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. :)

11 comments:

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Chris,

I hope you’ve been well. As always, I’m enjoying your blog.

The topic of how someone who claims to know that a god exists answers the question, “How do you know God exists?” is always fascinating to me. It is especially now as a former believer myself, looking back on why I believed what I believed (or tried to believe). Thanks to my choice to be honest, I'm now able to say why. But I find the presuppositionalist response to this question rather unenlightening, perhaps even evasive.

For instance, when the “Unbeliever” in your dialogue asks “How do you know that god exists Chris?” you respond with the slogan “By the impossibility of the contrary.” Apparently this is supposed to be a show-stopper of sorts, but I don’t think it at all addresses the question. I’m sure both parties to the conversation are willing to grant that your position is that “God exists” is a true statement (you may even like to call it a “necessary truth”), and based on this you may feel that alternatives are impossible. But I understand the question “How do you know God exists?” to be inquiring on the *methodology* by which you come to this knowledge that you as a believer claim to have. Thus such a question affords you as the theistic participant in the conversation to identify any methodology by which you come to the knowledge you claim to have. But the phrase “by the impossibility of the contrary” does not, so far as I can tell, identify a methodology. Rather, it seems to indicate a platform from which you would defend your viewpoint (as Bahnsen says on p. 74 of Always Ready, “We must argue *from* the impossibility of the contrary”). But this leaves open the question of how you supposedly come to this knowledge in the first place.

Of course, you could take John Frame’s approach when he says “We know without knowing how we know,” but this would only tell us what you do not know, and thus fail to move us closer to an understanding of *how* the believer knows what he claims to know. Indeed, if Frame does not know how he knows something, that suggests to me that he does not know if he’s made a mistake somewhere along the way and has “knowledge falsely so-called.”

Certainly your knowledge of your god’s existence is not dependent on what I or anyone else (believer or non) may say, think, do, or feel. And I would certainly hope that your knowledge of your god’s existence does not depend on errors which you believe alternative positions entail or lead to. A method of knowledge does not rely on someone else’s mistakes, wouldn’t you agree?

So I was hoping maybe you could speak more directly to this question, how you know what you claim to know, and perhaps lay your methodology out for examination. Some questions might help guide you in this, for instance: What is your starting point? By what means are you aware of your starting point? What enables you to traverse cognitively from your starting point to the knowledge that your god exists (assuming “god exists” is not your starting point)? How do you ensure that you’ve not made any mistakes along the way? Etc.

Also, as a side question, do you affirm that the evidence for god speaks for itself?

Thanks,
Dawson

Brian Knapp said...

Hi Dawson -

I'm jumping in here just long enough to highlight a section of the conversation between Chris and the unbeliever that might help you understand better what is meant by "the impossibility of the contrary."

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?

Granted there is much unpacking required of this statement, but I suspect that's at the heart of Chris' comment.

I look forward to an honest exchange!

BK

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Brian,

Thanks for jumping in.

Yes, I had seen this part in the dialogue which Chris posted, but it too does not address the question I'm inquiring on. I'm asking about the methodology by which the believer comes to the knowledge that his god really does exist. The portion of the dialogue to which you drew my attention already grants this knowledge (even the non-believer seems to be granting it in the question that he asks), and focuses on biblical authorship, not on epistemological methodology.

To say that "if that claim is rejected one ends up with unintelligibility" (which you highlight) seems to point to some kind of consequence for not accepting some position, claim or ideational content. Again, this does not address the question that is on the table. It does not identify a method by which one comes to the knowledge that a god exists, nor does it address the kinds of questions that I gave as pointers to help draw out an answer to the question, which the unbeliever in Chris' dialogue asked several times.

As for your statement that "there is much unpacking required of this statement," this suggests that the statement in question has a lot of explaining to do, which only speaks against its ability to address the question on the table. That is why I posted the questions I gave in my initial message, as I think they'll help cut to the chase.

Thanks!
Dawson

C.L. Bolt said...

What is your starting point?

The revelation of God.

By what means are you aware of your starting point?

A priori and a posteriori knowledge or more specifically the sensus divinitatis and external evidence respectively.

What enables you to traverse cognitively from your starting point to the knowledge that your god exists (assuming “god exists” is not your starting point)?

The truth of the proposition that God exists is tied up in my "starting point".

"How do you ensure that you’ve not made any mistakes along the way?"

Assuming that you are speaking in terms of presuppositions; one way is via the impossibility of the contrary.

To that end if you could provide your response to the argument for global skepticism presented to the unbeliever in the dialogue it may enable me to see your position as being more credible when it comes to having discussions like the one before us.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Chris,

Thanks for your comments.

Me: “What is your starting point?”

Chris: “The revelation of God.”

I’m sure you realize that the notion “the revelation of God” is not conceptually irreducible, so it cannot be fundamental. Indeed, the notion “the revelation of God” presumes an enormous sum of prior assumptions, assumptions which have to be distinguished from their counterparts in rival versions of Christianity. So it could never have the fundamentality of a starting point.

