July 10, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

The following is from Chris Matthew and his conversation with some atheist. He’s an up-and-coming presuppositionalist:  

There are a couple of remarks that merit response,
@FondestAlloy. 1.) Do you deny the possibility of knowing whether something is objectively true? 2.) You describe pessimistic meta-induction well. In the future, there is the possibility (a high probability, even) that something will come to light that undermines the justification for our present knowledge claims. The glaring issue to this is that this makes human knowledge impossible. Indeed, impossible. You can’t recourse to some posited distinction between subjective/objective truth to escape from this fact. Two reasons for why that is so. a) First of all, if human knowledge is made impossible due to this fact, then the alleged objective/subjective dichotomy itself collapses. What is to say that our grounds for distinguishing between that which is objective and subjective will not be discredited in the future? This is dangerous global skepticism, something which no epistemologically self-conscious individual should accept. I quote from Bosserman, verbatim:

“Yet, again, the objector has lapsed back into the very sort of position that Van Til has proven untenable. If reality were the sort of place where subjective and objective truth could be so disconnected, the objector would have no ground for supposing that his reasoning process advances by objectively valid inferences.”

Trinity and the Vindication of the Christian Paradox

b) Secondly, that’s not what objective/subjective means in the first place. If knowledge is undermined due to the lack of assurance that nothing of what we don’t know could contradict what we claim to know, then all of truth has evaporated. Subjective truth is an unintelligible concept (without the backdrop of objective truth), as will be evinced by your answer to question (1) above. You lose truth, full stop. 3.) You say that,

“I inductively reason the things I can believe to be truth and not true.”

The main problem with this is that induction itself is unintelligible on worldviews other than Christian theism. How do you justify that the future will be like the past, guaranteeing the truth of inductive arguments, on your worldview? You cannot. For sure, it could be the case that something discovered in the future could undermine your belief in the reliability of induction. See how pervasive your admission is? Conclusion Ultimately, the questions come down to one thing: you cannot provide for the preconditions of intelligible rational thought without the truth of Christian theism. The reasoning has been that: since you are not omniscient, you cannot know whether some fact yet to be known will defeat your currently-held knowledge claims. This, in turn, defeats the possibility of all knowledge ─ including knowledge of whether knowledge is impossible (which is self-refuting). This reduces to absurdity. Christian theism provides a way out of this predicament. The previous line of reasoning can be formulated along the lines of an epistemic trilemma (credits to @Necessitarian): Humankind can be omniscient (per impossible); we can have access to an omniscient Source (e.g., revelation from the Christian God), or knowledge is made impossible (per impossible). This illustrates the essential unity of knowledge. We can put this in terms of a formal argument that is deductively valid (cf. Anderson 2005):

P1. If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one can have any knowledge of the universe. P2. Only God could have comprehensive knowledge of the universe. P3. We have some knowledge of the universe. C: Therefore, God exists. Furthermore, to add another kilogram of weight to the corpse of unbelief, you appeal to induction without realizing that only Christian theism can justify the uniformity of nature (and hence, inductive reasoning).


“Do beliefs need justifications or are they just involuntary?”

Even if doxastic involuntarism is true, this has little to do with the epistemological issue of justifying your beliefs. The classical contention in support of doxastic involuntarism (the ‘classical argument’, according to Bernard Williams) is that subjects have already justified the truth of their beliefs before any kind of ‘free-standing’ judgement of the belief’s truth-value.


“Beliefs are attitudes about propositions, they’re emotive states”

I’m not too sure about this. Do you have a formal argument to prove that beliefs are emotive states? And if so, is that fact relevant to epistemology?

“You don’t need to claim to “know” the sun will rise tomorrow, to feel it will.”

They’re not mutually exclusive. I’d contend that, if you feel that the sun will rise tomorrow, you claim to know that the sun will rise tomorrow. You have a strong conviction of that belief and there must be some justification for that, irrespective of potential defeaters.

“What is “knowledge” anyway?”

S knows that p iff a) p is true; b) S believes that p; c) S’s belief that p was produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly according to God’s good design plan aimed at true-belief production. In other words, warranted true belief. I also believe in a hybrid of infallibilism and fallibilism.

