Epistemology. With apologies.

Brad, "Annie," and I have been having this conversation for a while now. This post was intended to be a comment, but instead got WAY too long and had to be a full post. Please continue to comment and we'll continue to find ways to keep the active post near the top so you don't have to keep digging through the archives. For now, comment here, por favor. Also, before the official "post" begins, I note that Annie has posted some additional comments on "Preaching" and "Sin" respectively. I didn't have that in front of me when writing this stuff last night, so I apologize for not addressing it. Hopefully, we'll get to incorporate all of this together. ________ Here's what I wrote last night I took last night to read, reread, re-reread, ad absurdum, this whole discussion. Then I whipped out Schaeffer, Lewis, an epistemology book, and the Bible. (I don't want you to think I'm not prepared :-) ) I think I'm ready to respond as soon as I make this disclaimer: it seems we are witnessing the benefits and limitations of blogging. The gains we make in speed of transmission are offset by the inability to present a fully explained idea with subtlety of thought and nuance of argument. Again, I must apologize in advance for the limitations I am responsible for (aside from the problem of length) and pledge to keep those to a minimum. That being said, I think there is, at least in some degree, miscommunication going on. I think we are blending a couple of different discussions into one, which, though it makes for interesting discussion, invariably leads to the misunderstood party(ies) leaving. As I see it, here are the major points of misunderstanding (current or potential): 1) This discussion seems to have started as one of biblical interpretation (1 Cor. 8) and turned into (probably my fault considering my initial comment that day) one about epistemology. When it transversed that line, I think we left a ton of loose ends. 2) Our definitions of knowledge have never been solidified. Brad's definitions seem to be based on a concept of "relational" knowledge. Annie's seem to be based on "informational" knowledge (what we know). I think I am trying to play both sides and being very vague about it. 3) We're using different types of authority. I have been appealing to a couple of Western philosophers and C. S. Lewis. Annie has brought up facts regarding cosmology or astronomy or physics and a couple of websites. Brad has quoted Bible verses on at least two occasions and echoed a lot of ideas highlighted in Francis Schaeffer's work. I'm not sure if we can agree on what field we're playing: Philosophy? Physics? Theology? Do we need to agree for this conversation to make sense? 4) Annie has never stated categorically whether or not extra-material/supernatural evidence is allowed into the discussion. If the answer to this is "no," then we'll need to readdress the question. Seeing as how the question was formulated with a presuppositional "yes" to this question, Annie, you might want to think about whether or not you'll just get frustrated with any evidence of this type. 5) Brad, to my knowledge, Lewis never separates "fact" and "truth" into a dichotomy (your argument in "Categories" pt. 2, I think). Nor do I, so I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I was arguing for a division into Fact and Truth or, as you interpreted it, Nature and Supernature. I agree with you and Schaeffer that this is an unhelpful Enlightenment-era dichotomy. However, if you make the argument that Nature/Supernature is materially different (and inferior as both descriptive and moral scaffolding) than Creation/Creator, it seems to me you are ignoring a few factors. (A) It places blame for not "hearing God" (in this case, interpreted as knowledge) fully on human Sin/sin instead of other spiritual causes or circumstances. (B) It doesn't solve the problem of existential irrationalism--it simply renames it. In other words, just because there is a solution to existential angst under the Creator/Creation model doesn't mean that one is forced into accepting it. (C) It shuts out, by definition of the categories, those that don't believe in the Judeo-Christian Creator. I guess point #5 is the same as point #4 directed the other way: Brad, are you categorically saying naturalistic evidence is not allowed into the discussion? 6) If one of us says, "Here is my answer!" are the rest of us going to check out because we believe there is no answer? In other words, is attempting to answer a negative thing? (Annie, it seems like you are suggesting that "answering" is akin to "preaching" and to be avoided...) Nevertheless, my attempt at an answer To Annie: I do not wish to "jab about how you can know the secret knowledge of god." I would like to "debate specifics [about] where you think this 'evidence' of his existence is coming from." However, I need to know if only naturalistic explanations are valid. If so--if there is not a shred of anything smacking of extra-natural that is permitted--then I'm assuming you just want to try to make me feel dumb by bringing up things which you will easily swat away. In which case, I must warn you: I already feel pretty dumb and don't need much more encouragement to do so. To Brad: Point 1: It is nearly axiomatic that all understanding is context-dependent. Therefore we need to discuss the context of the word "knowledge" as it is used in all of 1 Corinthians 8. I think just because there is one Greek word being used there is not necessarily one Hebrew concept being put forth. But we really need to hash that out. Point 2: Can we agree to say things as precisely as possible? There has been at least once where I felt like I couldn't understand an argument simply because a word was being used in a broader sense than I could grasp. So if I ask for some further word explanations, would that be okay? Point 3: Under "Sin and Knowledge," Pt. 1, it seems you came to the end of your original question but it was essentially the same place where you started: "...when we make the intellect the sole medium through which the Creator is allowed to communicate, then I think we are fundamentally not trying to 'receive' as we are redeemably able to by design." To me, this means "Knowledge is bad if it's only intellectual." And "only intellectual" must mean by extension "not rooted in God." So your answer is, in these terms, "Not rooted-in-God knowledge is bad knowledge." You're probably exactly right, but I think you're overstating your case somewhat, making these categories too black/white. I can go into more detail if you want. Point 4: To paraphrase C.S. Lewis in "Religion: Reality or Substitute": all knowledge is grounded on authority, reason, and experience, combined in some measure. I don't think it's humanistic or existential to state that even our knowledge of God is based on authority, reason, and experience; that to obtain knowledge, we must engage the thing we wish to apprehend both subjectively and objectively; that we there is a lens, however thin, separating us from what we are trying to grasp, preventing us from knowing it absolutely and exhaustively. Hence, when Paul states, "For whatever a man knows, he still has a lot to learn..."(1 Cor. 8:2; Phillips), he is talking about knowledge subjectively but not humanistically. I think you've pointed this out already with Annie's phrase "an objective experience, subjectively." Point 5: It seems a shame to lump together naturalistic philosophy with factual knowledge as in, "...what we perceive with the intellect to be the factual/natural aspect of knowledge is a reduction of knowledge into the wrong categories of nature/supernature. And I want to say that this is part of Sin, fundamentally rejecting the Creator...." Do you want to state this a different way? I can't help but feel that this is an argument against knowing information for information's sake, that is, knowing facts that have no "end" or "application." But you can't mean that. Surely God created some of us to study and retain facts for which there seem to be no non-natural reasons to retain them (for playing Trivial Pursuit or something). Are you saying this is not only reductionism but sin?!? I can't imagine you are, so I must be misreading this. Otherwise I've really got to start playing Trivial Pursuit for the glory of God. ... For crying out loud, I've got to end this post before there are no more readers left!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm reposting this with apostrophies fixed.. hope thats ok.

