Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Return to Proper basicality and Sola Scriptura

This post is a continuation of my first post on this blog, which can be found here.

Perry Robinson has attacked my use of Alvin Plantinga's epistemology to warrant the Biblical canon as properly basic.

Perry Writes:

"As an aside, the appeal to proper basicality isn’t going to help you. First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic? Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic? How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is? And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them? If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None."


The purpose of this post is to respond to all of these objections and to defend my previous post that Protestantism is more rational than Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Response to Objection 1:First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic?

If the great pumpkin was similar to the story of Santa or the tooth fairy then certainly young children who believed their parents and were functioning properly (and fulfilled the other necessary conditions I laid out) would be warranted. But of course as they aged they would see with obvious defeaters that such a belief is entirely unwarranted. Most people in our culture find out that Santa doesn't actually exists because they have no reason to believe it and they have a massive defeater, namely, that it is tradition in our culture to pretend with our children that a overweight man gives us Christmas present if we are good. Once the adult who is functioning properly realizes this to be the case they will of course give up their belief in Santa. The problem is I don't see how the great pumpkin or Santa objection is a threat to proper functionalism. After all properly basic beliefs can be extremely fallible and subject to revision. So no problem here!

Response to Objection 2:Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic?

He could say this. I have never said that he couldn't say that the church authority is properly basic. The problem is this: Why do you need the church if the scripture is already God's words and that are self-attesting by the Holy Spirit (which forms in us beliefs that fulfill all the necessary conditions that I have given in my previous post). This falls into my ockham's razor argument on a previous post I have made.

Response to Objection 3: How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is?

This third objection is actually two objections. A belief being properly basic implies that it is true because we have a properly basic belief that our faculties are functioning properly to produce mostly true beliefs rather than false ones. The second objection on this part assumes that we need a reason for basic beliefs and thus assumes some form of internalism. Since this theory of knowledge that Reformed epistemologists hold to is externalistic then to assume internalistic view of warrant is to just beg the very question at hand.

Response to Objection 4: And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them?

I don't even know if this is an objection. This is just asking the question: that can properly basic beliefs be fallible? But of course Plantinga and other Reformed epsiteemologists think so. I happen to think so as well. But it's hard to see how one being possibly mistaken about a properly basic belief could constitute a defeater for things that we know fallibly in properly basic way.

Response to Objection 5: If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None.

This argument assumes that in order for beliefs to be basic we ought to have infallible justification for them. So in other words Perry is arguing that basic beliefs are worthless if we do not know them infallibly. But my question is this: Why think that warrant and knowledge of properly basic beliefs requires infallible justification? I can see no reason. It seems to me that the statement that properly basic beliefs ought to be infallible in order for us to have knowledge or to be useful is neither infallibly properly basic or something that can be inferred by these infallible basic beliefs. So it seems to me that this requirement is self-referentially incoherent. The question that I think Perry or any internalistic epistemologist cannot answer is this: How do we know about the existence of other minds? What about the existence of the external world? Or that our memory is reliable? Or that our sense perception is reliable? Or that we have existed longer than 5 minutes? What about the problem of induction? These answers internalistic (and especially infalliblist on justification) cannot answer. Thus, this sadly and ultimately leads to some form of skepticism.

In Conclusion:

Perry's questions of doubt about Reformed epistemology seem to be wanting at best. Thus, the Protestant can hold up the Bible and say that he is warranted in thinking that the Bible is the word of God. Further that since this word of God is self-attesting we have no need for the church to justify the canon. In fact such a move would seem to be positing unnecessary entities and thus violating the principle of Ockham's razor.

NPT

16 comments:

MG said...

Nate--

Is it a theoretical advantage of a view that it allows one to make valid arguments in favor of fallibly-held properly-basic beliefs? For instance, lets say I could make an argument for the existence of the external world based on very uncontroversial premises that assumes an infalliblist internalist view of justification; and lets also say that the conclusions of this argument required me to adjust my ontology slightly (maybe add in a specific theory about perception). Should we reject my argument because it requires us to modify our ontology? Personally, I think that if I could find a way to argue infallibly for the existence of the external world, that required me to buy into a little extra ontology as a result, I would take it.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nate--

Is it a theoretical advantage of a view that it allows one to make valid arguments in favor of fallibly-held properly-basic beliefs? For instance, lets say I could make an argument for the existence of the external world based on very uncontroversial premises that assumes an infalliblist internalist view of justification; and lets also say that the conclusions of this argument required me to adjust my ontology slightly (maybe add in a specific theory about perception). Should we reject my argument because it requires us to modify our ontology? Personally, I think that if I could find a way to argue infallibly for the existence of the external world, that required me to buy into a little extra ontology as a result, I would take it.

