A Very Brief Response To Bahnsen Burner Concerning Conditions Of Knowledge

Unfortunately I see the recent response from Dawson Bethrick (available on his blog) as a lengthy discussion of topics rather irrelevant to the points I raised in my post that he is allegedly responding to concerning Conditions of Knowledge. I am at a loss as to why someone familiar with the topic at hand would understand my post as something other than a discussion of problems related specifically to a materialist understanding of the world.

When we speak of ‘belief in a proposition’ we usually mean ‘belief that a proposition is true’, not a belief that the proposition itself exists! Beliefs may be based upon knowledge obtained prior to the formation of those beliefs (for example, the knowledge that a proposition exists). The discussion of concepts being entailed in beliefs presented by Bethrick does not strike me as being any sort of refutation.

When I write that beliefs are not reducible to being natural or physical things I do not mean anything like what Bethrick takes “natural” to mean. That is, he is guilty of equivocation. Of course “concepts are a natural part of the human mind’s cognition” in many senses, but not when we define “natural” as “physical” as opposed to “non-physical”. The term “belief” is itself a mental term. I do not see that even its use fits with a tenable materialist position. Now Bethrick may not be a materialist. If he is not a materialist I would love to hear it for this would prompt further inquiry regarding his doctrine.

Bethrick writes that beliefs are “mental integrations”. He thinks that this answers what beliefs “are”, but he has not stuck to the challenge. Are mental integrations physical (natural) or not? If he states that they are physical then he falls back into the problems already set forth in the original post. If he states that they are non-physical then he, by his own standards, fails to state what beliefs actually are with respect to his statement. That is, Bethrick is only pressing the problem further back. What about consciousness itself; is it physical? Again, natural objects do not possess the feature of “aboutness”.

Concerning truth is Bethrick of the persuasion that an “aspect of conceptual awareness” is physical or not? Is the “contextual correspondence to the objects of awareness” physical or not? Bethrick writes, “Truth is a relationship between the subject of cognition and its objects” yet also maintains that “the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of anyone’s conscious activity”. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding on my part but it looks like these two statements lead to a contradiction if they are not themselves contradictory.

Bethrick writes, “the ‘belief’ that it is snowing in Miami because you dreamed it is snowing there, is only objectionable if one assumes the primacy of existence, the view that the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of conscious activity, that the task of consciousness is not to create or alter reality, but to perceive and identify it”. Actually no, for if the world is as God says it is then whether or not it is snowing in Miami is not contingent upon the human consciousness in view here. Perhaps it would be better for Bethrick to stick with the “self-evident” nature of the primacy of existence rather than to try and prove it through such large leaps. Of course I do not quite understand the Objectivists’ more specific objection to Christian Theism at this point anyway, their theory being that consciousness itself exists and hence the axiom of consciousness does not in any way contradict the metaphysical primacy of existence. If this is the case then I do not see where the problem is with the Christian God as a conscious being according to Objectivist standards.

Bethrick is missing my point here though. Even if the “primacy of existence” is assumed, why is it objectionable to suggest that there may be knowledge of snow in Miami based upon a dream? Why is it wrong to think this way? We are speaking of knowledge of facts, not facts themselves. We are not speaking of whether or not it actually is snowing or not in Miami. Bethrick appears to confuse these two categories.

A friendly chat in simple terms.

