in John 3 when Jesus says “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

    The operative word in this passage seems to be “loved”. Love is a heart word not a head word. It seems to me that most people make a heart choice and then muster their head to support what they chose with their heart. As GOD is the creator of both head and heart, when the choice is towards HIM then both the reason and faith are mutually supportive. When the choice is away from HIM they tear at each other.

    Not being that sophisticated in regards to either theology or thinking, I didn’t really know that the protestant doctrine of depravity extended to reason. I’m not real sure where that is supported scripturally…..It says pretty plainly that “the heart is deceitfully wicked…” NOT “the head is deceitfully wicked…”

    I think the faculty to reason is like the body, suffering from the effects of sin, but fundamentally amoral in nature. The problem is actually not the faculty for reason, the problem is that the heart chooses evil and the head is powerless to counteract that. From that standpoint Luther is right, it is like a prostitute, but with a catch, it really can’t resist the “John” who pays its bill. The reason just goes where it is told. I doubt that is what Luther meant in that quote, I have no idea what he was talking about and I have never actaully read anything he has written.

    I do think that it is fundamentally out of order to assume that reason leads us anywhere.

    anyway, I got to go to bed.

    Blessings!

  65. Bryan,

    One question: When Chesterton wrote that “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all,” was he himself adopting a fideist position? And why? Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated. I’ve kind of got my mind in a knot.

    Thanks,
    Jonathan

  66. Kevin, (re: #62)

    As you know, Christianity is a religion based on events that took place in history, from the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, down through the calling of Abraham out of Ur, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, and giving them the law, and finally, many years later, the birth of the Savior to a Jewish Virgin in Bethlehem, His miracles and teaching, His death and resurrection on the third day, His founding of the Church, and His commissioning the Apostles to preach and baptize throughout the whole world, until He returns. That these events occurred is ordinarily known to us through the testimony of persons shown to be both credible and divinely authorized. Of course God, being omniscient, could supernaturally bring these truths to a person many years removed from them. However, that would be extraordinary. The ordinary means by which we learn these truths is through the means Christ Himself established, namely, the testimony of the Church, in every generation, fulfilling the great commission.

    During the Enlightenment, David Hume and other influential thinkers argued that we could not rationally believe in miracles. I won’t go into all the details, because it would take too long. But, this philosophical shift preempts what are called the motives of credibility. If it is a priori irrational to believe in miracles, then there is no point investigating various miracle claims in history. And that undermines the external way of knowing about the truth of Christianity. It can no longer be known to be true through history, if one is persuaded by Hume-type arguments against believing in miracles. Hence the rise of higher criticism, demythologization, the separation of faith and history, etc. The response by Protestant Christians can already be seen in the Pietests, and especially in Schleirmacher (the son of Pietists, if I remember correctly). Christianity is now known to be true by an internal experience. And Barth takes this same route, in response to liberalism, drawing from a [misunderstanding of] Kierkegaard, and thus making faith an “absurd” leap, and thereby bypassing all the ‘problems’ in the Bible raised by higher criticism.

    Carl Henry, while editor of Christianity Today, questioned Karl Barth about the Resurrection of Christ, asking, “If the cameras had been shooting on the day of the resurrection would they have filmed anything?” According to Henry, Barth grew visibly angry, pointed to Henry and asked, “Did you say [you were from] Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience laughed, and Henry replied, “Yesterday, today and forever.” After the laughter subsided, Barth said (in Henry’s words) that “Jesus … appeared only to believers and not to the world,” correlating “the reality of the resurrection only with personal faith.” The idea is that you could only know it by a kind of leap of faith, not by investigation of the historical evidence. All this is built on the Humean-Enlightenment idea concerning the intrinsic irrationality of believing in miracles, and the resulting rejection of the possibility of motives of credibility for believing in miracles or the events recorded in Scripture. Instead of addressing the root problem (i.e. the Humean skepticism regarding the possibility of rationally believing in miracles) many Christians unwittingly accepted that Humean philosophical notion, and chose to defend the truth of Christianity through subjective experience.

    The problem is that this is a gnosticism that opens us up to the same claims that Mormons make (see comment #29). That is, it puts Christianity on a par with any other religion claiming to offer a satisfying (or internally verifying) bosom-burning. It takes Christianity away from the realm of truth, and into the realm of feel-good therapy for people unable or unwilling to deal with a reality without God and without the supernatural, i.e. the opiate of the masses. It turns Christianity into a leap of faith, not a faith based (essentially) on events that occurred in history, and publicly known to have occurred in history.

    And if people don’t experience that bosom-burning when we describe Christianity, we’re as evangelistically helpless as Mormons who have to go to the next door down the street after the guy they’re evangelizing says, “Look, I really prayed, and didn’t get the bosom-burning.” By taking Christianity out of the realm of history, and out of the realm of reason, Christianity becomes purely fideistic. Not only that, if the only way to know that Christianity is true is to have a “self-authenticating witness” by the Holy Spirit, then those who have no such “self-authenticating witness” have no (or only little) culpability for rejecting Christianity.

    This liberalism, though it arose in Protestantism, eventually affected Catholics, and precipitated what is called modernism (represented by figures such as Loisy, Tyrrell, and Von Hugel, who sought to ground religion in mystical experience, beyond words, propositions and dogmas). The First Vatican Council was already addressing modernism (in its early forms) in what it said about faith and reason. Pope Pius X pointed this out in 1907:

    Modernists place the foundation of religious philosophy in that doctrine which is commonly called Agnosticism. According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that appear, and in the manner in which they appear: it has neither the right nor the power to overstep these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognizing His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject. Given these premises, everyone will at once perceive what becomes of Natural Theology, of the motives of credibility, of external revelation. The modernists simply sweep them entirely aside; they include them in Intellectualism, which they denounce as a system which is ridiculous and long since defunct. Nor does the fact that the Church has formally condemned these portentous errors exercise the slightest restraint upon them. Yet the Vatican Council has defined, “If anyone says that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made, let him be anathema”; (Vatican I, De Revelatione, can. 14) and also, “If anyone says that it is not possible or not expedient that man be taught, through the medium of divine revelation, about God and the worship to be paid Him, let him be anathema”; (Vatican I, De Revelatione, can. 2) and finally, “If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men should be drawn to the faith only by their personal internal experience or by private inspiration, let him be anathema.” (Vatican I, De Fide, can. 3. 7. De Revelatione, can. 3). (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 6)

    Notice that for the modernists, not only is natural theology impossible, but even the motives of credibility (i.e. miracles, fulfilled prophecies) for Christianity are lost. For the modernist, we cannot know, through reason and historical investigation, that Christianity is true.

    One of the errors condemned by Pope Pius X in Lamentabili Sane is “It is permissible to grant that the Christ of history is far inferior to the Christ Who is the object of faith.” The error is based on the presumption that reason cannot grasp Christ’s divine authority by the motives of credibility as found in history; this can be known only by a leap of faith. Modernism separates faith and history, and thus separates the Christ of faith from the Christ of history. Another error condemned in the same document is: “The Resurrection of the Savior is not properly a fact of the historical order. It is a fact of merely the supernatural order (neither demonstrated nor demonstrable) which the Christian conscience gradually derived from other facts.”

    Regarding religious experience, Pope Pius X explains how the modernists ground the reality of the divine on religious experience. He writes:

    For the Modernist believer, on the contrary, it is an established and certain fact that the reality of the divine does really exist in itself and quite independently of the person who believes in it. If you ask on what foundation this assertion of the believer rests, he answers: In the personal experience of the individual. On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the views of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics. (Pascendi, 14)

    Then he shows what is wrong with this position:

    How far this position is removed from that of Catholic teaching! We have already seen how its fallacies have been condemned by the Vatican Council. Later on, we shall see how these errors, combined with those which we have already mentioned, open wide the way to Atheism. Here it is well to note at once that, given this doctrine of experience united with that of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being found in any religion? In fact, that they are so is maintained by not a few. On what grounds can Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? Will they claim a monopoly of true experiences for Catholics alone? Indeed, Modernists do not deny, but actually maintain, some confusedly, others frankly, that all religions are true. That they cannot feel otherwise is obvious. For on what ground, according to their theories, could falsity be predicated of any religion whatsoever? Certainly it would be either on account of the falsity of the religious .sense or on account of the falsity of the formula pronounced by the mind. Now the religious sense, although it maybe more perfect or less perfect, is always one and the same; and the intellectual formula, in order to be true, has but to respond to the religious sense and to the believer, whatever be the intellectual capacity of the latter. In the conflict between different religions, the most that Modernists can maintain is that the Catholic has more truth because it is more vivid, and that it deserves with more reason the name of Christian because it corresponds more fully with the origins of Christianity. No one will find it unreasonable that these consequences flow from the premises. But what is most amazing is that there are Catholics and priests, who, We would fain believe, abhor such enormities, and yet act as if they fully approved of them. For they lavish such praise and bestow such public honor on the teachers of these errors as to convey the belief that their admiration is not meant merely for the persons, who are perhaps not devoid of a certain merit, but rather for the sake of the errors which these persons openly profess and which they do all in their power to propagate. (Pascendi, 14)

    This is reflected in the Oath Against Modernism, given by Pope Pius X in 1910. The first paragraph of the Oath reads:

    I . . . . firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day. And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated: Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time. Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time. Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.

    The first principal truth is that God can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world. (That’s not about Christianity, but about the natural knowledge of God.) But the second principal truth is relevant to your question: “Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.” The modernist rejects that, again, because (ultimately) of having swallowed a Humean notion of the possibility of rationally believing in miracles and the fulfillment of prophecies.

    So, we (Catholics) know of the truth of Christianity first through the motives of credibility, i.e. those “external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion.”

    But, our certainty of the articles of faith is not merely a product of human reason alone. Faith is a supernatural gift, and therefore faith does not reduce to human reason alone. Through reason and the motives of credibility we recognize the divine authority of those (e.g. Moses) who gave us divine revelation. But we could not have believed the divine revelation itself without an inward work of grace within our soul, allowing us, on the basis of divine authority (not direct sight), to see the supernatural truth of God, and cleave to it.

    Hence, St. Thomas writes:

    Two things are requisite for faith. First, that the things which are of faith should be proposed to man: this is necessary in order that man believe anything explicitly. The second thing requisite for faith is the assent of the believer to the things which are proposed to him. Accordingly, as regards the first of these, faith must needs be from God. Because those things which are of faith surpass human reason, hence they do not come to man’s knowledge, unless God reveal them. To some, indeed, they are revealed by God immediately, as those things which were revealed to the apostles and prophets, while to some they are proposed by God in sending preachers of the faith, according to Romans 10:15: “How shall they preach, unless they be sent?”

    As regards the second, viz. man’s assent to the things which are of faith, we may observe a twofold cause, one of external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not. Hence we must assert another internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.

    The Pelagians held that this cause was nothing else than man’s free-will: and consequently they said that the beginning of faith is from ourselves, inasmuch as, to wit, it is in our power to be ready to assent to things which are of faith, but that the consummation of faith is from God, Who proposes to us the things we have to believe. But this is false, for, since man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must needs accrue to him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly; and this is God. Therefore faith, as regards the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God moving man inwardly by grace. (Summa Theologica II-II Q.6 a.1)

    So first, there needs to be external revelation. But, then we need external motives of credibility to recognize the divine revelation as having a divine source. But even that is not enough, contra the Pelagians. We still need internal inducement by divine grace working in the heart of man.

    If Craig is speaking of this internal movement of grace by which we are able to believe supernatural revelation, then, what he is saying is compatible with Catholic teaching. But, if he is saying that this is the only way we can know the truth of Christianity, then what he is saying is not compatible with Catholic teaching, because it falls into that error of the modernists, and eliminates the motives of credibility. In that case, his position would be more fideistic and presuppositionalist.

    I hope that answers your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  67. Bryan, (re: #66)

    Thank you for taking the time to write that answer. It was very illuminating.

    I’m not sure if Dr. Craig would be an enemy of reason. He has been using the same 4 “exterior” arguments for 25 years in debates with atheists: kalam, design, objecive morality, and resurrection of Christ. But his 5th argument is from the personal, existential experience of the Gospel via the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. He asserts that all people (believer and non-believer) can experience God’s existence (and experiences related to this like “recognizing my guilt” or “wanting forgiveness”) as a “basic belief” much like having a justified belief in “seeing grass” or “hearing birds”. And it is this properly basic belief which constitutes knowledge of the truth of Christianity. This knowledge is proir to and more certain than any exterior argument. In fact, Dr. Craig would argue that even when we are faced with a seemingly insurmountable argument against God or Christianity that this basic belief would override the opposition. Reason, for Dr. Craig, serves us — it is “ministerial” and not “magisterial”. In his view, apologetics serves to “show” the truth of Christianity. But anyone can “know” the truth of Christianity via the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure how a Catholic would translate this. Perhaps it is grace that is the witness.

    As far as culpability, Dr. Craig would claim that all are culpable because of this witness inspite of good or bad arguments for the faith.

    Peace,

    Kevin

  68. Jeremiah, (re: #64)

    I think we mostly agree. I’ll just add a few things. The only way we trust someone, is by relying on what we already know about him. Trust formation, if it is not purely fideisic, must be based on what we do know. That’s why I would not say that fundamentally, my relationship to my reason and senses is one of trust. Either I trust them based on what I already know, in which case the trust is not fundamental, or it is a fideistic leap to trust them, which is then no better or worse than not trusting them (since without the use of reason, no blind leap can be judged to be better than any other).

    I agree that not everyone reasons well. And I agree that we need to have intellectual humility, in recognizing where and when and how we are fallible (i.e. capable of erring). And I agree that intellectual humility is quite different from skepticism. I wouldn’t characterize intellectual humility as a kind of doubt, because it is not doubting what we know, but recognizing a weakness about ourselves that we do know (or should come to know). And the way we recognize a weakness about ourselves is through that which we do know (i.e. noticing that we have gotten things wrong in the past, in these sorts of circumstances, in these sorts of ways, etc.), not by merely assuming for no reason that we are wrong or might be wrong. Even our rightful awareness that we could be mistaken comes from what we do know about ourselves.

    Obviously there are many people out there who have not learned to reason properly, shouldn’t they be taught to be skeptical of their ability if not their faculty?

    They should be taught intellectual humility, not by use of force, but by reasoning with them, and showing them evidence that they do know, and showing them from that evidence how it follows that they ought to have intellectual humility. If you aren’t going to use force, then you have to reason with them. And in order to reason with them, you have to make use of what they do know. Otherwise, it would be impossible to reason with them.

    If I have no reason to believe that I was knocked on the head, then I should not believe that I was knocked on the head. That would be irrational. I already believe that I am in my right mind, and I already see and experience truly the things around me. So, if there is no reason for me to believe that I am hallucinating, I have no reason then to think that presently I am hallucinating. Only if my experience does not much up with what I already know about reality, would I have a reason to believe that I might be hallucinating.

    The folks in the mental hospital are pretty convinced their reasoning is correct, their chair is straight and all the other chairs are crooked. If the faculty for reasoning is diseased, that person is in sad shape.

    This would be a problem for us only if we couldn’t determine who belongs in the mental hospital and who doesn’t. But we can so determine (obviously there will be borderline cases that are difficult). And this is not just an individual activity, but a communal activity. All societies are capable (more or less) of determining who is in their right mind, and who belongs in a mental hospital. The folks-in-a-mental-hospital objection is much like Descartes’ I-could-be-dreaming objection. But the fact that we can distinguish dreams from reality, and know the difference between them, shows that there is a different kind of experience when truly encountering reality compared to dreaming. Even if in some cases of dreaming we don’t know that we are dreaming, yet when we are awake, we can know that we are not dreaming (even if occasionally in certain types of cases we get this wrong too).

    As for what you said about the heart, I agree that what we love can distort our understanding of reality. If we love God this opens our eyes to the truth, but if we love some creature above God, this darkens our hearts and blinds the eyes of our mind. Reason, however, is not merely that by which we decide means to an end. Reason also weighs ends. It is irrational to sin. What Scripture refers to as the heart, is the will. And the will is made to follow reason, to will the good; that is its natural end, toward which it is drawn. To follow the moral law, is reasonable. To violate the moral law, is to act contrary to reason. Since will is a power of reason (along with intellect), it is through our will that we either choose to obey God and reason, or choose to disobey God and go against what we know. This is what it means to go against conscience, to act against what we know to be true and right.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  69. Jonathan, (re: #65),

    I’m not entirely sure what Chesterton meant there, because he relishes hyperbole as part of his writing style. It seems to me from the surrounding context (Orthodoxy, chapter 3) that he may be referring to reason in the way that his opponents treated reason, merely as that by which we calculate and deduce, and pointing out that even in their own epistemology, there would be a kind of faith in the starting points of reason. But, I don’t think that was Chesterton’s own conception of reason, i.e. that we start with some kind of blind leap of faith, in order to trust our senses and reason. And it definitely isn’t St. Thomas’s, or Aristotle’s, for whom we first encounter reality, not leap to trust our senses and reason in what tell us about reality.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  70. Thanks Bryan. Your dedication to this forum is much appreciated.

  71. The question of the Catholic understanding of the relation of faith and reason comes up quite often here at CTC, because the question is so foundational. I’ve addressed it in various places on CTC over the last two and half years. Below I have organized in chronological fashion my CTC comments/posts over the last couple years on this subject, outside of this post.

    Podcast interview I did with Tim Troutman on “Faith and Reason.” (May 17, 2009)

    Divine and Catholic Faith.” (May 29, 2009)

    Comment #269 in Neal’s “Calvin on Self-Authentication” thread. (June, 2009)

    Comment #4 in my post “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life.” (July, 2009)

    Comment #4 in my post “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” (Feb. 14, 2010)

    Comment #845comment #847comment #858, and most importantly comment #893 (a more in-depth comment on this question) in the Solo Scriptura thread. (May – Sept, 2010)

    Comment #23 and comment #37 in the Tu Quoque thread. (May, 2010)

    Comment #7 in the “Short Video on the identification of the Apostolic Faith” thread. (June, 2010)

    Comment #12 and comment #37 in the “Son of a tu quoque” thread. (Feb, 2011)

    Comment #38 of the “Doug Wilson weighs in on the Eternal Fate of Faithful Catholics” thread. (May, 2011)

    Comment #68 of the “Commonitory of St. Vincent Lérins” thread. (June, 2011)

    Comment #123 of the “Reflections — Graduating Catholic from a Reformed Seminary” thread. (June, 2011)

  72. I’m trying to get the chain of connections down. So it looks like the connections, in certain cases, goes like the following (in this order)

    (A) Historical documents —-> (B) Miraculous actions and fulfilled prophecies—-> (C) Authority (and identity) of Jesus —-> (D) Authority Apostles —-> (E) Authority of Bishops (and their teaching) —-> (F) Each of these books is inspired (or, relatedly but differently, we have the correct Canon)

    Where A gives us reason to believe in B, and B reason to believe in C, etc. I added the the first (A) and last elements (E), at least to this selection of the text (but think I remember you mentioning A before, I could be wrong).

    (A) would be (I’m think) the texts of Scripture, that are in the Catholic Canon. Or, at least the ones from which can be derived the motive of credibility for apostolic and papal authority.

    If those certain historical texts are the ones used as historical documents from which we gather the motive of credibility, how do we explain the use of those texts and the exclusion of other texts. Is there good reasons for thinking that those texts were historically accurate while the others were not; other texts which might undermine, question, or challenge the historical reliability (or at least claims) of the texts included in (A).

