Posted in Epistemology, Logic/Philosophy

Can We Know What Happened?

We all think about the past. We can do this to a great degree because of memory. We remember things that occurred in our personal experience. However, much of what we think about and talk about regarding the past has to do with things that did not come within our range of personal experience. Most of history that we study is in this classification of information. We do not remember these facts or alleged facts because we were never exposed to them in the first place. But in studying history, we come to learn and to know of things that we could not know about otherwise. The study of history is an enormously important branch of inquiry. The study of history is the key to our contact with most of what has happened in the past, since our experience with what is now the “past” is very limited.

At times more information regarding claims made about the past leads to correction of the historical record. And this is as it must be. If historians make mistakes or assume things or allege things that were not supported by actual evidence, then when further search leads to a correction of mistakes earlier made, we have an improved account. This is progress in the acquiring of truth from the past or a coming to knowledge with regard to what actually happened.

But sometimes, men begin to “rewrite” history. That is, instead of researching material and recording “facts as they are,” they insert into their writing of “history” views that they have not actually found in the material that they are studying, but rather they insert an “angle of perspective” that they already hold for which they are in search of support. Some men in looking at the past even go so far as to claim that we cannot really have any objective view of the past. Their claim is that it is impossible for us to really “get to the truth” of something long ago done, so that it is impossible for any person to have an objective look or view of the past. I remember in one of our debates years ago saying to the audience regarding my opponent at the time that he had no literary past. The way that he was looking at history prohibited him from having knowledge of the past. You cannot use the past against or even in behalf of the present if there is no objective knowledge of the past.

Must a person be personally present in order to have knowledge of a certain thing or event? No. We know a lot of things without being personally present when these things occurred because others testify or provide evidence to us of these things. This is knowledge by the testimony of other persons. Too, we have “testimony” by empirical data. When non-literary items are discovered such as pictures or pottery, etc., these become useful “witnesses” to us of things gone by.

To benefit from the past, we must not “play games” with the past. I used to asked my students, “How long must I be dead before my having been here becomes a matter of mere probability?” In one sense, such a question may at first seem silly. But at times positions are taken with regard to the impossibility of knowledge of the past that imply that the passing of time does render knowledge of the past impossible. But, if the present can be known (and this article is not proof of knowledge as such, though we have provided that proof in other articles), is there something about the past that makes it impossible for us to know absolutely and certainly something about it? Does the passing of time make it impossible for information once current to be recovered? Think of these classifications of the relationship that can exist between past information and us:

  1. Possibility (knowledge that is possible to have now, but not yet discovered so that this information remains non-knowable).
  2. Impossibility (knowledge that it is impossible to have of the past because no record was left so that this information is also non-knowable).
  3. Probability (certain information found leads us to draw a tentative conclusion, a conclusion that is bolstered by some evidence but which is not definite or conclusive; as things stand, this is yet non-knowable).
  4. Improbability (certain information found leads us to draw a tentative conclusion, a conclusion that is bolstered by some evidence, but the evidence is not sufficient to lead to a definite conclusion, though it does suggest that something likely did not happen at all; this intellectual conclusion of “unlikeliness” or “improbability” remains yet non-knowable).
  5. Falsifiability (certain information makes it necessary to draw the conclusion that something did not happen or was not the case in the past, which would entail any information found that conclusively proves that something did not occur or was not the case; falsifiability, unlike the other categories already listed is a matter of knowability rather than non-knowability).
  6. Verifiability (enough information is gathered and is of such a content as to make certain positive knowledge claims possible and actual).

Let us think, for a moment, about the status of the claim that a man makes when he suggests to us that none of us can actually know for sure anything in the past. What is he saying? He is saying that the past is “off limits” to human cognition or understanding. It is a category of information that is simply not available to us for comprehension. But what has he himself done in making such a claim? He has attempted to declare that he knows for sure that there is one thing about the past that he knows! It is one grand, summation point that he seeks to make, to be sure, but it is something about the past, after all! Furthermore, he is either saying something about the past or he is saying nothing about the past. He is certainly trying to say something about the past as we see in the formulation of his claim. He is attempting to enlighten us about our relationship to the past. And if he is saying something about the past (and he is), then he contradicts his own claim in the making of the statement that he makes. And affirming a logical contradiction is, in effect, the making of an irrational claim. It makes no sense! The claimant refutes himself in his own claim by affirming and denying the same thing. It is like this regarding the claimant: I know one thing about the past, and that is that none of us can know anything about the past! But if none of us can know anything about the past, then the claimant cannot know that none of us can know anything about the past.

Furthermore, if none of us can know that none of us can know anything about the past, then it is at least possible that one of us can know something or at least one thing about the past. And if we can know one thing about the past, perhaps there are other things about the past that we can know as well. Who can possibly prove that only one thing about the past can be known for sure?

It also needs to be noted that the very concepts of “improvement” or “correction” or “modification” with regard to the past in the rewriting of historical accounts entail the idea of actual historical fact and objective and absolute truth. Something either happened or it did not happen. Something is either the case, or it is not the case. And in both situations, just as the “fact” is not affected by the historian’s own point of view (any subjective bias or preference), so the “truth” about it is not affected by his own point of view either. The historian may or may not yet understand the fact, but if the fact is somehow revealed from the past, there is then a “record” of it, and if the historian comes into intellectual contact with the record of it, he is getting to the “truth” regarding the fact. And when he reveals that “truth” to the rest of us in speech or in writing, he is testifying to us with regard to what he has come to know about the past.

But every time that an historian attempts to “improve” the historical record in further research, the very idea of doing so implies the assumption that there is known improvement to be made. But if it is understood that known improvement can currently be made by the historian in the writing of history (writing about the past), then it is being implied that there is absolute and objective truth about past facts that can be objectively and absolutely currently known before the writing of the “improved” history can be made.

Let us give an illustration that might help us here. Let me suggest that I now say: “I like horses.” Now, there. I said it. That claim is already a part of history (the past). Now let us in analyzing that claim note that (1) if I presently say something that is the truth, and if (2) the truth is the unchangeable truth unaffected by any subjective viewpoint, and if (3) the present in which the truth is spoken (assuming I told the truth about my liking horses) now becomes the past, I can now accurately say something in this present moment about what I just said in the past moment. The movement of time that “carried” my claim from present to past did not affect its status as a claim, and my current or present relationship to the claim earlier made is one that allows me to know something about what I earlier said. In this case, I remember what I said.

But, as earlier mentioned, most of what we learn from history is not like that. We are having to deal with facts found and statements made by others. This makes the discovering of truth with regard to claimed facts and claimed truths more complicated, but it does not make the effort impossible. I am simply further removed, intellectually speaking, from the facts and truths that I seek, and I cannot use memory to locate them. The situation as it is means that care, much care, must be taken in attempting to contact the past. I must rely on something found outside my own experience but now located.

This is all very important because the past or at least some of the past can be enormously important to people presently alive. In the preface to his insightful and extraordinarily sobering 1973 book, The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian author, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, in revealing to the world the horror of communism, related the following:

By an unexpected turn of our history, a bit of the truth, an insignificant part of the whole, was allowed out in the open. But those same hands which once screwed tight our handcuffs now hold out their palms in reconciliation: “No, don’t! Don’t dig up the past! Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.” But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes.” (p. x)

There are too many Americans today who are completely out of touch with the cruelty and danger of communism. So many of our young people now have been indoctrinated with lies about our past and that of some other cultures. In her excellent and informative book, Debunking Howard Zinn, Mary Grabar has done a great service in showing how, or at least partially how, America is now being subverted by so many of our own citizens. Why is it that so many young people now hate their own country? The subtitle of the book is “Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America.” Howard Zinn wrote a book entitled A People’s History of the United States. And on page 25, Grabar in her own book writes, “According to Zinn, there’s no such thing as objective history, anyway: ‘the historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released in a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.’” And by his own distortion of history, evidently Zinn has been successful in influencing thousands and thousands of our own young people whose current worldview entails a distorted view of America’s past that has now erupted even into violent destruction of the symbols of our past.

The Bible’s own view is that it is possible to know the past and to learn from it. Before leaving this earth, Moses told his people, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deut. 32:7). Over and over in the book of Judges, we read of the sad history of Israel who as a nation moved through repeated cycles entailing national tragedy and misery for over three hundred years because the people kept on neglecting to learn the lessons of history. May God have mercy on our own forgetful and troubled land.

Posted in Epistemology, Logic/Philosophy

The Truth Is

All serious Bible students of the New Testament know that the concept of “truth” is of extremely high priority. Even in the Old Testament, Solomon once expressed that thought when he compared truth to something material that could be bought. He said, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). It remains something we all must have and must never discard. But in the history of mankind, many strange things have been uttered in conscious or unconscious attacks on the very idea of truth. In its defense, let us offer a few thoughts descriptive of truth as it is.

First, the truth is that truth is something thought or declared as a declaration. We can think in images or pictures. I can think of a flower. There are truths about flowers thought and/or stated, but flowers do not partake of truth. If there is an eternal Mind, however, then truth has always existed. Some things we cannot know but not because they have not been revealed, but because we cannot comprehend them (Psa. 139:6). God’s thoughts are precious and many (Psa. 139:17).

