Longing to Know (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  Longing to Know.

(This review is from the audiobook version.)

This book is wonderful, but I would not approach it as a philosophical account of knowledge. It is almost like a meditation on the knowing act. It is best seen as asking one to know from a different angle.

Main idea: What is knowledge? Knowledge is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality. With this definition she upholds the traditional view of knowledge as correspondence and justified, true belief.  Such views, necessary as they are, are inadequate.  Applied strictly, very little of our knowing would count as knowledge, and that would exclude most bodily acts of knowing. On the other hand, coherence models, while purporting to embrace the bodily dimension of knowledge, often fail to provide any knowledge.  Esther Lightcap Meek goes beyond both models with her vision of integrating clues into a larger pattern.

We can look at the problem another way.  We all know of those “Aha!” moments in our knowing.   That is when we make the leap from the unknown to the known (a problem that Plato’s Meno could not solve). For Meek, that seems to be knowledge.  My only quibble is that much of our knowing does not have this “Aha!” moment, but the idea itself is sound.

Knowing

Thesis: the act of knowing as traditionally understood implies success.  It means I have achieved truth by meeting certain conditions for knowledge and/or certainty.  

Week has a colorful way of summarizing Western philosophy: if Western civilization was born in Athens, then skepticism was its cradle. We tend to think of Plato as promoting eternal truths.  He certainly did.  The way he did so, however, presupposed skepticism.  If knowledge is justified, true belief, then in order for someone to know something, he or she has to prove he knows it.  As Meek says, “We don’t simply want to be sure, we also demand to be shown.”

As Week has elegantly said in other works, knowing is a “coming-to” reality. It involves the “Aha!” moment. It has a “from-to” structure.  This “from-to” is the subsidiary or particulars.. We move from the subsidiary to the focal.  She illustrates this by one of those “3-D” pictures where you have to look at it for a while before the image appears.

Meek suggests this form of knowing is “embodied.” That is true for many aspects of knowing, but it is hard to see (no pun intended) how knowing God would be embodied.

Knowledge as Vector

“Knowing vectors us through the world and also vectors us through time.  Call it ‘being on the way to knowing.’ Knowing is a longing, a leaning into the world.”  Indeed, earlier she says, “If a statement is a dot, the act of knowing is a vector to and throw the dot.”  We can also see the dots as subsidiaries.  The act of knowing gets us through the subsidiaries and into the focus.

Integration > coherence

Coherence models of truth cohere like flour in a measuring cup.  They might fit, but they tell you nothing about knowledge.  Integration is like flour as it is in rising yeast.  Integration is knowledge transformed.

Doubting the Doubts

Going through doubts is akin to going through a batting slump in baseball.  The goal is to get beyond the subsidiaries and back to the focal. Many, but perhaps not all, of our doubts are when we get stuck in the subsidiaries and never see the picture. I do not mean this in a cliched sort of way. For one reason or another, a doubter is not able to focus on the key picture.  

As some reviewers noted, Meek’s comments on “certainty” are a bit unguarded.  I agree with her that a God’s-eye certainty is neither possible nor desirable.  Indeed, as one Reformed author cogently argued, it is also illegitimate. That kind of certainty is not what God promised his children.  On the other hand, a finite sort of certainty is certainly commendable.  With that aside, this is a wonderful, even healing type of book.

The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.

Dualisms

The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.

A Little Manual for Knowing (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  A Little Manual for Knowing. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

Meek resists the claim that knowledge is reducible to information. If knowledge is just about information, then “how do we come to know in the first place?”  We must have some knowledge to begin the “knowledge journey,” but if knowledge is just information, then we can’t even begin.  This is why Plato reduced knowledge to remembrance (particularly of past lives).

A consequence of the “knowledge-as-fact” approach is that it divides the knower.  It assumes one can detach himself from the act of knowing.

Covenant epistemology: the knower “pledges himself to the yet-to-be-known, the way a groom pledges himself to a bride.”  This is quite different from when the postmodernist attacks rationalism.  The postmodernist quite correctly says that all knowing is done from a finite standpoint, with the implication that knowledge is relativised.  The covenantal knower, by contrast, sees knowledge in an almost eschatological light. In Meek’s words, knowledge is a “pilgrimage” in which “we journey together.”  “All knowing is a coming-to-know.”