“Do you think people had knowledge before Christianity existed? Did cavemen have knowledge?”

What is before Christianity? All men know the Christian God (Romans 1), even cavemen. We can say that Christian theism is an epistemic precondition. An epistemic precondition would be knowledge of some belief, x, where x is a belief about an ontological fact about the world that guarantees the possibility of knowledge.


“Hume already talked about the problem of induction and mentioned the mind having “habits of thought”. The belief the future will resemble the past is psychological.”

Yes. The issue, however, is not psychological but epistemological. What grounds can a subject appeal to, so as to justify their use of the inductive principle? They might be psychologically inclined to think that the future will be akin to the past, but that doesn’t justify the belief.

Expressed more formally:
(P1.) If theism is not the case, then one cannot account for the uniformity of nature presupposed by inductive reasoning. (P2.) If one cannot account for the uniformity of nature presupposed by inductive reasoning, then beliefs based on inductive reasoning are not warranted. (P3.) Beliefs based on inductive reasoning are warranted. (C.) Therefore, theism is the case.

“Even animals exhibit this, and they don’t presuppose God?”

Animals aren’t rational. Animals don’t hold to worldviews. Animals aren’t epistemically bound.

Rational subjects have worldviews. These worldviews commit us, ontologically, to certain things. These things either make possible, or impossible, the necessary preconditions for intelligibility (eg. the inductive principle).
As a Covenantal apologist, I seek to demonstrate that non-Christian worldviews necessarily lack those preconditions for intelligible rational thought and human experience.
Your worldview makes those things impossible, despite your using them.

“If you really believe in God, its an involuntary feeling, not an axiom you’ve arbitrarily chosen”


“Why do you assume knowledge is JTB, Justified True Belief? Is that not disputed by philosophers these days?”

The JTB condition is still quite popular. However, I concur that the Gettier problem poses a challenge to the JTB condition. Hence, I hold to an externalist theory of epistemic justification; a kind of theistic reliabilism (see above).

I usually guide people out of thinking in terms of JTB when I question them.


“there are even philosophers that dispute some of the laws of logic like the law of excluded middle”

It’s amusing to me that you should pick, as an example of this, the LEM. In all actuality, the LEM is fairly uncontroversial. It is just that many modern logic systems replace the LEM with negation as failure (eg., as used as a foundation for autoepistemic logic). A better example of what you’re trying to get at would be Graham Priest’s ‘rejection’ of the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC), or dialetheism. However, note that dialetheism only functions within paraconsistent logic: you need transcendent structures to ultimately unify and make sense of these things. The LNC necessarily and universally holds, even with examples of dialetheism or other such paradoxes; you will always have to utilize the LNC to deny the universality of the LNC.

Continuing my discussion with ‘The Fool’


“What is rationality?”

Rationality implies the conformity of one’s beliefs with one’s reasons to believe, and of one’s actions with one’s reasons for action.


“And not all humans know about Christianity, right? Do you believe that? How would a caveman know anymore than a hunter gather tribe living on north sentinel island?”

The epistemic precondition is the triune Christian God. Certain elements of the Christian religion (‘Christianity’), such as the Resurrection, do not need to be presupposed as one’s epistemic precondition. Cavemen, of course, lived before Christ’s resurrection. It is true that all men know the existence of the personal, triune Christian God (cf. Romans 1).


“Cavemen believed in Animism and stuff, not in monotheism”

The contention of the Covenantal apologist is not that all men verbally profess to believing in Christian theism or engage in conscious deception. The fact is that all men know the Christian God and, due to their wickedness of hearts, they suppress that knowledge due to its consequences of judgement and the need to change your life in conformity with God’s will. Suppressing that intrinsic knowledge of God includes forcing oneself to (falsely) believe that he does not know God. There is no contradiction involved in this process. Greg Bahnsen explained how natural man can believe that God exists (a first-order belief) and yet can deceive himself into believing that he does not have such a belief (a second-order belief). Thus the natural man does not believe both p and -p (which would be implausible), but rather he believes p and also believes (falsely) that he does not believe p. Moreover, self-deception, like falling asleep, is a self-covering intention. When self-deception is successful, the original intention is covered in the process. See Michael Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence.


