Sola Me Revisited

Earlier we discussed the idea of sola methe claim of an individual to possess the infallible ability to discern a doctrine to be revealed by God.

Kurt Wise, concluding his contribution to the book In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creationprovides an example of someone making such a claim, at least effectively:

Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

Basically Wise is making three claims:

(1) God always tells the truth.

(2) Scripture is the Word of God.

(3) Scripture says that the earth is young.

It follows from these three claims that the earth is actually young. Insofar as Wise says that he would not change his mind about this no matter how much evidence was found against it, this implies that he is absolutely certain of all three of these claims. Any evidence against a young earth, in fact, is evidence against the conjunction of these three claims, and Wise is saying that he will never give up this conjunction no matter how much evidence is brought against it.

Trent Horn, in a blog post entitled Response to a Mormon Criticprovides an implicit criticism of this kind of idea when he says, “Is there anything that would convince you that Mormonism is false? If not, then why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?”

Trent Horn is a convert to Catholicism, so his question can be understood as a criticism of people who would be unwilling to change their minds as he himself did, or at least he is saying that someone who is unwilling to change his mind himself, should not criticize others for not changing their minds, even if they disagree with him.

Gregory Dawes, interviewed by Richard Marshall, provides another example of such a criticism:

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig writes somewhere about what he calls the “ministerial” and the “magisterial” use of reason. (It’s a traditional view — he’s merely citing Martin Luther — and one that Craig endorses.) On this view, the task of reason is to find arguments in support of the faith and to counter any arguments against it. Reason is not, however, the basis of the Christian’s faith. The basis of the Christian’s faith is (what she takes to be) the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” in her heart. Nor can rational reflection can be permitted to undermine that faith. The commitment of faith is irrevocable; to fall away from it is sinful, indeed the greatest of sins.

It follows that while the arguments put forward by many Christian philosophers are serious arguments, there is something less than serious about the spirit in which they are being offered. There is a direction in which those arguments will not be permitted to go. Arguments that support the faith will be seriously entertained; those that apparently undermine the faith must be countered, at any cost. Philosophy, to use the traditional phrase, is merely a “handmaid” of theology.

There is, to my mind, something frivolous about a philosophy of this sort. My feeling is that if we do philosophy, it ought to be because we take arguments seriously. This means following them wherever they lead. This may sound naïve. There are moral commitments, for instance, that few of us would be prepared to abandon, even if we lacked good arguments in their support. But if the followers of Hume are right, there is a close connection between our moral beliefs and our moral sentiments that would justify this attitude. In any case, even in matters of morality, we should not be maintaining positions that have lots of arguments against them and few in their favour, just because we have made a commitment to do so.

Dawes is a former Catholic, and as in the case of Horn, his statement can be taken as a criticism of people who would be unwilling to change their minds as he himself did. According to him you are not taking arguments seriously if you know in advance, like Kurt Wise, that you will never change your mind about certain things.

I would argue that relative to the question of certainty, both Trent Horn and Gregory Dawes are basically right, in several different ways, and that Kurt Wise is basically wrong in those ways. I will explain this in more detail in another post.

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50 thoughts on “Sola Me Revisited

  1. Since God is not a brute fact and the existence of books and men that write them are, then there are no objective facts about gods relating to either.

    To have to assert gods exist is to own it is dubious; one must be persuaded they do. What do those premises above amount to then but tautology over a metaphysical question; God.

    Is there truth in the book? Yip. Same is true of the Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. At least thankfully we’ve only made an idol of the one book, because there’s a bunch of nasty bits in that one too. De-idolize it and it’s all fairly plain to see.

    Anyway, as it’s said in some circles, God-talk is about as epistemically useful as talking about “the present king of France”.

    Application of the ideas, held as true by the fruits these bear, is its only value.

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    • When you say that God is not a brute fact, is that an objective fact about God, or not? If it is, then there are objective facts relating to gods. If it is not, then you need to start over from the beginning, since you start with “since god is not a brute fact,” and this is not true if it is not an objective fact.

      It may seem obvious to you that God does not exist, but that does not necessarily mean that you are right, nor is is not obvious to others. So if you want to make that claim, or any others that people disagree with, please make arguments for them.