Polanyi: “subsidiary-focal integration”

This book is unique among Christian epistemology texts in that she gives exercises at the end of each chapter.

Knowledge as love implies that knowing ← → Being go hand in hand. Reality is person-like, not an amalgamation of bits of information.  Meek argues, by contrast, that reality is a gift.  When I look at a thing, on first glance we see it as it is.  But in a Creator universe, the thing is also “what-it-promises-to-be” and “what-it-ought-to-be.”

Promise language then is covenant language. This is tied with the notion of “reality as gift.

Her thesis is “we love in order to know.” I don’t think this works as a global thesis, but in terms of some knowledge-situations it is probably accurate. This type of loving is an “active receptivity.”

There are some good thoughts on “cultivating wonder” as a mental habit.  In her nice phrase, “it is a trained readiness to be astounded.”

Covenantal knowledge involves a “pledge,” which is the “I do” of love. In this knowledge “we give ourselves to be known,” to pledge to the Other’s “being.” This is what Torrance and Polanyi mean by knowing “kataphysically,” according to the nature of the thing known.  The thing presses its reality upon your mind. Granted, this makes more sense in terms of religion, philosophy, and politics than it would in looking at a blank wall.

If these things about knowledge are true, then knowing also involves a “maturity in love.” This is where knowing’s “interpersonal” dimension is clearly seen.  We need other persons to help us mature and be the person’s we are.

She has a neat section on “The Void.”  The void doesn’t have to be evil.  It can just be the realization of non-being.  It can be how healing can begin.  It’s sort of like having the law preached to you.  She has a neat diagram on the four dimensions of humanness.

              Holy

Self ——- ——–         ————–   Situation

                      Void

In a moving line, Meek writes, “In the Void, we must cry out in hope for the gracious deliverance and inbreaking of new being.  This is a key act of inviting the real.”  In another diagram, she calls this “the knowing event.” “The Holy is the gracious possibility of new being.”  It is where “epiphany” happens.

Now we are going to add persons to the picture

Meek gives good guidelines for cultivating the real:  choose wise guides, for one.  Beginners don’t know a lot about philosophy.  I personally wasted years on dead-ends.  You must also “place yourself where reality is likely to show up.”

Knowledge as Indwelling

Now Meek moves into the territory of the Hungarian chemist Michael Polanyi and his idea of “Subsidiary-Focal Integration” (SFI). We will go back to Plato’s Meno.  If knowledge is simply about transfer of propositions, that which we do not know, then we can never cross the Platonic chasm between Knowledge and Becoming, since we are in the realm of Becoming.

Perhaps we are getting too far afield.  Meek’s point is that knowledge also involves a “subsidiary” dimension that happens below the surface of the focal. Perhaps we can reframe the above-mentioned Platonic problem this way:  let’s take Heidegger’s question on being.  What is being?  To ask that question presupposes some knowledge of being, otherwise we couldn’t use the word “is.”  Let’s say a toddler is learning.  He needs sentences to learn, yet he doesn’t know what a sentence is, so how can he learn?

“All knowledge and knowing has a ‘from-to’ structure.”  It is not “a linear relation.” Think in terms of clues and patterns.  There is no linear connection, yet your mind is already seeing the evidence for patterns.  It then makes a proleptic jump, which Meek calls “integration.” It’s like playing “Wheel of Fortune.”  Her conclusion: “As we indwell the subsidiaries, we creatively integrate to a sustained focal pattern…We actively shape clues to the pattern; and we passively submit to the pattern.”

And then comes the moment of epiphany: [it] feels very much like a gracious gift from outside us.”  Indeed, “embedded in epiphany is the shift from active to passive, from giving to receiving.  It feels like a shift from knowing to being known.”

Knowing as shalom: we know shalom when the tension in the knowing encounter is brought to a proper resolution.  It is the joy we experience in seeing the “natural fittingness” of something that was put together.  She has some interesting–but only tantalizing–suggestions on shalom and healing.  That definitely needs to be developed.