original post-

still here :)

might as well answer a few questions, eh?


brad, i think i already answered your question. if anyone comes along (especially with mad fervor) and claims they have some big key to 'the truth', i immediately raise the hairy eyebrow. these people usually fancy themselves as philosophers, clerics and pastors, but in truth, they are really nothing more than cheerleaders rooting for particular results. a true philosopher asks the questions that make us want to find the answers for ourselves. we then do so individually and then (hopefully) share our personal results with the rest of the class. the rest of the class can then try it for themselves.. hence we get statistics by collecting data (therefore increasing our collective understanding of the truth) is truth found outside of said classroom? of course! freethinkers have pretty much lead the way, have they not? i say let them think as long as they don't hurt, or 'sin' against others. (again, watch out for that fervor)

which leads me to-


personally, i have adopted the ideal 'do as you wish, harm no one'. yeah, I know its the wiccan creed, but its also the underlying ideal of libertarians and it really makes sense doesn't it? sin in the context of a god who dictates what 'sin' is, leaves the door open for the accused to be guilty of a victimless crime.. in that they sin against something other than someone else. i'm not saying there aren't personal sins mind you.. garbage in, garbage out still applies, but if there is no victim, there is no crime. and as far as a sin against god goes, how can an all powerful being be sinned against in the first place? how can anything offend a being that knows all?

if he's that easy to piss off, is he even worth knowing in the first place?

/end original post

btw- i'm not disallowing 'supernatural' possibilities from the conversation and i agree we are talking past each other a bit. look, i'm not at all trying to make anyone feel stupid here, but understand that if you want to discuss supernatural 'evidence' (with me that is) i will obviously be skeptical. i try to be as objective as i can so please don't take anything personally. we can all learn from each other ;)

that said, it seems that you folks think the bible is a fundamental piece of evidence for gods existence. maybe we could start there?

6/17/2004 12:03 PM  
Blogger e said...