Response: This is a great question Michael. I would say you would be warranted in that positing that into your ontology because there is a epistemological necessity to it (it wouldn't fall into Ockham's razor). But if there were other alternative possibilities of entities that one could posit then one should undoubtedly posit the simplest one. The only way I can see one ever positing the a more complex ontological entity is that if they have independent grounds for thinking that entity exists and if it helps warrant a particular of knowledge. So that is what I think. But I am not sure where you are going with this. Thanks for your insight again mike.

NPT

David Cox said...

Nate
Maybe I am missing something here...
But referring to proper basicality and Ockham's razor seem to only cover the fact that you aren't really making an argument. In order to apply Ockham's razor, don't all things have to be equal? Not all things are equal as you and I hold comepletely different world views. If we could honestly come to the discussion table free of prejudices and any prior knowledge, then I would say that all things are equal. Maybe I am misunderstanding Ockham's razor. Help me out here.

I also find it ironic that you are using the work of a Franciscan friar to argue for SS.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nate
Maybe I am missing something here...

Response: That may very well be seeing that the thoughts you have expressed here I have responded to elsewhere on this blog.

But referring to proper basicality and Ockham's razor seem to only cover the fact that you aren't really making an argument.

Response: That is very interesting. I am not entirely sure if this statement is out of ignorance or rhetoric. I am giving an argument against infallible church authority. This argument is saying that if all things are equal that if we have two entities an infallible scripture and an infallible church to justify that infallible scripture then we don’t need the church to justify the scripture since the scriptures are properly basic via the intertestomy of the Holy Spirit. Now if we think this about the scripture then church becomes an unnecessary entity and as a result it does not enjoy a positive epistemic status (because of Ockham’s razor).

In order to apply Ockham's razor, don't all things have to be equal?

Response: Yes, I’ve answered this before.

Not all things are equal as you and I hold comepletely different world views.

Response: I don’t really see to how we holding to different view points would suggest that things are not equal. But of course I would actually argue that things are not equal since Catholic doctrines contradict and take away from the authority of scripture.

If we could honestly come to the discussion table free of prejudices and any prior knowledge, then I would say that all things are equal. Maybe I am misunderstanding Ockham's razor. Help me out here.

Response: I don’t think anyone can come to any table without prejudices. Of course we can all try to be objective and search for truth and I think that is what I am doing.

I also find it ironic that you are using the work of a Franciscan friar to argue for SS.

Response: Really? Am I? What is his name and what precisely in his work am I using here? I think this is entirely interesting and that this has nothing to do with my post in terms of critical evaluation, although perhaps you might enjoy some rhetorical kicks from it. Thanks for your time and comments.

NPT

David N said...

David C,

"All things being equal" simply means something like this: If we have no independent reasons for preferring one explanation over another, then the simplest one is likely to be the right one. So in this case, unless there were reasons for us to think that the church MUST be infallible, and not simply that it COULD be infallible, then Ockham's Razor would seem to apply.

Nate,

I believe David C was referring to William of Ockham himself, who was a Fransiscan.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Oh I thought he was refering to Reformed epistemology so I was really confused when he said that...I actually think it had more irony than Cox thinks because Ockham was excommunicated from the RC and his views on the possibility of nominalism and anti-scholastic methods lead to the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification sola fida some would argue.

NPT

David Cox said...

Nate
I am sure that ignorance has a lot to do with it. You have mentioned many things in your responses that, quite frankly, go over my head. However, you seem to load your comments. You say I am either being ignorant or rhetorical. Either way you win. If I reject your theory on proper basicality, then I am not functioning properly or using right reason.

You seem to be very well educated, but I am pretty well educated myself. So, with that being said, can you make an argument for sola scriptura that the average person can understand? Maybe you think you have, but I have missed it.

If sola scriptura was taught by the apostles, where are the references to it pre-Reformation?

David Cox said...

David
I understand your explanation of "all things being equal."

However, I would argue that the church MUST be infallible. The first generation Church had to be infallible, otherwise there would have been error. If the church was established without error, then what entity was introduced that caused it to fall into error? If I am not mistaken, I could invoke Ockham's Razor here, yes? After all, the first generation infallible church is prior to infallible scriptures. The NT was written in the context of this first generation church. Forgive me if my ignorance is getting the best of me. I am simply trying to follow your logic and play by the rules you have set.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nate
I am sure that ignorance has a lot to do with it. You have mentioned many things in your responses that, quite frankly, go over my head. However, you seem to load your comments. You say I am either being ignorant or rhetorical. Either way you win. If I reject your theory on proper basicality, then I am not functioning properly or using right reason.