Catchy sayings:

* Covenantal knowledge is commitment, not curiosity.
* Knowing is inviting the real, welcoming the yet-to-be-known.

* We seek to indwell and be indwelt by the yet-to-be-known.
* Coming to know proves to be a process of moving from looking at to looking from in order to see transformatively beyond.

* IFM = indeterminate future manifestation.”  Any good integrative pattern promises future unfoldings of dimensions and horizons.

* Insight isn’t informational–it is transformational.

Conclusion

This is a dynamic little book.  Not all of her arguments are sufficiently developed, but I think she knows that, as she intends this to be a gateway to her larger works on epistemology.  This book succeeds where so many epistemology texts from post-evangelicals have failed.  Too often we hear that rationality ought to be “Embodied” or “situated.”  Fair enough.  Few really say what that means.  In other words, granted that knowledge is embodied, what would mechanism or the knowing act look like?  Meek actually develops an answer.

It’s also fashionable, especially among Reformed, to advocate a “coventanal epistemology.”  That usually means quoting Bible verses such as “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  That’s true, but by itself it tells me nothing of how knowledge works.  If I preface a trigonometry problem with “Fear of the Lord,” I still have to work the problem and the answer will be the same as if I didn’t say “The Fear of the Lord.” Meek’s approach reshapes the covenant question in terms of knowledge as gift, pledge, promise, etc.  Which is actually what a covenant is.

Introduction to Philosophy (Geisler and Feinberg)

This is a systematic philosophy text.  Like a systematic theology, it explains and evaluates the loci of philosophy.  It is probably the best intro text on the market, at least from a Christian perspective.

A good philosophical system will achieve three things: (1) internal consistency, (2) external comprehensiveness, and (3) correspondence (Geisler and Feinberg, 72).

The authors do a fine job rebutting the pietistic charge that studying philosophy violates Colossians 2:8.  For one, Paul is warning against false knowledge, not all knowledge.  Moreover, the definite article could actually indicate a specific teaching at Colosse (i.e., most likely gnostic angel-worship).  Even more, one cannot beware of false philosophy unless he is first aware of it (73).  And though Geisler does not mention it, these same pietists themselves give a logos about theos and have no problem with using Aristotelian concepts like being, quality, quantity, and motion.

The first locus the authors cover is knowledge and the various options with justifying belief.  My only concern is that I wish they had spent more time on foundationalism.

What is Knowledge?

Problems with skepticism:

1) Skepticism is rationally inconsistent.  Assertions that we cannot know anything are themselves claims of knowledge (94ff).

2) Skepticism is practically inconsistent: skeptics trust their sense perceptions when they cross the road.

Foundationalism

Foundationalism is the view that there is a structure of knowledge “whose foundations, though they support all the rest, are themselves in need of no support” (152). We have directly justified beliefs “and they are topped with indirectly justified beliefs.”

In response to criticisms, the foundationalist maintains his position does not end in an infinite regress. It is possible that there are immediately grounded propositions.

Coherentism

Coherentism is one alternative to foundationalism.  Geisler notes a distinction between coherentist theories of truth and coherentist justification for truth (161). The coherentist justification asserts that there are no basic beliefs, only webs of belief. 

What is Reality?

Is reality One or Many?  Geisler does a fine job explaining the power of Parmenides’ argument for monism (168). It looks like this:

1) Reality is either one or many.

2) If reality is many, then then many things must differ from each other.

3) But there are only two ways things can differ: either by being (something) or by non-being (nothing).

4) However, two (or more) things cannot differ by nothing, for to differ by nothing means not to differ at all.

5) Neither can things differ by being (or something), because being is the only thing that everything has in common, and things cannot differ in the very respect in which they are all the same.

6) Therefore, things cannot differ at all; everything is one.

It’s clear that the problem is his univocal use of the term “being.”  The solution can’t be an equivocal use of the word “being,” for then our knowledge of reality is now suspect.  The only solution, and one Aristotle and Aquinas would later formulate, is an analogical use of being.