    Are there, ‘non-religious authority- dependent’, reasons for thinking that we were correct in regarding these texts as historically accurate, and others as not?

    Best,
    Mark

  73. Mark, (re: #72)

    You wrote:

    If those certain historical texts are the ones used as historical documents from which we gather the motive of credibility, how do we explain the use of those texts and the exclusion of other texts.

    We don’t exclude any texts; some texts have more historical weight than others, but that’s not for reasons of faith. So the antecedent of the conditional is not met. And your subsequent two questions also presupposes the truth of the antecedent of this conditional.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  74. Bryan,

    Maybe I’m just wrong, but aren’t there a group of early texts that have accounts or teachings that are incompatible with texts in the Canon. Like gospel of thomas, etc. Under the wikipedia entry for ‘new testament apocrypha’, there are loads of texts.

    I’ve had protestant friends say that one of their ways of identifying the Canon is by seeing which books were compatible with each other; I took them to be suggesting that there were in fact other texts that didn’t meet this compatibility criteria, but maybe I misunderstood them and actually there were no other texts to which they considered to be incompatible.

    Also, when you mentioned my conditional statement, where you talking about the one you cited just above? It’s not really a logical conditional statement; I wasn’t positing that anything followed from the first part of the sentence. Even if it was, the first part of that sentence is true, isn’t it? Isn’t it true that, “certain historical texts (at least including the ones in the Canon) are the ones used as historical documents from which we gather the motive of credibility”

    Best,
    Mark

  75. Mark, (re: #74)

    Yes there are apocryphal texts such as the Gospel of Thomas. But these show up much later, toward the middle of the second century. And they are in many places incompatible with the earlier texts, providing reasons independent of the faith to indicate that they carry little or no historical weight.

    Yes it is true that certain historical texts are used as historical documents from which we gather the motive of credibility. What is not true is that we use religious presuppositions to pick the set of historical texts from which to gather the motives of credibility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  76. Two common points of confusion revolve around the ‘certainty of faith’ phrase, one having to do with how this phrase should be interpreted and another having to do with the same and also its relation to fideism, which much of the discussion above is about.

    (1) Though the evidentiary state is relatively stable and has been for years, if we say that we are so firmly committed to the Church and that we do not hold to the Church or to what the Church says as a matter of changeable opinion, how can we hold to the ‘certainty of faith’ without falling into fideism if the state of the evidence were to change [against our position]? I mean, if the papacy, for example, denied the divinity of Christ tomorrow, and did so while speaking ex cathedra, the evidentiary state would be different. We might then change our position or not. If we changed our position, how did the certainty of faith phrase ever apply? If we did not change our position and if we appealed to the certainty of faith phrase, despite the new evidence against our position, how would we not be falling into fideism? Or, how is it that we obtain and justify ‘the certainty of faith’ phrase while avoiding fideism or while merely holding the belief or position or commitment as a matter of changeable opinion, which would seem to go against the ‘certainty of faith’ phrase.

    That is one point of confusion, for some, at least

    (2) If the ‘certainty of faith’ phrase refers to epistemological certainty and if this is justified by an appeal to the authority of God, God not being one who can deceive us, it still seems as though this certainty rests on the uncertainty of knowing whether it was God doing the revealing. So, the certainty is either not a certainty or only a certainty in the context of an uncertainty, or less certain state of affairs. Sure, if we know God revealed x and we know God is always honest, we can be certain that what was revealed is true. But, in this case, because of the role of secondary causal agents and the testimonial nature of the case, it is not certain that God was doing the revealing. And, because of this, it is not clear that the ‘certainty of faith’ should mean that we should be more certain with respect to the faith than we are other things. Some personalists seem to think some Scholastics were arguing this way and should, instead, have simply thought of the ‘certainty of faith’ as a matter of one’s confidence or level of commitment to the Church or Christ or some combination, rather than being an epistemological statement about the state of the evidence for the Church or her claims about Christ.

    That is another point of confusion, for some, at least.

    In peace,

    Eric

  77. Eric, (re: #76)

    You wrote:

    Though the evidentiary state is relatively stable and has been for years, if we say that we are so firmly committed to the Church and that we do not hold to the Church or to what the Church says as a matter of changeable opinion, how can we hold to the ‘certainty of faith’ without falling into fideism if the state of the evidence were to change [against our position]? I mean, if the papacy, for example, denied the divinity of Christ tomorrow, and did so while speaking ex cathedra, the evidentiary state would be different.

    The motives of credibility lead us by reason to the divine authority of the Church. But supernatural aid (i.e. actual grace) is required to believe divine revelation as divinely revealed, and therefore as certain [with the certainty of faith]. That belief in divine revelation is the supernatural virtue of divine faith; it is not merely a product of human reason, but is the gracious gift of God, elevating reason beyond its natural power. And by this supernatural faith we know with certainty that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ’s Church, and thus that the Church will faithfully preserve the deposit entrusted to her, until Christ returns in glory. Because faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit who grants to men the ability to see that God has spoken and to believe what God has spoken, faith is not only as strong as our grasp of the motives of credibility. Its strength is supernatural. By this supernatural faith we know that the Church cannot deny the deity of Christ. So we know of the Church not only by the motives of credibility, but much more so by the faith to which we were led by the motives of credibility, but which does not reduce to the evidential weight of the motives of credibility, or to the certainty attainable by unaided human reason.

    You wrote:

    If the ‘certainty of faith’ phrase refers to epistemological certainty and if this is justified by an appeal to the authority of God, God not being one who can deceive us, it still seems as though this certainty rests on the uncertainty of knowing whether it was God doing the revealing. So, the certainty is either not a certainty or only a certainty in the context of an uncertainty, or less certain state of affairs. Sure, if we know God revealed x and we know God is always honest, we can be certain that what was revealed is true. But, in this case, because of the role of secondary causal agents and the testimonial nature of the case, it is not certain that God was doing the revealing. And, because of this, it is not clear that the ‘certainty of faith’ should mean that we should be more certain with respect to the faith than we are other things.

    Consider the section on Faith from the first Vatican Council:

    2. This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    3. Faith, declares the Apostle, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    4. Nevertheless, in order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.

    5. Hence Moses and the prophets, and especially Christ our lord himself, worked many absolutely clear miracles and delivered prophecies; while of the apostles we read: And they went forth and preached every, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Again it is written: We have the prophetic word made more sure; you will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place.

    6. Now, although the assent of faith is by no means a blind movement of the mind, yet no one can accept the gospel preaching in the way that is necessary for achieving salvation without the inspiration and illumination of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all facility in accepting and believing the truth.

    7. And so faith in itself, even though it may not work through charity, is a gift of God, and its operation is a work belonging to the order of salvation, in that a person yields true obedience to God himself when he accepts and collaborates with his grace which he could have rejected.

    8. Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.

    9. Since, then, without faith it is impossible to please God and reach the fellowship of his sons and daughters, it follows that no one can ever achieve justification without it, neither can anyone attain eternal life unless he or she perseveres in it to the end.

    10. So that we could fulfill our duty of embracing the true faith and of persevering unwaveringly in it, God, through his only begotten Son, founded the Church, and he endowed his institution with clear notes to the end that she might be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.

    11. To the Catholic Church alone belong all those things, so many and so marvelous, which have been divinely ordained to make for the manifest credibility of the Christian faith.

    12. What is more, the Church herself by reason of her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her Catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an incontrovertible evidence of her own divine mission.

    13. So it comes about that, like a standard lifted up for the nations, she both invites to herself those who have not yet believed, and likewise assures her sons and daughters that the faith they profess rests on the firmest of foundations.

    14. To this witness is added the effective help of power from on high. For, the kind Lord stirs up those who go astray and helps them by his grace so that they may come to the knowledge of the truth; and also confirms by his grace those whom he has translated into his admirable light, so that they may persevere in this light, not abandoning them unless he is first abandoned.

    15. Consequently, the situation of those, who by the heavenly gift of faith have embraced the Catholic truth, is by no means the same as that of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for those who have accepted the faith under the guidance of the Church can never have any just cause for changing this faith or for calling it into question.

    This being so, giving thanks to God the Father who has made us worthy to share with the saints in light let us not neglect so great a salvation, but looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, let us hold the unshakable confession of our hope. (Source)

    Through the motives of credibility we can have sufficient certainty that the Church is divinely instituted and divinely authorized. But only by the assistance of supernatural grace can we believe the divine revelation entrusted to her and explicated by her. God founded the Church so that we could fulfill our duty of embracing the true faith and persevering in it. Without the Church, it would be very difficult for us to determine what the true faith is, and without the sacraments it would be difficult for us to persevere in that one true faith. But God has endowed the Church with clear notes (i.e. marks) so that she might be recognized by all as the “guardian and teacher of the revealed word.” And in addition to the witness of the Church, God by His grace stirs up those who go astray and helps them to come to a knowledge of the truth. By this grace, the [epistemic] situation of those who have embraced the Catholic faith “is by no means the same as that of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for those who have accepted the faith under the guidance of the Church can never have any just cause for changing this faith or for calling it into question.”

    Because Christ is the Truth, and because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and because the Church is the pillar and ground of Truth, it is impossible ever for those who have come to the truth in the Church to have any just cause for abandoning the faith or calling it into question. That’s not fideism; that’s just what follows from a supernatural enlightenment regarding the truth of Christ and His Church. Just as the impossibility for those having the Beatific Vision of having some just cause for denying what they see is not an indicator of fideism, so likewise the impossibility for those having the supernatural gift of faith to have a just cause for denying or abandoning the faith is not an indicator of fideism. It is simply a necessary consequence of a supernatural encounter with Truth, for God cannot deny Himself. Man, by grace, is elevated above mere opinion; He is elevated to faith, which, though only in a dim manner, is a participation in God’s own self-knowledge, and (again in a dim way) the absolute certainty of God’s own self-knowledge.

    So in short, reason only takes us so far, as Virgil guided Dante only so far. But reason gives us a sufficient certainty such that faith, though transcending the power of unaided human reason, is not contrary to reason. By this supernatural divine aid, faith is exceedingly reasonable. But the certainty of faith is not limited to the certainty of unaided human reason’s conclusion concerning the motives of credibility. Grace elevates nature, and here too, by the supernatural power of the Spirit of Truth, the certainty of faith elevates our hearts and minds far beyond the reach of unaided human reason. This is why in 1679 the Church condemned the following error: “The will cannot effect that assent to faith in itself be stronger than the weight of reasons impelling toward assent.” (Denz. 1169) At the same time she also condemned the following error: “Assent to faith is supernatural and useful to salvation with only the probable knowledge of revelation, even with the fear by which one fears lest God has not spoken.” (Denz. 1171) To study this in more detail, see Fr. George Smith’s chapter titled “Faith and Revealed Truth.” See also the section beginning at page 122 of A Manual of Catholic Theology Based on Scheeben’s Dogmatik, Vol. 1, available on google books here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  78. Eric,

    One more thing. I discussed falsifiability with Tim in the faith and reason podcast. The way in which certain cults seek to make their position unfalsifiable is by way of a fideism that cuts off faith from reason, and from an investigation into motives of credibility. But divine revelation is made unfalsifiable not by cutting off faith from reason, but by being true, supported by the motives of credibility and being known to be true by supernatural faith. Although those with divine faith can never have any just cause for changing this faith or for calling it into question, they do not in any way close off or prohibit investigation into the motives of credibility, because they know that the motives of credibility lead to the faith, and the truth fears no investigation or scrutiny. So the unfalsifiability of the cult’s beliefs is a kind of artificial, contrived imitation of the unfalsifiability of the divine truth Christ deposited in His Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  79. Jesus Christ, Just Judge of all men, have mercy on Christopher Hitchens. (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011)

  80. Amen

  81. Not sure where this comment should go since it’s touches upon several articles, blog posts and their corresponding comments (including “The Canon Question”, “Short Video on the Identification of the Apostolic Faith”; and others)…but since the main focus is on the “motives of credibility” I suppose I’ll drop it here…

    So I’ve been a fairly consistent reader here at CTC for the past year or so and I’ve notice that the idea of “motives of credibility” comes up in the body or combox of pretty much every article/post on the topic of authority. I’ve look over through the Catholic Encyclopedia discussion of this topic and I have a couple questions issue. Here’s the section I’ll focus on (I’ve added numbers and paragraph breaks):

    1. “These motives of credibility may be briefly stated as follows: in the Old Testament considered not as an inspired book, but merely as a book having historical value, we find detailed the marvellous dealings of God with a particular nation to whom He repeatedly reveals Himself; we read of miracles wrought in their favour and as proofs of the truth of the revelation He makes; we find the most sublime teaching and the repeated announcement of God’s desire to save the world from sin and its consequences. And more than all we find throughout the pages of this book a series of hints, now obscure, now clear, of some wondrous person who is to come as the world’s saviour; we find it asserted at one time that he is man, at others that he is God Himself.

    2. “When we turn to the New Testament we find that it records the birth, life, and death of One Who, while clearly man, also claimed to be God, and Who proved the truth of His claim by His whole life, miracles, teachings, and death, and finally by His triumphant resurrection. We find, moreover, that He founded a Church which should, so He said, continue to the end of time, which should serve as the repository of His teaching, and should be the means of applying to all men the fruits of the redemption He had wrought. When we come to the subsequent history of this Church we find it speedily spreading everywhere, and this in spite of its humble origin, its unworldly teaching, and the cruel persecution which it meets at the hands of the rulers of this world. And as the centuries pass we find this Church battling against heresies schisms, and the sins of her own people—nay, of her own rulers—and yet continuing ever the same, promulgating ever the same doctrine, and putting before men the same mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of the world’s Saviour, Who had, so she taught, gone before to prepare a home for those who while on earth should have believed in Him and fought the good fight.”

    To this point, the Encyclopedia is simply stating objective, verifiable facts about what the New and Old Testaments plainly state. Taken at face value, there’s nothing that a Protestant would necessarily disagree with (I don’t think). The Encyclopedia then makes the follow conclusions based on these facts:

    3. “But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvellously completes the Old Testament, these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation. And more than all, that Person Whose life and death were so minutely foretold in the Old Testament, and Whose story, as told in the New Testament, so perfectly corresponds with its prophetic delineation in the Old Testament, must be what He claimed to be, viz. the Son of God. His work, therefore, must be Divine. The Church which He founded must also be Divine and the repository and guardian of His teaching. Indeed, we can truly say that for every truth of Christianity which we believe Christ Himself is our testimony, and we believe in Him because the Divinity He claimed rests upon the concurrent testimony of His miracles, His prophecies His personal character, the nature of His doctrine, the marvellous propagation of His teaching in spite of its running counter to flesh and blood, the united testimony of thousands of martyrs, the stories of countless saints who for His sake have led heroic lives, the history of the Church herself since the Crucifixion, and, perhaps more remarkable than any, the history of the papacy from St. Peter to Pius X.”

    The part that I found particularly interesting was as follows (though I’ll be pulling quotes from throughout these 2 paragraphs):

    “But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvellously completes the Old Testament, these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation.”

    Based on this statement and the subsequent sentences, the Encyclopedia’s statements seem to imply that determining that the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are “Divine revelation” is a necessary logical prior to determining that the Church is of “Divine” origin. In others words, it is logically impossible to “discover” that the Church is of “Divine” origin without first “discovering” that the Bible is “Divine revelation”. Logically speaking, it is only after discovering that the Bible is “Divine revelation” that it is possible for us to determine that the Church is of “Divine” origin (because it is only by reading the as “Divine revelation” that we discover that the Church is divine).

    That said, in order for someone to determine that the “New Testament” and “Old Testament” are “Divine revelation” they must first know what the New and the Old Testaments are (and what they are not). The Old Testament cannot be “considered” (see first sentence of #1 above) at all – nor can we “turn to” the New Testament (see first sentence of #2 above) – unless we know exactly what these “books” contain and do not contain. It is impossible to conclude that the “history of the Church since New Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself” without knowing precisely what the “New Testament itself” is (and what it is not). To say that the Old and New Testaments “contain Divine revelation” would be an inane statement if the words “New Testament” and “Old Testament” were not referring to something specific (i.e., everything that is contained within the Old and New Testaments).

    Insofar as any of what I’ve said here is true (and please do correct me if I am misrepresenting anything that is stated or necessarily implied by the Encyclopedia), this means that the “Canon Question” must be settled before the “Church Question” (i.e., How can we locate the true Church today?) can even be entertained. The Encyclopedia seems to presuppose a canon (fideistically? – I mean that as a sincere question) as evidenced by the words “a book” or “these books”: What “books” are they taking about? The New and Old Testaments. OK, But how do we objectively determine the precise contents of the New and Old Testaments? As far as I can tell, no answer is given for this question. Further, as the Encyclopedia demonstrates, we cannot appeal to the authority of the Church to definitively answer this question because it is logically impossible to determine that the Church is “Divine” – and thus, authoritative – without first determining that the New and Old Testaments are in fact “Divine revelation”. Nor can we appeal to “Apostolic Succession” as having the “Authority to Answer the Question” (as Tom Brown does in “The Canon Question”) because, again, we have yet to establish that the New and Old Testaments are in fact “Divine revelation”, and as such we cannot argue that Apostolic Succession (anything else for that matter) was Divinely instituted. We must locate and define (i.e., specify the contents of) “Divine revelation” and before we can appeal to the authority of an institution, whose divine origin and authority we can only argue for on the basis of the very “Divine revelation” which we have yet to locate and define.

    I think the ramifications of what I am arguing extend well beyond the “Canon Question”, but I’ll leave it there for discussion before going any further (as I imagine they be some objections).

  82. Peter (re: #81)

    I think the solution lies in the order of the motives:

    1) The historical credibility of the texts. (In this case the Gospels.)
    2) The historical (note: not yet known to be inspired) content of the texts: a) A man (Jesus) whose miracles (namely the Resurrection) demonstrate the veracity of his claim of divinity. b) This God-man founded a visible, institutional and heirarchical body( the ecclesia, Church) c) He gave his very divine authority and protection to this Church.
    3) This Church recognized which books would constitute the inspired canon.

    We first read texts as history and then spiral outward toward canonicity. History gives us the Godman in the Gospel narratives, then facts concerning the Church, then that Church deciding the inspired canon. We don’t need to know that the texts are inspired canon to trust the historical content.

    Does that help?

    Peace,

    Kevin

  83. Peter, (re: #81)

    The Encyclopedia’s statement wasn’t intended to imply anything of that sort. The fact that the history of the Church testifies to the truth of the New Testament, and the New Testament completes the Old Testament, and together the Old and New Testaments testify to the divinity of Christ and thus to the divine character of His Church, does not mean that one must first determine that the Bible is divine revelation before determining that the Church is of divine origin. One can view all the evidence as pieces of a puzzle that come together to reveal the divine authority of Christ and His Church. And if you’re able to see enough of the history of the Church such that it testifies to the truth of the New Testament, then you will already be aware of the sacred books read in the liturgy of that Church at that time, such that you can know what that Church considered to be “the New Testament.” So you don’t have to figure out the canon to find the Church. To begin the study of Church history is already to have a canon sufficient to follow the line of reasoning offered in the article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  84. Kevin, (#81)

    Thanks for your comments. Just a couple quick thoughts in response.

    The solution you propose seems sound if what we are trying to determine is the historical reliability of ancient texts. But the Encyclopedia goes much further than that (as it should). “Canonicity” requires much more than “trustworthy historical content”. It requires demonstrable prophetic content. If you take a minute to read back through the quotes I provided from the Encyclopedia, the following will become obvious:

    1. The Encyclopedia is NOT saying that the Old and New Testament recorded events/people/institutions/etc. and that historical investigation confirms that these accounts are accurate.