I'm sticking to my guns established on this post: I really do think we're having a cross-purposes discussion. And because of that, I don't want to start with the Bible in order to address epistemology with you, though I might with Brad. It's not that you are inferior/superior to Brad, I simply think that any scriptures fall under the same Authority, Reason, Experience constraints as anything else and Brad is giving priority to the Authority of the Bible whereas you are not. That's fine. I am arguing, however, that ALL of us cobble together what we know through a mixture of Authority of some kind, Reason of some kind, and Experience of some kind.

To sum up my answer to your last comment: No, I don't want to start addressing the question of knowledge with you assuming that the Bible is the only "evidence," or even the best "evidence," for addressing the existence of God. The two existences (1. God and 2. the Bible) have to be addressed seperately through Authority, Reason, and Experience even though they may overlap.

And when addressing Authority, Reason, and Experience, I think we must address subjectivity and objectivity. For instance, are all of these things entirely subjective? Are any objective? Is there a way we can see them objectively even if they are subjective? Is there a way we can use them subjectively even if they are objective? Does falibility in one area necessarily mean that area is subjective?

6/17/2004 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good questions, but i detect a little skirting here. what i'm trying to get at is the fact that when you state all knowledge comes from jehovah/god then you are asserting a claim. when someone asserts a claim then they need evidence to back it up. (this is why i don't believe i'm asserting a negative, for if there were sufficient evidence then i couldn't even ask the question in the first place) and when addressing authority, reason, and experience, i think we must also address how terribly faulty all of those can be. (especially when they are overlaped)

as far as epistemology.. i'm a big fan of the reflection-correspondence theory. according to this view knowledge results from a kind of mapping or reflection of external objects, through our sensory organs, aided by different observation instruments, to our brain or mind. though knowledge has no a priori existence, like in plato's conception, but has to be developed by observation, it is still absolute, in the sense that any piece of proposed knowledge is supposed to either truly correspond to a part of external reality, or not. in that view, we may in practice never reach complete or absolute knowledge, but such knowledge is somehow conceivable as a limit of ever more precise reflections of reality.

6/17/2004 6:32 PM  
Blogger e said...

Good comment. I want to respond fully, so pardon the length. It's not intended to be "preachy".
Let me break your last comment into two segments: 1. the bible and epistemology (a.k.a. skirting) and 2. nature of evidence (a.k.a. reflection-correspondence theory).

1. I won't admit to skirting outright, but I will admit to trying to play the middle (between you and Brad). I am trying to prioritize our discussion into agreeing on a schema for epistemology before arguing over evidence for each aspect of that schema.

Brad might condemn this as too existentialist, but I don't think we can start an argument about epistemology using the Bible as our foundation point. That seems like confusing the schema (in this case Authority) with the evidence (in this case Scripture) or like defining the terms for argument by the desired outcome of the argument. So it is not intentional skirting on my part to say that, yes, I do believe that all knowledge emanates/has its root in God but that, no, I do not believe that we can start debating the authenticity of scripture in order to reach understanding about what knowledge is or how we acquire it. To do so would be akin to talking about theories of motion and inertia by describing a Boeing airliner. Sure, you are describing something that moves and obeys the laws of physics, but you are defining something very general (Newtonian and Brownian motion) by using a very complex piece of machinery as the basis of your argument. Let us first agree on what knowledge is and how you acquire and define it--the essential portions of epistemology--before we debate a particular example of Authority.

This reason is why I don't believe I am skirting: I am trying to have us agree to terms first. Then we can argue over particulars. Whether or not you agree there is a God or that God is both personal and infinite is secondary (again, pardon the appeal to existentialism, and only for the purposes of this particular debate) to how we acquire knowledge about said God or lack of God.

2. Reflection-Correspondence seems to be a neuro-psychologist's way of saying "Empiricism based on a Materialist metaphysic." I am not stating this pejoratively, just pointing out the fact that "knowledge results from a kind of mapping or reflection of external objects, through our sensory organs, aided by different observation instruments, to our brain or mind. though knowledge has no a priori existence..." is precisely the point Empiricists have been defending for lo these many centuries.

Descartes' problem with strict empiricism, though who is to say whether he brought up a valid counter-argument, is that sensory organs, even aided ones, cannot account for all that is. In your mind, you can conceive of almost purely ideological concepts such as justice, truth, nationalism, humanitarianism, honor, crime, beauty, ugliness, love, hate, and apathy, even idealism or rationalism versus empiricism--hundreds or thousands of ideas and emotions that have little or no empirical presence, let alone basis.