“If you can presuppose God. People can presuppose the laws of logic etc”

The glaring issue with this remark is that it neglects the role of worldviews. I don’t simply presuppose God; I presuppose the worldview of Christian theism. To try and presuppose simply the laws of logic is grossly simplistic. As Van Til used to say, it’s like a rock in a bottomless ocean. Yeah it’s a rock, but without a hard place, you have no place to put it!
Let’s put it this way. Necessitarian says, “One would need to explain what these laws are. Why call them laws? Are they “things” at all to which we refer? Are they mere constructs? How do they retain normativity, timelessness, spacelessness, and multiple instantiation? Offering us the blank word “logic” without a metaphysical backdrop [a worldview] from which that word derives meaning is really to suppose our worldview can rest on a mysterious, empty category which: although it has no reason in itself to support autonomy from Christian revelation, supports autonomy”.
Once again, the unbeliever is taking concepts in isolation from the rest of one’s metaphysic. There is nothing definitional about logic that would require it to be self-justifying and self-existent. (Or knowledge, for that matter.) Not only that, it’s not as if logic itself actively caused all else to happen. People are isolating concepts and not factoring in their other strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, you are trying to posit a multitude of self-justifying, self-existent principals. You need to ask him what grounds all of those distinct facets? If they are not encapsulated into one thing (i.e. God) then they are co-equal, co-eternal concepts. But, there must be a “container” to account for the one and the many. If there is no chief concept that rules the other concepts (and they’re co-dependent, so there isn’t), then there exists something greater outside of them that they must be appealing to. In much simpler words, you and other atheists will try to posit that you can have multiple co-eternal, co-equal, co-dependent concepts with no issues. But in order for there to exist multiple concepts, such that the concepts are distinct from one another, then there must exist a greater “reality” of some sort that holds these concepts.
Take note that this evinces the qualitative differences between presupposing the laws of logic and presupposing Christian theism. Presuppositions aren’t playing on level ground. This leads on to the next question.

“You can presuppose the uniformity of nature, science does make that presupposition already, I thought? And pressupositions don’t need justifications, if you don’t believe a presupposition like God needs any justifications.”

The first thing to understand in tackling your question is to understand that presuppositions are not axioms. Axioms are unjustified in the very nature of the case (otherwise it would not be axioms), whereas presuppositions are justified with consideration of the relevant suppositions. ‘Does the presupposition match the supposition?’ is one way to word the question. Does the presupposition truly allow us to make sense of the supposition? What are these suppositions?
This was talked about earlier. I quote, “worldviews commit us, ontologically, to certain things. These things either make possible, or impossible, the necessary preconditions for intelligibility (eg. the inductive principle).”
What preconditions are necessary to make rational thought and human experience intelligible? The proponent of any worldview has the burden to demonstrate that their worldview makes those preconditions for intelligibility possible and, thus, that their worldview is transcendentally necessary. This is regardless of whether our interlocutor is a Muslim, a Hindu, or ─ like you ─ a naturalist.
It is correct that science presupposes the uniformity of nature. But again, there is a difference between justified and unjustified presuppositions ─ in light of worldviews. In your case, can naturalism (as a worldview) make sense of such things as the uniformity of nature?
It cannot. If naturalism is true, everything is reducible to matter and motion. But if everything can be reduced to matter and motion (working under pure chance), there is no reason to assume that the future will be like the past. Or that the universe will be orderly in maintaining the same laws tomorrow, as today. Really, it looks like, the uniformity of nature and inductive reasoning (necessary for science) is built upon the foundation of a personal God who can ensure that the future will be akin to the past. Whereas the naturalist has no basis for assuming the uniformity of nature, Christians have a worldview (or a metanarrative) where a providential God lovingly ensures that the future is like the past for His children’s convenience. We have that rational basis, you don’t.

“Animals do apparently hold worldviews, humans aren’t plants, they’re animals.”