    2. The Encyclopedia IS saying that the Old and New Testament predicted (prophesied about) events/people/institutions/etc. and that these prophesies were fulfilled: the OT is fulfilled by the NT and the NT is fulfilled by the “history of the Church”).

    Historical reliability is not in view here (unless you consider fulfillment of prophecy to be a subcategory of historical reliability; which would be reasonable). The prophetic content is what enables us infer that these books are indeed “Divine revelation”.

    In any case, your solution seems to suffer from the same weakness as that of the Encyclopedia in that it presupposes a specific set of “texts” from the outset. Which “texts” are we to “first read”? Why these and not others? An appeal to the history of the Church (i.e. the Church’s “deciding the inspired canon”) does not yield an authoritative answer: since we have yet to establish the Church’s divine origin, there is no principled difference between choosing to “first read” the Catholic Church’s canon and choosing to “first read” the canon approved by any other Church that claims to be the true Church that Christ founded.

    I agree with you that “We don’t need to know that the texts are inspired canon to trust the historical content”. But we do need to know what “texts” we should be reading in the first place.

    PS – Apologies for the pervasive typos! I should really start proof-reading. It’s getting embarrassing. :)

  85. Peter (re: #84)

    You said:

    In any case, your solution seems to suffer from the same weakness as that of the Encyclopedia in that it presupposes a specific set of “texts” from the outset. Which “texts” are we to “first read”? Why these and not others? An appeal to the history of the Church (i.e. the Church’s “deciding the inspired canon”) does not yield an authoritative answer: since we have yet to establish the Church’s divine origin, there is no principled difference between choosing to “first read” the Catholic Church’s canon and choosing to “first read” the canon approved by any other Church that claims to be the true Church that Christ founded.

    We can isolate which texts to read by applying some rules for determining the reliability of ancient texts; so the problem of which canon to read is not as crucial, IMO. If I begin with a set of alleged Gospels and approach them simply as specimens for historical research, then I can apply some rules to determine their historical credibility (prophecy NOT being one of them at this point). After discovering the trustworthiness of the four Gospels (which as far as I know appear in all canonical lists) I can begin to read them for factual content, which, as you know, gives us the historical institution of the Church. Is this a “divinely” instituted Church? Well, a man with divine attributes seems very clearly to have established it and invested it with his authority and protection; so, historically, YES!

    You then said:

    Historical reliability is not in view here (unless you consider fulfillment of prophecy to be a subcategory of historical reliability; which would be reasonable). The prophetic content is what enables us infer that these books are indeed “Divine revelation”.

    The decision of the historical Church established by Christ to determine which documents are in fact divinely inspired (and contain real prophecy) is how we “know” which books constitute written Divine Revelation. But I don’t need to know which books are divinely revealed to determine which Church is the one founded by Jesus Christ. The Church comes before the inspired canon (in terms of history).

    Bryan puts it well in his response (#83).

    Peace of Christ!

    Kevin

  86. Bryan,

    Thanks for your response. Appreciate the engagement.

    You wrote:
    “The fact that the history of the Church testifies to the truth of the New Testament, and the New Testament completes the Old Testament, and together the Old and New Testaments testify to the divinity of Christ and thus to the divine character of His Church, does not mean that one must first determine that the Bible is divine revelation before determining that the Church is of divine origin.”

    But this is not an accurate representation of what I argued (or at least attempted to). Let’s start over.

    For context, let’s keep in mind that the “meaning and office of the motives of credibility” are “in the first place” to “afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation; but this knowledge precedes faith; it is not the final motive for our assent to the truths of faith”. You have written elsewhere that a person “can have “100% assurance that it is the church of Christ” apart from faith…We identify the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded, and come to know her divine authority (and Christ’s divine authority) through the motives of credibility, which are accessible to reason…We don’t start with faith. We start with reason. Grace builds on nature, not the other way around. But the motives of credibility are known not by grace, but by reason. Otherwise, the starting point would be an arbitrarily leap.” (see comment #56 here, http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/short-video-on-the-identification-of-the-apostolic-faith/#comment-24740).

    Help me out if I’m misinterpreting you here, but these comments seem to suggest that it would be fideistic for someone to become Catholic without first using their reason to access “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation”. So we might say that, without the motives of credibility, “there would be no rational way to adjudicate between competing truth claims. We would be left with fideism.” (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/short-video-on-the-identification-of-the-apostolic-faith/#comment-9484). In other words, one can only (legitimately) come to the Catholic Faith by first using their reason to access the motives of credibility. Would that be accurate?

    Assuming we agreement thus far, here’s the passage that I focused on in my original post:

    “But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvelously completes the Old Testament, [this is a summary of all that has been said to this point; on the basis on which the Encyclopedia draws the following conclusion] these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation.”

    In other words, all “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation” is necessarily predicated upon the fundamental and irreducible “discovery” that the New and Old Testaments are divine revelation. Prior to this sentence, the discussion of the motives of credibility has been restricted to investigation of: 1) the Old and New Testaments “considered not as inspired book(s), but merely as book(s) having historical value” and 2) the History of the Church. It is in this only sentence that the discussion depicts a sort of “first encounter” with “Divine revelation”.

    And it is out of logical necessity that this “first encounter” is with the Divine revelation in the New and Old Testaments. As I said: it is logically impossible to discover that the Church is “divine” without first discovering that the NT and OT are “Divine revelation”. If one has yet to recognize the NT and OT as divine revelation then simply do not have access to any divine revelation from which they could glean authoritative information about the nature, origin – or even the mere existence – of the Church. How could one possibly “discover” that the Church is of “divine” origin without access to such information? It is possible to know that the New Testament *claims* that the Church is of divine origin through simple reading. But it is logically impossible to verify that this claim is true/authoritative unless one has already discovered that the “book” that make this claim is itself “Divine” (and thus, true/authoritative).

    The principle is simple: we cannot ascertain divine revelation unless God reveals it to us; therefore, we cannot have “definite and certain knowledge” of anything about the Church without first locating divine revelation that can provide us with authoritative information about the Church; therefore, we cannot discover the divine origin of the Church without first discovering that the New and Old Testaments are divine revelation. All of this seems to perfectly consistent with and representative of train of thought provided in the Encyclopedia’s description of the motives of credibility. If you think this principle is flawed, then please explain why; and if you think that this principle is not consistent with or representative of the Encyclopedia’s description of the motives of credibility, then, again, please explain why.

    However if what I have said to this point is true then we can reach the following conclusion: IF 1) it is impossible to come to “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation” in any way other than through the motives of credibility and IF 2) the motives of credibility dictate that our first encounter with divine revelation must necessarily be the discovery that NT and OT are “Divine revelation” (i.e., on the basis of simple logic, divine revelation cannot be encountered anywhere else – including in the Church – before it is encountered in Scripture), THEN, as I said above, we must locate and define (i.e., specify the contents of) “Divine revelation” before we can appeal to the authority of an institution, whose divine origin and authority we can only argue for on the basis of the very “Divine revelation” which we have yet to locate and define; in other words, the “Canon Question” must be settled – on the basis of reason alone, to the exclusion of faith and presupposition – before the “Church Question” (i.e., How can we locate the true Church today?) can even be entertained.”

    Again, if you think any/all of this argument is flawed then please demonstrate as much. Otherwise, I am not inclined to (“fideistically”) take your word for it when you say that “The Encyclopedia’s statement wasn’t intended to imply anything of that sort.”

    You wrote:
    “And if you’re able to see enough of the history of the Church such that it testifies to the truth of the New Testament, then you will already be aware of the sacred books read in the liturgy of that Church at that time, such that you can know what that Church considered to be “the New Testament.” So you don’t have to figure out the canon to find the Church. To begin the study of Church history is already to have a canon sufficient to follow the line of reasoning offered in the article.”

    You comments here are would be a good explanation for why the Encyclopedia *presupposes* a canon in its discussion of the motives of credibility. But they do not demonstrate that the Encyclopedia is correct in this presupposition.

    Regarding the “sacred books read in the liturgy of that Church at that time”: The Church did not have a “formalized” canon for the first 300 years of its existence. Some books that were “read in the liturgies” as Scripture that were eventually excluded from the canon. How can one find a “sufficient canon” in a false canon?

    As I wrote to Kevin in comment #84: “An appeal to the history of the Church (i.e. the Church’s “deciding the inspired canon”) does not yield an authoritative answer: since we have yet to establish the Church’s divine origin, there is no principled difference between choosing to “first read” the Catholic Church’s canon and choosing to “first read” the canon approved by any other Church that claims to be the true Church that Christ founded.”

    The bottom line is this: You need locate and define “divine revelation” before you can locate and define a “divine Church”. If you appeal to the divine authority of the Church to locate and define the “divine revelation” then you are guilty of fideism (i.e., an “arbitrary leap”), in that you have presupposed that the Church has the authority to locate and define divine revelation for you, without objectively establishing – on the basis of reason alone – that the Church has such authority. On the other hand, if you attempt to locate and define the “divine revelation” on the basis of reason (historical investigation + logic + etc.) alone – as the motives of credibility dictate – then you are subject to all of the very same objections that Protestants face with regards to the “Canon Question”.

  87. Kevin,

    Thanks again for you response.

    You wrote:
    “We can isolate which texts to read by applying some rules for determining the reliability of ancient texts; so the problem of which canon to read is not as crucial, IMO. If I begin with a set of alleged Gospels and approach them simply as specimens for historical research, then I can apply some rules to determine their historical credibility (prophecy NOT being one of them at this point). After discovering the trustworthiness of the four Gospels (which as far as I know appear in all canonical lists) I can begin to read them for factual content, which, as you know, gives us the historical institution of the Church. Is this a “divinely” instituted Church? Well, a man with divine attributes seems very clearly to have established it and invested it with his authority and protection; so, historically, YES!”

    I agree with much of what you are saying here. A couple quick issues though: 1) You seem to be overestimating how much of the New Testament can be objectively verified through historical investigation. What percentage the NT (or OT) text can be objectively verified through historical investigation? I can’t imagine it is very high? 2) The NT and OT are not the only ancient historical documents that claim to be divine revelation and contain historically accurate information. If these are your criteria you’ll need to expand your canon well beyond the NT and OT.

    Not to read to far into what you wrote, but I noticed that you said that “the problem of which canon to read is not as crucial, IMO”. But the motives of credibility are not a matter of opinion, nor even of our faith; they are strictly a matter of reason which are “within the grasp of the humblest intelligence”. Our opinions and beliefs are not a sufficient basis for determining which books we are to investigation.

    You wrote:
    “The decision of the historical Church established by Christ to determine which documents are in fact divinely inspired (and contain real prophecy) is how we “know” which books constitute written Divine Revelation. But I don’t need to know which books are divinely revealed to determine which Church is the one founded by Jesus Christ. The Church comes before the inspired canon (in terms of history).”

    It seems that you’re still presuposing a specific set of texts that are to be considered in your historical investigation (as does the Encyclopedia). How do you know that the “historical Church” was “established by (the historical) Christ” without first opening up the relevant historical document(s) that tells you as much? And on what basis did you decide to open up that document or set of documents rather than others? Or, how do you know that the historical Church is in any was connected to the historical Jesus without opening up one or more of the gospels that make that historical connection? Again, you need to establish a principled difference between choosing to “first read” the Catholic Church’s canon and choosing to “first read” the canon approved by any other Church that claims to be the true Church that Christ founded.

    As I told Bryan in my previous comment: The bottom line is this: You need locate and define “divine revelation” before you can locate and define a “divine Church”. If you appeal to the divine authority of the Church to locate and define the “divine revelation” then you are guilty of fideism (i.e., an “arbitrary leap”), in that you have presupposed that the Church has the authority to locate and define divine revelation for you, without objectively establishing – on the basis of reason alone – that the Church has such authority. On the other hand, if you attempt to locate and define the “divine revelation” on the basis of reason (historical investigation + logic + etc.) alone – as the motives of credibility dictate – then you are subject to all of the very same objections that Protestants face with regards to the “Canon Question”

  88. Peter (re: #86),

    You wrote:

    Assuming we agreement thus far, here’s the passage that I focused on in my original post:

    “But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvelously completes the Old Testament, [this is a summary of all that has been said to this point; on the basis on which the Encyclopedia draws the following conclusion] these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation.”

    In other words, all “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation” is necessarily predicated upon the fundamental and irreducible “discovery” that the New and Old Testaments are divine revelation.

    That “In other words” is inaccurate and unjustifiable. And that is what I explained in my previous comment. The fact that the history of the Church since New Testament times testifies to the truth of the New Testament, and the New Testament completes the Old Testament, and these pieces of evidence together support the truth of the Old and New Testaments in no way whatsoever means, implies, or entails that definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation is necessarily predicated upon first discovering that the New and Old Testaments are divine revelation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  89. Bryan,

    You wrote:
    “That “In other words” is inaccurate and unjustifiable. And that is what I explained in my previous comment. The fact that the history of the Church since New Testament times testifies to the truth of the New Testament, and the New Testament completes the Old Testament, and these pieces of evidence together support the truth of the Old and New Testaments in no way whatsoever means, implies, or entails that definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation is necessarily predicated upon first discovering that the New and Old Testaments are divine revelation.”

    OK. Then demonstrate the point (rather than simply asserting it as you have done in your previous 2 comments): How would you go about demonstrating that the Church is divine if you could not appeal to the NT or OT as anything more than “documents having historical value” (i.e., not as divinely inspired texts)? The basic questions is these: where are you getting divine revelation from? And how do you know that it is divine revelation?

    Your puzzle analogy does not accurately represent the argument that the Encyclopedia is making. It is NOT MERELY saying that “the fact that the history of the Church since New Testament times testifies to the truth of the New Testament, and the New Testament completes the Old Testament” are merely “pieces of evidence” that “together support the truth of the Old and New Testaments”.

    A better analogy would be of a chain with each link being a necessary implication of the one before it and necessarily implying the one after it. The order of the links cannot be changed without destroying the entire chain. This “chain of logical argument” is meant to take us from lack of “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation” to possession of such. And in this chain, the statement that “these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation” constitutes a fundamental, indispensable, and irreplaceable turning point, where we move from consideration of objective historical facts to discovery of divine revelation.

    If you do not have time to seriously engage my arguments, that’s totally fine (I do not want to presume on your time; we all have things to do). But simply asserting that my arguments are wrong does not help understand why they are wrong.

    Thanks again.

    Peter

  90. Peter,

    The burden of proof is on the person who is putting forward an argument. You put forward an argument in comment #81, claiming that “the Encyclopedia’s statements seem to imply that determining that the Old Testament and New Testament are Divine revelation is a necessary logical prior to determining that the Church is of Divine origin.” And in my previous two comments I explained how and why that conclusion did not follow from what the Encyclopedia article said. So I don’t have to demonstrate anything, since I’m not putting forward an argument.

    The order of the links cannot be changed without destroying the entire chain.

    Not only is that not true, but the article nowhere says that. You are reading into it what it does not say. One does not first need to discover that the Bible is divine revelation in order to discover the identity and divine authority of the Church.

    Kevin has answered well above, as has David in comment #77 on the other thread. We show that the Church has divine authority most fundamentally by showing the divine authority of its Founder. The Bible is of course a great help in showing the divinity of Christ. But we don’t first have to establish that the Bible is divine revelation in order to use it to show the divinity of Christ, or to show the divine authority of the Church, just as when preaching to the Gentiles St. Paul didn’t first have to establish that the Old (or New) Testament is divine revelation. The Bible understood merely as an historical record can provide a motive of credibility for believing the divinity of Christ and the divine authority of His Church. And you don’t need to know the canon of the Bible as formally defined by the authority of the Magisterium in order to use the Bible as an historical record. The books that are indisputed are sufficient.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  91. You wrote:
    “…the article nowhere says that. You are reading into it what it does not say.”

    OK. So we disagree on the interpretation of then Encyclopedia. That’s fine. What the Encyclopedia says or doesn’t say isn’t really the the point of what I am attempting to argue. It was (and is) simply a helpful resource in shaping and articulating the argument.

    You wrote:
    “We show that the Church has divine authority most fundamentally by showing the divine authority of its Founder…The Bible understood merely as an historical record can provide a motive of credibility for believing the divinity of Christ and the divine authority of His Church.”

    The first sentence is a good start to answering the question I asked (i.e.,”How would you go about demonstrating that the Church is divine if you could not appeal to the NT or OT as anything more than “documents having historical value” (i.e., not as divinely inspired texts)?”

    Now, if you can objectively demonstrate that one can have “definite and certain knowledge” that Jesus is truly *divine* – not that he merely claims to be divine according to the historical record of the New Testament – then you will have also demonstrated that the Church he established was of divine origin and thus has divine authority (including the authority to establish a divinely inspired canon). That is, IF you can objectively demonstrate the divinity of Christ without appealling to the NT or OT as anything more than “documents having historical value” (i.e., not as divinely inspired texts) THEN and ONLY THEN you will have successfully demonstrated that the Church is of divine origin and thus has divine authority with without first establishing Scripture as divine revelation. Can you do this?

  92. Peter, (re: #91)

    Yes Christ claimed to be divine, and one way He demonstrated His divine authority, and thus also the truth of His claim to be divine, was by all His miracles, especially by rising from the dead three days after His death. This is why Nicodemus rightly says to Him, “we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God be with him.” (John 3:2) And this is the evidence St. Paul appeals to in his message to the Gentiles, when he says, “having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30) And St. Peter, in his sermon on the first Pentecost, says the same about the evidential purpose of Christ’s miracles: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know…. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:22, 32)

    Christ also demonstrated His divine authority by fulfilling over four hundred OT prophecies. One does not need to know in advance that those prophecies are divine revelation in order for Christ’s fulfillment of them to be evidence that He is who He claimed to be. His fulfilling of these prophecies is at the very same time confirmation both of their having come from God, and of His having come from God.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  93. Peter G. Re # 91

    It seems to me, if I am understanding your question properly, that you are claiming that Divine Church authority cannot be proved by referencing to Divine Scripture as that would be arguing in a circle. So how then do you prove Divine Church authority?

    I believe that Jesus proved He was the Son of God by his life, death and resurrection and that the church he founded began on the day of Pentecost. At that point and for years afterwards the faith of the Church was in an oral tradition and nothing was written down as sacred scripture. Eventually some of that oral tradition became written tradition.

    As the Church grew through the centuries it recognised that certain of those writings best reflected what their oral teaching was. The Church through their own authority given to them as their mandate by Jesus Himself, then after long discussion, considered and declared those writings as Sacred Scripture. They were considered as sacred by all of the Church including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

    The authority of those Scriptures and their sacredness are only considered that way by the Christian Church. Jews, Muslims and other religious institutions do not consider them sacred. The Divine Authority of the Church to declare them sacred is based on faith in Christ. Non-Christians do not consider either the authority of the Church or the sacredness of the Scriptures as binding on them in any way.

    The Divine Authority of the Church was an Authority of faith in Christ before any thing was ever written down and it was through that Church authority and Tradition that the New Testament was given birth within the Church. The written oral traditions of the Church of course speak to the authority of the Church , why wouldn’t they? It is their tradition after all.

    Blessings
    NHU

  94. What Bryan states in post #92 is put very well, and it is exactly what I have been talking about. It all appears very straighforward to me. The motives of credibility rely on what human reason can know via history. It does not presuppose divinely revealed (innerant, inspired, etc) texts. If it does, then we would have to demand the same of any document with historical merit when arguing for any person, place, event or thing in antiquity.