Yet, you might say, I feel loving or just or victimized or apathetic and I must be sensing these somehow, through some external conduit into my brain. Therefore there must be some method of perception that imprints these things into my mind. Empiricism/reflection-correspondence is still valid because I experience and test these things, even these non-material things through the same sensory responses that I use to test material things. To which I (and many rationalists before me) would say, "No, you do somehow bring these things into your mind through your eyes, ears, etc., but your mind would have nothing to compare them too, even after a lifetime of objective observation, if you did not already have an a priori framework. (I recognize that the status of that a priori is in question--was it there biologically from conception? Was it provided upon birth? Did the framework develop in childhood? Does it always continue to grow? At what point is the framework "usable" for making classifications? But this is not fundamental to this argument.) So you must have had some degree of knowledge provided to you at some point in your growth and development in order to evaluate all of this stimuli you are receiving through your sensory organs and aiding tools."

To a certain degree, we're back at square one. The Empiricist argument doesn't solve enough because there is no such thing as objective understanding being created once and for all by a single individual or group. So there has to be some zero/absolute point. And this leads us back to my last argument: we develop an understanding of how to assess questions like this through Authority, Reason, and Experience. Our schema (e.g., Authority, Reason, and Experience) helps us define questions like Sense/Nonsense, Good/Bad, Rational/Irrational, Beautiful/Ugly, Simple/Complex, True/False. Let's examine Empiricism based on a Materialist metaphysic more closely.

Empiricism itself is based on some mix of Authority, Reason, and Experience. But by those criteria cannot hold up. Here's why: (a) by Authority, Empiricism holds (lots of trusted people, Bertrand Russell included believed it and quoted it as true), (b) by Reason, it may work or may not (where did the framework for Sense/Nonsense, etc. develop? Did there not have to be a Rational Zero/Absolute Point for rationality to develop or for us to be able to distinguish between what is Rational and what is Irrational? Otherwise, how would we be able to distinguish if it all comes to our minds "unfiltered"?), (c) by Experience, however, Empiricism falls apart. There is no way to explain nongenic or transgenic altruism ("compassion, kindness, love," or other mushy emotional realities) through a Materialist metaphysic or through an Empiricistic filter. You cannot observe the object "self-sacrificial love" moving across species lines--going from a human to an animal, for instance. Yet it exists--just not empirically or materially.

I want to break off this comment now. I don't think I'm finished, but I realized I have only torn down without building something in its place. And I'm not ready to do that yet, for reasons of my own internal skepticism and because Brad has not weighed in on any of this. Again, no skirting intended; I simply want to have us agree on our schema first, your comments on the potential subjectivity and fallibility of Authority, Reason, and Experience notwithstanding. It's not that they're not good points--these things are malleable to an extent--it's just that what else do we have to go from....

So can we agree on this?

6/22/2004 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think so. good post. i'll withhold till brad weighs in as well.

take it away bradley...

6/22/2004 4:09 PM  
Blogger brad said...

Wow. Thanks for "waiting up". First, let me apologize, then I have to tell a quick story, then ask some questions.

So, sorry for the absences. My weekends have been long and busy (ie. out of town for activities) and will continue to be so for the next several weeks. Sorry for how this affects our conversation. I want to make sure my "silences" aren't construed into being anything they're not. And so you know, I'll be leaving again this Friday morning and not getting back until Wednesday night again this coming week. Again, thanks for waiting up.

So, I printed this blog out last night to read before bed and was all excited to get caught up and back into the conversation some, when I realized that my stupid printer left off the last words on each sentence. Oh man, not only did I have to pick through the meaning of the comments and questions, but I had to decipher them as well. Ugh. It was like archeology meets philosophy and IM all at my bedside last night. I hope I didn't misread your comments. :)

So, I took a page of notes and was thinking this morning of how to engage the discussion again. But I feel like most of the notes I took come off as "defending myself", which misses the point. Though, it seems that my earlier post has misrepresented me as ferociously religious, rather than contemplative. And while I don't want to not address valid comments, I also don't want to add another multiple page comment. So, in the light of space and core issues that will hopefully revisit any concerns, I think what I'll do instead is just ask three questions.

1. About the blog: I resonate with E's comments about loose ends and tangents and wonder if we shouldn't perhaps start separate blogs for some of them. Would it be wise or overwhelming to have various conversations going at once (like we do) but separately, instead of in the same space? What would those separate blogs be?