Chris: You are an unbeliever?
Unbeliever: I'll say for argument sake that I am.
Chris: For argument sake?
Unbeliever: Yes it’s complicated. lol
Chris: How so?
Unbeliever: I'm confused. Put it that way.
Chris: I see. Would you say you believe in God?
Unbeliever: I'm open to the possibilities.
Chris: So, you attend church every other Sunday?
Unbeliever: No. I stopped going to church.
Chris: That does not sound very safe. Or open.
Unbeliever: You’re right.
Chris: So really, you live as though there is no God?
Unbeliever: I haven't really been seeking.
Chris: So what would it take? For you to believe?
Unbeliever: Some evidence I guess.
Chris: Like what kind of evidence?
Unbeliever: Enough evidence for the entire human race to see and accept.
Chris: So for you to believe in God, you would need the entire human race to believe?
Unbeliever: No Chris.
Chris: Now wait. Oh. You would not need the whole human race to believe?
Unbeliever: No I wouldn't.
Chris: “Unbeliever: Enough evidence for the entire human race to see and accept”. I am not sure I understand.
Unbeliever: If the evidence was that plain to see.
Chris: I see. Well, have you ever come across people who have good evidence for something, something which seems obvious to you, but they still do not agree with you or believe?
Unbeliever: How do you know a God exists? Yep I have.
Chris: There were other factors involved in those situations right?
Unbeliever: Yea.
Chris: So then it is not unreasonable to think that God may have revealed Himself through evidence like you are talking about, plain evidence, but some other factor keeps people from believing in God, right?
Unbeliever: How do you know a god exists Chris?
Chris: Did you catch my last question?
Unbeliever: Yes Chris can you just answer my question? If you had to convince someone that there was a god how would you do it?
Chris: Well sure, I am getting there. :)
Unbeliever: Ok.
Chris: It is not unreasonable to think that God may have revealed Himself through evidence like you are talking about, plain evidence, but some other factor keeps people from believing in God, right?
Unbeliever: How do you know that god exists Chris? You've got a month to convince someone who is terminally ill…how do you do it? Maybe I’m looking at it wrong it’s more about believing I guess.
Chris: By the impossibility of the contrary.
Unbeliever: Having faith no one can really know right?
Chris: God has revealed Himself as you mentioned, but people do not accept it because of another factor. That factor is sin.
Unbeliever: How do I know god inspired the bible and that it is something other than human?
Chris: Because it claims it of itself and if that claim is rejected one ends up with unintelligibility. Might I ask how you know anything at all?
Unbeliever: Through experience. The brain.
Chris: I see.
Unbeliever: Which is not really functioning at the moment.
Chris: Have you ever had further experience correct what you learned from experience in the past?
Unbeliever: Could we talk in simpler terms? I'm not as intellectual I perceive. For my benefit Chris.
Chris: Yes.
Unbeliever: Sorry.
Chris: I will try to keep it in as small of words as possible.
Unbeliever: I know you’ve got better things to do.
Chris: Okay, you said you know things through experience right? And you said that sometimes, new experiences correct what you learned from old experiences, right?
Unbeliever: No not really.
Chris: “Chris: Might I ask how you know anything at all? Unbeliever: Through experience.”
Unbeliever: Ok yes Chris.
Chris: So my thing with that is this...You can never know anything, because it is always possible that some new experience will completely change everything you thought you knew before.
Unbeliever: Yes I agree.
Chris: You agree that you cannot know anything?
Unbeliever: Yep.
Chris: Do you know that you cannot know anything?
Unbeliever: Yea I can understand the concept.
Chris: Well let me present my side and then I can go to bed...God knows everything.
Unbeliever: Who is god?
Chris: He reveals Himself to us.
Unbeliever: Who wrote that book the bible? Can god see me? Right now?
Chris: I do not have to worry that some new experience will come and overturn my old ones completely, because God already knows the ultimate things and has revealed them to me. The opposite of this is skepticism.
Unbeliever: Oh ok.
Chris: In other words, if I do not start with God, I cannot know anything.
Chris: Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NASB)
Unbeliever: Ok fair enough. Anyway thanks Chris.
Chris: That's about all I have time for tonight. :)

Conditions of Knowledge

In order for you to know something, it must be true, you must believe it, and you must have some kind of warrant for it.

Believing occurs inside of you, and belief is “about” something. My computer desk cannot be about some other idea. A piece of raw meat cannot be about Hector Berlioz. However a belief can be about Hector Berlioz. “Hector Berlioz wrote thematic music” is a belief about Hector Berlioz. It would appear that desks, meat, and other such natural objects do not share this feature with beliefs (“aboutness”). It appears that beliefs are not reducible to being natural or physical things.

Truth is the same way. Truth has no mass, charge etc.; no scientifically measurable qualities. If you define reality as being composed of nothing other than what is physical, material, natural, whatever; then you have neither belief nor truth available for you to use in your understanding of knowledge. Yet knowledge requires these two things, as I have already mentioned.