    Pax.

    Kevin

  95. Peter,

    Over in the “Christian Unity & Life” thread you wrote:

    The basic questions is these: where are you getting divine revelation from? And how do you know that it is divine revelation?

    That is precisely the place to start. The trouble is, I cannot at see the coherence of your critique of the catholic epistemic position with regard to divine revelation.

    Let’s begin as an agnostic might (I once was one). Suppose I become convinced on philosophic grounds that theism, or at least deism, is true (sic Aristotelian/Thomistic natural science proofs for a First Cause, or metaphysical proofs for Subsistent Being Itself). Or perhaps I come to a similar position based on evidence from the modern emperiological sciences (such as the anthropic principle, or inference to best explanation with regard to the singularity of the big bang; or, like Einstein, just in view of the beautiful correspondence of the natural world with mathematical models such as special relativity).

    Given the existence of an intelligent being of some sort, a logical question that might follow such a conviction is this: “Is there any indication in human history that ‘god’ (whatever He/She/It may be) has communicated with the human race?” Given that question, there are only a handful of world religions, living or dead, which have ever claimed to possess such a positive, special communication from a deity. Most Asiatic religions, except perhaps for a small segment of Hinduism, do not claim to be the bearers of a special, yet public, revelation. There are a number of theistic religions which originate with an individual who claims to have been granted a personal, direct, revelation from God; yet, where the pivotal founder’s revelatory encounter was not open to public witness or verification. This would include, not only modern religious sects such as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism, but Islam as well. In short, the motives of credibility attached to such claims are minimal (I realize I am glossing many objections which such theists would surely raise).

    That leaves Judaism and Christianity (which generally claims to be the historic continuum and fulfillment/transformation of Hebrew monotheism). One can first note that the historical record of the Hebrew peoples in both secular written/archaeological sources, as well as the sacred writings of the Hebrews themselves, stretches backward into the very dawn of human history among the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. This fact lends a note of credibility to Judaic theism, for one might expect any God which both exists and cares to communicate with man, to begin doing so from the very dawn of man’s experience on earth.

    Note: There is no difficulty, as a matter of history, determining which set of texts belonged to the Hebrew/Jewish nation, for these were formed and maintained as the literary heritage of an ethnic people despite intra-mural disagreements about the precise authority of any given text. One can simply survey all the texts which any segment of the Hebrew people venerated, as the total data set from which to assess the content of their historical claims and religious beliefs – without first making a judgment concerning the truth of those claims, much less a judgment concerning their divine inspiration.

    Proceeding forward: from a purely historical examination of these books one can note that Hebrew religion was the first clear purveyor of monotheism in human history. Its account of creation, conception of deity, and moral prescriptions being distinct and unique in any number of ways, as most secular historians admit. All of this lends credibility to the claim, explicitly contained in the Hebrew texts, that God had selected the Hebrews from among the other peoples of the earth as a conduit, pipeline, or cradle for a divine communication to mankind. As one reads the texts in their historical chronology (as assessed by secular standards), one sees quite clearly a progression in the Hebrew understanding of the universality and spirituality of God, morality, afterlife, judgment, resurrection and more. Given that any communication by God would have to be understood by humans in human terms; it stands to reason that such communication could only be given and received according to the conceptual development of the people and culture of a given epoch. Hence, the claim that God choose a specific ethnic people with a prolonged concrete history as a theological cradle – as it were – for the progressive reception (and cultural protection and preservation) of an ever clearer understanding of Divinity is most credible (think, for instance, of God dropping the Nicene creed from heaven into the hands of Hebrew sheep herders in 2000BC. They would lack the mental categories with which to comprehend the fine metaphysical distinctions in the creed – even if translated into their own dialect – for those categories required the later development and refinement of Greek thought).

    Moreover, prominent within the writings of the various Hebrew sacred texts are constant references (even in the early texts) to a future messiah or king, many of which are given by authors claiming to have received such information in prophetic ecstasies or communications of some kind. Some of these alleged “prophetic” references (such as those found in the book of Daniel and elsewhere) are given with what seem to be rather concrete historical indicators. Indeed, like the theological doctrines mentioned above, this peculiar notion develops, increases in repetition, and generally intensifies throughout the chronological physical and textual history of the Hebrew nation. By the 2nd or 3rd century BC, it has become a dominant theme and expectation among the Hebrew remnant.

    I would like to stop here for a moment and address a claim you made. You wrote:

    The Encyclopedia is saying that as soon as we discover the historical accuracy and prophetic nature of a specific set of ancient documents (i.e., the “Old Testament” and “New Testament”) we can have “definite and certain knowledge” that this entire set ancient documents are “divine revelation”

    I doubt that the encyclopedia is claiming any such thing, but even if it is, such a notion is manifestly silly. Mere historical accuracy in no way entails divine inspiration, as I am sure you would concede. But, also, documents do not have “prophetic nature”. They either contain words which claim to be divinely communicated prophetic utterances or they do not. Those texts which do not contain such “prophetic” utterances (as some of the Hebrew texts do not) would not enjoy any additional force as “divine revelation”, simply by the fact that some other venerated Hebrew text (perhaps written by a different author at a different time) does contain such references. Hence, your words concerning the “entire set” do not follow. Further, the fact that some limited section of any one document purports to be a prophetic utterance (even an utterance later fulfilled historically), in no way entails that the rest of the content within that document is also divine revelation. At most, it lends credibility to the claim that one or more specific utterances was inspired by God – not the surrounding narrative, etc. Your claim is, in my view, insufficiently critical.

    Returning again to my previous line of argument, as one follows the Hebrew history forward, one encounters the life, works, and extraordinary claims of a 1st century rabbi, who presents Himself as the messiah-king which the entire cultural and textual history of the Hebrew people had been tending toward. His existence as a human historical figure in the first century AD is attested to by secular sources, and most especially by the extra-biblical textual corpus of the early religious movement of which he is said to be the founder (i.e. the early Church). Indeed, Western civilization divides the dating of human history according to his birth. The documentary account of his life, history, teachings, and claims is perhaps more extensive and well attested according to the rubrics of documentary evaluation that Plato, Aristotle, or any other ancient figure. Secular scholars acknowledge the gospel accounts as generally reliable history.

    Moreover, there is abundant attestation to the historical reliability of these texts from many 1st and 2nd century sources. The members of the movement which traced their origin to Jesus of Nazareth constantly referred to these texts as faithful accounts of Jesus’ life and times. No doubt, such early witness to the origin, authorship and reliability of the gospels by the early Christian community is one of the primary reasons why historians generally accept them as authentic first century accounts of the Jewish rabbi’s life. Hence, knowing that the gospels, or the ethnic texts venerated by the Hebrews, are historically reliable requires absolutely nothing in the way a commitment to their inspiration or the truth of their religious claims, much less to their status as divine revelation. Further, the fact that a wide array of prophetic utterances concerning the Messiah, found within the Hebrew textual corpus, happen to align with the historical events and circumstances surrounding the life of Jesus, says nothing about the inspiration of that corpus generally. As I said above, at most, it would speak well for those specific utterances alone.

    To sum up so far: there is an entire ethnic nation whose history reaches back into the dawn of civilization and which claims to have been selected by God as the bearer of a divine revelation for mankind. Central to the content of this alleged revelation is the claim that God will send a messiah-king that will teach and rule and bless all the nations. Specific prophetic utterances are given concerning this event, which include historical signs or future indications. A first century rabbi seems to uniquely fulfill, in a profound and integrated way, the cumulative predictive content of these utterances. In addition, from the gospel texts – as history – we learn that this rabbi audaciously claimed to be the promised messiah-king; and more radically still, to be the son of a transcendent God. The gospels relate the historical claim that he carried out a multitude of miraculous actions to evidence this claim, the most staggering his own, post-mortem, bodily resurrection.

    Finally, the gospel texts indicate that he was intent upon choosing 12 followers in imitation of and continuity with the ethnic structure of the Hebrew nation. Moreover, he established one of these as his prime minister, endowed with the keys of dynasty and authority, harkening back to the Hebrew kingdom structure at the time of the Solomonic hegemony. Hence, he is seen to be launching a new Israel. He is portrayed in the historical texts as investing these officers with his own divine power, commissioning them to teach in his name, and promising to send them divine help to carry out this task. Nowhere does he tell any of the twelve to write, nor does he write anything himself. In fact only 3 or 5 of the 12 actually do write anything (depending on scholarly debates). Instead the one and only earthly program he seems to have set in motion is the foundation of a Church: “upon this rock I will build my Church”. In keeping with the divine pedagogical strategy of cradling revelation within a unified historic society (the protective womb of the Hebrew society & culture), he transforms old Israel; not by commencing a religion of the book, but by founding a worldwide universal society by which the divine communication might travel to the ends of the earth while retaining its identity and integrity by developing within the sacramental bonds of the Church.

    But are there grounds for thinking the claims that Jesus made about himself, and about the invincibility of his Church (the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”) are true? Historically he is known to have made the claims; but are they true? From the historical records immediately following the writing of the gospels (including, but not limited to, the 23 additional NT documents considered inspired by Christians) one does indeed find a new organized society within the Roman Empire whose leaders and members cling to the historical claims concerning Jesus’ divinity, miracles and resurrection, to the point of suffering persecution and death. Moreover, the earliest documentary evidence (both within and without the 23 non-gospel NT documents) attests that the first leaders clearly understood that the authority they allegedly received from Christ was to be passed on through a specific religious rite.

    The new movement bursts upon the 2nd & 3rd century organized around ecclesial bishops and Eucharistic worship, and characterized everywhere by proto-Catholic doctrine. Despite vicious persecution, and with zero military or political resources, this new society led by the successor of Peter and the successors of the apostles, grows with astounding speed and success until the very empire which persecuted it, eventually succumbs to its doctrine. As the centuries march on, this society (identifiable across time through unity with the successors to Peter and the apostles) spreads out across the world and the centuries. After two millennia of the most trying internal and external trials (which, given the historical fate of other institutions, ought to have sealed her demise), she now fills every part of the globe, speaks every language, and re-presents the central religious sacrifice instituted by her founder every hour of every day for the sake of the human race. She is the oldest living institution on earth. Despite a history plagued by the weakness of human nature in some of her members and leaders, she has been the greatest source of charitable activity in the history of the world. Today she remains the largest, most active, charitable organization on the planet.

    Most pertinent to this current discussion, she clearly and doggedly insists upon a controversial body of truths which make her the most radically subversive institution in the modern world: a message of life to some and a stumbling block to others. A body of truths she has fought for and defended as the very message of God to the human race. Like her founder, she unabashedly claims not only to teach divine things, but to be of divine origin. Most daring of all, she purports to possess the authority to speak infallibly, in the name of God, in the here and now! Her claims are so staggering that she forces one to make a choice as to her identity. Accordingly, for someone generally convinced that some kind of God exists, such a person might reasonably conclude that if any religious institution or society upon the face of the earth has a credible claim to being the bearer of a communication from that God, it is the Catholic Church.

    Something like the above reflective integration of the various motives of credibility leads to a cumulative case for the divine origin of the Catholic Church, and by extension, for the divine sanction of her teaching. I note that the case I have just laid out does not depend, a wit, on a prior affirmation of any set of documents, or any one document, as being divinely inspired. If you carefully consider the matter, you may find that the above method accords with how most thinking persons come to a conclusion in favor of Christ’s divinity. Protestants simply fail to follow the motives of credibility forward (and to a degree, backwards, as relating to the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s world wide kingdom) so as to capture a vision of the majesty of that supernatural society which Christ launched upon the waters of human history.

    Finally, it is the embrace of this conclusion regarding the identity of the Catholic Church as true which alone gives grounds for thinking that some set of codexed documents spanning 4000 years of human history are a unified work of divine inspiration. Since, besides the fulfillment of specific prophecies, there is nothing in the texts, taken alone, that establishes that each word or document is inspired, much less that inspiration attaches to the selection of some whole collection. I think you have it perfectly backward. The Church comes first, knowledge of the scriptures as inspired, depends on it.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  96. @Peter

    IMV, the consideration of this issue can be easier if we place ourselves in the position of a listener to the Apostles between years 30 AD and 50 AD, when no NT text had yet been written. After all, the situation of a Christian right now is not essentially different from the situation of one back then.

    For a Jewish listener, the primary motive of credibility in the divinity of Jesus were his miracles, but, since most Jews did not see any of them directly, the proximate motive of credibility in the historicity of those miracles was the testimony of the early Church. That primary motive would then be strengthened by verifying the extent to which Jesus’ life and deeds fulfilled the prophecies of the OT, which a Jew already believed to be divinely inspired.

    In the case of a Gentile listener, as Bryan said in #90:

    “just as when preaching to the Gentiles St. Paul didn’t first have to establish that the Old (or New) Testament is divine revelation. ”

    the fulfilling of OT prophecies would not even be an additional motive of credibility in the divinity of Jesus (unless the Gentile already was a Jewish proselyte). So the primary and only motive of credibility in the divinity of Jesus were his miracles, and the proximate motive of credibility in the historicity of those miracles was the testimony of the early Church.

    And to see how the introduction of NT books, as they started to be written, would play in this scenario, it is useful to recall this statement by St Augustine:

    “Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, nisi me Catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas.”

    “I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.”

    Contra Epistolam Manichaei, Liber Unus, chapter 5.

  97. @ray – #95 – thank you so much for this. This is precisely the line of argument that Ronald Knox takes in his “The Belief of Catholics” and it was revolutionary for me. I had been locked into Van Tillian presuppositionalism – a form, I think, of fideism – and to break out of this into an evidentially-based approach to faith was liberating. I so much appreciate your own writing so much that it is exactly the approach, it seems to me, that needs to be taken in order to come to faith in Christ and in the Church.

    jj

  98. Bryan, (RE: #92)

    Great. Now we’re getting somewhere…though still coming up short…

    You wrote:
    “He demonstrated His divine authority, and thus also the truth of His claim to be divine, by all His miracles, especially by rising from the dead three days after His death.”

    So we know that: 1) there are certain ancient writings that *claim* that Jesus performed miracles including the resurrection, and 2) these writings contain *some* information that is historically verifiable. However, this does not mean that we can objectively demonstrate what these ancient writings tell us about Jesus’ miracles (including his resurrection) is historically accurate. Just because an ancient text has have some content that is historically accurate does not mean that everything else that ancient text says is also “historically accurate” (i.e., true). Sporadic historically verifiability is not tantamount to infallible historical accuracy. To borrow Ray Stamper’s language, your argument here is “insufficiently critical”.

    In terms of objective historical fact, can you demonstrate that Jesus “performed miracles” and “rose from the dead”?

    You wrote:
    “Christ also demonstrated His divine authority by fulfilling over four hundred OT prophecies. One does not need to know in advance that those prophecies are divine revelation in order for Christ’s fulfillment of them to be evidence that He is who He claimed to be. His fulfilling of these prophecies is at the very same time confirmation both of their having come from God, and of His having come from God.”

    Again, you are assuming that *all* of the relevant content of the NT and OT, to which you are referring here, is historically accurate (i.e., true). But you have yet to objectively demonstrate this point. In terms of objective historical fact, can you demonstrate that Jesus “fulfilled over four hundred OT prophecies”?

    Thanks again for the interaction.

    Peter

  99. Nelson,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Your interpretation of my question is accurate. And your question (“So how then do you prove Divine Church authority?”) is the right one to ask. The problem with you subsequent argumentation is that you start with faith (“I believe”) rather than reason. As Bryan has argued elsewhere, “Without further qualification, that’s fideism. We don’t start with faith. We start with reason. Grace builds on nature, not the other way around. Yes we need to believe in order to understand if we are talking about that which is known by grace. But the motives of credibility are known not by grace, but by reason. Otherwise, the starting point would be an arbitrarily leap.” (see here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/short-video-on-the-identification-of-the-apostolic-faith/#comment-24740). The Catholic Encyclopedia says essentially the same thing in its discussions of “fideism” and the “motives of credibility”.

    So, by Catholicism’s own standards, you must be able 1) to objectively demonstrate that the Church is of divine origin and, thus has divine authority and 2) make this demonstration on the basis of reason alone (i.e., historical fact + logic + etc.), to the exclusion of faith and presupposition. Can this be done? (This is what Bryan and I are currently trying to figure out in comments #91, 92, 98…)

    Peter

  100. Ray,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write all this out. Very informative/helpful. Most of if I completely agree with despite recognizing (as you seem to, as well) that a multitude of reasonable objections could be made.

    I’m sure you realize that I can’t respond to everything you (and others) have written here so I will try to isolate a couple points you made that I thought were crucial.

    You wrote:
    “Mere historical accuracy in no way entails divine inspiration, as I am sure you would concede. But, also, documents do not have “prophetic nature”. They either contain words which claim to be divinely communicated prophetic utterances or they do not. Those texts which do not contain such “prophetic” utterances (as some of the Hebrew texts do not) would not enjoy any additional force as “divine revelation”, simply by the fact that some other venerated Hebrew text (perhaps written by a different author at a different time) does contain such references. Hence, your words concerning the “entire set” do not follow. Further, the fact that some limited section of any one document purports to be a prophetic utterance (even an utterance later fulfilled historically), in no way entails that the rest of the content within that document is also divine revelation. At most, it lends credibility to the claim that one or more specific utterances was inspired by God – not the surrounding narrative, etc. Your claim is, in my view, insufficiently critical.”

    I completely agree with everything you have stated here. Now, would agree that it would also be “insufficiently critical” to conclude that, because certain ancient texts contain *some* information that is historically accurate, the rest of the contents in these texts says is also historically accurate (i.e., true)? (see comment #98 for more on this)

    You wrote:
    “But are there grounds for thinking the claims that Jesus made about himself, and about the invincibility of his Church (the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”) are true? Historically he is known to have made the claims; but are they true?”

    This is the crucial question in all that you wrote because it is here that we can move from investigation historical facts/texts to submission to divine revelation; from lack of “definitive and certain knowledge of Divine revelation” (see here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05752c.htm; paragraph “d” in the “motives of credibility” section) to possession thereof. Your subsequent sentences and paragraphs do not objectively/conclusively demonstrate that Jesus is what he claimed to be. (See my exchange with Bryan in comments #90-92, 98…). As I said above, I think we both recognize that a multitude of reasonable objections could be made to the case you present. (but I’m still grateful you took the time to write to write it out!).

  101. Peter,

    I think you should look again at the passage you cite about motives of credibility and the nature of demonstration:

    This knowledge of revealed truth which precedes faith . . . is not even the cause of Divine faith but is rather to be considered a remote disposition to it. We must insist upon this because in the minds of many faith is regarded as a more or less necessary consequence of a careful study of the motives of credibility, a view which the Vatican Council condemns expressly . . .

    Newman refers . . . to the proof of faith afforded by the motives of credibility, and he rightly concludes that, since these are not demonstrative, this line of proof may be termed “an accumulation of probabilities”. But it would be absurd to say that Newman therefore based the final assent of faith on this accumulation—as a matter of fact he is not here making an analysis of an act of faith, but only of the grounds for faith.