Response: I wouldn't say you are not functioning properly I would just suggest that perhaps you might be mistaken from my theory of knowledge which is proper functionalism.

You seem to be very well educated, but I am pretty well educated myself. So, with that being said, can you make an argument for sola scriptura that the average person can understand? Maybe you think you have, but I have missed it.

Response: I think the average person can understand this. What about my blog or response do you not understand and we will clear that up from there. But if this response you just gave was intended to ask me this: do I have any other ways for establishing the Old and New Testament canon. Then my answer is yes I think there are other ways. I recently have accepted that the canon or the books of the Bible could be argued on the basis of historical evidence and that it is properly basic that things that are reasonable have inherent authority. So that's another line that I would be willing to pursue for arguments sake.

If sola scriptura was taught by the apostles, where are the references to it pre-Reformation?

Response: If there are a lack of post-apostolic references to sola scriptura then it seems that there was either a corruption or a ignorance much like justification by faith...either way this is perfectly consistent with the protestant position and is in no way a defeater. Furthermore, it seems as if it is not entirely relevant to this post as well.

David Cox said...

Then what is to keep me from saying that church authority is properly basic?

Nathanael Taylor said...

Then what is to keep me from saying that church authority is properly basic?

Response: Nothing...but if you use the canon argument for justification for your view point then that assumes the canon is already basic or that is an article of knowledge that needs to be internally justified. So you could say that you say that RC authority is basic and that it has nothing to do with a canon argument that you believe it. Then truly all things would be equal. At which point it becomes an exegetical argument. The Protestant will argue that RC contradicts the scripture and the Catholics will defend their claims. My argument was just designed to disable and defeat the Catholic or EO who believes in the validity of the canon argument. If you don't have that argument then you would have no evidence for your position apart from proper basicality.

Hope that helps!

NPT

David N said...

Nate,

"Nothing...but if you use the canon argument for justification for your view point then that assumes the canon is already basic or that is an article of knowledge that needs to be internally justified."

Would you mind explaining this in a bit more detail? Are you saying that if a RC or EO person argues that the church must be infallible or else we would not know for sure that the canon is correct, that they are actually presupposing that the canon is correct to begin with? Or are you saying something completely different?

Nathanael Taylor said...

Would you mind explaining this in a bit more detail? Are you saying that if a RC or EO person argues that the church must be infallible or else we would not know for sure that the canon is correct, that they are actually presupposing that the canon is correct to begin with? Or are you saying something completely different?

Response: Yes, I am saying something pretty similar to that. A lot of eastern orthodox and Catholics that I meet say they became this position (after being Protestants) because they had no internal justification of canon, so they look to the church as something that internally justifies the canon and now they can account for the canon and we can't. This assumes that this is a particular of knowledge that needs justification. My argument has been that if you buy externalism then you could say that the Bible is properly basic without internal justification (but have justification or warranted belief). This would then make the church something that we no longer need and by Ockham's razor we should cut it off. Now if a Catholic wanted to take a totally different approach and say that the church is properly basic and that the Bible is not properly basic through the self-attesting nature of the Holy Spirit then of course they wouldn't buy my Ockham's razor argument. At this point we would give the them internal defeaters to their position by giving them examples of how the east and the west contradicts what the original apostles said in Holy Scripture. Basically, my Ockham's razor argument, only works against those who use the canon argument as their reason for buying church authority. It's a lot like how atheist say they believe in objective moral properties and then they say that the Bible is immoral (and this is their reason for not being Christian)....the best response is to say well given your naturalism you cannot even account for objective moral properties. If an atheist were to say I don't believe in objective moral properties and this has nothing to do with my rejection of Christianity then obviously this line of reasoning wouldn't really help. In the same way if the Catholic says that church authority is properly basic then you can't do very much with this *particular* argument.

Hope that clears things up,

NPT

David N said...

That's Nate. That makes perfect sense.

MG said...

Nate--

You wrote:

"But I am not sure where you are going with this."

So do you think it is advantageous to a position if it is able to rebut a person who is skeptical about whether or not the external world exists?

Nathanael Taylor said...

"But I am not sure where you are going with this."

So do you think it is advantageous to a position if it is able to rebut a person who is skeptical about whether or not the external world exists?

Response: If that is the *only* reply one can give.

But again I will say I don't know where you are going with this.

NPT