Second, the truth is that if truth exists, then no category of information is exempt from it as a characterization. If science or history or geometry or religion or philosophy, etc. are actual legitimate categories of inquiry, then any real findings in each one must be described, if at all, by truth. We cannot make mental progress and cultural progress unless such is so. When Adam and Eve were told to have dominion, the implications were multitudinous (Gen. 1:28). The world was flung wide open for exploration of truth.

Third, the truth is that truth can be distinguished from fact. Fact has to do with existing conditions, circumstances, states of affairs, etc. We observe facts such as a tree that is falling. It is a fact that it is falling. It is a truth stated when I, observing the fact, declare the truth of the fact, “The tree is falling.” Truth is sometimes told of past facts, present facts, and future facts. God’s word is salvation truth in proposition form (John 17:17). Jesus was the personification of that salvation truth in human form (John 14:6).

Fourth, the truth is that truth is, as a concept, ontologically prior to falsity. A false statement cannot at all be made unless it is in conflict with an already existent truth. To say that I am not human cannot be false unless it is true to say that I am human. This is a very fundamental feature of reality of tremendous implication in the discussion of the existence of God and human ethics. The idea of “good” is ontologically prior to the idea of “evil.” There can be no objective evil unless already there is an objective Good. This means that the existence of God cannot be attacked on moral grounds (using the so-called “problem of evil”) without invoking the very existence of God in the first place! The so-called “problem of evil” is a little late in arriving for the discussion!

Fifth, the truth is that truth is in conflict with falsity. John said that “no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). This is a matter of definition. The “law of identity” would dictate in this regard that if something is true, then by definition, it cannot be false. If something is false, then by definition it cannot be true. At times because people do not know or do not want to bow to truth, they begin to play concept games with truth in an attempt to show that truth is not “fixed” as a characteristic of declarations. But it is!

Sixth, the truth is that truth fits facts as facts are. As non-facts become facts, the declaration of truth regarding those facts accurately depicts those facts. If I was not sick yesterday, then if someone says that I was sick yesterday, then he would be declaring a falsehood. However, if today I become sick, then the truth (if thought or spoken of my current condition) would state that I am sick. The facts “changed” in the sense that what was once not a fact now is one. Truth in describing the situation does not change. The facts may change, but truth correctly describing facts as facts remains the same. Truth is a constant whereas the facts are variables. Truth is consistently and permanently in harmony with the facts. Given the illustration, I can truthfully say that I was not sick yesterday. I can also truthfully say that I am sick today. The two statements could both be affirmed as truth because of the change in my condition. This is why I can say that while I was not sick yesterday, I am sick today without being at odds with myself. This would be a truthful declaration of a changed condition or circumstance. But it is not an admission that truth changed.

Seventh, the truth is that truth cannot be simply invented or imagined or “made up” so as now to exist. Truth must correspond to reality. If it does not, it attacks itself in concept because truth to be truth must be accurate. To be accurate is for it to have a relationship with what it attempts to represent. If I say that God exists, and if God exists, then my affirmation is true, but not because I invent the truth. The truth accurately or correctly represents the fact of God’s existence. Truth is the same for everyone. It is impossible for humans to have different “kinds” of truth that are in conflict with one another. If something is true, it is true for all humans. To say that something is true for every one is not a view that has always been popular, but when anyone attempts to defend the view of “partial” application of truth to humans, he is bound to go down in self-defeat since he must attempt to bolster his “partial” theory with a universal principle. In other words, when someone says that such and such may be “true” for you, but certainly is not “true” for me, the only way he can attempt to rationally justify his conclusion is to reach for a universal principle that what he just declared is true for ALL of us!

Eighth, the truth is that truth is information. This is so simple. It is so fundamental, and yet at times men fall over this truth. If God’s word is truth, then it is so because the information that God provides is correct. It is correct or accurate information, but it is information. Some brethren need to give further thought to this tremendous point. It is interesting that in 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul discussed the coming departure of the miraculous and the permanent arrival of “that which is perfect,” each of the three illustrations that he gave in verse 8 of the departing miraculous element had to do with information. God’s book is information (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Ninth, the truth is susceptible to knowledge. Jesus declared that it is possible for us to know the truth (John 8:31-32). This is so because of the very nature of truth and because of the very nature of knowledge. Knowledge is not something floating around in the atmosphere. Knowledge exists, if it exists at all, in a mind.

Tenth, the truth is then that to deny truth as existent or as susceptible to knowledge is to engage in self-contradiction. The “law of contradiction” would govern this mistake. For someone to declare, “Truth does not exist,” is unintentionally affirming what he is seeking to deny. In effect, he is saying, “It is the truth that truth does not exist.” So, he is affirming explicitly that truth does not exist while implicitly affirming that it does. This is not rational behavior.

Eleventh, the truth is that truth is not abolished or eliminated by imprecise statements. Years ago brother Thomas Warren told of an experience he had once had in being invited to speak at a college. He was discussing “the laws of thought,” and particularly the “law of excluded middle.” He affirmed “Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false.” A professor objected, saying that such was not true. Brother Warren suggested that the professor give a proposition for consideration. The professor said that it would be easy to provide the illustration. He said, “What if I say that it is raining, when it is only sprinkling?” Brother Warren answered, “If it is raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is true. If it is not raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is false.” It is a matter of definition. The definition of “raining” would govern whether the statement was true or false. This is how extraordinarily fundamental the matter of “definition” is. This account also shows the absolute necessity of our being precise in our declarations. It is possible for a person to say, “It is raining,” when it is only sprinkling WITHOUT knowing how far the definition of “raining” extends. This is why we need to work on being precise in our own statements. The “law of excluded middle” as applied to propositions applies to “precisely stated” propositions and to none other!

Twelfth, the truth is that if anything exists, ultimately there is truth about that condition because for anything to exist, God must exist, and God is eternal Mind. And a mind thinks thoughts.

Thirteenth, the truth is that truth as obligation may be limited in time as to its application, but time itself cannot alter truth. This is why God can change his pure positive laws as contrasted in the Old and New Testaments. What some men were once obligated to do that we are not to do today shows the truth of what is here being affirmed. The fact that men today must do some things not earlier required of men again illustrates while (1) truth as accuracy does not change, (2) truth as obligation can and has. God doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). This is why moral law as such cannot change and remains constant throughout Scripture, but God’s pure positive law has changed (Col. 2:14; Heb. 10:9).

Fourteenth, the truth is that truth as statement of fact corresponds to fact (in accuracy), and if facts cease being facts, the statement declaring new facts is truth governing or applied to those new facts, but that statement declaring new facts is not falsification of the truth in its relationship to former facts. For instance, if a man told me yesterday that he lives at 222 Wildwood Street, and he tells me sometime later that he lives at 555 Brownwood Street, if he told me the truth both times, it was because, as earlier explained, the facts changed. The truth that he later declared regarding his new address does not attack or cancel or falsify what he earlier told me. Truth is incapable of attacking itself. Truth cannot be correctly used against itself. Truth is coherent in all its parts. No tension exists between any two truths—ever!

Posted in Epistemology

Is It Epistemological Agnosticism Or Not?

By Mac Deaver

Recently, in response to my criticism of Derek Estes’ Master’s Thesis conclusion that certainty must be rejected from the concept of “knowledge” as an essential trait (which criticism I presented in my article, “I Am Probably Writing This Article”), I received a very cordial email from Derek. I do indeed appreciate the tone of the response.

Just here I will respond to that email.

Derek wanted “to provide just a couple of points of clarification” regarding the issue between us. I had claimed that to reject certainty as a characteristic of knowledge amounted to giving up knowledge itself. Derek had claimed that “certainty” was not an essential part of the definition of “knowledge.”

Now in response to my response, Derek in offering his clarification makes two points. His first point is to suggest that it is not the case that the only alternative to certainty is epistemological agnosticism. And his second point is to say that while he had affirmed that subjective certainty is not essential to knowledge definition, he had also claimed that knowledge was still possible if objective certainty exists.

Regarding the first point, Derek says that it is not true that the only alternative to certainty is agnosticism (and by this, he and I both are referring to epistemological agnosticism). I hasten to affirm that just here Derek is absolutely wrong. We either can know (and by this I mean know with assurance that the conviction held is correct) or we cannot know. Does Derek know that he holds the view on his concept of knowledge that he does? If he does, then I claim that he must be certain that he knows that he holds that view. How can he possibly know that he holds the view without being certain that he holds the view?

Regarding communication, let me offer just a few truths. (1) Communication (oral or written) is possible only if words have meaning. Sentences are intelligible if words or connected in such a way as to present the expression of a thought. (2) Words have meaning as we use them, thus defining them or inserting rational content into them. (3) In matters of great significance, precision of meaning or definition is necessary. (4) In everyday discourse the definition of words may be altered or refined or even changed. But with regard to the Bible, we must, in order to know what God teaches, reach the definition of the words that he used when the Holy Spirit wrote Scripture. We have to know what God originally intended. (5) So, any modification of definition today is useless if it cancels or contradicts the intended meaning of the original term in Scripture. If there were never an intended meaning of the original term, then whatever that term was, it was not a discernible word with meaning. (6) The modification of the original definition by redefinition is not mere refinement, but constitutes rather a cancellation of original meaning if in the “refinement” the originally intended meaning is denied.