2. To E: I see the concept of "Authority, Reason, and Experience" as becoming more and more central to the conversation and would love to have you clarify more what you mean when you say these terms. I like the idea, but am a bit unsure what to do with it, or whether I would be going the same direction, which I'd want to do. Is this comprable to "faith, hope, and love" in the Bible?

3. To Annie: In your experience have you dealt with Locke's representationalism? What do you see the difference as being between your "reflection-correspondence theory" of perception and Locke's ideas?

6/23/2004 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no apologies are necessary.. sounds like you're getting married soon.

maybe we should put this on something like a forum such as msn or yahoo groups. (there are probably hundreds of free ones) then we could catagorize the discussions & everything could be neat & pretty. whatdyathink?

6/23/2004 12:56 PM  
Blogger brad said...

If that is a way we could sort things out into easier subject categories, then I'm up for whatever.

On a more personal note, I imagine this discussion as part of the personal joy of E's maintenance of this blog site and would also imagine that moving to a different site would take an element of the tangible fun of this conversation away for E.

Is there a way to do what you're thinking, Annie, here on this site? What's the difference between blogger.com and msn? This is "Uncle Screwtape", but could we have a complementary blogger just for epistemology and the likes? Is that necessary?

6/23/2004 2:16 PM  
Blogger e said...

personally, I would rather continue this discussion on this blog. brad, you and roger and i originally saw this thing as a possible online conversation and personal news site and this seems to fit right into that theme. it would be better if Annie gave up his/her anonymous status to become a real live post-er and then we could just plop down posts instead of comments.

from an aesthetic and sentimental perspective, i like the way this blog looks and functions :-)

from a practical perspective, i like the way we can have ongoing discussions without being forced into multiple threads (unless we want to be)

from a psychological perspective, i can't deal with the multiple ads etc. that pop up and flash along the borders of MSN and Yahoo groups.

are any of those good reasons to just keep going?

plus i think others might enjoy the conversations....

6/23/2004 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

e- yeah thats fine. i looked up some groups today & i agree with you... blogger is better for this.

btw- i'm rs (cannells old roomie).. golly, i thought you guys figured out who i was already. sorry for being anon... my original bart simpson post was done as a cryptic jab under the influence of a bottle of wine, but this has turned out to be one of the most thought provoking conversations i've had in a long time. i'd love to hang with you cats in person sometime. (do you all live in columbus?)

if you really want me to post send info to saffen@gmail.com

6/23/2004 6:16 PM  
Blogger brad said...

RS - I live out in Chicago and have only met Jeff Cannell once, but during the year that I lived in Columbus, I frequently heard his name mentioned with high regards. I often do wish I was closer. If you're ever in Chicago, now... :)

I say rock on to the blogger! Blog on!

6/23/2004 7:18 PM  
Blogger stu said...

cool. i live in indy so i'm only a few hours from you.

i'll try to bounce a few balls back in the next couple of days...

6/23/2004 11:21 PM  
Blogger e said...

hi, rs. even though jeff and i have known each other for years, i don't think we really started hanging out much until 2001 or so. i'm not sure i would have met you.

do we want to do this as a separate blog?

part of me thinks yes, part of me says as soon as we do that, it will get old and stale.

6/25/2004 8:33 AM  
Blogger brad said...

Practically, the more I think about this, I already get caught up in internal dilemmas, having to visit my aol account AND the blog when I go online. I think adding another site to have to visit for me, would fizzle out real quickly, when I'm honest. I say keep it here.

6/25/2004 11:48 AM  
Blogger brad said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/25/2004 11:49 AM  
Blogger brad said...

Practically, the more I think about this, I already get caught up in internal dilemmas, having to visit my aol account AND the blog when I go online. I think adding another site to have to visit for me, would fizzle out real quickly, when I'm honest. I say keep it here.

6/25/2004 11:50 AM  
Blogger brad said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/25/2004 12:02 PM  
Blogger stu said...

agreed. my blog is more of a fun rant & rave so corresponding to things here would probably scare and confuse my readers.

there are some questions i want to get to, but i'll have to wait till early next week.


6/25/2004 1:10 PM  
Blogger e said...

Perhaps it is against better judgement, but a new blog is probably easier than dealing with the ramifications of having another post-er on this one.

Ergo, BEHOLD: http://epbprs.blogspot.com

6/25/2004 3:55 PM  

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