    –David

  102. Peter,

    Sorry for this swoop into the conversation; you probably already have enough interlocutors and then some. I just wanted to point out that you seem to be under the impression that, because the Catholic Church rejects fideism, she must therefore embrace rationalism, which would demand the “objective demonstration” you keep mentioning. But the Church rejects rationalism. Motives of credibility are not objective demonstration, but they can serve as prompts to the assent of supernatural faith, and they can also help to show that divine faith, while suprarational, is not unreasonable.

    best,
    John

  103. David,

    Are you conceding (or more accurately “Are you saying that the Encyclopedia of the Catholic Church concedes”) that it cannot be objectively/conclusively demonstrated – on the basis of reason alone – that the Catholic Church is the true Church that Christ founded?

    Peter

  104. Peter, (re: #98)

    You wrote:

    However, this does not mean that we can objectively demonstrate what these ancient writings tell us about Jesus’ miracles (including his resurrection) is historically accurate. … In terms of objective historical fact, can you demonstrate that Jesus “performed miracles” and “rose from the dead”? … Again, you are assuming that *all* of the relevant content of the NT and OT, to which you are referring here, is historically accurate (i.e., true). But you have yet to objectively demonstrate this point. In terms of objective historical fact, can you demonstrate that Jesus “fulfilled over four hundred OT prophecies”?

    You used the term ‘demonstrate’ four times there. But until I know exactly what you mean by the term, I cannot answer your question. In order therefore to answer your question, I need you to answer the following two questions: (1) For any historical event, what sort of evidence is necessary for that evidence to count as a “demonstration” that the event in question occurred?, and (2) What sort of evidence would count as a demonstration that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  105. As the Encyclopedia puts it, what I’m asking for is “definite proof of a definite truth”.

    So, in this case, all I need is one or more pieces of concrete historical evidence that conclusively confirm that Jesus performed miracles or fulfilled prophecy as the New Testament and Old Testament claim that he did. The form in which you produce such evidence is up to you. Can you produce such evidence?

    Peter

  106. Peter, (re: #105),

    Merely swapping terms just pushes the questions back. (1a) For any historical event, what sort of evidence is necessary for that evidence to count as a “definite proof” and to “conclusively confirm” that the event in question occurred?, and (2a) What sort of evidence would count as “definite proof” and would “conclusively confirm” that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead?

    I know what I mean by those terms, but I don’t know what you mean by them. So I need to know your definitions of these terms, in order to answer your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  107. What do you think those words mean; since you have found my attempted explanations inadequate? In any case, feel free to provide whatever evidence you have and then we can determine together whether or not it objectively/conclusively proves the truth of what you are saying.

    But I think we get the point. It seems that you non-answer is admission of what you have implied elsewhere (and what David seems to be implying in comment #): that “Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (and that he established Divine Church) cannot “be known by reason alone” (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/short-video-on-the-identification-of-the-apostolic-faith/#comment-24769). This means that you need divine revelation in order to have definite and certain knowledge that Jesus is divine. But now we’re back to our original question: where do we get this divine revelation from and how do we know it is indeed divine revelation? Any other solutions?

  108. Peter, (re: #107)

    You wrote:

    In any case, feel free to provide whatever evidence you have and then we can determine together whether or not it objectively/conclusively proves the truth of what you are saying.

    So I am to believe that even though now you cannot define what you mean by such terms as ‘demonstrate,’ ‘definitively prove’ or ‘conclusively confirm,’ after I provide the evidence, then suddenly you will know what you mean by “objectively/conclusively proves”? If you cannot define these terms now, there is no reason to think you will suddenly know what they mean after I present the evidence. And if you do not know what they mean after I present the evidence, there is no way you can determine whether the evidence “objectively/conclusively proves the truth” of what I am saying.

    It seems that you non-answer is admission of what you have implied elsewhere (and what David seems to be implying in comment #): that “Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (and that he established Divine Church) cannot “be known by reason alone”

    Au contraire, it is simply due to the fact that from a number of years of experience as a teacher, I don’t try to answer questions when the questioner doesn’t know what he is asking, because he doesn’t even know the meaning of the words in his question. We cannot answer a question until we know what is the question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  109. Peter,

    You wrote:

    As I said above, I think we both recognize that a multitude of reasonable objections could be made to the case you present.

    Yes, and there are perfectly good replies available to each of those objections, but all of that would require a book – which would be a worthy project.

    You wrote:

    Your subsequent sentences and paragraphs do not objectively/conclusively demonstrate that Jesus is what he claimed to be.

    That all depends on what constitutes an “objective” and/or “conclusive” demonstration. Given your comments in this thread, I anticipated that your primary objection to my hastily garbled together macro argument might come down to the question of its status as demonstrative, or its certitude.

    I would like to point out that certitude is a property of knowers, not the known, and philosophically it admits of various types or degrees (opinion, belief, scientific certitude, metaphysical certitude, the certitude attached to a grasp of first principles, etc), and each of these entail specific grounds for their correlative certitude as experienced by the one who is said to be certain. As Bryan has just pointed out, if the issue at hand reduces to questions of “definite” proof and “conclusive” certitude, we had best get clear about what meaning you attach to those terms. For now, I will simply illustrate my point about the trickiness of certitude with a dialogue.

    A: It is certain that the earth orbits around the sun.

    B: But our simple apprehension of things does not immediately yield the judgement that the earth orbits the sun. Newscasters still talk about sunrise and sunset. Besides, for most of human history people made the judgement that the sun orbited the earth based on their simple apprehension.

    A: But the judgement that the sun orbited the earth based on simple apprehension was unwarranted. They should have rather said: “I perceive the relative motion of the earth to the sun.”

    B: Sure, perhaps if they had taken the time to think more carefully about what their sense data could and could not conclusively affirm, they might have said something more reservedly as you suggest. But even a more humble affirmation that we apprehend relative motion does not answer the question concerning which celestial body orbits which.

    A: True, but with the advent of the telescope scientists were able to verify it.

    B: How do you know that?

    A: My teachers taught me so.

    B: How did your teachers know it?

    A: From their teachers.

    B: Well how far back would that regress have to go before you come across someone who actually looked through a telescope and completed the verification you talk about?

    A: Well, I really have no idea, but I am certain someone did verify it – somewhere along the way.

    B: Well that’s hardly a definite proof upon which to base some claim about the earth orbiting the sun, but okay, suppose someone in your teacher’s regress-chain did look through the telescope; how would they have verified the earth’s orbiting the sun? Its not smart to look at the sun directly through a telescope. Besides, how would simply looking at the sun through a telescope determine if the sun was orbiting the earth or vice-a-versa? Would not the image seen through the telescope look the same in either case?

    A: Well they looked at lots of celestial bodies and studied their movements and distances to determine that the earth was orbiting the sun.

    B: How do you know that what they saw through the telescope what was really there? Maybe it was a mirage. Mirages happen to us here on earth when looking at things far closer to ourselves than the celestial bodies – even with telescopic magnification.

    A: Errors concerning mirages are corrected by applying some other sense beside sight, like walking to the place where a desert mirage was seen, to verify that water really isn’t there.

    B: But how would you apply another sense, beside sight, to celestial bodies?

    A: We have been to outer space, we have landed on the moon.

    B: Have we? How do you know?

    A: Are you serious?

    B: Well yes, actually. We saw tv images and photos, but how do we know it really happened? Anyhow, I will drop that one. So scientists looked through telescopes, saw what was really there and then figured out a set of mathematical relationships which accounted for all their telescope observations under the hypothesis that the earth orbits the sun and not the reverse?

    A: Well, yes.

    B: So its a hypothesis?

    A: NO! its certain!

    B: But the old Ptolemaic theory is also a hypothetical model that accurately predicts the movement of celestial bodies under the hypothesis that the sun orbits the earth.

    A: True, but that model is more complex. The Copernican model achieves the same predictive success with simpler equations.

    B: Oh, so its only certain that the earth orbits the sun IF one buys into the general theory that between two successful explanations of the same data, the simplest of the two is always correct. How do you define simplicity anyway?

    A: I don’t want to get into it about simplicity. It is certain that the earth orbits the sun! Period!

    B: But if sometimes the true explanation is the more complex, then you have to admit that you are not certain about the earth orbiting the sun.

    A: I guess – sigh

    B: And how do you know that scientists did the math right when constructing the more simple Copernican model?

    A: I was taught that the math was correct by my teachers.

    B: Oh, so they did the math with you?

    A: No, they taught me that someone else did the math and got it correct.

    B: Oh, so the whole teacher regression thing again.

    A: I need a beer.

    Don’t get me wrong, I AM certain that the earth orbits the sun, but I hope this little dialogue reveals a bit of the trickiness involved in defining exactly what is meant by “definite” proof or “conclusive” knowledge, etc.
    Pax Christi,

  110. Bryan,

    You said:
    “I know what I mean by those terms”

    I know what you mean by those terms also. Because I’m quite sure we mean the same thing. If you disagree, then share with me what you mean by those terms so that we can move forward with the discussion.

    The reason I cannot come up with an example that would satisfy 1 & 2, (or 1a, & 2a) is because do not know of any such evidence. Based on you understanding of these terms, do you know of any such evidence?

    You wrote:
    “Au contraire”

    So “Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (and that he established Divine Church) can “be known by reason alone”?

    Peter

  111. Peter, (re: #110)

    You wrote:

    The reason I cannot come up with an example that would satisfy 1 & 2, (or 1a, & 2a) is because do not know of any such evidence.

    Let’s start with questions (1) and (1a), before moving to (2) and (2a). When you say that you cannot come up with an example that would satisfy (1) or (1a), are you saying that no historical event preceding your own lifetime can be demonstrated to have occurred, or definitively proven to have occurred, or conclusively confirmed to have occurred?

    If your answer is ‘yes,’ then when you ask me to demonstrate that Christ performed miracles and rose from the dead, you’re asking me to do something you yourself think is impossible for any historical event that occurred outside your lifetime.

    But if your answer is ‘no,’ then what are some events preceding your lifetime that you think have been demonstrated (definitively proven, conclusively confirmed, etc.) to have occurred, and how does the evidence for them demonstrate (definitively prove, conclusively confirm, etc.) that they occurred?

    I need to know whether your answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ in order for me to begin to answer your earlier question to me in comment #98.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  112. You could peruse some of these actual historical arguments:

    For reliability of NT:

    The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, by Craig Blomberg
    Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, by Richard Bauckham

    For the historicity of Miracles and the Resurrection:

    The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary R. Habermas
    The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographic​al Approach, by Mike Licona
    Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig (see chapter on Resurrection).
    The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N.T. Wright
    Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, by Craig S. Keener.

    Peace.

  113. If possible, I’d like to bring up an issue related to the subject of the original article, specifically how the points (correctly) made by Bryan’s brother here:

    my brother asked (and I’m paraphrasing and summarizing): “Are ethical truths true because God commands them, or does God command them because they are true?” I replied, “They are true because God commands them.” To which he replied, “Why does God command these and not others? If rape is wrong only because God commanded us not to do it, then if God commanded us to do it, rape would be right and good. (And we may replace the word ‘rape’ with any other term referring to some heinous atrocity, e.g. genocide, cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, abortion, blasphemy, etc.). “And in that case,” said my brother, “how would God be morally distinguishable from the Devil?” “But,” I protested, “God wouldn’t do that.” “Why not?” he replied. “Because”, I said, “that’s not His character.”

    apply to God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, about which Bryan said in comment #6:

    Rationality is not nullified by an act of trust in a higher authority. Abraham was not being irrational in obeying God when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. There is a middle position between rationalism and fideism. Rationalism would require Abraham to figure out for himself (on independent grounds besides God’s command) whether it was best to sacrifice Isaac. Fideism would entail that Abraham could rightly follow any voice, or no voice, simply to do whatever his will willed to do, for no reason at all, or for any reason at all.

    IMV, the key consideration here is timing. The timing of God’s gradual revelation, and the timing of human reason’s gradual illumination and liberation (by God’s word) from the darkness into which it had fallen since the time of original sin.

    According to the timing of God’s gradual revelation, there was no problem in God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son because it was centuries before He decreed the prohibition of human sacrifices in the Law given through Moses (Deut 18:10). Thus the command did not contradict any positive divine law known by Abraham.

    And according to the timing of human reason’s gradual liberation from darkness, there was no problem either because that process was just starting, and Abraham lived among peoples where it was a common practice to sacrifice the first son to the personal or local god. Thus the command did not contradict the knowledge that Abraham had of natural law.

    I hope you will excuse my bringing up this issue related to the original subject, but I am engaged in a discussion with an atheist and I am aware that this particular episode is one of the toughest points an atheist (or an un-biblical theist) can raise against judeo-christian revelation. Therefore I will appreciate your comments on it.

  114. Hi Peter

    In reply to your # 99 you stated that my argument starts with “faith” , but that is not necessarily true. I think that faith is not a blind leap but one that is based on historical fact + logic + etc. However that reasoning can only take you so far. Even some who were with Jesus and who saw the miracles were not always convinced of their reasoning and so did not follow him. There are those today who apply reasoning to history and facts but still do not come to the same conclusions as others who also apply reasoning and facts. Faith must be based on logical reasoning and facts but also require the grace of God . It is not a blind leap into faith. As Jesus Himself stated no one can come to faith in Him unless the Father wills it to be. Thus Mr. Hitchens for all his reasoning could not come to faith in Jesus or the Father. So I would not say that faith is an arbitrary leap. However what would be reasonable to me may not necessarily be reasonable to another person and it would depend on the standard of reason that you are willing to accept.

    Blessings
    NHU

  115. Bryan,

    Pardon me, but why must this be only an “either/or” question:

    “Are ethical truths true because God commands them, or does God command them because they are true?”

    Isn’t the answer, “Both”?

    Since God is the one true God of truth (sorry for the pedantry, but it’s true!), the source of ethical truth is God himself. ~ The scripturally-revealed God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, not the man-made gods of Socrates & Plato. You replied to your brother:

    “They are true because God commands them.” To which he replied, “Why does God command these and not others? If rape is wrong only because God commanded us not to do it, then if God commanded us to do it, rape would be right and good.

    He pulled a fast one on you saying, “If rape is wrong only because God commanded…” Again, why must it be either/or – why is God’s character being played off his commands? What your brother (and you) apparently have confused is the source of ethics with our epistemology regarding ethics. He is the source of ethics, and we know what is right or wrong because He tells us what is right and wrong.

    To the Bible-believer, all of God’s character, commands, and decrees that we are to know are laid out for us to glean his mind.

    That many or most unbelievers have nearly identical ethical values doesn’t mean that ethics transcend God, it merely means that they transcend us humans. The values’ source is God. He gives light and life to all men in varying degrees.

    Let’s expand the concept, and replace the word ‘rape’ with SIN. Back to you & your brother:

    “And in that case,” said my brother, “how would God be morally distinguishable from the Devil?”

    We needn’t conjecture here; there are biblical cases to go to: God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. And His telling the Israelites to destroy (kerem) entire villages at times: Men, women, even children, down to livestock. God did command genocide, he did command homicide. He is nothing like the devil. Your brother presented you with a false dilemma.

    “But,” I protested, “God wouldn’t do that.” “Why not?” he replied. “Because”, I said, “that’s not His character.” “Well,” he replied, “then at least we now agree that the wrongness of SIN is not because God commanded us not to do it, but rather because it is contrary to God’s character….

    No, you both merely agreed that sin is wrong because it contradicts God’s character; but your brother did NOT prove that sin is wrong only for that reason, nor prove that it’s not a sin because God forbade it.

    …But what is it about the act of SIN that makes it contrary to God’s character?” “Well,” I replied, “God is loving and good, and SIN is an act of selfishness and violation, completely disregarding the good of the other.” “So,” he said, “SIN is wrong because it is not good and loving, and whatever is not good and loving is contrary to God’s character?” “Yes, I think so.” I said. He replied, “Well, now you are agreeing that SIN is wrong because of something about the nature of SIN; and that God commands us not to do that act because of the nature of that act in relation to His character.”

    Again, a false dilemma – God says sin is wrong. Sin is also contrary to God’s character; it is also “an act of selfishness and violation” of God’s law. These are not proven to be mutually exclusive or contradictory, nor is the source of the ethic proven by your brother.

    Philosophical fail, it appears to me.

  116. Hugh, (re: #115)

    You wrote:

    Isn’t the answer, “Both”?

    No, if the ‘because’ is meant in the same sense, that would involve an incoherent reply, and thus not answer the question. If they are already true, then God’s commanding them does not make them true, but entails their truth. But if His command them make them true, then He cannot command them *because* they are true, but only, at least, in order to make them true.

    What your brother (and you) apparently have confused is the source of ethics with our epistemology regarding ethics. He is the source of ethics, and we know what is right or wrong because He tells us what is right and wrong.

    Actually, we weren’t bringing epistemology into the discussion; you are. We were considering what makes ethical truths true, not how we know them to be true.

    That many or most unbelievers have nearly identical ethical values doesn’t mean that ethics transcend God, it merely means that they transcend us humans. The values’ source is God. He gives light and life to all men in varying degrees.

    I agree.

    you both merely agreed that sin is wrong because it contradicts God’s character; but your brother did NOT prove that sin is wrong only for that reason, nor prove that it’s not a sin because God forbade it.

    Sin does not become more objectively wrong upon divine prohibition; we become more culpable the more we know that it is wrong and choose to do it anyway. But culpability is a different question from what makes sin wrong.

    Again, a false dilemma – God says sin is wrong. Sin is also contrary to God’s character; it is also “an act of selfishness and violation” of God’s law. These are not proven to be mutually exclusive or contradictory, nor is the source of the ethic proven by your brother.

    I agree that they are not mutually exclusive: something can be contrary to God’s contrary, and God can prohibit it. But what fundamentally makes sin to be wrong cannot be a contingent divine choice, and God’s eternal character. See above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  117. Below is a helpful lecture that includes a section on first principles, by Prof. Lawrence Feingold of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary:

    Prof. Lawrence Feingold: “First Principles, Conscience, and the Challenge of Relativism”

    The lecture and Q&A can be downloaded here.

  118. Bryan,

    Thank you for the reply!

    Perhaps your brother asked one of those unaswerable question: Are ethical truths true because God commands them, or does God command them because they are true? My point in saying “both,” was that ethical truths are as eternally true as God, and they spring forth from his essential character. Nothing is eternally true outside of God. For Christians, his command is reason enough for us to receive them.

    Still I hold that you and your brother “merely agreed that sin is wrong because it contradicts God’s character; but your brother did NOT prove that sin is wrong only for that reason, nor prove that it’s not a sin because God forbade it.”

    Is there such a thing as a “contingent divine choice”? The notion is absurd. God’s “choices” are contingent upon what?

    I understand the law of (non)contradiction, but perhaps this question* of your brother has no answer except, “Yes.” :)

    * Are ethical truths true because God commands them, or does God command them because they are true?

    Bryan, You didn’t address the best bits of my post #115. Will you?

  119. […] over to Called to Communion to see what the folks there have to say about Aristotle. I ran across this from Mr. Cross […]

  120. Feser’s response to David Hart in FT is well worth reading regarding the subjects of natural law, the motives of credibility, and fideism.

  121. Thanks Bryan (#120). It was well worth the read. It should remind us all that we should pay careful attention to what we say lest we build our argument upon a fallacy — intended or not. Further, I really appreciated Feser’s last paragraph:

    That’s why apologetics—the praeambula fidei, the study of what natural reason can and must know before it can know the truths of faith—precedes dogmatics in the order of knowledge, and always will. The theologian who thinks otherwise is like the Goethe scholar who screams in German at his English-speaking students, telling them what idiots they are—and deriding those who would teach them German as engaged in a “hopeless” task.

    It explains a lot of the struggles that take place in the combox here.

