August 5, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

There recently was a debate regarding apologetic methodology. It was between Dr. James White, Dr. Jonathan McLatchie, Dr. Randal Rauser & Dr. Richard Howe. I wish to comment on each one’s perspective and come to some conclusion regarding the performance of each of the speakers. I also wish to mention that Jimmy Stephens helped author this article.

Dr. Jonathan McLatchie

McLatchie presented his perspective from an evidentialist epistemology. I found that his position was undermined in terms of Rauser’s cross-examination. Firstly, his epistemology reduces to irrational brute facts to stop the evidential regress. If at the base of everyone’s epistemology are brute facts, then why couldn’t one simply take it as a brute fact that McLatchie is mistaken in his philosophical inquiries?

Secondly, Jonathan is aware of the looming objection for the argument that it is self-referentially absurd(via Plantinga’s critique). This is just to state that no evidence can ever be provided for the evidentialist thesis that every belief requires sufficient evidence to become warranted and thus knowledge. He modifies William Kingdon Clifford’s dictum by stating “it is always a mistake to repose more confidence in a contingent proposition than is justified by the evidence one possesses”. McLatchie’s modification is to state that this position is justified a priori. He thus thinks this principle is true necessarily. That this is a necessary truth. This doesn’t seem to escape the issue either. It seems to merely relocate it in terms of what is sufficient evidence for thinking this is necessarily true? How is this proposition justified apart from a posteriori investigation? Is he claiming the dictum is analytic? Even still some like Bahnsen and Quine have even challenged those positions regarding whether that is a cogent distinction.

Furthermore, his Bayesian analysis doesn’t have any import on the deeper philosophical debates that take priority regarding the nature of reality and the existence of God. Evidentialism can never prove the thesis that God exists any more than it proves Plato’s demiurge exists. It suffers from underdetermination. Every time the miracle claims give more warrant for believing in a God, the warrant for thinking the infinite other alternative explanations increase as well.

I wish to comment merely a little on the push he did on Dr. James White regarding the issues of logic and uniformity of nature. I was surprised by his attempts to answer the uniformity with two options: 1. It merely is probably the case that it is true because of past experiences. 2. It has to be assumed. You can’t make an inductive argument for induction. That is because the inductive priciple is the very thing that is being called into question(so to appeal to an inductive argument is to beg the question). So, it seems like (1) was obviously false, and (2) merely can be assumed to be false. It rapidly falls into subjectivism. Where does logic actually fit into McLatchie’s worldview? The idea (classical) logic must be assumed is to fail to interact with the question how logic can be justified, a question philosophers have mulled over for thousands of years.

Dr. Richard Howe

Dr. Richard Howe was mainly quiet for the debate. Little distinguishes the epistemology of Dr. Howe and Dr. McLatchie. There are maybe two differences. One difference lies in Howe’s classicalist preference to prove mere theism prior to other matters, like miracles. The other is McLatchie’s aversion to theology proper, disputes at the intersection of God and metaphysics. His alternative is classical apologetics. He really didn’t have much for Rauser’s Reformed Epistemology.

I think he was at least the funniest on the panel. Dr. Howe rarely posits any serious alternative to McLatchie or Rauser. He starts off his section of questioning on the issue of faith and reason. Which is an interesting question and everyone kinda gives the same answer. He focused on Dr. James White on the issue of the one and the many relations to the Trinity. Now, I have already criticized classical apologetics and I have no reason to do it again, but I recommend what I have said previously on the subject:

His response to James Anderson was uninformative. He simply stated that Dr. Anderson commits the same mistake he charging of presuppositionalist, but it’s hard to imagine that is true in the light of Anderson’s article:

Dr. Randal Rauser

Now, Randal Rauser presented Reformed Epistemology and didn’t discuss how that affects the apologetic process. Which is to say, people have a disposition toward theistic belief in general, but there is an exception when our cognitive faculties do not function properly. Dr. White rightly points out that it isn’t merely a general belief in God people have but rather a knowledge of God. Rauser tries to limit the scope of Romans 1 merely to a group of people that have “maximal warrant” but the problem is that Paul’s argument is that all mankind(other than incarnate Christ) are sinners. So, if Paul’s point doesn’t have a wider application it is hard to see how Paul’s conclusion follows from his argument.

The ultimate authority for Rauser is human intuition. The Bible is an authority when it seems to him it is. He sees that modern times tell him Christian revelation is wrong in some areas and with our modern understanding correct the Biblical writers. He reduced to his own subjectivity where his human intuitions are even more authoritative than God’s revelation. Why doesn’t that apply to all the intuitions that people have that disagree with Rauser?

For more on Rauser:

Dr. James White

Dr. White approached the topic through Biblical theology. White exhorts an apologetic that comports to and derives from Biblical theology, saying, “I firmly believe presuppositionalism flows from a consistent theology that is rooted in the Bible’s teaching of the unmitigated sovereign reign of God over His creation, including human beings; together with a Biblical anthropology that tells us that though men know that God exists, they suppress that knowledge.” Over this backdrop, White brings to the forefront God’s lordship, that the believer submits reasoning to this lordship, that the unbeliever rebels against this lordship, a rebellion that manifests intellectually as sinful, erroneous presuppositions. For Dr. White, we must do apologetics in agreement with Biblical theology, and therefore, we must practice an apologetic that challenges the sinful rebellion of unbelievers by taking their presuppositions to task.