You also need to have warrant if you are going to have knowledge. It is not enough to just happen to believe something that turns out to be true; that is not knowledge. For example, if you believe that it is snowing in Miami, and it really is, but you believe it because you had a dream that it is snowing in Miami, then you do not have warrant and also do not have knowledge. If you see that it is snowing in Miami though, then you have warrant. There is a right way and a wrong way to believe things.

The trouble is, a person who does not believe in the Christian God has no basis upon which to say that there is a real “right” or “wrong” to anything. Not only is there no room for belief and truth, but there is not room for a standard of right and wrong ways to come to believe something or to continue to believe something. The concept of beliefs having or lacking warrant is necessary for knowledge, but the concept is inconsistent with what non-Christians want to say about the world.

Christianity allows for these three parts of knowledge without much difficulty.

To have knowledge of something you must believe it, it must be true, and you must have warrant. Non-Christians are left without a basis for any of these three things and these things are inconsistent with non-Christianity. If Christianity is false, then we cannot know anything. Clearly we have knowledge, so Christianity is not false, it is true. If you deny that Christianity is true then you deny that you can have knowledge and so you defeat yourself.

Do we know anything at all?

If we are going to be able to think about anything at all, we have to start somewhere. Where do we start then, and why? If we do not know, then can we think anything at all (intelligibly)?

There appears to be no universal consent on any fact of existence; facts do not appear to speak for themselves, they must be interpreted, else everyone would agree and as already said they do not.

You have made mistakes before, why not again? How do you know that you are not making a mistake even now? Remember those things you felt so certain of, then a new fact came along and overturned everything you believed so strongly? What is to guarantee that there is no fact out there which you have not discovered and never will which would completely overturn everything you believe to be true?

We all know how fallible the senses are. They are easily affected by emotions, health, alcohol, distance, etc. The senses are often impaired. How do we know that our senses are keen enough to gather information that we need from the world? Dogs can hear things that humans cannot. How do we know that we even have enough senses to understand the world? There are animals with no eyes that appear to live happily everyday without a worry of what they are missing. What if we are missing important senses that we need to truly understand the world? How do we know that we are not?

Even if we have an entire world set out in our mind, how do we know that this is the way the world really is? That is, how do we know that our conceptual map matches the external world, or that there even is an external world? We cannot step outside of ourselves. How do we judge our cognitive or sensory tools?

Do we know anything at all?

There is an appeal to a higher standard, higher standard, higher standard, etc. This cannot go on indefinitely or else nothing is explained. There are some things we just have to believe before we ever begin to think. The Christian’s highest standard is God. There is no one else above God.

When God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself.

(Hebrews 6.13)

Ultimately we believe in the God of Christian Scripture who has revealed Himself to us through our being made in His image, through the things that are made (not design arguments, just by virtue of the things which are made), and through Scripture. This is the thing that we as Christians believe from the very start. It comes down to faith in this.

The non-Christian will whine about this! She will not accept Christ as Lord of her thought, she will refuse to start from the same place that we do, with the same belief that we do. The problem is that what follows from her unbelief does not get her anywhere. For example, consider the laws of nature which she has faith in. Laws of nature are merely descriptions of the way that nature has been observed to behave. There is absolutely no guarantee that nature will continue to behave the same way in the future that it has in the past. Our unbelieving friend constantly acts on the idea that nature will continue to be the way it has been in the past, but without any reason at all for doing so. So she is without any ground for her belief in the consistency of the laws of nature, and she is without anything else since there are not many beliefs one can derive from laws of nature.

Meanwhile what follows from our belief in God and Scripture is that God has created our minds in such a way that we come to know Him, ourselves, and the world (because knowing ourselves and the world ultimately result in our knowing God better) and so the belief he has given us that the future will be like the past matches with the world so that His ends (of us knowing things) is accomplished. We also know that God is an orderly God and have promises in Scripture that nature will continue to operate much the same way as it has in the past!

So yes, there is a faith which precedes reason. Many would call this blind faith, but as already correctly pointed out, we ALL must believe in something to start with or we get nowhere. The Christian faith is NOT irrational because it provides the very basis of rationality, while the non-Christian starting point that puts humans as the ultimate standard rather than God gets us nowhere in our thinking!