But even in everyday language as well as in Sacred literature, the words “I know” and “I do not know” are used in a way that clearly distinguishes the ideas entailed in the propositions that they compose. Furthermore, the distinction that obtains between the two propositions is logically one of contradiction. And since contradictory statements cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then if one by an attempted redefinition of the word “know” attempts to deny the obvious meaning of the two contradictory statements, he is denying the contradictory nature of the concepts that the propositions express.

Now, consider the following True-False statements or propositions, remembering that every precisely stated proposition is either true or it is false per the “law of excluded middle.”

  1. T/F I know.
  2. T/F I do not know.
  3. T/F I know, and I am certain that I know.
  4. T/F I know, but I am not certain that I know (that is, I claim to know while at the same time asserting that I may not know at all).
  5. T/F I know, and I do not know.
  6. T/F I do not know, and I am certain (that I do not know).
  7. T/F I do not know, but I am not certain (that I do not know—I may, after all, know).

Now, think about these True-False statements as related to the alleged question of the existence of God. Apply these propositions to that issue. So, regarding God’s existence:

  1. T/F I know that God exists.
  2. T/F I do not know that God exists.
  3. T/F I know that God exists, and I am certain that I know that God exists.
  4. T/F I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists (that is, I claim to know while asserting that I may not know at all).
  5. T/F I know that God exists, and I do not know that God exists.
  6. T/F I do not know that God exists, and I am certain (that I do not know that God exists).
  7. T/F I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain (that I do not know that God exists; after all, I may know that God exists).

Now, keeping in mind that whatever the definition of “knowledge” is, it remains the same throughout its use in the above propositions. Let us look then at what we face.

Statements #1 and #2 cannot both be true, and they cannot both be false. One of them must be true, and one of them must be false. If one knows that God exists, it is not possible for him not to know that God exists. If he does not know that God exists, it is not possible for him (at the same time in the same way in the same sense) to know that God exists.

With regard to statements #3 and #4, whatever the legitimate definition of “knowledge” is, the word “certain” explicitly adds assurance to the claim so that the claimant is saying that he cannot be wrong about his statement: God exists, and the claimant knows it for sure. Statements #3 and #4 are also contradictory in their relationship. Both cannot be true and both cannot be false, and one of them must be true, and one of them must be false.

Now, statements #6 and #7 are both denials of the “knowledge” of God, whatever “knowledge” is. #6 is the claim that I do not have knowledge that God exists, and that I am certain that I do not have knowledge that God exits. #7 is the claim that I do not have knowledge that God exists, but that I am not certain that I do not have knowledge that God exists (after all is said and done, I may know that God exists).

The relationship between #6 and #7 is somewhat curious. #6 is the claim of the non-knowledge of God with the additional claim that the non-knowledge claim cannot be wrong. In one sense, this is a strong epistemological denial. The claimant is saying that he does not know that God exists, and he is certain of his claim that he does not know. He is not certain of God’s non-existence, but he is certain of his non-knowledge of that existence even if God’s existence is ontologically actual. He knows that he does not know that God exists.

And #7 is again the denial of the knowledge of God but with the additional explicit claim that the first claim of non-knowledge could, after all, be a false claim. He is not sure whether he does or does not know that God exists while claiming that he knows. #7 entails two claims, but both claims cannot be true and both cannot be false. #7 is irrational because it is self-contradictory. #6 is an admission that he really or assuredly or certainly knows that he does not know that God exists. Whether God exists or not, the claimant is affirming that he is not aware of conclusive proof of that existence, but he is aware of his own lack of knowledge as to the proof of that existence.

The relationship between statements #6 and #7 is also contradictory, but the contradiction appears in the last part of the compound statements. In #6, the claimant is saying that he is certain that he does not know that God exists, and in #7, the claimant is saying that he is not certain that he does not know that God exists (the implication is that he may, after all, be certain). The contradiction here appears in the claim regarding certainty. Again, #6 and #7 are contradictory in their relationship. The claimant cannot be both certain and non-certain as to his knowledge of the existence of God. Oddly, in #7, the claimant declares that since he is not certain that he knows that God does not exist, he is implying that he may “know” (whatever that word means) that God exists without at the same time realizing that he does. He knows but he does not know that he knows! This is the implication that knowledge, at least in some cases, can be a non-recognizable intellectual and psychological condition. The implication is that one can know without knowing that he knows. But this is not true. One can know something without remembering that he does, but it is impossible to know something without at the same time realizing that he does. It is impossible and thus irrational to say that I know that I am writing this article, but at the same time to say that I am not aware or do not realize with certainty that I know that I am writing this article.

Now, after all of the above analysis, look back at statements #2 (I know, but I am not certain) and #5 (I do not know, but I am not certain). By comparing these two propositions, we see the error involved in the claim that one can have knowledge without having certainty. Again, now, apply the statements to the issue of God’s existence.

  1. T/F I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists.
  2. T/F I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain that I do not know that God exists.

What do we have? We have two compound propositions. In #1, while affirming that I know that God exists, I am also denying that I am certain of the accuracy of that knowledge claim. In #2, while declaring that I do not know that God exists, I am admitting that I may be wrong with regard to my own certainty. In #1, an affirmation of knowledge is made regarding the existence of God, but the certainty regarding that knowledge of his non-existence is denied. In #2, a denial of the knowledge of God’s existence is asserted, but the certainty of the initial assertion is also denied.

Now, the question at this point is: what is the difference between the two statements regarding the definition of the word “knowledge?” If one can correctly say with regard to himself that “I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists,” and another man can just as legitimately state, “I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain that I do not know that God exists,” then where is the distinction to be made between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge”? I affirm that the rejection of “certainty” as an essential component element of knowledge is a cancellation of any meaningful distinction between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge.”

Derek says that he isn’t an epistemological agnostic because in order to be such a person, he would have to “(1) have a definition of knowledge, and (2) believe there are no beliefs that satisfy that definition,” while he on the other hand claims to have a definition of knowledge and that there are many beliefs to satisfy that definition. My response is, as argued above, that any definition of “knowledge” which so redefines that word as to obliterate the difference between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge” is not a legitimate definition of “knowledge” at all, but is rather a denial of the possibly of knowledge itself. So, to say “I know” which amounts to the linguistic equivalent of “I do not know,” is no mere redefinition of the word “knowledge.” And one gets to that point by the cancellation of “certainty” as an essential trait of knowledge itself.

Derek reminds me that he never referred to brother Warren as an agnostic, and he would rather that I not refer to him (Derek) as such. But, first of all, brother Warren was never an agnostic regarding the existence of God, and he was never an agnostic epistemologically. Derek may claim that God exists, and he can try to claim that in some sense he knows that God exists, but in his thesis he denied that the knowledge of God is possible by rejecting “certainty” as a necessary component part of its meaning. He does not realize this yet, but in rejecting “certainty,” that is what he has done. Second, Derek may never have explicitly called brother Warren an epistemological agnostic, but on page 44 of his thesis he wrote,

“…if a person is both an internalist and a foundationalist, by his own definition, he cannot actually know anything and is doomed to radical skepticism; internalist foundationalism is self-defeating with regard to the belief that a person can have knowledge of at least some of his beliefs. If one believes that knowledge is possible, internalist foundationalism cannot be the answer. Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology, as I have argued, is a version of internalist foundationalism, and as such, it is subject to the infinite regress problem. Consequently, Warren’s epistemology is doomed to radical skepticism and, by extension, agnosticism as well…”

That is certainly, by implication, a claim that Warren was, without realizing it, an epistemological agnostic! I deny the claim, but that is the very claim that I make with regard to Derek: without realizing it, he is the one who is the epistemological agnostic. Derek attempts in his thesis to show high regard for much of Warren’s work in spite of his conclusion regarding Warren’s epistemology! Something is very wrong here. I appreciate Derek’s intended declaration of admiration for brother Warren’s work, but why should Derek respect the work of Warren given the fact that one of Warren’s major efforts in life was to prove that we could know with certainty that God exists? I do not understand this. And I submit that if Derek thinks that his use of “internalism” and “foundationalism” imply that Warren was an epistemological agnostic, then the terms, as Derek conceives of them, are either (1) inaccurately or inadequately described and/or (2) wrongly applied to brother Warren.

Now, to the second point of clarification that Derek made in response to my article, Derek states,

“I should perhaps clarify what I mean when I say that certainty is not a criterion of knowledge. As I say in my thesis, my claim is that we should reject the idea that certainty, as a subjective state, is a criterion of knowledge. That is, we should reject that in order for my belief to count as knowledge, I must have subjective, internal access to reasons such that my beliefs cannot possibly be wrong. This is different, however, from saying that my belief must not be objectively certain. This is a critical distinction. Obviously for a belief to count as knowledge, it must be objectively certain; a false belief cannot count as knowledge.”

Here, of course, the difference being asserted by Derek is that between “subjective” and “objective certainty.

First of all, I’m not sure what Derek means by “objective certainty.” It seems to me that what he means is “objectively true,” but that is not what he says. “Certainty” can exist only in a mind. Technically or logically speaking, “truth” is a trait of propositions. We distinguish between “truth” and “fact.” Truth applies to things said or written (language). Facts have to do with conditions, events, states of affair, situations, etc. That is, facts are not statements as such. It is a fact that I am writing this material. It is true for me to claim in statement that I am doing so.