Dr. White teases out a few implications. He cites Paul’s division between the antithetical systems of worldly wisdom and divine wisdom. He notes that neutrality is impossible, since everyone is either in submission or rebellion to Christ’s lordship, which always manifests in our reasoning. Dr. White provides sound theological content and good prooftexts for “presuppositionalism.” These are all strengths of White’s presentation. Unfortunately, his approach was not without weaknesses.

One example: White states that the argument about the “one and the many” is not an argument. But that is clearly wrong, it is an argument, one used by the likes of Dr. James Anderson. White himself briefly refers to the problem of the one and the many as a philosophic obstacle only Trinitarian theology can solve: this is an argument. Instead, White is not familiar with or had not prepared any formalization of the argument. When Randal Rauser asked for a formalization of this Trinitarian argument later on, White should have just denied the need for any formalization or otherwise he should have prepared a formal syllogism. Unfortunately, he came off as stumped, fumbling, and then mischaracterized the problem he himself set forth.

Another example: Dr. Howe’s objections to “presuppositionalism” (or its use of the problem of the one and the many) went unanswered. Dr. White presented no reason to suppose scholasticism cannot resolve the problem of the one and the many. Howe’s objection is unbothersome to someone familiar with Aristotle’s hylomorphism, as it suffers various issues. However, it is unfortunate that White seemed unprepared to contend with Howe’s scholastic objection.

These are small criticisms. Dr. White’s theological take was no doubt his strong point. However, when he moved from theology to philosophy, these weaknesses crept into his presentation. It’s a common plight among those in the Vantilian camp.

Let’s briefly supply two answers over which White stumbled. First, Bosserman provides greatest clarity for the one-many argument. His work, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, stands as perhaps the best resource on the problem of the one and the many and its relation to Trinitarianism since Van Til. A simpler version of the argument is found in Anderson’s *If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til*.

Here, the one-many argument from pages 16-19 paraphrased:
P1. The universe is either an ultimate unity and derivative plurality, or an ultimate plurality and derivative unity, or a co-ultimate unity and plurality.
P2. If unity is ultimate and not plurality, then knowledge of the universe (even in part) is impossible.
P3. If plurality is ultimate and not unity, then knowledge of the universe (even in part) is impossible.
P4. Knowledge of the universe is possible (not impossible).
P5. Therefore, the universe is a co-ultimate unity and plurality.
C: Therefore, Christianity is true (since only Christianity posits a Triune Creator in whom co-ultimate unity and plurality can be grounded).

Bosserman has provided greatest clarity for the one-many argument since Van Til. His work, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, stands as perhaps the best resource on the problem of the one and the many and its relation to Trinitarianism. I think Dr. White should just deny the need of a formal argument or present a basic one and defend the major premise. Dr. White receives the most attacks in this debate. I think he succeeded in answering Dr. McLatchie’s criticisms. Dr. Howe’s objections were not answered. Dr. White had no reason to suppose the Aristotelean answer was faulty and couldn’t explain why the Trinity is the grounding for the one and the many. I’m not too bothered by that because that is a difficult task for any reformed apologist. Howe’s alternative is to think things are comprised of form and matter. The problem arises whether this is an answer to the issue in the first place. What is Aristotelean realism? Here is Hays’ definition:

Second, a brief criticism and resources on the scholastic resolution to the problem of the one and the many.

Universals are contingent, concrete properties. There are no universals over and above physical objects in which they inhere. There are no unexemplified universals.

One problem with this position is how to distinguish it from nominalism. If particulars are all that exist, how are universals even distinguishable from particulars? Aristotelian realism seems to collapse into nominalism or conceptualism.


Moreover, scholasticism faces the same irresolvable subjectivism that Aristotle ran into. Scholasticism’s notion of “abstraction,” where humans learn the essence of experienced objects by intuiting universal properties in contradistinction from accidental properties, grounds essential knowledge in human psychology. But this reduces to subjectivism. After all, people intuit different things about reality all the time. If our arguments about universal properties contract to different intuitions, then our arguments come down to mere appeals to our own personal experiences. Since our disagreements about what counts as a genuine abstraction have nothing to appeal to beyond our believed “abstractions,” scholasticism has reduced knowledge to Wittgenstien’s ivory tower proponents.

The only alternative seems to be to become conceptualists. On the conceptualist scheme, of say Rand, universal properties are not extramental affairs, but useful constructs of the mind. Surely Dr. Howe and other scholastics want to avoid this kind of social nominalism.

Another epistemological issue that needs to be in consideration is the debates surrounding the issue of whether we perceive objects directly. On indirect realism, it isn’t as if we look at substances, but rather we have to distinguish our perception from the thing themselves. The other problem with Dr. Howe is that he makes God subject to an abstract rule. The form/matter distinction acts as a rule over all reality determining and defining all reality. Even God is defined in the light of this principle. So, the issue finally arises:

Either the Form/Matter principle is created and thus God is needed to define the principle(thus Howe’s answer needs the Christian God anyway and fails to undermine Presuppositionalism). OR
The Form/Matter principle is identical to God. This is absurd to think God is an abstract principle.
The Form/Matter principle is no different from platonic forms. That makes it the ultimate grounding of reality(thus conflicting with the Classical theist thesis).