Christians start with the self-attesting Christ of Scripture and are to interpret all facts under the Lordship of Christ. There is disagreement among people about facts because people who have had their noetic structures affected by sin attempt to interpret facts as something other than what God says that they are. The more we practice our faith the fewer mistakes we make in the realm of thought as our thought becomes more in line with that of God and not of ourselves. There are no new facts to God since He knows all and created all and controls all, thus God gives us infallible information about things as they really are in His Word. God's Word supplies a starting point for other inferences we may draw without going against Scripture. The senses are generally reliable because they were created by an all powerful God who desires for us to know Him. Knowledge of God comes through knowledge of the world, of Scripture, and of us. God would not have placed any important information that we need in order to know and worship Him outside of our senses. We have a sufficient number and quality of senses to understand the world as God intends. Further, God would not deceive us through making the world something other than what our conceptual maps tell us, for the most part, about the world, since He wants us to come to know Him through His world. We judge our cognitive and sensory tools based upon the objective view of God who stands outside of everything and sees all as it really is, then revealing what He wants to reveal to us.

So yes, we do know things. The non-Christian just does not have any consistent position upon which to stand and know things, whilst the Christian does.

Snakes and Slaves

Question: "I am curious what the valid response is to someone in regards of the talking snake. The apologetic response."

Basically we can only know that the world has regularities because God is in control of it. If God was not in control of it, or did not reveal to us that He is, then we would not be able to predict that the next snake we encounter cannot talk. (It was a serpent by the way.) So if you reject the account in Scripture you have no reason to reject a snake talking. If you accept the account in Scripture then you know that a snake did talk. You also have grounds to say, based on past experience, that snakes usually do not talk because God controls nature in such a way that it exhibits regularity.

Question: 'As for your male and female slaves whom you may have-- you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 'Then, too, [it is] out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 'You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another. (Leviticus 25.44-46 NASB)

Have you heard the argument that "the Bible supports slavery"? What do you say to those people? ”

It does but you need to specify what kind of slavery and look at what practices the Bible condemns in slavery. There were actually options given in Scripture for slaves to stay if they wanted to after they had served for a certain amount of time! Indeed, there were slaves even being counted as covenant members in some instances. And what is the argument? Here is mine: On what grounds do you either condemn or approve of slavery apart from God?

A New Book By Greg Bahnsen

No one I know has read this book yet. This is probably because most of the people I know have not realized that this book is available. Thanks to Brian Knapp for bringing this to my attention.

Presuppositional Apologetics
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Why am I still a Christian? Some Observations With C.S. Lewis

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

This was written by C.S. Lewis. Now what in the world did he mean by this? Hopefully, this short piece will help you understand what he meant by this, if I have understood him correctly and if I am right that I can relate to what he meant by this statement.

Lewis says that he can see Christianity. By this I take him to mean that he believes in Christianity and experiences the truth of it. We can see the sun when it rises and so we believe that it has risen, though I would not suggest staring at it for too long.

Lewis also says that he sees everything else by Christianity. By this I take him to mean that he believes in Christianity because it is the way to understand everything. We can see everything when the sun rises and so we believe it has risen.

There either is a sun or there is not. If there is a sun, then it is necessary for seeing. If there is not a sun, then we are in darkness and cannot see at all. Let’s suppose that the sun has not risen though. Let’s go so far as to think that the sun does not exist. We cannot see the sun or anything else. We are in the dark.

How does this relate to whether or not God exists? Well, either God exists or He does not. If God exists, then things are as He says that they are. If God does not exist, then things are as we say that they are. There is no other position. Either God is ultimate, or we are. The reason I still believe in the Christian God is the same reason that C.S. Lewis illustrated for us, if I have interpreted him correctly. There are two positions, Christianity and non-Christianity. Christianity says that things are as God says that they are, and interprets everything in light of this. The position that is the opposite of Christianity is non-Christianity, and it says that things are as we say they are, and interprets everything in “light” of this.