Now, taking Derek at his own words, I ask, where does “objective certainty” exist? Since it can only exist in a mind, and if it cannot exist in my mind (since Derek denies subjective certainty), it must exist in someone else’s mind, if, as he claims, it does actually exist. But if humans need not have subjective certainty in order to have knowledge, and if objective certainty must exist (for human knowledge to be possible, per Derek), then it must exist in God’s mind. (This would imply, by the way, that per Derek’s argumentation, if humans can have knowledge without having certainty, then such “knowledge” still could only imply God’s existence).

So, we come to the realization that for us to have the right to make a “knowledge” claim, even though we may never be certain subjectively in our own minds as to the accuracy of the claim, God alone can, given the way that Derek argues. The objective certainty exists only in the mind of God. God has certain knowledge; we have only subjective knowledge (which may or may not be accurate) but it can be accurate only if it corresponds to the objective knowledge in the mind of God. This means, of course, that there is no human knowledge at all. God is the only one who knows anything (and, of course, he does know everything). Humans know nothing. The whole enterprise of research into the area of epistemology becomes both irrational and impossible. If we cannot be certain of anything because it is merely “subjective” certainty (it is my own personal, individual confidence), then certainty is not a trait of human knowledge, but I have already exposed this conclusion as false.

Furthermore, when Derek says that “certainty” can be a trait of human knowledge but not a necessary one, he is admitting that “subjective certainty” can be accurate and justifiable in some situations so that one can rightly claim to be certain of some things. This, would, of course, apply to atheists as well as theists. If certainty can exist in some human minds in spite of the fact that the knowledge claim is only a subjective one, then atheists have as much right to claim certainty (without admitting God who has objective certainty) as theists do. Notice what Derek wrote:

“Obviously for a belief to count as knowledge, it must be objectively certain; a false belief cannot count as knowledge. (Here Derek shows that he is using “objectively certain” as a reference to “objective truth” or “objective fact,” and these do not have the same meaning as “objective certainty” MD). But as any epistemological externalist would say that does not mean I must have subjective certainty. So if an externalist claims to know God exists (as many do, by the way), this is not a claim that God probably exists. To say I know that God exists, for an externalist, is to say that God objectively exists. And likewise, if I say I know I am writing this email, it is not to say that I am probably writing this email. I am either writing this email or I am not; there is no middle ground about that proposition. It is only to say that in order for me to have knowledge that I am writing this email, it is not required that I am certain I am writing this email. Maybe I am certain I’m writing this email (for the record, I am certain I am writing this email). That’s great! But it’s not required for me to know I am actually writing this email. It is, if you will, the epistemological cherry on top, but it’s not required. Likewise, maybe a person is certain God exists. If so, that’s also great! But it is not necessary for the belief to count as knowledge; there are other, less philosophically problematic criteria for what belief counts as knowledge.”

The just quoted reference conceptionally collapses of its own accord. A belief may “count” as knowledge without its actually constituting knowledge. Derek admits that he is either writing his email or that he is not. This is correct. However, when it comes to locating his intellectual relationship to that email (that is, coming to terms with whether he actually knows that he is or is not doing so), he claims on the one hand (1) that he not only knows that he is writing it, but that he is certain that he writing it, while on the other hand claiming (2) he could claim to know that he is writing his email without being certain that he is. I deny it, and as already by means of the true-false questions/statements above discussed, I have shown that he is actually in self-contradiction with himself by denying a conceptual (substantive/content) distinction between knowing and not knowing.

Furthermore, when he says that he knew that he was writing the email and was certain of it, but that he could have known that he was writing the email without being certain of it, I would submit that an atheist could just as correctly use the concepts of “knowledge” and “certainty” to declare that (1) he knows that God does not exist and that he is certain of it, but that he just as correctly could claim that (2) he knows that God does not exist but that he could make that claim without his being certain of it. Thus, Derek’s dismissal of “certainty” as an essential trait of knowledge eliminates the distinction between a theistic atheist (a man who says that he does know that God does not exist), and a theistic agnostic (a man who says that he does not know whether God exists or not because such knowledge is impossible). So, regarding the “law of excluded middle” consider:

  1. T/F Derek knows that he was writing the email or he did not know that he was writing the email.
  2. T/F If he knew that he was writing the email, he was certain that he was writing the email (Derek claimed this).
  3. T/F If he did not know that he was writing the email, he could not be certain that he was writing the email.
  4. T/F If he was not certain that he was writing the email, he did not know that he was writing the email.

How would it be conceivable (though he claimed such could be accurate) that Derek could know that he was writing the email without being certain that he was? Such a contention, I submit, is an unintended but actual assault on the concept of human reason. Words (and thus their meanings) are being abused in order for such a position to be advocated. Language is being turned against itself; irrationality is the result.

Now, let us consider a few more True-False statements/questions that help to pinpoint the relationship between faith (belief), knowledge, and certainty as to their conceptual connection in Scripture. Consider the following:

  1. T/F Faith with certainty is or can be knowledge (Derek admits this).
  2. T/F Faith without certainty is or can be knowledge (Derek claims this).
  3. T/F With faith one can please God (Heb. 11:6).
  4. T/F Without faith one can please God.
  5. T/F Knowledge is essential to salvation (1 Tim. 2:4; John 8:32).
  6. T/F Knowledge is not essential to salvation.
  7. T/F If knowledge is not essential to salvation, then certainty is not essential to salvation.
  8. T/F If knowledge is essential to salvation, then certainty is essential to salvation.
  9. T/F If certainty is essential to salvation, then faith (belief) entails knowledge.
  10. T/F If faith without certainty is knowledge, and if faith is essential to salvation, then knowledge is not essential to salvation though faith is (that is, faith without knowledge pleases God). [But John 8:32 and 1 Tim. 2:4 show that knowledge is a requirement for salvation! See the relationship of faith (belief) and knowledge in John 6:69].
  11. T/F If knowledge is essential to salvation, and if faith is essential to salvation, then certainty is essential to salvation (cf. Acts 2:36; 13:34; 17:31; 2 Tim. 3:14; Col. 2:2; Rom. 4:16; 2 Pet. 1:10, 19).

Now, according to Heb. 6:11, Col. 2:2, and 2 Pet. 1:19, for example, we have justification for speaking of “degrees” of certainty. We do, after all, at times have the right and, perhaps, the need to ask someone, “Just how certain are you?” But we do not find in Scripture justification for non-knowledge of the saving gospel of Christ. When Derek claims that knowledge does not require certainty as an essential component part of its definition, then he eliminates any degree of it at all, and this is clearly wrong. This is where a breakdown between knowledge and non-knowledge occurs.

Finally, I would like to make an observation regarding the significance of the history of the denial of knowledge and, thus, the denial of certainty. It is interesting to me to observe the fact that by way of Abilene Christian University through the efforts of the late J. D. Thomas, longtime head of the Bible Department and much respected professor, the view was advocated that while we must have faith, we cannot have knowledge. Now more recently, by way of Abilene Christian University again and through a Master’s Thesis, the view is advocated that while we can have knowledge, that knowledge does not essentially or necessarily entail certainty. The first view (that of J. D. Thomas) states explicitly that we cannot know truth. The second view (that of Derek Estes) states implicitly that we cannot know truth by its rejection of certainty as an essential characteristic of knowledge itself. Both views were staunchly confronted and passionately refuted by Thomas B. Warren whose epistemology Estes was considering.

Posted in Epistemology

I Probably Wrote This Article (An Exposure of Epistemological Agnosticism)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a digital copy of a Master’s Thesis written for Abilene Christian University by Derek Estes. It was published in 2016. The thesis is entitled, “Epistemology in the Churches of Christ: An Analysis and Critique of Thomas B. Warren.” I was very interested in the thesis since I have long been interested in epistemology, and since brother Thomas B. Warren was a great friend of my family and a dear friend of my father, and one of my teachers. As I have stated before, other than my father, no one has influenced me more as to the work that I now try to do.

Now let me state at the beginning that I am not opposed to anyone’s analyzing the epistemology of Thomas B. Warren. And I appreciate the courtesy extended to brother Warren by Derek Estes as he writes of him. But it is the crucial mistake that Estes makes that calls forth this short piece.

This is not a lengthy analysis of Estes’ thesis. It is but a brief effort at showing why it is that Estes is very wrong to find fault with Warren’s view that knowledge entails certainty. On page 41 of his thesis, Estes states the most crucial and objectionable part of his thesis. He reaches the conclusion that Warren was wrong in his epistemology in that his view of knowledge was that knowledge is characterized by certainty. And Estes declares that the idea that knowledge entails certainty must be rejected.

This position is old, false, dangerous, and irrational. It is old in that Estes’ paper is a mere modern expression of old epistemological agnosticism. It is false because epistemological agnosticism unintentionally presupposes the possibility of knowledge in order for it to even be expressed as a legitimate epistemological position to be considered. It is dangerous because to the degree that the agnosticism is absorbed by the church, our effort at the defense of the faith is ruined. There can be no justified defense of the gospel if the gospel cannot with certainty be known. It is irrational in that the very concept of epistemological agnosticism is an unintended attack on the laws of thought (the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of contradiction, as well as the law of rationality), the laws that intuitively govern human thinking and reason. (For a good treatment of these basic principles of rationality, see Lionel Ruby’s Logic—An Introduction, pp. 262-268).