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      • What I’m saying is that the universe is a brute fact (which has a specific epistemological meaning), a rock is a brute fact, “I exist” is a brute fact. We can’t point at any of these and say they prove the gods exist because those assertions are metaphysical. Inferring from these things is fine, but the inferences are not brute facts. That’s all I’m saying.

        And, I’m not saying there is or isn’t a God.

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          • Either God exists or he doesn’t. If he does, then “that God exists” is some kind of fact. And if he does not, then “that God does not exist” is some kind of fact. Either way, there is some kind of fact about God.

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            • Just because we can say of ANY proposition that it is binary (either is or is not the case) doesn’t at all suggest there is ANY case one should matter of factly believe at all. That’s merely saying propositions are binary and nothing more.

              “X is true” tells us nothing about X or the truth of it. Too, we can dismiss “X is true” as a proposition entailing to truth at all. For instance, metaphysical claims are by definition, ones we cannot assert are true or are false; we merely believe a case may be the case … exactly because there is no fact of the matter to appeal to. It is a fact, it may be true that flying dragons exist, but that the assertion is either true or false has no bearing whatever as to whether or not there are facts about dragons themselves, or that dragons are even a good or coherent idea to have in the first place.

              With me?

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              • Where did find that definition of metaphysical claims? “Ones we cannot assert are true or are false”? I have seen a number of definitions of metaphysics, but never that one.

                It is true that just because something is either true or false, does not mean that you always know which one it is.

                Flying dragons do not exist. There is nothing metaphysical about this claim. It is quite physical. And it is a fact about dragons.

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                • Dragons do not exist IS EXACTLY a metaphysical claim because if they DO, it certainly is not “manifest in reality” (the meaning of “exist”).

                  plato.stanford.edu is a great philosophy reference as is the online encyclopedia of philosophy; SEP and OEP respectively.

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                  • First of all, physical dragons do not exist, and that is the claim I was making. It might be a metaphysical claim to say that spiritual dragons do or do not exist, but I was not discussing that.

                    “Manifest in reality” is not the meaning of “exist.” Electrons exist, but they are not manifest.

                    Plato.stanford.edu does not define metaphysics in the way you did. It discusses the opinions of some that metaphysical statements are neither true nor false, and it discusses the opinions of others that they are true or false, but cannot be known. Not everyone holds either of those opinions, and even those people are not defining metaphysics. They are making a claim within the topic of metaphysics, not defining the topic.

                    The IEP (not OEP) also does not define metaphysics in that way. This suggests that you did not consult these sources before referring me to them.

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                    • Electrons exist because they do manifest in reality; their phenomenology is why they are theorized.

                      You have to realize I’m presuming (and rightly, i think) that my trying to put into understandable statements things that have formal, definite meaning in other contexts is actually me trying to have a conversation. Nothing I’ve said would raise any epistemologist’s eyebrow.

                      If you’d like to speak formally, I will. But don’t presume I don’t know what I’m talking about or am trying to checkmate you. My background is very formal, but I’m only trying to convey a simple difficulty in a simple way without losing you instead in a sea of formality often simply dismissed as semantic or pedantic.

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                  • The universe obviously extends beyond the visible universe, since the expansion of the universe implies that less of it will be visible in the future. The parts beyond the visible universe now cannot have any effect on us, due to the theory of relativity. So they cannot “manifest in reality”, and manifesting itself in reality is not the definition of exist.

                    That said, if God exists, he does manifest himself in reality, in fact in every part of it by making reality there to be experienced.

                    The fact is, I am not presuming anything. I know perfectly well that you don’t know what you’re talking about, although you may suppose that you do. As for “checkmating,” I have no concern about that, since I am not playing a game.

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                    • Sigh. Then maybe you ought to read them, eh. And on the whole, once you have read them, see if what I’ve said aren’t good, simple reductions of each.

                      But I do not doubt, of course, that you know better than I.

                      I think you may however, need help with manners.

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        • It’s certainly true that most people do not claim any direct experience of God, and thus the conclusion that God exists is an inference rather than a direct experience. But this does not mean it is epistemologically useless. The fact that 6029 is a prime number is also an inference and not a “brute fact” as you defined it, but this fact about the number 6029 could be quite useful for many purposes.