The pluralist options are as follows:

Atomism: “Things Differ by Absolute Non-Being” (170ff).

Platonism: Things differ by relative non-being

Aristotle: Things Differ in their Being (Which is Simple)

Aquinas: Things Differ in their Being (which is composed of Form and Matter)

Trinity, One, and Many

Can the Trinity solve the problem of the One and Many?  Short answer: No. The Trinity does not address Parmenides’ concern.  Parmenides wants to know how things can differ in their being.  The Trinity, however, only seeks to posit plurality in the persons, precisely not in the being.

God and the Ultimate

We must not confuse “belief in” with “belief that” (269). I do not need a reason for faith in God.  It is entirely legitimate, though, to stress reasons for belief that God exist.

Some Thoughts on Deism

The Deists’ line that miracles are a violation of natural law no longer works.  Science today is as likely to speak of “models” and “maps” than laws (277).  Moreover, natural physical law does not actually “cause” anything.  It merely explains it.

Problems with Panentheism and Finite Godism

Panentheism cannot claim an infinite god with “finite poles.” It does not make sense to speak of a contingent and necessary God.  Even more problematic, “can God actualize his own potential?” This problem is even more damaging for finite godism.  As Geisler notes, “A finite god needs a cause.”  That new cause is now God (or at least has a better claim to be God).

Paul Tillich’s Symbolic Language

It does not do to say that God is the ground of ultimate Being and that language about God is symbolic. Such a person believes there is at least non-symbolic entity, being.

Analogical God-Talk

1) There is only a basis for “analogy when there is an intrinsic causal relation” (314). For example, as Geisler notes, hot water has an extrinsic relation to the hardness in the boiled egg, but it has an intrinsic relation to the heat in the egg.

2) The effect does not need to resemble the instrumental cause, only the principal efficient cause (315).

3) Likewise, the effect need not resemble the material cause, only the efficient one.

4) Terms like “being” are univocally defined, but analogically applied (317).

What is Good or Right?

Kantianism: will it to be a universalizable law.  Existentialists have asked why should we prioritize the universal over the particular?

Utilitarianism: greatest good for the greatest number.  There are numerous problems with this claim. Only God can be utilitarian, since only he has the foresight to know which actions will be the best for the greatest number (393).  There is another problem: the utilitarian subtly analyzes results in terms of ‘the Good,” which means results cannot be the deciding factor.  Perhaps the greatest practical problem: how long-range must the results be in order for them to be good?  If it is only short-range, then this justifies a number of evils.  Too long a range, on the other hand, makes it worthless.

Classical theistic ethics: the Good is self-evident. The main difficulty with the classical view is whether it can overcome the “is-ought” fallacy. There are several lines of response.  “If ‘ought’ is a basic category that cannot be reduced to ‘is’ or anything else, then one must understand it intuitionally, since there is no way to break it down further” (383). We still haven’t justified natural law ethics.  We have, however, provided a source about what we believe.  We should point out, though, that concepts like “The Good” cannot be analyzed in terms of a higher concept.

Conclusion

This book was a joy to read.  Geisler provided us with an accessible, yet rigorous text for the introductory to mid-level college student.  

Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.

Man

Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).

Mind

The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.

Monarchy

Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.

Opposition

Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.

Reasoning

The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J.  Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy.

Even with the advances in science, Aristotle’s shadow is unavoidable.  We still operate with concepts like “part,” “whole,” “motion,” “change,” etc.  Despite modern pedagogy in the university, we still use logic and assume it is valid.

“Great Divide”

First problem: What differentiates “all living organisms from inert bodies” (Adler 5)? From this we draw a line between some living organisms and others.  Aristotle keeps drawing these lines and classifying individuals.  In order to do this, he posits that each thing has a nature. He finally arrives at the conclusion that man is a rational animal.

On one side of the line are “bodies.”  On the other side are “attributes.” The key idea is that an attribute exists in a thing but not of itself.  A stone’s weight exists in the stone, but no one thinks that the weight of a stone exists on its own.  Moreover, a body changes; the attributes do not.  The attribute of hardness doesn’t become “smoothness.”  Rather, the stone becomes smooth.