No one can be an epistemological agnostic, as Estes would have us all to be, without being irrational. And what is it that Estes leaves us with? Probability. This is the same false position taken by others before him including J. D. Thomas at Abilene Christian University years ago. One can get Thomas’ book, Facts And Faith with a copyright of 1965 and read for himself the details involved in the attempt to justify epistemological agnosticism (though Thomas never called his view that) and mere “probability” knowledge, which Thomas argued is all that we can have. Thomas, among the various errors advocated, stated, “Never will Christian faith be dissolved into complete certainty, however, and we must expect that there will always be a degree of contingency” (p. 269). Also, “If Christianity and all its demands could be proved, there would be no need for faith” (p. 269). Thomas declares, “We must remember that no philosophical or reasoned argument can absolutely prove that God exists, neither can science ever speak significantly either for or against the existence of God” (p. 234). Thomas thinks that atheists have a “faith” and that Christians have a “faith” but that the Christians’ faith is more probably correct. The Christian “…falls short of absolute certainty, but he has more certainty than anyone else. The Christian faith is the most reasonable, the most rational of all. ‘It makes more sense’ than alternative faiths, even though its extra upreach be ‘irrational’” (p. 277).

Without exploring all the errors that Thomas promoted in the field of Christian Apologetics, let it be clear that at ACU there has been a history of epistemological agnosticism long before Estes wrote his paper in another defense of it.

But now, let me briefly show why it is false to contend that knowledge does not entail certainty. This is not to say that everything we claim to know is an actual justified claim, but I am saying that a justified claim to know must entail certainty. It cannot be any other way.

What would be the conceptual distinction between knowledge and non-knowledge (ignorance) if certainty is no trait of knowledge? In other words, exactly how would one describe the difference between knowing and not knowing if certainty is not an essential characteristic of knowing?

If Estes’ view is correct that knowledge does not entail certainty, then when someone says, “I know,” he is also saying, “I am not sure.” And “I am not sure” means “I am not certain.” What does it mean to claim both that “I know” and “I am not certain”? “I am not certain” means “I do not know for sure” or simply “I do not know.” Estes creates the confusion that one can “know” without at the same time being sure that he does. But how would this constitute knowledge? If “I am not sure” can mean “I know,” then what is meant by “I am sure” and its relationship to the claim that “I know”?

Or again, if knowing does not entail certainty, then how could we rightly identify not-knowing (ignorance) from non-certainty? Can one be ignorant of something and claim knowledge of that something at the same time? Of course, he can. But can he be ignorant and claim knowledge correctly at one and the same time? Of course, he cannot, if rationality exists (that is, if a man’s mind is in intellectual reach [contact] of reality).

If one could not be certain of a knowledge claim that is inaccurate (or false), and if he cannot be certain of a knowledge claim that is accurate (or true), then there is no knowledge at all (whatever you call it or how you describe it). Man’s mind is out of touch with reality. There is no sanity; there is no reason; there is no recognizable truth.

How does the statement, “I know but I’m not sure” differ from the statement, “I don’t know”? Estes’ view is that both can be rationally uttered and that a real conceptual distinction can be drawn between them. But can it? Consider the following true-false assertions:

  1. T/F Knowledge is not knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of identity.]
  2. T/F Non-knowledge (ignorance) is not knowing [True.]
  3. T/F Knowledge is knowing without knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of contradiction.]
  4. T/F Knowledge is knowing. [True.]
  5. T/F Knowledge is knowing without evidence to justify knowing. [False. To answer “true” would be saying that guessing is equivalent to knowing.]
  6. T/F Knowledge is knowing with evidence to justify knowing. [True. Warren taught us that knowledge is “justified, true belief”.]
  7. T/F To know means to be fully and justifiably sure. [True. When one is convinced by his intellectual contact with information and that reason has reasoned correctly about it, then certainty must follow. This is the way that rationality functions.]
  8. T/F One can claim to know without being fully and justifiably sure. [True, by drawing a premature conclusion or by lying.]
  9. T/F One can claim not to know when he really does know. [True, by telling a lie or by refusing to admit the force of the laws of thought.]
  10. T/F There is no conceptual distinction between one’s making a knowledge claim while being fully and justifiably sure and making a knowledge claim while not being fully and justifiably sure. [To answer “true” is to attack all the laws of thought, thereby denying the possibility of human rationality. That is to say, if one answers “true,” he is implying that the laws of thought either do not exist or that they are not applicable to human reason. That would mean then regarding “the law of identity” that something is not itself and a true proposition is not true, and it would mean then regarding “the law of excluded middle” that it is not the case that something is or is not itself or that a precisely stated proposition is either true or false, and it would mean then regarding “the law of contradiction” that something can be and not be in the same sense at the same time or that a precisely stated proposition can be both true and false in the same sense at the same time.]
  11. T/F There is an evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiable sure. [True.]
  12. T/F If there is no evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiably sure, then there is either no such thing as knowledge or whatever “knowledge” is, it cannot be conceptually distinguished from non-knowledge (ignorance). [True.]

In further exploration of the suggestion that “probability” is what we are stuck with, let us mention that probability actually presupposes certainty just as evil presupposes good and falsehood presupposes truth. There is no getting around this. The very idea that one cannot know (for sure) anything is preposterous because the claim being made, to be considered as a serious suggestion at all, first of all must be an actual and recognizable claim (or, a claim that is fully and justifiably recognized to be a claim being made). And, furthermore, the claim to be considered as a serious suggestion presupposes that the claim has been made. Claims do not make themselves! When someone says that he is probably correct (but that such a conclusion is the best that he or anyone else can do), he is also affirming that he, himself, has made the claim. If he is asked if he is certain that he has made the claim, he either answers in the affirmative or the negative. If he answers affirmatively, he is in self-contradiction to his claim. If he answers negatively, he admits that his claim is not merely a probability claim but that it is worthless for it cannot ever be known for sure to be true.

We all need to understand that the affirmation of a probability claim is at the same time an admission of the possibility of the accuracy of the contradictory. In other words, to claim that God probably exists is to admit at the same time that it is possibly true that God may not exist at all. So, to affirm that some proposition is probably true is to affirm at the same time that, after all, it may be false.

It is sometimes said that the “God Question” (Does God exist?) is the most important question that there is. But this is not true. It is true to say that God is the most important entity in ontology (reality), but the most important question is whether or not we can have knowledge (whether he exists or not). What would our position be if God exists, but we are incapable of knowing it? Our agnostic brethren think we are still all right. But they are wrong—seriously wrong!

If someone claims that all we have is “probability” truth and “probability” knowledge and that he can say such because he has only probability knowledge with regard to his own state, we reply that he is merely playing games with himself and is implicitly denying the very laws of thought by which he is able to make a recognizable claim in the first place.

Let us raise a few more questions for Derek Estes:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, know (I am certain and cannot be wrong about it) that I wrote a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not know (I am not certain and may be wrong in my view) that I did write a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.

Now, if Estes says that #1 is true, then he denies what he affirmed in his criticism of Thomas B. Warren (that is, instead of rejecting the idea of certainty as a characteristic or trait of knowledge, he now accepts it). But if he says that #2 is true, he is calling into question his own conscious awareness. He is consciously denying awareness of which he is aware. He is employing his own self-consciousness to deny itself. This is not only simply epistemological agnosticism regarding the existence of God, but with regard to everything including himself. This is an unintended attack on human sanity! Furthermore, he is caught in an ontological contradictory state. While being fully and justifiably aware that he wrote the paper (since he remembers doing it), he must now claim, to be consistent with his rejection of certainty as a characteristic of knowledge, that he is not sure that he wrote it.

But what if he tried to stay consistent and suggested that he is not really sure that he wrote his paper because, after all, memory can fail us? Well, let us see—

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, remember writing the paper.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not remember writing the paper.

Surely, he will claim #1 to be true or render himself ridiculous. But what if he says that the claim is still not certain because at times we think we remember what we only imagine, and sometimes we do not remember what, in fact, we have done. Well, we could then ask Derek if he is certain about this analysis. That is, we could ask him if he is sure or certain that at times we think we remember only what we imagine, and that at times we fail to remember what we have done. If he kept on claiming only “probability” knowledge, he would increasingly remove himself further and further from cognitive reality and from being taken seriously at all. He would be entrenching himself deeper and deeper in his unintended and confused attack on human rationality and the very concept of sanity itself. When one unintentionally attacks the “laws of thought” he is destroying the distinction between sanity and insanity! He is denying human rationality. He is attacking the relationship that exists between evidence and perception, conception, and reason. The reason that one cannot be aware of his own insanity (that is, to be actually insane is to be in a psychological condition that is not recognized for what it is) is that the laws of thought make sanity possible. One cannot “make sense” out of his insanity if he is really insane.

Now, what if Estes were to attempt to modify his view and dodge the force of the above true-false questions by saying that, in further consideration, we do have the right to claim absolute and infallibly correct knowledge (knowledge about which we cannot be wrong) about some conclusions empirically derived (that is, information that we receive through the five senses), but that we still cannot be sure about anything that is beyond the physical (which would entail any conclusion about God)? We would then affirm that this simply is not true, and its falsity is delivered via its own content.

Let us imagine that Derek were to modify his view and suggest that some things derivable from the five senses provide us with information so that we can make knowledge claims that are certain. (It might be good in passing to note that J. D. Thomas admitted, and rightly so, that science can provide us with no certain knowledge. Warren taught his students why this is so. The scientific method entails an invalid argument form. [See Ruby, pp. 274-276]).