    Peace

  122. As can be gleaned just by perusing the first several comments following Feser’s article, people don’t reject natural law because of their faith commitment to divine revelation. They reject natural law because of their philosophical commitment to skepticism. Bible-waving notwithstanding, Humeans and Kantians are no less philosophical than Thomists and Aristotelians. In other words, this debate is not a religious debate, i.e., concerning the locus and meaning of divine revelation, but a philosophical one. Its just that some fideists don’t understand that, because they (mistakenly) think that their skepticism is philosophically neutral, or even theologically virtuous.

  123. Of Thomas, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, whomever… we scripturalist Protestants would not first recommend Dr Plantinga.

    We rather recommend your reading Dr Gordon Haddon Clark (d. 1985) and the books and ‘Review Archives’ at http://www.TrinityFoundation.org. I suggest his short essay, “How Does Man Know God?” as well as the small book, Lord God of Truth & Concerning the Teacher, wherein,

    ‘Dr. Clark examines four major problems in the philosophy of Empiricism: sensation, causality, imagination, and induction. He concludes that Empiricism fails to solve all four problems, but that Biblical Christianity either avoids or can solve the problems that stymie the empiricists. Because it is closely related to Clark’s argument, we have included the dialogue De Magistro “Concerning the Teacher” penned by Augustine 16 centuries ago, in which Augustine discusses the source of learning.’

    @ Brent: Contra Feser, we would say (quoting Clark’s ‘How Does Man Know God?’):

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

    Accordingly, let the Christian axiom be the truth of the Scriptures. This is the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura

    Thank you.

  124. Hugh, (re: #123)

    Clark’s argument is built on the presupposition of skepticism, as can be seen in his statement that “Observations can never prove the reliability of observation.” Without the reliability of our observations, Clark wouldn’t even know what it means for something to be reliable, or unreliable. So he relies on what he already knows through his observations, even to make his skeptical claim about the need for a fideistic leap to a “first indemonstrable axiom.” I have addressed this in the link in the post at the top of this page.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  125. I seem to remember asking this before—maybe it was even on this thread— but since I haven’t understood the answer yet and since Feser’s article has brought it to the forefront for me, I will ask again: How can it be proven that FGM is morally wrong when it is an ethical norm in some cultures based on “a” divine law? A divine command that the tenants of my Christian faith will not allow me to accept as being from God because they are violation of human rights.
    But while “I see” (probable admission to skepticism) that Christianity morally trumps the tenants of their religion, it also cannot disprove (satisfactorily to them, and further revealing my skepticism) that their law of female circumcision is not also a DC. In other words, I believe that I am not being a philosophical skeptic because I see that natural law informs me of the good, but what do I do when there is a divine command that, at least appears, to be a moral bad? Here’s where my dilemma lies… The OT has laws like, circumcision, death penalty for disobedience, and wiping out Israel’s enemies, including children, so am I to think these divine commands or was Moses mistaken about what God wanted?

    This kind of thinking is dangerous, and gives permission to modern day theonomists. I could scream all day long that FGM is not salutary and therefore not a command from a benevolent creator, but unless I could prove to them that “the good” of the individual is what God wants then I am stuck. I also realize that in their thinking they do this kind of thing for some greater good, and are mistaken. I certainly intuit that it is cruel and oppressive. But I also notice that I don’t wince at the idea of the pain that a male would go through if his circumcision was done without anesthesia( well, I do, but I’m letting the DCT overrule my squeamishness), so I guess I don’t see male circumcision as cruel and oppressive, though perhaps maybe I should. Metaphysics cannot account for the practice of male circumcision. How is natural law informing the rightness or wrongness of either FGM, or male circumcision, for that matter? And how is DCT affirming NL in the OT?
    When Paul says in Roman that the law is written on the hearts of the gentiles who though they weren’t privileged to have the law, still were able to keep the law—in which case their thoughts defend them or they violated the law and their thoughts accused them—shows that there is more to the make-up of a human soul then just its awareness of “designedness”. I don’t know what the implications that is for nature and grace, and I have probably just made myself a Pelagian. I’m also sure I don’t know what image and likeness means either. I’m generally confused.

    I used female circumcision as an example in my question because it is a practice that is religiously sanctioned. The topic of FGM did come up in a heated conversation a few weeks back, so it was handy in my thoughts as well. It caused my own lengthy internal dialogue about DCT and Natural Law.

    I just noticed the link to Dr. Feingold’s lecture on First Principles and will listen to it this evening. Thank you.

    Susan

  126. Since Bryan complained that my reply didn’t address him directly (as I was responding to Hugh, not Bryan), I’ll direct my comments to him:

    You beg the question, besides are God’s thoughts reliable? Last I checked they weren’t observable. The Scriptures say they are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2;14). But coming from a sensate and carnal man like you what else would anyone expect by way of response. You oppose Christ and believe truth is sensually discerned which explains why you have no truth. It also explains why you believe sins are remitted through through the physical act of baptism and through ingestion of that abomination you call “the mass.” Just shows how far from Augustine the apostate Roman church-state has long since drifted.

  127. Sean (#126),

    You wrote:

    You beg the question

    In your view, what does it mean to ‘beg the question’? And where did Bryan do so, and how?

    But coming from a sensate and carnal man like you what else would anyone expect by way of response.

    Rhetorical questions appeal to the emotions rather than to the intellect, and so a wise person will not use them in debate about matters as serious as are being discussed in this thread, because it is better for the will to be moved by reason (which may be corrected) rather than by visceral impulses (which render correction impossible).

    You oppose Christ and believe truth is sensually discerned which explains why you have no truth.

    I’m sure you are aware that Bryan does not understand himself to be opposing Christ. And so if you believe he is, and you love him with the love Christ bids you have for your enemies, then rather than bludgeoning him or other Catholics with your assertions, a much more charitable way to proceed is to show Bryan and other Catholics with whom you dispute how they are opposing Christ, accepting and refuting their counter-arguments patiently and with love, until the matter is plain. Mere assertions are only compelling to the undiscerning, because the discerning realize that assertions do not establish anything. All they do is clarify the opinion of the one making the assertion, and opinions are not arguments.

    Just shows how far from Augustine the apostate Roman church-state has long since drifted.

    Perhaps you could choose some particular teaching of Augustine that has been dogmatically defined as de fide (explaining on what grounds it is so defined), and then show how it stands in contradiction to some other teaching of the Church, likewise dogmatically defined as de fide. Apart from this, I’m unclear how your sentence above points to anything I as a Catholic should find problematic.

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  128. Chad wrote:

    In your view, what does it mean to ‘beg the question’? And where did Bryan do so, and how?

    To beg the question means to assert something that has yet to be demonstrated. Bryan assumes the reliability of observation and claims it is a necessary presupposition for knowledge. He asserts: “Without the reliability of our observations, Clark wouldn’t even know what it means for something to be reliable, or unreliable.” Bryan just assumes the reliability of sensation which obviously isn’t true as God’s thoughts are reliable and are not observable. As mentioned, Scripture says the thoughts of God are not carnally but spiritually discerned. Besides, God has no sensation yet is truth itself. Further, only propositions can be true of false. Sensations, whatever they may be, are neither true nor false.

    Bryan also asserts that Gordon Clark’s argument is based on the ”presupposition of skepticism” but this too simply demonstrates his ignorance of Clark. While Clark is rightly skeptical about many things, including the belief that observations are cognitive, his presupposition is the truth of Scripture upon which all truth claims are measured and by which truth might be known.

    Rhetorical questions appeal to the emotions rather than to the intellect, and so a wise person will not use them in debate about matters as serious as are being discussed in this thread, because it is better for the will to be moved by reason (which may be corrected) rather than by visceral impulses (which render correction impossible).

    I believe correction for someone like Bryan is impossible as I take the words of Hebrews 6:4 seriously. Now, what may be true for someone like Bryan or Jason Stellman is not necessarily true for all those under the bondage of the Roman church/state. Call me an optimist. :)

    I’m sure you are aware that Bryan does not understand himself to be opposing Christ. And so if you believe he is, and you love him with the love Christ bids you have for your enemies, then rather than bludgeoning him or other Catholics with your assertions, a much more charitable way to proceed is to show Bryan and other Catholics with whom you dispute how they are opposing Christ,

    Of course RCs oppose Christ. They deny in principle and practice that Christ’s cross work completely outside of us is enough to propitiate God’s just wrath against sin. To be justified Rome teaches that one must be sanctified and that justification is something that is wrought in us, not something already accomplished completely outside of us. As Paul explains:

    “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

    Perhaps you could choose some particular teaching of Augustine that has been dogmatically defined as de fide (explaining on what grounds it is so defined), and then show how it stands in contradiction to some other teaching of the Church, likewise dogmatically defined as de fide. Apart from this, I’m unclear how your sentence above points to anything I as a Catholic should find problematic.

    You need to read Augustine’s De Magistro. Christ is our teacher as the Holy Spirit illumines our minds to come to know the propositions God has revealed in His Word. Bryan simply asserts the reliability of sensation and seems to think God’s Word consists of ink marks on a page that are magically deciphered via sensation. But, if you read Augustine you’d see this isn’t the case. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence; not an ink scratch on white paper. Many people read the Bible, even popes, and never come to a knowledge of the truth. Bryan too is a great example of this phenomenon as Paul explains:

    “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    Now, admitted, I suspect Bryan is not only successful with silly women, as he seems to have been enormously successful with silly men like Jason Stellman too. But your imagined first “pope” also observed this phenomenon when he wrote concerning Paul’s letters:

    “… speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

    Failure to rightly divide the Scriptures merely just fattens those who do so for the slaughter. Not good place to be.

    – Sean

  129. [Justification is] accomplished completely outside of us. As Paul explains:

    Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

    Sean, if you’re going to make a scriptural argument, then you need to show how the verse you quote asserts what you’re saying it asserts. This verse actually says the opposite of what you’re saying, because the faith through which we are justified is something that is accomplished in us. Faith is not something “completely outside of us”.

  130. @Sean (#126 and 128):
    Given your demonstrated proclivities, you may not take my advice, but I would strongly recommend that you reconsider your use of St. Augustine, particularly if you are Clarkian. He literally could not be farther from you in terms of the absolute epistemic necessity of the physical signs you disdain: baptism and the Eucharist (the same one that Augustine himself celebrated!). The best survey I have read is Gioia’s The Theological Epistemology of Augustine’s De Trinitate, but there are others. But this idea that you could univocally think God’s thoughts after him on this earth would have been completely alien, as opposed to faith through created things (the most exemplary being the very Body of Christ in the Eucharist). His theology of the Church was inseparable from his theological epistemology. Relying on

  131. … Augustine saws off the branch on which you sit.

  132. Jonathan writes:

    Sean, if you’re going to make a scriptural argument, then you need to show how the verse you quote asserts what you’re saying it asserts. This verse actually says the opposite of what you’re saying, because the faith through which we are justified is something that is accomplished in us. Faith is not something “completely outside of us”

    Jonathan, if you’re going to make a rational argument try reading and following what people write and respond to that. I never said faith is something completely outside of us, now did I?

    Further, and more importantly than anything I said, the passage I cited says absolutely nothing about anything accomplished “in us.” Not one thing. Did you even read the passage? I don’t even know what you think you’re interacting with?

    Given your demonstrated proclivities, you may not take my advice, but I would strongly recommend that you reconsider your use of St. Augustine, particularly if you are Clarkian. He literally could not be farther from you in terms of the absolute epistemic necessity of the physical signs you disdain: baptism and the Eucharist

    You write as someone who has no knowledge of Clark at all. Did you happen to go to some Reformed seminary like Bryan where the total exposure to Clark is a chapter or two in A Christian View of Men and Things sifted through a Van Tillian prism? Also, what was that I said about reading what has actually write? I never said I “disdain” physical signs. After all, I’m typing a bunch of ‘em. What I disdain is the assumption that physical signs are anything more than tokens or illustrations to help us recollect a spiritual reality. Those who think baptism and the Lord’s supper have the power to remit sins deny Christ. That much should be obvious.

    … Augustine saws off the branch on which you sit.

    LOL! ;) Read De Magistro. It’s available as a twofer with Clark’s Lord God of Truth. You might really profit from it… or not. :)

  133. “Those who think baptism and the Lord’s supper have the power to remit sins deny Christ. That much should be obvious. ”

    It isn’t obvious to me: The power is Christ’s. How can one “deny Christ” by saying that He has power to remit sins, and the good sense (and knowledge of human nature) to do so in a way that’s tangible and has a sense of ceremony about it?

    Would it have been denying God, for a Hebrew to hear God’s message from Moses? (Or denying Moses, to hear Moses’ message from Aaron?)

    Or, would it have been denying God, to say that a person can be brought to life again by contact with the bones of Elisha? Is it denying God to say that when Jesus rubs mud on a man’s eyes, restored sight will result? Is it denying God to say that touching the hem of a garment can bring healing, if it’s Jesus’ garment? Or if it’s Peter’s handkerchief? Or apron?

    And why should Jesus breathe on a man to give him the Holy Spirit? Can’t the Holy Spirit arrive sans eau de gefilte fish? Obviously He can, but if Jesus opts to recreate Genesis 1 and do it with a motion of expelled air, who’re we to argue?

    It seems to me that the greater danger is to be dismissive of one of God’s grace-gifts when, as is apparently His normal style, He opts to grant that grace through the medium of some material thing.

    And why shouldn’t He? He likes matter. He invented it. It was His idea. He took on matter to Himself, in the Incarnation. He’s not likely to suddenly shuck it like a bad date, once he Ascends. Of all people, I don’t think we have to worry about Jesus converting to Gnosticism!

  134. Sean Gerety: “What I disdain is the assumption that physical signs are anything more than tokens or illustrations to help us recollect a spiritual reality.”

    Jonathan Prejean: “… Augustine saws off the branch on which you sit.”

    St Augustine: Indeed.

    “But the sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regenation: Wherefore, as the man who has never lived cannot die, and he who has never died cannot rise again, so he who has never been born cannot be born again. From which the conclusion arises, that no one who has not been born could possibly have been born again in his father. Born again, however, a man must be, after he has been born; because, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins. And so much does Christ show us in this very passage; for when asked, How could such things be? He reminded His questioner of what Moses did when he lifted up the serpent. Inasmuch, then, as infants are by the sacrament of baptism conformed to the death of Christ, it must be admitted that they are also freed from the serpent’s poisonous bite, unless we willfully wander from the rule of the Christian faith. This bite, however, they did not receive in their own actual life, but in him on whom the wound was primarily inflicted.”

    (On Forgiveness of Sin, and Baptism, 43:27)

  135. Sean (#132):
    You might want to include comment numbers to avoid crossing the responses to Jonathan B. with me. I’m not sure that what you wrote was entirely responsive to my points.

    You write as someone who has no knowledge of Clark at all. Did you happen to go to some Reformed seminary like Bryan where the total exposure to Clark is a chapter or two in A Christian View of Men and Things sifted through a Van Tillian prism? Also, what was that I said about reading what has actually write? I never said I “disdain” physical signs. After all, I’m typing a bunch of ‘em. What I disdain is the assumption that physical signs are anything more than tokens or illustrations to help us recollect a spiritual reality.

    I have never been Reformed or gone to a Reformed seminary. My reading on presuppositionalism has all related to Van Til, and I have only a passing familiarity with Clark. The issue, as I pointed out, is what Augustine was saying and whether what Clark is asserting would be compatible with it. I assume that you are representing Clark correctly, first, because I am in no position to know better and, second, because it seems generally consistent with Ronald Nash’s position on Augustine’s theory of illumination in Light of the Mind, which appears to share some of the same fundamental points with Clark. The latter is a fundamentally Platonizing reading of Augustine based on the concept of innate ideas; it has antecedents in Calvin himself.

    The problem is that everybody who has done a close reading of Augustine on this point seems to have come away with the conclusion that Augustines Trinitarian theology is anti-Platonic. In particularly, Augustine argues that the revelation of Christ in the Incarnation is a necessary precondition for wisdom, essentially true knowledge in love. If Augustine had a concept of Platonic innate ideas, it would break apart not only his argument against the Platonists but also his Trinitarian theology, because it would separate the action of the Holy Spirit from the revelation of Christ in the Incarnation. Like most pro-Nicene authors, Augustine points to common action to show unity of nature, so the idea that the Holy Spirit could separately bring the soul to regeneration and recollection would directly violate the principle that makes Christ’s Incarnation revelatory.

    I can’t stress that last point enough. It’s not the divine ideas that provide the presuppositions of wisdom in Augustine, nor is it Scripture qua embodying the divine ideas, but the correspondence between the love in the heart from the Holy Spirit and the love and humility perfectly embodied in the Incarnation. Without that fundamental theological disposition, even Scripture by its nature has no revelatory quality, to say nothing of any kind of natural experience. So it is not disdain for symbols generally, but quite specifically your disdain for “assumption that physical signs are anything more than tokens or illustrations to help us recollect a spiritual reality” that puts you directly at odds with Augustine. On Augustine’s reading, both baptism and the Eucharist must be far more than these; it is essential that they be really and metaphysically joined to the action of the Holy Spirit, because that is the only way that the Incarnation and the action of the Holy Spirit can be connected. Your Platonizing argument would essentially defeat Augustine’s argument in De Trinitate for the necessity of Christian (and Trinitarian) revelation for true wisdom and recollection of the whole self.

    As I said, Gioia’s book is excellent, and it will help you perceive the mature Augustinian position on Platonism (which is at best hinted in De Magistro, although I don’t think even that says what you think it says). If you want a Reformed author arguing for the anti-Platonic nature of De Trinitate, Maarten Wisse is very good, although not nearly as pointed on this specific issue. Lewis Ayres’ recent work also supports the thesis and lays out the general Trinitarian framework I mentioned above, and he speaks specifically to how De Magistro begins a trajectory on philosophical knowledge culminating in the mature position of De Trinitate. Given that Clark was deceased over twenty years before these works came out and before even the antecedents in the nineties, it would simply not make sense to assume that Clark knows better than close readings in view of all prior scholarship, which specifically points out that close readings of De Trinitate are rare in the scholarship and critiques those that are out there.

  136. @Sean Patrick. Augustine viewed regeneration as a process. No doubt he did hold to a view of baptism regeneration, but hardly as it developed. I certainly would not defend all of his views and no doubt were he alive today he’d add baptism regeneration to his list of retractions. OTOH, he did distinguish between the sign and the thing signified in the Lord’s Supper and did not believe in transubstantiation.

    @Jonathan P. If you want to run down a rabbit trail on the influence of Platonism on Augustine’s thought maybe Sean Patrick will join you. It was enough for me to show that you did not follow my reply to Chad and besides being ignorant of Clark (which was the focus of the rabbit trail I am interested in following and why I replied to Bryan in the first place) you’re ignorant of Scripture too, specifically Paul’s argument in Romans 3:21-26. Your belief that the passage teaches that justification is something accomplished in us rather than for us is to completely miss Paul’s argument entirely.

  137. Folks,

    This is not a thread for discussing the sacraments or justification. (There are other threads here in which those topics may be discussed.) This thread is for discussing the post at the top of this page, which includes the subjects of presuppositionalism, fideism, skepticism, motives of credibility and anything directly related to those matters. Off-topic comments will not make it through moderation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  138. Sean Gerety,

    Further to Bryan’s moderation note, I responded to your last comment here.