          You said in the original comment, “God-talk is about as epistemically useful as talking about ‘the present king of France'”, and I took that to imply that God does not exist, since there is no present king of France.

          In reality it means that you made a mistake in your epistemology, since apparently you believe it is useless to talk about the primeness of the number 6029, just because this is not a “brute fact”. If so, you are wrong, both about that and about God.

          And in any case it can also be useful to talk about the “present king of France,” both in order to say there currently isn’t one, and because some people believe that there is one, and it can be useful to talk to them.

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          • No mistake at all. It’s an understanding of what metaphysics stand for. Where the present king of France or Pip in Great Expectations, we find meaning in all concepts. Epistemologically, we can only say we infer “God”, but unlike Ayer on the epistemological point of Fregian truth-values and concluding “God” “literally insignificant”, we do not see “God” properly as a metaphysical claim; ie there is significance because the meaning of God-talk is existential resonance … the classic Greek idea of “the Word” from Platonism.

            I personally did not say God-talk is useless. I merely said that epistemologically speaking, it is on par with “the present king of France”; the only difference making a difference is what our ideas of either compel us to do and become.

            I think maybe you’re looking for a fight when there is none.

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            • If you aren’t saying that God doesn’t exist, it isn’t helpful to compare God with things that don’t exist, instead of things that exist. You could make the same point while comparing God to an existing thing.

              Let’s test this. Do you think that talking about God is epistemically on a par with talking about the number 6029?

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              • Sigh. I’m saying the comparison if God to Pip or the concept of primes ENTIRELY is dependent on the meaningfulness of what we say about any of them. And, neither God nor Pip nor primes are facts of reality.

                God is a necessary idea because of the world and what we make of it.

                Pip is a fictional character and I’m sure you know that story.

                Primes are the logical consequence of an axiomatic system we’ve created called math.

                Either there is or is not a God, but certainly there are no facts about God because we can only say of the brute fact of existing, maybe there’s more.

                God and 6029 can be called exactly identical! This is a softball you give atheists. They can say neither exist, and exist in the exact same way: an abstraction folks think about axiomatically and tautologically about … not truth to either save falsity when axioms contradict. Taking a theist’s “harmonizing” to be equivalent to the mathematician’s imaginary number for two axioms in conflict when asked for the square root of a negative number. Moreover, the theist isn’t deterred in his metaphysics about not knowing the truth status of God’s existence, any more than the mathematicians who know Godel upset the world of mathematics in the very same way.

                Why do that? Why give someone ammunition and a gun?

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                • I still don’t know what you mean by fact. When I say that something is true, then I say “this is true,” is a fact. Apparently you mean something different by fact, but it’s not clear yet.

                  As far as I am concerned, 6029 is something that exists, not an abstraction. You can go outside and count 6029 blades of grass, and they really exist. However, I did not say that God and 6029 are exactly identical, just because they have some similarities.

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                  • Facts (all of them) are apparent and are believable without feeling compelled to justify beliefs about them (arguing on their behalf has others questioning your sanity).

                    Saying “this is true” is never a fact about anything but the fact “I think this is true”.

                    Brute facts are facts for which we have no apparent explanation that is itself based on facts.

                    I’d just again suggest learning the terms as understanding these things have a huge implication and impact on ideas of sola me; these problems are why many if not most theologians reject both sola scriptura and sola me (except in the otherwise tiny theological circles where either are accepted).

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                    • Your usage of the word “fact” is not typical, and is not the definition of the word. For example, by that definition, it is not a fact that men are descended from apes. Most scientists consider this to be a fact, as do I.

                      And just as it is a fact that I am currently typing on a computer, it is also a fact that it is true that I am typing on the computer.

                      As for the last statement, “I’d just again suggest…”, that is a gratuitous insult. Please refrain from such comments. I understand these terms, and they do not have the meaning that you assign them.

                      However, if you understood the post, which you clearly neither read nor understood, you would know that I was saying that sola me is false. I also think that sola Scriptura is false, although the post was not about that topic.

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                    • I read your post.

                      You know, it is a fact the sky is blue when the sky is blue and it is true the sky is blue when it is blue and I assert “the sky is blue” … and it is a fact the sky is not blue when the sky is blue even when I assert “the sky is blue”.