But what if Estes were to change his mind and suggest that science can provide certain knowledge, but that since God is not the object of the scientific method, his existence (if he does exist) cannot with certainty be known? Consider the situation that he would then face:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, now realize that we can have some knowledge about some things but that the knowledge claims that we can make with certainty have to do with the physical and not with the metaphysical.
  2. T/F Since, God, if he exists, would not be physical, then his existence or non-existence cannot be known.

But do you see, dear reader, the problem with such a scenario? If one were to attempt to claim that all knowledge claims that are certain are restricted to the empirically derivable, then we would have to reject this theory of restriction that says certainty is possible only with physically derivable information (information derived through one of the five senses), since the theory itself is not derivable from such a source. It is a theory not received through one of the five senses. In other words, it is a metaphysical theory that contradicts itself!

Finally, let us observe that the nature of “probability” is such that it does not and cannot exist in external ontology. It is an intellectual calculation and as such exists in the mind only. Nothing occurring in nature does so by probability. “Probability” is an intellectual conclusion reached and exists in the mind of man. To affirm as the Bible clearly does that some things happen by chance (Eccl. 9:11; Luke 10:31-32) is not at all the equivalent of claiming that things that happened by chance only probably happened. To say that some things in the future will happen by chance is not to say that they will probably happen.

Also, we must remember that when we are talking about the existence of God, we are not talking about Someone whose existence could be merely an ontological possibility or a declared probability. As Anselm rightly claimed, God is the One greater than whom cannot possibly be conceived. “The non-existence, then, of that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable” (The Ontological Argument, edited by Alvin Plantinga, p. 18). He also said,

If it should be said that a being than which a greater cannot be conceived has no real existence, or that it is possible that it does not exist, or even that it can be conceived not to exist, such an assertion can be easily refuted. For the non-existence of what does not exist is possible, and that whose non-existence is possible can be conceived not to exist. But whatever can be conceived not to exist, if it exists, is not a being than which a greater cannot be conceived; but if it does not exist, it would not, even if it existed, be a being than which a greater cannot be conceived” (Ibid., p. 20).

It is true that Thomas B. Warren never did, in his formal encounter with Antony Flew, invoke the ontological argument of Anselm. He knew of the controversial history of that argument, but he also believed that a correct formulation of that ontological argument could be made. I know this is so because some time later I asked him about it. And even though he used only the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, and the moral argument for the existence of God in his debate with Flew, when he used the word “God,” he was employing a term that, to him, necessarily or essentially had certain characteristics and whose existence was absolutely necessary (ontologically essential).

It would be good for us all to remember that on Wednesday night of the Warren-Flew debate in Denton, Texas, that Warren’s first true-false question for Flew was: “It is possible for God to be infinite in some of his attributes and finite in others.” Flew inaccurately and irresponsibly answered “True” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 149).

Warren in response to such an answer replied, “I suggested a moment ago that Dr. Flew and I then are talking about different Gods. The God I am defending in this debate is infinite in all of his attributes” (Ibid.).

Warren was defending the concept of an infinite God! Under tremendous pressure, however, Flew began to deny the existence of a mere finite god, just as under pressure he began to advocate epistemological agnosticism rather than atheism! Flew began in the debate to relinquish bold atheism for a weak agnosticism. Unfortunately, Estes in his rejection of “certainty” is attempting to get us all to reject Warren’s bold claim by which Warren moved Flew from atheism to agnosticism! Of course, if Warren had believed what Estes has now concluded, he would never have defended the existence of God in formal academic combat with such a world renowned atheist as at the time Antony Flew was. Warren would never have been able to rout Antony Flew with the seeming ease that he did. When Flew years later surrendered his atheism for some form of theism, he referred to his encounter with Warren, but I do not think that he gave enough credit to Warren for Flew’s later shift in thought from atheism to, at least, some kind of theism. (See There Is A God—How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind, pp. 67-69).

Warren believed and willingly affirmed in his 1976 debate with Antony Flew: “I Know That God Does Exist” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 131), and by “know,” among other things, he meant that he was certain! And he proved in that extraordinary discussion that he had a right and an obligation to be.

Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Evolution, Metaphysics

The Illusion of the Unattended Brain

In an effort to ground morality in science, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, wrote a book published in 2010 entitled The Moral Landscape with the accompanying cover description: “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” Also on the front cover, Sam Harris is touted as “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Sam Harris is not shy about either attacking religion or about extending the traditional role of science. Having plodded through the book, in keeping with the way that Sam explains his nature and condition as well as that of the rest of the human species, I can now say that Sam is a bold brain, but I can’t say anything else if I remain within the confines of Sam’s own description of himself and the rest of us. If you have read the book or if you follow along in this paper, you should soon see what I mean.

Sam Harris attempts to build a case for ethics based completely on the physical nature of man as an evolved species on this earth. Without evolution as theoretical background and the all encompassing presupposition as the explanation for the existence of mankind, Sam’s argumentation for scientific ethics has nothing to offer, but with it, he thinks that he can argue rationally for an ethical approach to life based simply on a greater understanding of the human brain and its relationship to events in the world. But can he?

Interestingly, a reader does not get far into the text before he realizes that Harris tries, in one sense, to “distance” himself from evolution. He writes, “As with mathematics, science, art, and almost everything else that interests us, our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution” (14). But just what in the world does that mean? How have we humans “flown the perch” that evolution built? Sam doesn’t tell us. But given the fact that he says such a thing impresses me that there is something incongruent about the concept of evolution and the concept of meaning and morality that Sam Harris recognizes. And it is a problem for him throughout his effort to base morality on physicality. Look at the situation like this. When Sam says that we humans have “flown the perch built by evolution” I submit to the reader that since he surely is trying to say something meaningful, that he is either saying:

  • (1) Evolution is false, so we need to distance mankind from it in making the case for evolutionary ethics; or
  • (2) Evolution is irrelevant to the discussion of evolutionary ethics; or
  • (3) Evolution is inadequate as a justification of any evolutionary ethical theory.

I know he not claiming (1) evolution is false, because to the end of the book he stays attached to the claim of its scientific accuracy. I know he is not claiming (2) evolution is irrelevant because throughout the book he constantly employs the concept to bolster his thesis. I conclude that he is conceding, without intending to, that there is something awfully incoherent about conceptually connecting the concept of morality to mere apes. And if the reader thinks that I am being too hard on Sam for referring to people as “apes,” simply read the book and see how many times he uses the word or some synonym or similar expression to describe the human family. His is simply another sad effort at building a case with a missing link. Somehow and in some way (isn’t it strange), Sam thinks that human concern with meaning and morality go beyond the purview of evolution (the expression “flown the perch” has to have some application), and yet throughout the book he writes as though there is perfect harmony between the concept of organic evolution including the evolving of apes to men and the concept of human morality.

Harris chides fellow scientists for claiming that science has nothing to say about morality, and he claims that he has found the explanation as to why science can say something about it after all. It is his contention that facts cannot be separated from value. We all know that scientific work is in the field of empirical discovery. Science attempts to tell us about facts. But, Harris claims, that values are attached to facts, so that if science can tell us what the facts are, it can tell us something about what the values are. And if we know the correct values regarding facts, we can more adequately choose correctly in making our moral decisions.

Of course, Harris’ thesis is that since we cannot separate facts from value and since science is in the business of discovering and reporting the facts, that science then is equally in the business of being able to tell us what the value of the facts are. But, it must not go unsaid, that Harris’ whole case is based on his unproven and unprovable notion that all “facts” are physical ones. This is necessary to the proving of his thesis, but he never does, and he never can prove that only empirically derivable conclusions reached in a scientific laboratory qualify as “facts.” This is what he assumes but cannot prove, and in his book he never seriously tries to do so. He simply writes his book while granting that most Americans still do not believe the theory of evolution, as if they should. He never attempts to prove the theory at all, but takes it as a scientifically established fact. But, here Harris is very wrong. The fact is, that evolution as an explanation for the arrival of the human species has never been proven. Furthermore, given the nature of science and the nature of origins (including the origin of man), such a discussion of the origin of man and the morality of man is outside the scope of science anyway.

On the first night of the four night public debate in 1976 between Thomas B. Warren (theist) and Antony G. N. Flew (at the time a world renowned atheist, but who later disavowed atheism), Warren gave Flew the following True-False question:

  • T/F Value did not exist before the first human being.

Flew answered the question “True” and wrote on the paper that value was a function of the human mind (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 15 and APPENDIX). In his first speech on Monday, Warren pointed out that Flew’s answer to the question meant that since Flew was claiming that value did not exist before the first human did, then value itself was simply a function of the human mind. And that meant that the concept of “value” then is reduced to the subjective likes and dislikes of a person. Warren likened it to “liking or not liking spinach” (Warren-Flew, p. 15). This means that according to Flew’s answer, he was unfortunately taking the position that when men approve of something or disapprove of something, that in saying it is “right” or “wrong” they are simply expressing their likes and dislikes. In Philosophy, that view is described as “the emotive theory” of ethics.