  139. Sean (#135):
    I was actually trying to get the conversation on topic, which Bryan notes to include presuppositionalism and other matters of theological epistemology, particularly as applied to divine command theory. Augustine’s position on Platonic epistemology and metaphysics are crucial to understanding his theological epistemology. I responded specifically to your citation of Augustine and De Magistro particularly in support of a Clarkian presuppositionalism. The only issue that matters for purposes of my response if whether Augustine actually supports your position, i.e., whether your interpretation is correct. Based on your own stated position on the instrumentality of symbols, I do not see how such a view can possibly be reconciled with the recent scholarship on this subject. The Eucharist and baptism are merely examples of how the overall thesis on Augustine fails.

    Consequently, I would ask you to refrain from suggesting that Augustine supports Clark’s position until you can provide an account of the anti-Platonic critique in Augustine’s later works that these scholars have pointed out. Otherwise, an epistemic theory based on recollection of innate ideas cannot be supported, and Augustine’s theological epistemology and pneumatology likewise must be embedded in his theology of the Church as the body of Christ. That would make it quite difficult for you to make a noetic end run to Scripture around the Catholic Church.

  140. @Jonathan. First, there is no such thing as “theological epistemology.” You either have a theory of knowledge or you don’t. Second, Augustinianism is alive and well within the Reformed tradition and Clark, if anything, was a thorough going Augustinian as was Calvin and Luther before him. Oh, that’s right, you know more about Augustine than a former Augustinian monk. Give me a break!

    Third, Clark wasn’t a “Platonist” even if the early Augustine had leanings in that direction, although Plato’s idealism is far superior to Aristotle’s empiricism which is the presupposition that guides our host along with the entire Roman church/state. A sensate philosophy for sensate men. So, as for your request that I “refrain” I can’t oblige as you have not demonstrated your ability to read much less engage in the issue at hand.

  141. Sean G. and Jonathan P.,

    The discussion between you two doesn’t seem potentially fruitful, so if you wish to continue it with each other, please do so off the thread. Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  142. @Bryan (#140):
    I concur, and I would refer those curious about Augustine’s view on revelation as it relates to this topic to read the books by Gioia, Ayres and Wisse that I mentioned above. Thanks for permitting the discussion, which I hope will help people to take a critical look at some of the claims about Augustine’s epistemology and theological method, particularly as it concerns voluntarist and presuppositionalist methods.

  143. This thread is about reason as the epistemic starting point. Reason grasps the motives of credibility, and they lead us to the choice of faith. My question is where does one learn about and study the motives of credibility? I get the impression that one has to cobble it all together: a bit of historical research into Scripture and primitive Christianity there, and a bit of lives and miracles of the saints here. There does not seem to be no one book on the matter. At least, I have not found one. But there must be some aid out there, right?

  144. Brian (#143):

    What you really seek, it seems to me, is a book that would make the broadest yet tightest possible case for Catholicism. Such a book would tie the MOCs together into a “cumulative-case” argument which, while not strictly demonstrative, would show that Catholicism is more reasonable than whatever alternatives the reader finds most relevant.

    Frankly, I don’t know of any one such book. I doubt there is one. And if there isn’t, there would be very good reason for that. The range of philosophical, theological, and historical issues to be addressed is so wide, and the issues themselves so deep, that if such a book could be written at all, it would raise at least as many questions as it would settle–thus undermining its own purpose. In view of that, apologetics must proceed with a narrower focus, and relatively piecemeal. That’s what this site does, and many books and articles do. Given your concerns, there is no substitute for thorough, lengthy research into all that.

    Best,
    Mike

  145. Mike (re: #144),

    Thank you for your reply. Of course, you are right, and my wish for an all-in-one apologetics book is fantasy, though Kreeft’s and Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics might come close.* I had to ask, though, just in case!

  146. Brian, I’ve own a copy of that book and have read it. While it contains some neat arguments, its philosophical and historical assumptions are hardly unquestionable. The book’s chief value is to help some of the already convince to make their arguments more incisive and succinct.

  147. Bryan (re: #68),

    You said:

    Trust formation, if it is not purely fideisic, must be based on what we do know. I would not say that fundamentally, my relationship to my reason and senses is one of trust. Either I trust them based on what I already know, in which case the trust is not fundamental, or it is a fideistic leap to trust them, which is then no better or worse than not trusting them (since without the use of reason, no blind leap can be judged to be better than any other).

    It seems that you can’t know anything at all without trusting (implicitly or explicitly) in your senses and reasoning. At the very least, to know anything, you trust that you have not been deceived by Decartes’ evil demon. If you say this is not “fideistic trust” but based on X which you already know, then the question can be pushed back one step and you must trust that you know X without being deceived by Descartes’ evil demon.

    In your other article, you said:

    …once one digs a skeptical hole, there is no boot-strapping one’s way out of it, apart from a purely fideistic leap, [or from reversing the process by which one dug the skeptical hole]. Fideistic leaps can go in any direction (e.g. Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Gaia, Elvis, atheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc.). Fideism is the great equalizer. Given fideism, no leap is any better or worse than any other leap. The evaluative faculty (i.e. reason) has been stripped away by skepticism.

    In your critique, you seem to ignore “the myth of neutrality”. That is, no one is neutral in their positions, which are based on prior premises and prior commitments. So, the epistemological question can be put to you, How do you know that “given fideism, no leap is any better or worse than any other leap? You can’t know that such a conclusion obtains unless you first know that your reasoning is capable of reaching true conclusions. I’m not saying you can’t know that your reasoning is capable of reaching true conclusions. But a presuppositionalist would say that you only know that because God exists.

    Peace,
    John D.

  148. JohnD (re: #147)

    If you say this is not “fideistic trust” but based on X which you already know, then the question can be pushed back one step and you must trust that you know X without being deceived by Descartes’ evil demon.

    The mistake here is assuming that one is ever initially placed in a position where one must choose [blindly, no less] to trust one’s senses. So your assertion here begs the question, i.e. presupposes Cartesian skepticism. When we attain the age of reason (typically around seven years old) we already are in a position of knowing through our senses. At that point, we’re not in a position of ignorance regarding the reality given to us through our senses. To call into question our senses at that point would be to call into question (culpably) what we already know to be true.

    How do you know that “given fideism, no leap is any better or worse than any other leap?

    It is not an ontological claim, but an epistemological claim. Given fideism, we have no *reason* to believe that any leap is better than any other leap.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  149. Bryan (re: #148),

    Thanks for the reply. I am thoroughly ignorant of Thomistic epistemology, so pressing these points will help me understand that position (which I may even hold myself and not even realize it ha).

    You said:

    When we attain the age of reason (typically around seven years old) we already are in a position of knowing through our senses. At that point, we’re not in a position of ignorance regarding the reality given to us through our senses.

    How can knowledge of the real world come through the senses unless a person’s senses and cognitive faculties are designed in such a way to make this possible?

    To call into question our senses at that point would be to call into question (culpably) what we already know to be true.

    Is not legitimate to question whether what we called knowledge at the age of reason is actually knowledge? And if we conclude it is knowledge, can’t we then ask what the preconditions are that allow such knowledge to obtain through the senses?

    Peace,
    John D.

    PS – Have a blessed Thanksgiving

  150. JohnD (re: #149)

    How can knowledge of the real world come through the senses unless a person’s senses and cognitive faculties are designed in such a way to make this possible?

    It can’t. I haven’t said anything entailing otherwise.

    Is not legitimate to question whether what we called knowledge at the age of reason is actually knowledge?

    The “law” by which you would determine that it is “legitimate” is something you would already know. Otherwise the question makes no sense, because there is no sense asking about “legitimacy” without a standard already known by which to judge legitimacy.

    And if we conclude it is knowledge, can’t we then ask what the preconditions are that allow such knowledge to obtain through the senses?

    Yes. (In general, the answer to any “can we ask” or “can’t we ask” question is always yes.) Asking what are the preconditions for the knowledge I already have is altogether different from suspending belief until I can prove the reliability of my faculties. The latter, but not the former, leaves one in the skeptical hole.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  151. Bryan (re: #150),

    Thanks for the reply.

    You said:

    The “law” by which you would determine that it is “legitimate” is something you would already know. Otherwise the question makes no sense, because there is no sense asking about “legitimacy” without a standard already known by which to judge legitimacy.

    Fair point. Perhaps I can refine the question. Why is it illegitimate to ask whether what we grew up thinking was knowledge acquired through the senses is actually knowledge? If your reply is that in order to ask the question we would already need knowledge of some sort, then I would not disagree. But that doesn’t show the “knowledge of some sort” was acquired through the senses.

    Also, do you believe any knowledge is a priori or that there is any knowledge acquired independently sense perception? Also, do you believe it is possible for God to enlighten the mind of a believer with knowledge he did no previously have?

    Peace,
    John D.

  152. JohnD (re: #151)

    Perhaps I can refine the question. Why is it illegitimate to ask whether what we grew up thinking was knowledge acquired through the senses is actually knowledge?

    I did not say that it is illegitimate to ask that question, nor does anything I said entail that it is illegitimate to ask that question, nor do I believe that it is illegitimate to ask that question.

    Regarding the questions concerning a priori knowledge and sense perception, no and no. As for whether God is omnipotent, yes.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  153. Bryan (re: #152),

    Thanks for the reply. I am definitely a bit confused.

    First, I think I misinterpreted your statement in #148, you said:

    When we attain the age of reason (typically around seven years old) we already are in a position of knowing through our senses. At that point, we’re not in a position of ignorance regarding the reality given to us through our senses. To call into question our senses at that point would be to call into question (culpably) what we already know to be true.

    In that last sentence, I thought you were implying that it was illegitimate to question what one already “knows to be true”. If it’s legitimate to call into question the senses at that point, then isn’t it a faith claim to conclude that they are indeed reliable? With DeCartes’ evil demon hypothesis lurking, I don’t see how the conclusion that senses are reliable would not be a claim based on faith. The veracity of sense perception itself is not unreasonable and certainly can be viewed as self-evident, but Descartes’ hypothesis accounts for all of that yet entails that the senses in fact do not yield the knowledge they were purported to give. Boiling it down, how does it not require faith to overcome Cartesian skepticism?

    Second, you deny that there is any knowledge that is not dependent on sense perception. But, there seem to be trivial counterexamples to that claim. Perhaps we mean something different by “acquired independently of sense perception”. Here are a couple of what I think are obvious counterexamples.

    1. In any right triangle, the sum of the squares of the legs is equal to the square of the hypotenuse.
    2. It is always wrong to torture babies solely for fun.

    Third, is Thomistic epistemology the only acceptable account of knowledge for the Catholic? Could you indicate where St. Thomas lays out his epistemology in the clearest fashion? As a side note, I was recently listening to some talks from a Catholic Phenomenologist who is skeptical of certain tenets of Thomism. From that talk, I assumed that it is not morally binding for a Catholic to hold to Thomistic epistemology, but I wanted to make sure.

    Peace,
    John D.

  154. JohnD (re: #153)

    In that last sentence, I thought you were implying that it was illegitimate to question what one already “knows to be true”.

    Asking a question, and calling into question, are not the same thing. The former seeks the truth about an unknown; the latter is (or can be) doubting the veracity of a belief or claim. From what you have said (in this conversation), it seems to me that you are treating them as the same thing, and that’s what is leading you to misunderstand me.

    To deny what one knows to be true is intellectually dishonest. I wouldn’t use the “legitimate” / “illegitimate” language, because that frames the question in terms of law, rather than in terms of virtue, and thus frames the question as though we’re restricted to some form of divine command theory.

    If it’s legitimate to call into question the senses at that point, then isn’t it a faith claim to conclude that they are indeed reliable?

    I did not claim that it is “legitimate” to call into question the senses, nor do I believe that it is “legitimate” to do so, because we already know reality through them.

    Boiling it down, how does it not require faith to overcome Cartesian skepticism?

    Because, as I already explained in #148, we’re never in an epistemic position of having to make a blind choice regarding our sense faculties. Whenever we are in a position in which we can make a choice regarding the reliability of our faculties, we already know reality through them, and only thereby already know the very difference between reliable and unreliable faculties. Fish don’t know they are wet.

    Second, you deny that there is any knowledge that is not dependent on sense perception. But, there seem to be trivial counterexamples to that claim. Perhaps we mean something different by “acquired independently of sense perception”. Here are a couple of what I think are obvious counterexamples.

    1. In any right triangle, the sum of the squares of the legs is equal to the square of the hypotenuse.
    2. It is always wrong to torture babies solely for fun.

    You would have no knowledge of squares and good and evil without sense perception. Imaginative and conceptual abstractions from matter or particularities are still abstractions from sensed reality; and intellectual penetration into being is still intellectual penetration into sensed being.

    Third, is Thomistic epistemology the only acceptable account of knowledge for the Catholic?

    I wouldn’t make that claim. In the comments above you’ve been asking me my opinion, not Catholic doctrine concerning epistemology. Hence my answers.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  155. Bryan (re: #153),

    Thanks for the reply.

    Because, as I already explained in #148, we’re never in an epistemic position of having to make a blind choice regarding our sense faculties. Whenever we are in a position in which we can make a choice regarding the reliability of our faculties, we already know reality through them, and only thereby already know the very difference between reliable and unreliable faculties. Fish don’t know they are wet.

    I just don’t see how that adds up to a non-question begging argument contra Cartesian Skepticism. It seems like you are asserting we initially have knowledge through the senses and that DesCartes must accept some of that knowledge to doubt whether it is truly knowledge. But, if DesCartes (or Augustine) propose another account of some knowledge through divine illumination (or some other process), then they could rationally doubt whether the so-called knowledge from sense perception was really knowledge in the first place. It then appears that you could only beg the question against each other, right? [This is usually the part where you show me where I’m not right, and I have come to enjoy it]

    You would have no knowledge of squares and good and evil without sense perception. Imaginative and conceptual abstractions from matter or particularities are still abstractions from sensed reality; and intellectual penetration into being is still intellectual penetration into sensed being.

    This is intriguing. What, in general, would you suggest I read for an introduction to the epistemology you hold?

    By way of critical remark: just because I originally learn of right triangles and squares does not mean I acquire knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem that way. I don’t think you will disagree with that. If I now understand you (which I may not), you will reply that logical deductions based on principles derived from a process of abstraction is not the same as acquiring knowledge independently of sense perception. Fair enough. But, would you also agree that the knowledge that comes from deduction is not dependent on observation for verification? In that sense (not dependent on observation for verification), would you agree that knowledge is acquired independently of the senses? Perhaps I’m going about this thinking the wrong way by using certain terms improperly, so I am open to being straightened out.

    In the comments above you’ve been asking me my opinion, not Catholic doctrine concerning epistemology. Hence my answers.

    Yes, and I often find your opinions precise, informative, and persuasive, but it’s also nice to know when they are binding under pain of mortal sin for the Catholic.

    Peace,
    John D.

  156. JohnD,

    With respect to the problem of Cartesian skepticism, I wrote a small piece inspired by Etienne Gilson, addressing what I take to be the fundamental hidden premise in the Cartesian “turn-to-the-subject”. Perhaps it will be of some help in grasping at least one flank of the Aristotelian-Thomistic critique of Descartes:

    As Etienne Gilson pointing out, knowledge does not reduce to thought. In adopting doubt (especially as regards external sense experience) as a methodology, Descartes implicitly (and without philosophic justification) adopts a view of himself (the “I” which is proposing the methodology) already in accord with the conclusion of that methodology – “I” am a thinking (or doubting) thing. But if the “I” which is proposing the methodology-of-doubt is not merely a thinking thing, but a sensing-thinking thing, and if knowledge is not merely thought, but thought arising through sense experience, then justification for a thoroughgoing methodology of doubt is lacking – at least with respect to the real existence of a mind-independent world in contact with the external senses of every “I” (even if that contact does not immediately or always yield a mathematic-like “clarity” of the sort desired by Descartes).

    That “I” sense things is at least as evident as “my” ability to doubt (what am “I” that senses and doubts?). To subordinate one’s sense experience to one’s ability to doubt is to front-load a notion of just what the “one” (or the “I”) making that move – *is*. It assumes an anthropology which it has not established. The basic problem is that any proposed fundamental philosophical method is a proposal about how some “I” or group of “I’s” (we) ought to proceed in philosophizing; and is, moreover, a proposal made by some particular “I”. As such, both according to efficient and final cause, the proposal itself – in the very act of its construction – cannot be neutral with respect to the nature of the “I’s” to whom it is proposed, nor the “I” which proposes it. That Descartes methodology arrives at a notion of “I” as a thinking thing was an inevitable result of his prior decision to elevate his capacity for doubt above his sensate experience – which was an implicit statement about the kind of “I” he understood himself to be as a methodology proposer.

    But as Gilson, relying on Aquinas, insists; “sense knowledge” and “intellectual knowledge” are said metaphorically: “knowledge”, properly speaking, is said of “Man” – the synthetic sensate-intellectual being capable of both doubting and proposing philosophical methodologies. Man “knows” – whole and entire. On this view of man and knowledge, sense experience is an *evident* (not postulated and, therefore, doubtful) first principle of knowledge according to source (nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses). The external world as existing (not to say as clear) only becomes doubtful if one presupposes man to be a disengaged doubter, rather than a sensate-cum-intellectual being who can and, from time to time, does doubt. If man – that being who on occasion proposes philosophical methodologies – is the latter; then his methodology may rightly entail that much of his sense experience is unclear, but it cannot entail that everything besides the proposer is doubtful.

    In doubting his sense experience, Descartes doubts his very self: unless, of course, he excludes sense experience from “himself” as a methodology-maker. But isn’t that precisely the hidden premise underlying his method? By including a dimension of his own unicit being, that which makes up his own “I” – namely, sensation of external things – among the things which may be doubted; he has already made an anthropological commitment; a bifurcation whereby he proceeds *as if* “he” were a thinking-ghost of the very sort he only later claims to establish (unsurprisingly) through application of his methodology.

    Gilson’s most subtle-rebuttal is that for man – as man – sensate experience just is indubitable – as indubitable as one’s doubting. It is a first principle. A methodology which proceeds by applying doubt to experience is unobjectionable up until the point when that doubt turns itself upon that which is constitutive of the doubting self, like a snake devouring itself. I may doubt whether the shiny waves I see in the distance are water or a mirage: nothing philosophically earth-shattering in that, it’s the stuff of philosophical prudence. But if I go further and doubt whether I see anything at all, I have just taken an implicit and radical stand on one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: “what is man?” (for only “men” philosophize; and to say what men *are* seems foundational to the enterprise).

    When methodological doubt crosses that juncture, a decision about one’s own being is implicitly adopted as monolithically-mental, and too few realize that the juncture is a watershed, nor the implications of its crossing. It is here that Gilson thinks one must take a stand against Descartes’ method and its results (if one is going to take a stand), because it is here that the Cartesian method is weakest, having given no philosophical justification for the anthropology implicitly embedded within its program (dare one call it a naïve idealism?). I think Gilson is right. It seems to me that the philosophical ramifications of a turn-to-the-subject depend very much upon what one takes that subject to be.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  157. JohnD (re: #155)

    I just don’t see how that adds up to a non-question begging argument contra Cartesian Skepticism.

    It doesn’t add up to an argument, because it is not an argument. It is an observation.

    It seems like you are asserting we initially have knowledge through the senses and that DesCartes must accept some of that knowledge to doubt whether it is truly knowledge.

    I didn’t say anything about Descartes, but in general, yes, the skeptic concerning knowledge uses the very knowledge he acquires through his senses in order to deny his senses.

    But, if DesCartes (or Augustine) propose another account of some knowledge through divine illumination (or some other process), then they could rationally doubt whether the so-called knowledge from sense perception was really knowledge in the first place.