My contention is this: Christianity is necessary to understand things just like the sun is necessary to see. On the other hand, non-Christianity is not reasonable because nothing can be understood if we think that it is true. Non-Christianity is like having no sun; we are left in darkness. The reason I am still a Christian is because it makes sense while non-Christianity does not. I know that this is a strong claim, but I plan to support it in this little piece. To do this we will need to pretend for a moment that non-Christianity is true.

As non-Christians, we would want to make moral judgments. One of our strongest arguments against Christianity might even be that a good and powerful God would not allow so much injustice in the world. This seems like a great way to look at the world and a great way to argue until we stop to give our position a little more thought. If we determine what justice is, then it is dependent upon what we say it is, and once we make it dependent upon what we say it is, there is no reason to really suppose that anything is unjust, since we could just as easily say that unjust things are not unjust. This is not how we think though. We cannot help but think that there is some sort of standard for justice outside of us. Either there is such a standard or there is not. If there is not such a standard, and we think that there is, we are irrational and our seemingly wonderful objection to Christianity fails.

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. ... Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." – C.S. Lewis

As non-Christians, we would not only think justice and morality to fall to this problem, but laws of thought as well. The standards used to evaluate arguments and reasoning are the laws of logic. If God is not the standard of what is logical and what is not, then we are. If we define what is logical and what is not, the laws of logic themselves become dependent upon us, and there is no reason to think that one thing is logical while another is not aside from our saying, “because I say so”. Our ability to think in any meaningful fashion is lost.

As good non-Christians we will also believe that we are the products of evolution that was not guided by God. Evolution has everything to do with the way organisms behave. Natural selection weeded out those groups that did not behave in a beneficial way. The reason we are here is because our ancestors behaved in a way that they were able to survive. It seems reasonable to say that when our ancestors had true beliefs, they behaved in a beneficial way, but desires also affected their behavior. Think of an ancestor who really desired to pet a raging elephant. His desire was to pet the elephant. The ancestor believed that the best way to pet the elephant was to run away from it. His belief was that running away from the elephant would get him into the position to pet it. What happened? The elephant charged at our ancestor, who wanted to pet the elephant, but thought that the best way to do so was to run away from the elephant. So our ancestor ran away from the elephant and survived. His behavior benefited him in terms of survival, but he still had a false belief. There are so many different situations like this that we can think of; so many possible combinations of desires and false beliefs that we cannot know whether or not we have evolved in such a way that our memory, perception, and reasoning are reliable and produce true beliefs when functioning properly. Since evolution that was not guided by God is one of our beliefs that is produced by our reasoning, we cannot know whether or not unguided evolution is true. So if we think that we are the products of unguided evolution then we have to reject our belief in unguided evolution or doubt that we are the products of it. This means that the belief in unguided evolution defeats itself, since it has to be rejected if it is accepted, and so it is irrational to believe in naturalistic evolution. All of our beliefs come from our memory, perception and reasoning though, so it also follows that we cannot know anything at all if we believe in unguided evolution. C.S. Lewis recognizes this problem as well. He says, "If naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes...it cuts its own throat."

This is not an exhaustive list of the reasons that non-Christianity is lost in darkness, but it is a good start. Christians believe that God created everything, including us. Things are what they are because of what God says they are in accordance with His plan, and we are His creatures who interpret everything in light of God’s plan. God has given us His moral will in Scripture so that we are able to judge wrong from right and unjust from just. God imposes the laws of thought upon us because we are created in His image as logical beings. God created our memory, perception, and reason as reliable guides to truth when they are functioning properly. So the many problems that face the non-Christian are not problems for the Christian at all. Non-Christians have no place to talk about what is just and unjust, logical or illogical. In fact, unless a non-Christian actually believes that God exists (and wouldn’t you know it - Scripture says that everyone believes in the Christian God), he or she cannot make any sense out of anything at all!

Why am I still a Christian? I am still a Christian because Christianity alone makes sense. I believe in Christianity, not just because I can understand it, but because by it alone is there a possibility of my understanding anything else. Non-Christians know God as well and function as if they know that God exists, but they deceive themselves into thinking on the surface that they do not believe in God. It is just as Lewis further pointed out, "When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all."