Of course, since Sam Harris is here either by creation or evolution, and since he asserts that he (as well as the rest of us) is here via evolution, he has no basis upon which to dignify the concept of “value” or “morality” that gives it the objective meaning or status that he wants it so desperately in his book to entail. He wants so badly to argue for some kind of “objective” ethics based on some things that humans have in common which tend toward general human well-being. But all of his argumentation amounts to nothing when one considers that “value” is simply an invention of the human mind per evolutionary theory. And that means that “morality” is a merely human invention, too. So regardless what Sam Harris’ thesis is as to how to go about establishing a good evolutionary ethic, it all amounts to the fact that Sam Harris is simply providing us via his book with his own personal wish for the world as he would like it to be. But that is as high a standing in “value” as his thesis can acquire. It represents Sam’s effort at getting his way because the world as he envisions it is the world he wants. It is made up of things he likes. And it is true that a lot of what he likes, others like, too. But that is no basis of morality. And Harris even admits that a view is not established as true by its numerical support. Hear him:

Does a lone psychotic become sane merely by attracting a crowd of devotees? If we are measuring sanity in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, then atheists and agnostics in the United States must be delusional: a diagnosis which would impugn 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences” (Landscape, 157, 158).

So, while on the one hand Harris recognizes that any particular viewpoint is not established as actually true simply by counting the number of people who support it, yet on the other hand he does argue for a theory of ethics which is based on the overall well-being of or happiness of “the greatest number of people” (Landscape, 28 ). So, regarding ethical theory, numbers do count after all! This is just one of many incoherencies in the development of his thesis.

Thus, basing ethics on the well-being of the greatest number, Harris is ethically a “utilitarian.” Regarding the question of God’s existence, he is an atheist. In fact, he is an atheistic neuroscientist whose view is that science and religion are antagonistic (158-176). They cannot be reconciled. Regarding politics, he says he is a liberal (90), and concerning his origin and nature, he is a self proclaimed ape (2, 114). I am not making this up! He does have a doctoral degree, however, but how impressive should that be among apes? So, the book is the product of an atheistic ape who is attempting to tell the rest of us apes how science, a discipline invented by apes, can help apes live happier lives. Are you following this?

Now, let us get back to the massive wall over which Harris attempts to climb in his effort to establish a science of morality. He does not accept the conclusion of the famous Scottish skeptic, David Hume, who pointed out many years ago that no one can get “ought” from “is.” And to attempt to do so is to commit what has come to be called the “naturalistic fallacy.” Harris thinks that Hume was simply wrong (38). He contends that there is a way for science (which describes to us what our world is) to tell us something of how we ought to act in it. But, we respond, it is just not possible!

Several years before he met Warren in public debate, the then atheist Antony G. N. Flew wrote a little book entitled Evolutionary Ethics. It was published in 1967, and he debated Warren in 1976. In his book, Flew affirmed that one simply could not get from “is” to “ought” in an evolutionary world. He sided with Hume. Flew quoted from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature:

In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with I have always remarked that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought or ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence….” (Evolutionary, 38).

According to Flew, Hume took the position that “value” was a projection of the human mind onto the things that are being valued. Rather than value existing in the thing itself, value was the position or status granted it by the mind. Mind gave value to the thing rather than the thing’s having a value that presented itself to the mind. This, of course, meant that “value” was not objective. Value was not a characteristic of the thing but rather a propulsion of the mind onto the thing. Mind created value. Flew described Hume’s view as being,

that values are not any sort of property of things in themselves, but that they are in some way a projection out on to the things around us of human needs and human desires. (One resulting problem, more obvious perhaps to us than to Hume, is that of explaining how values can be in some such fundamental way dependent on, and some sort of function of, human needs and human desires, without its thereby becoming the case that some purely descriptive statements about what people do want or would want must entail consequences about what ought to be” (Evolutionary, 39).

And let it be noted that between 1967 and 1976, Flew had not found the answer to that problem! He recognized a great philosophical difficulty for evolutionary theory and ethics. And he never reconciled the two. He saw the problem; he had no answer.

In his third affirmative speech on Monday night of his debate with Warren, Flew said with regard to value: “I can not give a complete account of the nature of value and particularly of moral value, which I regard as even halfway satisfactory…The general line I want to take, as I think all humanists do, is that value is somehow—somehow—a function of human desires, human wishes, and so on…” (Warren-Flew, 43).

Flew went on to suggest that moral value was somewhat like the market value of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle, and he maintained the likeness throughout the discussion (43, 184, 201). Flew maintained this likeness because he thought it illustrated to him how that moral value (1) was on the one hand a product of human desire—someone’s interest in buying a Volkswagen, and yet (2) on the other hand, the price was not determined simply by any one person’s desire. A man couldn’t buy a 1974 Volkswagen for a price that his desire set or determined. The market price decided what the man must pay.

But in is fourth affirmative on Thursday night, Warren responded:

But I have a question for Dr. Flew along that line: if the Volkswagen is worth $500.00 at one place and $1,000.00 at another place, how is the actual or real value of the car to be decided? Or, does it have any real value? Now, if your illustration is worth anything at all, it will have to have some real value, or else you will have to say that no human being has any real value, and you will have joined the Nazis in a thorough-going way to say that the Jewish people did not have any real value (only a market value that might fluctuate up and down and therefore would be worth nothing under the regime of the Nazis). Dr. Flew, you ought to think those illustrations through before you give them” (Warren-Flew, 186, 187).

Flew responded in his fourth negative that night, “I hope that I did not confuse people about this. Of course I do not think that moral value is in all respects like market value. One terribly important dissimilarity is precisely that market value does vary very freely with a place and time” (Warren-Flew, 201). Flew simply reiterated his point that at least the illustration presented a situation in which value was the product of human desire and yet one man’s desire did not determine what the value of the car would be. However, he was stuck with an illustration that, if like moral value, allowed for a relativistic view of ethics.

The sad thing is that Sam Harris concedes the whole point that, granted evolutionary theory as the accurate explanation for the arrival of the human species, we are stuck with evolutionary value. That is, we are in a situation such that moral values can change! So, on the one hand Harris says that “morality can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creations” (Landscape, 64); on the other hand he grants that what makes conscious creatures happy will not necessarily remain the same (84). And, of course, he has no way of countering Flew’s contention that science alone cannot tell us that what humans do, in fact, currently desire is what they ought to desire.

So, it is clear that, given evolution, there can be no such thing as “objective” ethics or, to put it another way, there can be no such thing as an act that is intrinsically good (that is, good in and of itself) or an act that is intrinsically evil. And yet Harris, while admitting this, continues to attempt to establish an evolutionary ethic. In fact, Harris concedes that, given evolutionary theory, it is possible that the science of morality may eventuate into perhaps a contradictory kind of morality so that what is now seen as good could be later viewed otherwise. Listen to Harris:

But what if advances in neuroscience eventually allow us to change the way every brain responds to morally relevant experiences? What if we could program the entire species to hate fairness, to admire cheating, to love cruelty, to despise compassion, etc. Would this be morally good? Again, the devil is in the details. Is this really a world of equivalent and genuine well- being, where the concept of ‘well-being’ is susceptible to ongoing examination and refinements as it is in our world? If so, so be it. What could be more important than genuine well-being?” (Landscape, 84).

Wow! Per Harris, if it turns out that current good is eventual evil and that current evil is eventual good, so be it! Of course, whether current or eventual, his ethical utilitarian theory is that if most people gain happiness by an act, that act is “good.” So, even now (much less later), if a majority of people would gain overall well-being and happiness from an act that gets rid of the minority, such would be good! Flew had no way of overcoming this objection to his concept of ethics; Harris has no answer either. Harris says that if the brain can be changed to look at ethics differently, that is the way that it will be. “The devil is in the details,” he says. No, the devil is behind the very idea of trying to justify ethics without God!

Of course, Harris goes on to express the view that a radical change in the way that we currently look at ethics is not likely to happen, but the fact that he allows for this is a tremendous insight into his theory of ethics. He is advocating “relative” ethics rather than “absolute” ethics, and by his imagination, he has treated us to his view that that is the nature of ethics. And that means that there is no such thing as an absolutely good act or an absolutely bad act! Consider the following:

  • T/F 1. An act is intrinsically good or evil in and of itself (Sam Harris says “False” because an act is only “good” if it contributes to the overall well-being of the majority of the people).
  • T/F 2. The Nazi killing of the Jews in World War II was an intrinsically evil act. (Sam Harris would have to say “False” since no act to him is an intrinsically evil act. And there are conceivably circumstances in which the annihilation of the Jews would contribute to the happiness or over all well-being of a majority of people in a nation or in the world).

Consider that Harris in a footnote bemoans the current standing of atheists in American society. He claims that “atheists are the most stigmatized minority in the United States—beyond homosexuals, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Asians, or any other group” (Landscape, 234, 235). Then, I humbly ask, is it conceivable that we could reach a moment in our history in which the killing of atheists (on the grounds that they are atheists) would be acceptable ethical practice if the majority of Americans and/or the majority of all men deemed that the happiness of most men would be enhanced? According to the basis of Harris’ concept of ethics, neither he nor any other man would be able to pronounce such killing at such time as intrinsic evil! In fact, according to “utilitarian” ethics, such killing would be the right thing to do!