We can best discuss man by seeing him in three different dimensions:

Man is:

Making (Beautiful).  This covers the metaphysical angle.

Doing (Good)

Knowing (True)

Man the Maker

A work of art is man-made. It is more accurate to say that man produces; he does not create.

Change and Permanence

The problem is how can something always be in a state of becoming, always in change, yet remain the same.  One type of change is motion (a change in place), alteration (a change in quality), and a change in quantity.  All of these changes take place in time.

The Four Causes

I can’t do any better than to quote Adler:

1. Material cause: that out of which something is made.
2. Efficient cause: that by which something is made.
3. Formal cause: that into which something is made.
4. Final cause: that for the sake of which something is made 

To Be or Not to Be

To understand Aristotle on being, we need a firm grasp of “matter,” “form,” “potentiality” and “actuality” (50).

Privation is a lack of a certain form. Potentiality is when you predicate the words “can be” of a thing.  A matter can lack a form but nonetheless have the potentiality for it. “Matter always has a limited potentiality for acquiring other forms” (53).

Man the Doer

Man usually acts towards a goal. This is practical thinking, thinking about means and ends. Means are the ways we achieve our goal or other means.  For Aristotle the end to which we aim is “living well.” However, when Aristotle says we are to aim for the right ultimate end, this isn’t relative.  There is an actual objective Good to which all seek to aim. People who do not aim for this objective end have disordered passions.

This is happiness.  It is important to note that ancient man didn’t consider those who were still living to be truly happy.

Man the Knower

“The senses are the doorway to the mind” (130). They are instruments, and in a nice turn of the phrase, the mind, too, is an instrument.  It is the “form of forms” (134). Thinking does more, as it also “relates the ideas it produces.”

The next chapter is on the laws of logic.  In some ways, that chapter alone is worthy of an entire review.  On the other hand, there isn’t much in it that isn’t also found in other logic texts. Some comments are appropriate, though.  For example, the term in both major and minor premises is the middle term. It functions to connect the major premise and the conclusion.

Moreover, if the major premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.  A positive conclusion cannot follow from negative premises.

I recommend this book to any starter in philosophy.

Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  The Big Book of Christian Apologetics.

 I read the original “Baker Encyclopedia” in college.  I’m partial to that one for nostalgic reasons.  This one is good, too (and is the same thing, more or less).

When Geisler sticks to Evangelical Thomism, few can compete with him.  His take on causality, analogy, and being is one of the few essential takeaways from this book.

Geisler’s “Twelve Points” is the outline of his apologetic thrust.  They are helpfully outlined here.:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says that Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God is confirmed by miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Analogy, Principle of. Analogy is based in causality. A cause communicates itself to the effect.  Being communicates being. “The cause of being must be a Being. It cannot give what it don’t got.” Analogy between God and creation is based in efficient causality. We are like God because Actuality communicates actuality, but unlike God we have limiting potentiality.

Principality of Casuality

  1. Every effect has a cause.
  2. Every contingent being is caused by another.
  3. Every limited being is caused by another.
  4. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
  5. Nonbeing cannot cause being.

No potency for being can actualize itself, for it would have to have been in a previous state of actuality.

Edwards, Jonathan.  Used a good cosmological argument.  Some problems concerning panentheism and an overly rigid view of free choice.  No one is moved to act unless God acts on him.  We act according to our free desire.  This self-destructs when applied to Satan and the angels, for it seems God would have to have given them their desire for sin.

First Principles

These are so good I am probably going to write them in the cover of my bible.
B means being;

Bn means Necessary Being;
Bc means contingent being;
-> means causes;
-/> cannot cause;
Act means actuality;
P means potentiality (or potency).