Let me ask: Is this the *specific* revelation of a *specific* god?

Me: “By what means are you aware of your starting point?”

Chris: “A priori and a posteriori knowledge or more specifically the sensus divinitatis and external evidence respectively.”

It’s interesting that you do not acquire awareness of “the revelation of God” from the bible. You seem to think it’s something you have knowledge of automatically. What makes you believe this? Do you even have a bible? If so, what for?

Me: “What enables you to traverse cognitively from your starting point to the knowledge that your god exists (assuming “god exists” is not your starting point)?”

Chris: “The truth of the proposition that God exists is tied up in my ‘starting point’.".

I remember one Christian accuse me of trying to “define God out of existence.” When I corrected him on this error, I asked him how supposing “God” was his starting point is not tantamount to defining his god *into* existence. He did not have an answer for me. Would you?

Continued...

Bahnsen Burner said...

I asked: "How do you ensure that you’ve not made any mistakes along the way?"

Chris: “Assuming that you are speaking in terms of presuppositions; one way is via the impossibility of the contrary.”

But since this notion of “the impossibility of the contrary” already assumes the truth of what is question, it is question-begging to appeal to it as assurance that no mistakes have been made. It assumes that there is no mistake already, so it is unhelpful at this point. Got anything better?

Chris: “To that end if you could provide your response to the argument for global skepticism presented to the unbeliever in the dialogue it may enable me to see your position as being more credible when it comes to having discussions like the one before us.”

Well, for starters, I begin with incontestable certainties, certainties which would have to be true in order to question or deny them. So if by “global skepticism” you mean a systemic inability to achieve certainty about anything, it is ruled out from the very beginning. Incidentally, these certainties would have to be true for you to assert “the revelation of God.” So in this sense, you are borrowing from my worldview’s fundamentals.

Also, I do not accept your argument for global skepticism if what you had stated in your dialogue is representative. In response to the “unbeliever” in your dialogue, you had written:

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? …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.”

This argument trades on a most superficial non sequitur. It does not follow from the supposition that new experiences can cast doubt on certain specific items of knowledge that no knowledge is possible at all. For instance, I can look out the window in the morning and see big heavy rain clouds, and hear on the news that there will be rain today, and suppose that it’s going to rain sometime during the day. But the day passes and it turns out that my experience proves my earlier supposition wrong: it never did end up raining. But this does not unseat my knowledge of the fact that rain is composed of water droplets, or the fact that it did not rain. So your argument for global skepticism here is quite tendentious and overzealous.

In fact, it seems that if I believed in an invisible magic being which sovereignly wields conscious power over everything that exists, as Christianity has it, I’d be at a loss as to how I could be certain in just about anything. For as Van Til tells us, “God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law” (DoF, p. 27). I could be enjoying a fresh glass of water, for instance, and for no reason known to myself suddenly find myself gulping down a mouthful of merlot. And it’s not that this would have to happen, it’s just the fact that, on the assumption that such a being is controlling reality, I’d have to allow for such “possibilities.” How could I be certain, on such a pretext, that what I’m drinking really is water? Only by borrowing from an objective worldview could I hope to have any certainty here.

So while “global skepticism” is clearly no problem for my position, it seems that it is inescapable on the Christian view.

Regards,
Dawson

danielj said...

I'm asking about the methodology by which the believer comes to the knowledge that his god really does exist.

Tradition and testimony.

Truth passed down by those that went before us.

C.L. Bolt said...

How do you know that there are no facts that might unseat your knowledge that rain is composed of water droplets?

How do you know that water might not turn into merlot the next time you drink it?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Bolt: "How do you know that there are no facts that might unseat your knowledge that rain is composed of water droplets?"

You're not dealing with my point, which was that your argument for global skepticism fails. I don't have to prove that "there are no facts that might unseat [our] knowledge that rain is composed of water droplets." There may be cases when rain is composed of something else (e.g., of acid, for instance, or of methane such as on a Saturnine moon), and my view of knowledge does not stipulate otherwise. We take in facts and integrate them, as we discover them. But these facts do not unseat previously validated knowledge.

Bolt: "How do you know that water might not turn into merlot the next time you drink it?"

If I were operating on Christianity's premises of an originally lawless world being manipulated by an invisible magic being, I couldn't know this.

Keep trying.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt said...

What do you mean by "previously validated knowledge"? Is it not a possibility that you will come across some fact in future experience which will overturn your apparent knowledge concerning what rain is made up of?

So far as I know Christianity does not teach anything about an invisible magic being who manipulates a lawless world; but really, how do you know that water might not turn into merlot the next time you drink it?

What percentage of the universe do you think you have access to anyway? Does 4% sound reasonable? Do you really believe you have enough facts in to make the kinds of judgments you do? I am not even sure why you would think your conceptual map meshes with the external world, if there is such a thing. I know, "existence exists" (whatever that means), but what types of things exist and how do you know? I mean are we talking about external things?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Chris,

I've provided answers to your questions here:

Chris Bolt's Questions

Regards,
Dawson