                      Assertions are interpretive and their truth-value is tied entirely tied to connotative meaning.

                      Hence, you know very well I’m truthful when I say the sky is blue and “in fact” it is AND if you also know “it is a fact that” color doesn’t exist in reality at all (is not any property of any light-defracting object or light itself), then you ought to see websters or oxford or other dictionaries as not trying to make philosophical denotations; this problem being exemplary as to why.

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                    • You may have read the post in some sense, but without enough understanding to be counted as having read it in any sense that matters.

                      I know why some people would deny that color exists, but I happen to think they are wrong about that.

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                    • ROFLOL! Color is purely perceptual. What property of light is “color” or what property of any reflecting surface is “color”.

                      “entirelyuseless” now comes into clear view.

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                  • The grass exists. “Counting” is a mental activity. Primes do not exist nor do numbers. Math is no different than any other language. That I can go outside and declare a blade of grass “green” is no more interesting than going outside and saying this particular blade, I shall name “one” and this blade, “two”, and so on.

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                    • Primes (the whole of mathematics), are lingual … just like “the present king of France”. They exist in the mind, ” in here”, not “out there”. See Chaitin and Penrose for a clear rebuke on the reification of mathematics.

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    • Also, although I will tolerate it at least this time if you wish to engage in reasonable conversation, I should point out that your comments on this post are not relevant to the post. The post is about people who disagree about whether or not one should be open to changing one’s mind about religious ideas by way of arguments. It is not about what kind of fact is involved in claims about God.

      If you wish to comment in the future on this blog, please make comments which have some bearing on the topic of the post.

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      • Are my comments not relevant? Sola me is an epistemological assertion about how we come to know God. Well, my response is that we cannot know God, we apprehend God, and, that is meaningful.

        That’s right out of Aquinas’ Summa.

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        • The comments are relevant in a very generic sense. But let’s suppose someone wrote a blog post explaining how he had a personal experience of God, and you commented on that post, “You’re wrong. You didn’t have an experience of God, because God doesn’t exist.” That would be relevant in a certain sense, but only a general sense.

          It wouldn’t be an appropriate comment, because it wouldn’t be relevant to the particular content of the post, although it might be appropriate to say something like, “I would advise you not to trust that kind of experience for these reasons…”

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          • I don’t tell anyone about their experiences and how they ought to interpret them. Here, I only note that the attributions of said experiences can either be to God or to something else and because of that, the experience is not a brute fact or any fact about God, but that there was some experience; the experience is the fact, not the attribution either way. It is certainly an objective basis for one to believe there are gods, but not an objective fact.

            Make sense?

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            • It is true that if someone says he had an experience of God, that may have been of God or of something else.

              That does not mean it was not a fact about God; it means it might not have been one. If it was a true experience of God, then it is a fact that God was there to be experienced.

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              • I could repeate Father Herbert McCabe or Norm Geisler here but they both report the same thing: the experience should be inarticulable or comprehensible.

                This only means there was a fact of an experience and that attribution is dubious though one may well be justified in attributing said experiences to God. If God is natural, so too the experience and so too its comprehensibility; yet with an ineffable, incomprehensible God, what fact *of God* can be known? Theologians and critical doubters agree on the point, such as Ayer and George Smith, for example.

                The problem is only in epistemically knowing the attribution “is the case”.

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                  • That sense is, need I say it a third time (seems i do), apprehensibility, not comprehensibility … and so, no God-talk is knowledge *of God* but what we apprehend. “We have no concept of god”, McCabe, “God matters”.

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                    • Again, “no God-talk is knowledge of God,” is not what they mean by that. St. Thomas also says that there is not a concept of God. He does not mean that we can’t know anything about God. He is quite clear that we can.

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                    • And the common way is not concise. How do you know, what do you know, what can you know. In that way, knowledge is only a set of beliefs we feel justified in thinking are the case, true. That’s justified in the sense of intersubjective agreement on appearances and reasoning.

                      Hence, the fact that I’m having tea just now is not epistemological; what is is having more reason to believe that’s the case than not, given any perfectly rational person (look up that term).

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