  1. B is or exists (principle of existence)
  1. B is B (principle of identity)
  2. B is not non-B (principle of non-contradiction)
  3. Either B or non-B (principle of excluded middle)
  4. Non-B -/> B (principle of negative causality)
  5. B-/Bc (principle of contingent causality)
  6. Bn-/>Bn (principle of impossible causality)
  7. Bn->Bc (principle of positive causality)
  8. Bc is (exists) (principle of contingent existence)
  9. Bn is (exists) principle of necessary existence)
  10. Act is Act (with no potency) (principle of pure actuality)
  11. Bc is act/potency (principle of potency)
  12. Act ->act/potency (principle of analogy
  13. Act is similar to act
  14. Act is different from potency
  15. Bn is not (principle of negative attributes)
  16. finite (= is infinite)
  17. changing (=is immutable)
  18. temporal (=is eternal)
  19. multiple (= is one)
  20. divisible (=is simple)
  21. Bn is (principle of positive attributes)
  22. actual
  23. intelligent
  24. personal
  25. good
  26. truth
  27. Beautiful

Geisler’s take on creation/flood is interesting.  He holds to Old Earth (or rather, the strongest argument for YEC don’t obtain because there are gaps in the genealogies).  On the other hand, he holds to a global flood.

Hardening of Pharaoh

This isn’t as against Calvinism as it might seem.  Our scholastic fathers held to free choice and that God doesn’t work mechanically against our wills.  If that is true, then we shouldn’t have to big a problem with Geisler’s conclusion that God doesn’t harden initially, but subsequently; not directly, but indirectly; not against free choice, but through free choice; not as to the cause, but as to the effect.

Hinduism. Some comments. The only way I could know that all is an illusion is by using my senses.  These same monists tell us to use our senses to listen to their lectures or read their books.

If illusionism is true, how could I know it?

Gospel witnesses:  The gospels couldn’t have been myths because not only do myths not develop in under a generation, but myths also do not develop while the eyewitnesses are still alive.

Bart Ehrman on the manuscripts’ having errors: if we apply the same reasoning to his own books, we note that his first edition had sixteen errors.  One hundred thousand copies were pritten.  This means he made 1.6 million errors, but that is silly.

First Law of Thermodynamics.  The point isn’t that energy can’t be created or destroyed.  It isn’t making a statement about the origin of the universe.  Energy remains constant, albeit the usable energy decreases.

Van Til. We’ll end the review with his critique of Van Til.    CVT says that for Aquinas God’s existence is only probable, whereas Aquinas said it was rationally necessary (ST 1a., 2, 3). Aquinas would believe with CVT that truth depends ontologically on God.  Yet CVT never fully realized that finite man must ask how he could know.  CVT confused the order of knowing with the order of being.

Even worse, if the unbeliever experiences everything with a “jaundiced eye,” how would he ever understand Van Til, since the rules of logic and grammar are being experienced differently?  CVT seemed to see this tension (IST, 15).  It gets worse, though. If the unbeliever with his jaundiced eye cannot account for creation, then he’s off the hook since there is no way for him to suppress a truth that he doesn’t even understand.

Criticisms

Unfortunately, Geisler holds to some form of the subordination of the Son.  To be honest, I think he is just confused, for he first anchors the subordination in the economy.  However, he does use the unstable category of “function.”  There is no evidence, though, that he is using this model to drive a particular view of male-female relations.  He might in other books, but not here.  What makes it more frustrating is that his overall Trinitarianism and Doctrine of God is so good.

Principles of Sacred Theology (Kuyper)

I am a sympathetic critic (with emphasis on critic) of Abraham Kuyper. I fully reject what he says on covenant, common grace, and the church. This book, though, is quite interesting and worth reading.

Argument: theologically science should begin organically because knowledge is inter-related.  It is the unbelieving world that can’t integrate knowledge (I:iv).

Science: a collected body of knowledge independent from the activity of the knower.  It is a “connected form of knowledge.”

If there were no organic relationship between subject and object, “then thinking man in our age would have an entirely different object before him” than in other times (II:1).  Kuyper is addressing the old problem regarding the relationship of universals to particulars.

Threefold relationship:

  1. Organic relation between object and our human nature
  2. Relation between that object and our consciousness.
  3. Relation between that object and our world of thought.

Older scholastic view of faculty: 

Faith

“The formal function of the life of our soul which is fundamental to every fact in our human consciousness” (37).