    No, because we already know through our sense perception that reality is disclosed to us through our sense perception. It doesn’t matter how many other ways of knowing we have, we cannot “rationally doubt” any way of knowing in which reality is disclosed to us. To do so would be contrary to reason, because denying what we know is contrary to reason. That doesn’t mean that the senses exhaust reality, or fully disclose reality to us. But they do not merely testify to reality; rather, by them we touch and encounter reality face to face, such that we cannot justifiably or rationally deny what we have seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, touched with our hands, etc.

    What, in general, would you suggest I read for an introduction to the epistemology you hold?

    Regarding the three levels of abstraction, see Books V and VI of St. Thomas’s Commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate, conveniently available as The Division and Methods of the Sciences. For Thomistic epistemology in general a good intro is Gilson’s Methodical Realism, or his more detailed Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge.

    But, would you also agree that the knowledge that comes from deduction is not dependent on observation for verification?

    Yes. But that’s not because it does not come from the senses, but because it is a penetration of reason into what is provided by the senses, so as to grasp a necessary truth, which thus needs no subsequent empirical verification.

    In that sense (not dependent on observation for verification), would you agree that knowledge is acquired independently of the senses?

    No. See my immediately preceding paragraph. Also, see “The Division and Methods of the Sciences” book I linked above, for an explanation of the way even necessary truths (e.g. mathematical truths) come to us through our senses.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  158. Bryan and Ray (re: #157),

    Thanks for the info! I will chew on it and be back when I have a better understanding of it.

    Peace,
    John D.

  159. Hi Bryan,

    Is it true that all mortal sins are against a divine command? CCC 1858 says “Grave matter is specified by the ten commandments …”, and I don’t see in the catechism or in the Summa any other way to know if a sin is _sufficiently_ grave to be considered a mortal sin (assuming the sin is committed with full knowledge and full intent).

  160. Bryan (re: #157),

    You said:

    It doesn’t matter how many other ways of knowing we have, we cannot “rationally doubt” any way of knowing in which reality is disclosed to us. To do so would be contrary to reason, because denying what we know is contrary to reason. That doesn’t mean that the senses exhaust reality, or fully disclose reality to us. But they do not merely testify to reality; rather, by them we touch and encounter reality face to face, such that we cannot justifiably or rationally deny what we have seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, touched with our hands, etc.

    So, how would a methodological realist respond to the objection that your body could be hooked up to a neuro-machine that controlled your senses and cause you to imaging reality? How can someone know that they are NOT in the matrix?

    2. Do sense perceptions always result in knowledge? Is it possible for a person’s senses to provide false information? For example, parallel railroad tracks appear to touch at the horizon and a straight stick appears bent in water.

    Peace,
    John D.

  161. Bryan (re:#152),

    In #152, I asked you, “Also, do you believe any knowledge is a priori or that there is any knowledge acquired independently sense perception? Also, do you believe it is possible for God to enlighten the mind of a believer with knowledge he did no previously have?”

    You replied:

    Regarding the questions concerning a priori knowledge and sense perception, no and no. As for whether God is omnipotent, yes.

    I don”t see how you can consistently answer no to the first question and yes to the second. If God is omnipotent, couldn’t He bring knowledge to a believer’s mind independently of the senses? For example, St. Peter’s confession in Matthew 16 was revealed to him by the Father, not flesh and blood. And if that’s the case couldn’t the knowledge (warranted, true belief?) be obtained from God directly?

    Peace,
    John D.

  162. JohnD, (re: #161)

    If God is omnipotent, couldn’t He bring knowledge to a believer’s mind independently of the senses?

    Yes, of course.

    And if that’s the case couldn’t the knowledge (warranted, true belief?) be obtained from God directly?

    You’re conflating questions of possibility and actuality. What God is able to do, is a separate question from what is actually the case in the actual created world. So just because God is able to do x, does not mean that in the actual world, no matter what we already know of the actual world, x might be the case, or we can’t know that x is not the case.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  163. Bryan (re:#162),

    Thanks for the reply. So, I suppose you would argue there are not examples in Scripture (or history) of God bringing knowledge to a person’s mind independently of the senses.

    How then would you interpret Matthew 16:17? And would you exclude the possibility that Peter received a revelation independently of his senses?

    Peace,
    John D.

  164. JohnD (re: #163)

    You might be misunderstanding me. I’m definitely not claiming that in the order of grace, God does not supernaturally give the gift of faith. Faith is a supernatural gift, and is not derived from the senses.

    What I’ve been talking about in this thread is the order of nature, not the order of grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  165. Bryan (re: #164),

    I’m definitely not claiming that in the order of grace, God does not supernaturally give the gift of faith. Faith is a supernatural gift, and is not derived from the senses.

    Perhaps I was misunderstanding you this whole time.

    So, when I ask, “Is there any such thing as knowledge acquired independently of sense perception?” is your answer: “In the order of nature, NO” and “In the order of grace, YES”.

    Or am I still misunderstanding? Also, I found your brief discussions of the order of being and the order of knowing very helpful. Where can I go for a discussion of the order of nature vs. the order of grace?

    Peace,
    John D.

  166. JohnD (re: #165)

    As you know, St. Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) So even the gospel message ordinarily comes to us through our senses. But by our own natural powers we are unable able to receive this message and assent to it. Actual grace (from the Holy Spirit) is necessary in order for us to assent to the gospel. But it is possible for God to reveal the gospel to persons even without a preacher, by a direct revelation. In such cases, this knowledge is acquired apart from sense perception. But God’s ordinary operation in the order of grace is to use preachers/evangelists/missionaries.

    In the order of nature, we acquire knowledge only through our senses. On the distinction between nature and grace, see here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  167. Bryan (re: #166),

    Thanks, makes more sense now. “But by our own natural powers we are unable able to receive this message and assent to it. Actual grace (from the Holy Spirit) is necessary in order for us to assent to the gospel.”. This whole “grace builds on nature” idea seems to come up again and again in Catholic theology. I will check out Dr. Feingold’s lecture and continue to learn more about Thomistic epistemology.

    Peace,
    John D.

  168. Bryan (re: Original article),

    But ‘faith’ as an epistemic starting point is not what the Catholic Church teaches faith to be. If one’s epistemic starting point is faith, rather than knowledge of the world through our senses, then faith is an arbitrary, non-rational, leap in the dark.

    You may have already answered this elsewhere, but I am unclear on the answer. How is assenting to “knowledge of the world through our senses” not a “non-rational, leap in the dark”? It seems like a “leap” to assume the reliability of the senses and the existence of the external world.

    Also, I have not plunged the depths of Thomistic epistemology, but I started to read a little bit of Gilson (though I’ve found it difficult). I was a bit confused about indirect vs. direct realism at first. Am I correct in saying the following?

    1. Indirect realism is a position that is established by inferring the existence of the real world (physical objects, etc.) from other basic facts and an argument.

    2. Direct realism is a position that acknowledges the existence of the real world as a first principle.

    If I am correct, then is direct realism the common Thomistic position? And how is assenting to direct realism as a first principle not a fideistic leap? If I am incorrect, I would appreciate your correction and explanation.

    Peace,
    John D.

  169. JohnD (re: #168)

    I addressed this in the comments above, starting with my reply to Ilíon’s comment #11, and continuing with my discussion with “retro santana.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  170. Bryan (re: 169)

    I addressed this in the comments above, starting with my reply to Ilíon’s comment #11, and continuing with my discussion with “retro santana.”

    Thanks! I will review that material and come back when I have follow-up questions.

    In the meantime, another related philosophical question has come to mind. I recall listening to a talk from Greg Bahnsen in which he distinguishes philosophical Methodism (defined as a system that moves from epistemology to metaphysics) and philosophical dogmatism (defined as a system that moves from metaphysics to epistemology. He then proceeded to give an illustration to show that both philosophical systems had major issues (I can furnish the specifics of the illustration if needed). He proposed that the solution is that people come to a broad system (i.e. worldview) in “one stroke” such that neither metaphysics nor epistemology is (logically? causally?) primary.

    Where does Thomism fit into that picture? Does it fall into one of the categories Bahnsen argues against? If so, which one? Or is it an example of coming to a worldview in “one stroke”?

    I can review the talk again and give more details if necessary for you to give a reply.

    Peace,
    John D.

  171. JohnD (re: #170),

    Where does Thomism fit into that picture?

    Thomism doesn’t fit into that picture. It is neither dogmatism nor methodism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  172. Bryan,

    In this article, Jimmy Akin describes his take on 5 views of apologetics. In the section discussing the Reformed-epistemological method, he states:

    Aquinas acknowledged that “to know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature” (Summa Theologiae I:2:1 ad 1) and that, although it can be rigorously proven, “there is nothing to prevent a man who cannot grasp a proof accepting, as a matter of faith, something that in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated” (ST I:2:2 ad 1).

    I’m curious as to what he means by “implanted in us by nature” since I know you (and St. Thomas?) would deny a priori knowledge that is gained independently of sense perception.

    Also, what do you think of Jimmy’s presuppositional section? Particularly:

    On the other hand, one can invite individuals to presuppose Christian worldview and ask them to see how it makes sense of the world.

    Is this softer presuppositional approach of comparing whole worldviews compatible with the Catholic paradigm?

    Peace,
    John D.

  173. JohnD (re: #172)

    Regarding your first question, I’ve addressed this in my conversation with “retro” above. Regarding your second question, it would be misleading to call that “presuppositionalism.” That’s just examining questions paradigmatically, which is something I’ve been advocating for years.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  174. Bryan (re:#173),

    Regarding your second question, it would be misleading to call that “presuppositionalism.” That’s just examining questions paradigmatically, which is something I’ve been advocating for years.

    Interesting. I suppose I lump the idea of comparing worldviews (i.e. fundamental networks of beliefs about the world) with presuppositionalism. Perhaps this is sloppy?

    I recall Bahnsen (and others I’m sure) posing the question: which worldview can make sense of X? and then proceeding to show how the Christian worldview can make sense of X while others are insufficient (e.g. X = the laws of logic, objective moral facts, rationality, etc.). That is part of what Bahnsen (and others) do when they put the presuppositional approach into practice.

    Peace,
    John D.

  175. JohnD (re: #174)

    Perhaps this is sloppy?

    Yes.

    I recall Bahnsen (and others I’m sure) posing the question: which worldview can make sense of X? and then proceeding to show how the Christian worldview can make sense of X while others are insufficient (e.g. X = the laws of logic, objective moral facts, rationality, etc.). That is part of what Bahnsen (and others) do when they put the presuppositional approach into practice.

    True, but presuppositionalism is much more than comparing paradigms. See the first link in the post at the top of this page.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  176. Bryan (re:#22),

    Thanks for responding in #175. Here’s s question I’ve had for a while but kept forgetting to ask.

    Aristotle and Aquinas argued that all our knowledge, including first principles, comes from experience, through our senses.

    How do they avoid the objection that such a view is self-undermining since the proposition “All knowledge comes through our senses” is not apprehended via the senses?

    Peace,
    John D.

  177. JohnD (re: #176)

    How do they avoid the objection that such a view is self-undermining since the proposition “All knowledge comes through our senses” is not apprehended via the senses?

    This particular objection simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes that that the truth expressed by this proposition does not come to us through our senses. This is among the truths of philosophical anthropology, which is among the truths of philosophy. So the broader question to examine, if you want to study this question (which is beyond the purpose of this thread) in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, is how we know philosophical truths.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  178. Bryan (re: #54),

    God has made Himself plain through the things that He has made. That means, because we can see the effects, we can reason back to their Cause (i.e. God). They all, like works of painting or sculpture, point back (as effects) to the Artist who made them.

    I have a question related to this Romans 1 idea that all men know God and many suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    My question is how the Catholic paradigm explains the scores of extremely intelligent men who examine the evidence/arguments for God and still remain unbelievers (or militant atheists). I suppose you could include people like Hume, Bertrand Russell, Quentin Smith, Michael Martin, Richard Carrier, Sean Carroll and Dan Barker in this category.

    On the Reformed paradigm, a person is regenerated by the Spirit of God and subsequently has a faith in God that endures to the end. It is God’s sovereign choice to regenerate any person, and this regeneration takes place irrespective of a person’s intellectual capabilities. This seems to have a lot of explanatory power regarding the fact that there are a lot of very smart atheists who say they are open to the evidence and find it entirely insufficient. It also is quite consistent with passages like Luke 16:30-31 and Luke 24:45.

    I am not sure how the Catholic paradigm would explain the fact that there are tons of smart unbelievers who claim that the evidence for God is wanting and insufficient. Thoughts??

    Peace,
    John D.

  179. Richard Howe, professor of philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary (my alma mater), recently participated in a discussion with two presuppositional apologists, one of whom is Scott Oliphant of Westminster Seminary. Even though none of the participants is Catholic, I thought that this video might be of interest to our readers. The topic of young earth creationism (YEC) is not particularly germane to this website, but the topics of faith and reason, hermeneutics, the biblical canon, the perspicuity of scripture, and Reformed confessionalism are relevant, and each of these comes up in the discussion, which focuses much more on the “meta-” level issues, particularly apologetical methodology, than on the particulars of the YEC debate. Readers of this website will probably be able to pick out the many points in this conversation that dovetail (unintentionally, of course) with various topics as discussed at CTC. Here is the video, from Dr. Howe’s youtube page (for some reason I cannot get the video to start at the beginning, so you will have to scroll back to get the first twelves minutes or so):

  180. JohnD (re: #178)

    My question is how the Catholic paradigm explains the scores of extremely intelligent men who examine the evidence/arguments for God and still remain unbelievers (or militant atheists). I suppose you could include people like Hume, Bertrand Russell, Quentin Smith, Michael Martin, Richard Carrier, Sean Carroll and Dan Barker in this category.

    Just as the soundness of an argument is not measured by how many people it persuades, so the quality of evidence is not rightly measured by how many people it persuades, because that overlooks the role of the epistemic condition of the inquirers. Not only do I not presume that these persons have examined all the evidence, I do not assume that they received the moral, historical, philosophical and theological formation necessary to apprehend rightly the character of the evidence as such. Wisdom is not intelligence. Perceiving and rightly understanding evidence requires the acquisition of certain dispositions, including intellectual virtues. There is no requirement that good evidence must persuade all intelligent persons in order to be good.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  181. Fr. Barron criticizes both fideism, and ham-fisted literalism in the following video:

  182. Wheaton College provost Stanton L. Jones writes:

    So it is that many recognize today that all knowing starts somewhere in faith. We all take some assertions as givens on which to build our structure of knowledge.

    Jones assumes that if we have first principles, we must arrive at them by faith, (i.e. by a blind leap of trust), and not by seeing their truth with our intellect. (See comment #14 above.) Jones’s position is in this way like Wilson’s. This is another example of fideism in Protestantism.

  183. Bryan,

    In the Reasonable Faith podcast at this link (at about the 27 min 30 second mark), William Lane Craig and the host criticize “theological rationalism” which they define as a view that all truths of the faith must be rationally demonstrated. Craig holds a middle view (Reformed epistemology) in which he holds that Christians have dual warrant for many of their beliefs; the great truths of the Gospel are known directly by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, yet many of these great truths can be shown to be true via good arguments.

    Are Catholics theological rationalists ? If not, why not? It seems that Catholics hold that their faith in Christ’s Church rests on motives of credibility (which serve as evidence and argument), so they’re life of faith can be greatly changed if they come to view those motives differently or lose confidence in them.

    Peace,
    John D.

  184. JohnD (re: #183)

    Are Catholics theological rationalists?

    No.

    If not, why not?

    Because as the First Vatican Council teaches, what is divinely revealed transcends what human reason can grasp by its own light:

    It is not because of this that one must hold revelation to be absolutely necessary; the reason is that God directed human beings to a supernatural end, that is a sharing in the good things of God that utterly surpasses the understanding of the human mind; indeed eye has not seen, neither has ear heard, nor has it come into our hearts to conceive what things God has prepared for those who love him. (First Vatican Council Session 3, chapter 2, paragraph 4)

    You wrote:

    It seems that Catholics hold that their faith in Christ’s Church rests on motives of credibility (which serve as evidence and argument),

    Correct.

    so they’re life of faith can be greatly changed if they come to view those motives differently or lose confidence in them.

    See comment #77 above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  185. Bryan (re: #171),

    Hope you enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving with your family. You said previously:

    Thomism doesn’t fit into that picture. It is neither dogmatism nor methodism.

    Unfortunately, this is apparently at odds with what Dr. Edward Feser believes. In a recent interview with Brandon Vogt, he has revealed himself to be a philosophical dogmatist. Here’s the quote from Feser:

    Metaphysics is the rational investigation of the general structure of reality and the ultimate causes of things. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge and of its scope and foundations. Modern philosophers have often criticized specific metaphysical ideas and even the very possibility of metaphysics on the basis of epistemological assumptions. They have claimed that the way knowledge actually works rules out our having the kind of metaphysical knowledge that Scholastics and other traditional metaphysicians say we have. Advocates of scientism essentially take this view.
    The trouble is that this gets things precisely backwards. All epistemological claims make metaphysical assumptions — assumptions about what a mind is, how it is connected (or not connected) to external reality, and so forth. Criticisms of metaphysical claims put forward in the name of epistemology themselves thus implicitly presuppose various metaphysical claims. Metaphysics is absolutely fundamental — the most fundamental discipline of all, more fundamental than epistemology, physics, biology, or any other philosophical or scientific discipline. Attempts to show otherwise always implicitly confirm this, insofar as they always surreptitiously presuppose some metaphysical position, rather than eliminating metaphysics or relegating it to a secondary status.

    So, apparently one can be a Thomist and a dogmatist? Or is Feser taking an unconventional line?

    The whole interview can be read here:http://www.strangenotions.com/scholasticism-vs-scientism-an-interview-with-dr-edward-feser/

    Peace,
    John D.

  186. JohnD (re: #185)

    So, apparently one can be a Thomist and a dogmatist?

    That’s an example of equivocation, because what Bahnsen means by “a system that moves from metaphysics to epistemology” is not what Feser means in claiming (rightly) that metaphysics is “the most fundamental discipline of all, more fundamental than epistemology.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  187. Bryan (re: #186),

    is not what Feser means in claiming (rightly) that metaphysics is “the most fundamental discipline of all, more fundamental than epistemology.”

    Could you elaborate on what Feser means then? I think I was interpreting “most fundamental” discipline as entailing that it is a discipline that is “logically prior” to all others.

    Peace,
    John D.

  188. JohnD (re: #187)

    The equivocation is already in the term ‘metaphysics,’ because Feser and Bahnsen do not mean the same thing by it. Bahnsen includes sacred revelation in his concept of what belongs to metaphysics, hence his presuppositionalism. Feser does not. Of course Feser, as a Catholic, allows sacred revelation to inform his metaphysics, but metaphysics for Feser is not the same thing as sacred theology, because in the Thomistic tradition within which Feser works metaphysics as such is built on what can be seen by the natural light of reason, whereas sacred revelation cannot be known by the natural light of reason. By contrast, Bahnsen treated metaphysical beliefs as presuppositions, not as truths arrived at by way of the natural light of reason. Bahnsen operated in the modern philosophical tradition of the twentieth century (he did his PhD at USC in epistemology), whereas Feser operates in the Thomistic tradition. These are two very different traditions, and therefore you can’t rightly assume that just because they use the same term (i.e. ‘metaphysics’), they mean the same thing by it. Otherwise you fall into the word-concept fallacy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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