Ha, what do you know? Whether you believe that statement to be true relies on the worldview you’re bringing to the table.
It is the Christian position that humans are fundamentally different from animals due to our unique origins, according to a biblical worldview. A person with a biblical worldview understands that God created the first humans in his image, distinct from animals. As the direct descendants of the two people God made, we too are made in God’s image. Humans, not animals, are, in Genesis 1:26, given dominion over the earth, and that includes the animals. Thanks to this distinction, humans are accountable for moral choices in a way that does not apply to animals. And humans have the unique capacity to communicate with God, our Creator. Despite our sins, we may be restored to fellowship with God through the shed blood of God’s Son Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man.
I pose a challenge to your naturalist and evolutionary worldview. If the processes of your cognition have been adapted by evolutionary processes, what guarantee do you have that your cognitive faculties are generally reliable (producing mostly true beliefs)? If you have no guarantee, it is inscrutable that your cognitive faculties are generally reliable ─ since natural selection would favour faculties that generally produce false, but advantageous, beliefs over those that generally produce true, but disadvantageous, beliefs. If you concede that implication, you’ve undermined all your knowledge-claims ─ including knowledge of naturalism.
Plantinga calls this argument the ‘evolutionary argument against naturalism’ (cf. Plantinga 1993).

“I don’t feel confident in asserting what “knowledge” is. That’s for the epistemologists to debate over, they disagree, and that disagreement makes me feel uncertain.”

Do you claim to know any belief-claim?

“You (presumably) advocate some form of foundationalism, maybe foundationalism is true, but my confidence in it is weakened by there being other epistemic systems.”

No, I do not hold to foundationalism. As a Covenantal apologist, I hold to a revelational epistemology. It is likely that you suppose my theory of justification to be foundationalism on the basis of your assumption that presuppositions are akin to axioms (which I refuted above). However, revelational epistemology (or RE) functions differently.

In RE, we have a metaphysically ultimate being who is omniscient and analogically reveals Himself to His creation. It acknowledges the fact that we are born into a relational atmosphere, that the nature and nurture of the human mind is ultimately grounded in our covenant Creator. It is different from foundationalism in that RE is more concerned with the correspondence between a consistently Christian system with God’s system of knowledge than it is in stacking beliefs on axiomatic or self-evident dogma. You need to ask whether these other ‘epistemic systems’ make knowledge possible. It cannot.

“Can people not make statements of belief, without making knowledge-claims?”


“I feel people can make utterances though that aren’t true or false, noncognitive expressions.”

Of course they can. This is uncontroversial. Non-cognitive expressions include imperatives/prescriptions or emotive states. For example, the expression: “Close that door!” is not a proposition with a possible truth-value. It cannot be either true or false.


“Why stop at saying moral-statements are noncognitive? I think we could say scientific or mathematical statements are noncognitive aswell maybe.”

This, however, is absurd. Are you saying that the statement, “7 is greater than 5”, cannot be true or false? Are you saying that the statement, “Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius”, cannot be true or false? This is deeply counterintuitive. What justification do you have for this contention?

“I was talking to a guy the other day in a different discord server that was basically an emotivist, but about all beliefs. It seems self-consistent for the saying all beliefs are emotive expression, to itself be emotional expression. Denying cognition exists seems extreme to me though.”

At this point, one leaves the realm of epistemology and enters into the vortex of universal subjectivism. You’ve abandoned epistemology and reduced yourself to complete incoherence. It is similar to pragmatism; you simply don’t care. On this view, there is no truth, justification, probability, confidence, knowledge, et cetera. If the belief that all beliefs are emotive expressions is itself an emotive expression (as it must be, to remain consistent), nobody needs to take heed to your word. It is as if you have said, ‘Cake? Ugh’. No-one needs to challenge you, for they can just move on with their lives and ignore your claim as irrelevant. Is this how you want to treat all beliefs? That is a cesspool of absurdity.

Absurdity or Christ.

More from Chris Matthew:

The New Aeropagus 


Perceptions Boundary

Meals on Wheels

“Start with”

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