Chapter 3: The Twofold Development of Science

The Christian is determined by a palingenesis, which leads to an enlightening, which changes a man in his very being (50).  Kuyper: “This regeneration breaks humanity in two.”

Chapter 5: Theology in the Organism of Science

Theology finds its object in the revealed, ectypal knowledge of God (81).

DIVISION III

Chapter 1: The Conception of Theology

The Influence of Palingenesis upon Theology and Science

It implies that all existing things are in ruins and that there is a way they can be restored (83).

Conception: the way of knowledge which we travel.

Idea: views the end independently

Man: man is no spirit but a spiritual being and exists simultaneously psychically and somatically, so that a great deal of his inner life manifests itself without the person being conscious of it (97).

(Kuyper rebuts the donum superadditum on pp. 104-105)

Common grace: the act of God by which he negatively curbs the operations of Satan (111).

Revelation, Humanity, and History: revelation goes out to humanity taken as a whole.  Since humanity unfolds itself historically, this Revelation also bears an historic character.  Since this humanity exists organically, having a centrum of action, this Revelation also had to be organic, with a centrum of its own (112).

For Hegel and Schleiermacher, man is the archetypal theology and God is the ectypal theology.  True being and knowledge is only in man, while knowledge of God is a dim imprint.

Regeneration and Knowledge, Again

“Regeneration is not an element in knowing, but in being” (142ff). What I think he is saying is that regeneration penetrates to the whole man.

A principium of knowledge is a living agent, and it is from this agent that knowledge flows.  As such, obviously, the bible is not an agent.  Nevertheless, it is proper to call Scripture the principium unicum theologiae if understand as a plant, “whose germ as sprouted and budded” (143).

Sharpening our antithesis:  if Holy Scripture is the principium of theology, then there is an antitheis between this principium and the common principium of our knowledge (153).

Really good section on the relation of natural and special revelation.  Rather than two mechanical principles that never really integrate (e.g., as in Protestant and Roman Catholic scholasticism), they “possess a higher unity, are allied to one another, and, by virtue of this unity and relationship, are capable of affecting each other” (157).  Their unity is God, as he is the source and object of both kinds of knowledge.  

Question:  Can Natural Revelation judge Special Revelation (159ff)?

Muslims isolate the principium of knowing from the principium of being (175).  I think Kuyper means is that there is no organic connection between the two.  Kuyper mentions a “dictated inspiration” in connection.

But for the Christian, what binds these streams together–the recreative divine energy?  Kuyper wants to avoid the idea of “inspiration” as some kind of donum superadditum.

Summary of sub-section: the special principium in God directs itself as the principium of knowledge ot the consciousness of the sinner, bringing about inspiration/illumination.  As principium of being, its spiritual and material re-creative acts are called miracles.  The world of thought and the world of being do not lie side by side, but are organically connected (178).

On Miracles

Miracles organically recreate the cosmos from within.  Away with silly discussions of “violating natural law.”  Renewal in Scripture is not a new power or a new state of being, “but simply a new shoot [that] springs from the root of creation itself” (182).

Theaetetus (Plato)

Plato returns to his criticism of Protagoras’s claim that man is the measure of all things.  Granted that such an argument is wrong (and silly), we explore the nature of knowledge and why it can’t be sense impression.

Theaetetus has just come back from the Sophists who argue that knowledge = sense perception.  The larger context is Protagoras’s claim that “man is the measure of all things.” We will call this claim (P). We will distinguish this from Theaetetus’s claim that knowledge is perception, called (T).

Socrates asks him that if (T) is true, then knowledge must also be perceiving, to which Theaetetus agrees. If this is true, then a thing’s appearing-to-me must also be a thing’s being or existence.  Our claim now entails that such knowledge is unerring (since it is connected with being).  This, however, is manifestly false. Case in point: we perceive things in dreams, but no one thinks dreams are real.

Theaetetus retreats from this claim and attacks from the Heraclitean point of view that “motion is the source of being.”  Flux, not stability is primary.  There is no self-existent thing.  Everything is becoming and in relation. He has the nice phrase “Partisans of the perpetual flux.”  Indeed, we can’t even say man or stone, but only an aggregate of x.  This is word-for-word Karl Marx (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis VI).

Let’s return to (P). If it is true, then there is no reason to believe that Protagoras (or the modern university professor) is correct. If knowledge is sensation, and I can’t discern another man’s sensation, and yet Protagoras purports to be true, then why prefer him to anyone else?  This was the first response to postmodernism long before postmodernism came on the scene.

Another problem: I can have knowledge from memory, yet memory isn’t a sense.

Another problem: I can have knowledge of abstract entities and categories, yet these aren’t present to the senses.

Let’s return to the Heraclitean claim.  If nothing is at rest, and everything is supervening upon everything else, then every answer is equally right, since all we have are moving targets.

There is yet another diversion where Socrates explains that the soul perceives some things by herself and others by means of bodily organs. The soul has something like “wax” in it that handles the impressions.  If a soul is deep and virtuous, then the impressions sink to the heart of the soul.

The dialogue ends with discussions of justified, true belief.

Arguably the most important of his “epistemology” dialogues, it is somewhat a difficult read as Socrates goes through numerous diversions.

Review: Bavinck, Prolegomena

Bavinck’s project consists of drawing upon the strengths of the Magisterial Protestants while formulating theology in response to the modernist crisis of his day. To do so, he realized he could not slavishly mimic older platitudes and simply “hope for the best.” Bavinck represents a very exciting yet somewhat embarrassing hero for modern Calvinists. Exciting, because his work is simply awesome and coming into English for the first time ever. Embarrassing, because modern Calvinists generally dislike the movement “neo-Calvinism,” yet Bavinck is the unofficial godfather of it.

Bavinck takes the traditional terminology of principia, yet in the background is an ever-present urgency to respond to modernism. Therefore, he takes the terminology and reframes it around the neo-Calvinist slogan, “Grace restores Nature.” There is an antithesis and dualism, to be sure, but it is not between nature and grace, but sin and grace.

Principia

God himself is the principle of existence for theology (principium essendi). Objective revelation of God in Christ is recorded in the Scriptures and this is the external source of knowledge (externum principium cognoscendi). The Holy Spirit is the iternal source of knowledge. This leads Bavinck to a line he repeats throughout the book: there must be a corresponding internal organ to receive the external revelation. This anticipates the later Reformed Epistemology school.

Contrary to the convertskii, everyone’s reception and evaluation of his or her ultimate authority will be subjective in some sense. One often hears the refrain, “You Protestants make yourself the Pope and judge of authority while we simply submit to the Church.” Unfortunately, at one time this convertskii had to make a decision–using his own sinful Western-influenced reason–between Rome, EO, Assyrian Orthodoxy, Monophysitism and Nestorianism. Whatever the external source of knowledge-the Church, God’s Revelation, etc.–the religious subject will have to respond to it. Since the subject is responding, the response and evaluation is, quite naturally, subjective. Bavinck hits a grand slam on this point.

Circular Reasoning and First Principles

Bavinck does not try to hide the fact of circular reasoning. He asserts, quite rightly, that first principles in any science are by definition circular. If they were proven by other principles, they would not be first principles! With this acknowledged, Romanism and Orthodoxy are in no better position than Protestantism. Positing either the Pope or the Church as the external principle of knowledge is highly laughable–and bears witness to my argument given that few even try to do that.

Towards the Future of Reformed Epistemology and Apologetics

It’s obvious that Van Til read Bavinck. It is also obvious, if perhaps less so, that the Reformed Epistemologists follow in Bavinck’s train. It’s interesting that while Van Til drew heavily from Bavinck, I don’t think they are always saying the same thing on apologetics. Bavinck used the categories of presuppositionalism, but he knew when to stop the train. I think he kept himself from many of what would later be some of Van Til’s errors, or at least weak points.

Criticisms

The book isn’t always easy to read. If the reader does not have a background heavy in European Rationalism, many of Bavinck’s sparring partners will be over one’s head. Conversely, if one does have such a background in those disciplines, then there is little point to read Bavinck on them, since he is merely given a cursory reading of them