But now, consider the following statement from Harris: “I believe that we will increasingly understand good and evil, right and wrong, in scientific terms, because moral concerns translate into facts about how our thoughts and behaviors affect the well-being of conscious creatures like ourselves” (Landscape, 62). Now, regarding the quotation please notice the following:

  • Sam expects more of us in the future to accept the concept of good and evil as a scientific matter.
  • There are no moral concerns outside the realm of facts (which to Sam must be empirical).
  • Our thoughts and behaviors are determined by empirical facts only.
  • We are conscious creatures.
  • Sam believes this.

Now, dear reader, what you need to see at this point is that the above affirmations are reducible to the last one: Sam said, “I believe that….” We could give attention to each part of the quotation, but such is not necessary because of the relationship that Sam Harris has to the claims. Who believes the assertions? Sam Harris says that he does. Well, who is Sam Harris? And amazingly throughout the book he writes (1) as though a real person named Sam Harris exists who is, in some way, ontologically distinguishable from mere matter while all the time (2) attempting to convince us that neither Sam Harris nor any of the readers actually exists! Do you think that I have simply misread Sam Harris? Follow closely.

To assert that men are simply instances of conscious matter is incredibly self-contradictory. “Consciousness” is not a material property! It is not simply an empirical characteristic of anything. And consciousness has never been found in science (or anywhere else) capable of expressing itself without rationality. Apes have feelings, but apes cannot articulate those feelings in language. And language requires thought. Consciousness cannot express itself without thought. Animal life can express itself by mere animation (movement). But consciousness to express itself beyond movement requires thinking.

But, Sam Harris claims that all thoughts are merely and exhaustively empirically driven or produced. In other words, Sam attributes human thought completely to the human brain! And the brain is simply conscious matter. There is no “real” person attending the brain. The brain, according to Sam Harris, is an unattended physical organ that produces the “mind” with its thoughts and intentions! Furthermore, he (Sam Harris) as a neuroscientist studies the brain, and having studied the brain a lot (to the reception of a doctoral degree), he is now in position to tell us that there is no real Sam Harris! Furthermore, anyone reading his book needs to read it while recognizing that not only is Sam Harris nonexistent, but that the reader is equally ontologically unavailable! And all the while this conceptual and linguistic joke is carried on as though it has real scientific merit. Listen to Sam:

Your ‘self’ seems to stand at the intersection of these lines of input and output. From this point of view, you tend to feel that you are the source of your own thoughts and actions. You decide what to do and not to do. You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. As we will see, however, this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain” (Landscape, 102).

Again, “All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion” (Landscape, 103). Again, “From the perspective of your conscious mind, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world” (Landscape, 104). Sam claims that “thoughts arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions” (Landscape, 105).

Dear reader, can you (and I mean the real YOU) believe it? You may ask, “Well, if no one is responsible for his own thoughts, then who is doing the thinking? Sam would have “us” to believe that the brain is the thinker! Per Sam Harris, the brain produces what “we” think of as the mind and its thoughts. “Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc. are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world” (Landscape, 105).

So, there you have it. It is not simply true that the real, personal, spiritual, metaphysical, ontologically distinguishable, Sam Harris has disappeared, but that, according to Sam Harris (whoever that is), there has never been a Sam Harris. But still, “we” have to account for Sam’s thoughts. Well, that is attributed to “Sam’s” brain. Sam is claiming that he is brain. He is conscious matter. But the conscious matter is not personally attended. It is still matter only that somehow in evolution reached a level of consciousness. And now at that level of consciousness, the brain all alone and unattended produces thoughts which express themselves at times in actions.

Dear reader, can you believe such? Of course, it never dawned on Sam that as he was writing his book and trying to inform us all that “we” do not exist but rather that our “brains” are the existent empirical entities that alone are responsible for our thoughts, that he was at cross purposes with himself. First consider the following:

  • T/F 1. I, Sam Harris, am a person ontologically (in the nature of being) distinguishable from my material body (Sam says “False). Per Harris, there is no immortal soul (Landscape, 110).
  • T/F 2. I, Sam Harris, am my brain and body, and my brain is physically distinguishable from the rest of my body (Sam would say True).
  • T/F 3. While I, Sam Harris, am composed of brain and body, it is “my” brain that is responsible for all my thoughts and intentions. (Sam says True).

Now, dear reader, please look at #3 again. The word “my” is placed in quotations because the sentence is written as though Sam somehow exists apart from body and brain, but according to Sam, he clearly does not. Furthermore, he writes this way throughout his book. He writes as though he has a real metaphysical status and that his readers have an actual metaphysical status while all the time attacking the very concept of anyone’s having real metaphysical status.

Please consider the difficulties that one faces when attempting to deny himself (that he actually has a metaphysical existence). Consider the following statement:

I, Sam Harris, deny myself.

The sentence makes sense in that it is pieced together with words each of which has meaning, and the whole of the arrangement seems to be stating a complete thought. However, the sentence does not make sense conceptually. For example, when we consider what is being affirmed and what is being denied, we must face the fact that either (1) the “I” (whoever it is) has to exist in order to make the denial of oneself, or (2) the “myself” has to exist in some sense in order to be denied. So the “I” must be here as denier or the “myself” must be here as the one to be denied. If one says, well, the answer is that the “myself” is not here for it is the very thing being denied, so far so good, it would seem. However, the denial itself must be attached to the “I” in order for the denial to be made. The brute fact is that there is no denial being made at all if someone is not making the denial and neither is someone being denied.

Furthermore, since Harris denies that he exists as an “immortal soul,” then let us consider a further difficulty. When he says that he does not exist, we then face the following possibilities. It is either the case that:

(1) a soul is denying itself; or

(2) a soul is denying its body (including brain); or

(3) a brain is denying its soul; or

(4) a brain is denying its body (including itself).

Since Harris denies having a soul, obviously then he cannot be meaning either (1) or (2). A soul cannot be doing anything since it simply is not there. So he cannot possibly be meaning that a soul is either the “one” (a metaphysical being) denying self or denying its body. So (1) and (2) are out of the issue. If it is then suggested that Sam means (3), that would mean then that a brain would be denying its soul. But since, per Harris, a brain has no soul, how could and why would a brain do that? How can a merely physical organ deny an ontological attachment to a metaphysical entity? A gall bladder can’t do that, nor a liver, nor a lung, nor a physical heart, etc. How is it possible for a merely physical organ, derived from an evolutionary background to go into the negative in describing its own nature? Can an empirical entity create the metaphysical category only to deny that it has any occupancy? And by the way, how would a mere brain know that anyone had ever accused it of having any attachment to a metaphysical entity in the first place? Such would be absolutely absurd!

Either a brain is not a purely physical organ (this, Sam as an evolutionist would deny), or it must be in some way connected to a metaphysical entity that is utilizing it in denying whatever it is that is being denied!

Harris has a personally unattended brain saying that it has no association with or connection to a soul. And, per Harris, the brain’s thoughts are not metaphysical constructs but rather are physiologically driven. Thoughts are the products of the mind which is the product of the brain. Thoughts, anyway, are simply like gas that has escaped the brain. We might say that his view more or less means that a brain merely “erupts” into thoughts. There is no purpose to them nor design for them. They are random secretions for which no person whatever is responsible!

Remember, he has told that “the conscious mind cannot be the source of its own thought and intentions” (Landscape, 216). And furthermore, he says, “Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me” (Landscape, 104).

And that leaves us with (4): a brain is denying its body (including itself). When Sam Harris claims that he does not exist, he must be telling us that he as a brain is denying that the brain is there (with its body or that the body is there with its brain). But we know that Sam can’t mean to be suggesting (4) because that would mean that the brain is denying itself. And Sam in the book is quite insistent to claim that it is only the brain (with accompanying physical body) that does exist, and that the brain alone is “responsible” for thinking! Each of the four theoretical possibilities is thus eliminated from what Sam could actually be meaningfully saying. Regardless what with his incongruent combination of language and concepts he is attempting to do, the elimination of each possibility shows us that no one can rationally deny himself! And yet the ethic proposal that Sam proposes in his book is grounded in this irrational attempt!

But all the way through his book, Sam is taking the brain as being there and the metaphysical soul as not. He writes, “It seems to be that few concepts have offered greater scope for human cruelty than the idea of an immortal soul that stands independent of all material influences, ranging from genes to economic systems” (Landscape, 110). First, let it be said that without that immortal soul Sam can’t be rationally calling in question the existence of anything, much less himself! Dirt can’t deny the existence of dirt! Apes can’t deny the existence of apes, and they can’t even try.

Only metaphysical entities attached to empirical substance or form or bodies can have the capacity on this earth to deny one or the other of their conceptually distinguishable natures (physical or metaphysical). A purely physical entity has no ontological capacity to deny anything. Only a metaphysical entity has capacity to affirm and deny. Second, Sam is critical of the existence of any independent immortal soul that is not under the influence of “material influences.” But let it be said just here that we theists recognize that the mind or soul currently utilizes the brain. And any damage to the brain certainly can have a significant effect on the mind and its capacity to think. If the brain is the organ that the mind uses (as opposed to the liver, gall bladder, etc.), then any damage to the brain can certainly affect what the mind can or cannot currently accomplish. No one denies this that I know. But that is certainly not the same thing as to claim that there is no metaphysical mind as is proven by the fact that brain study has determined that a damaged brain affects thinking.

Sam Harris has studied the human brain a lot. But Sam has drawn some conclusions regarding human nature, the nature of truth, and the nature of morality that simply cannot be rightly deduced from that study. His denial of himself cannot “square” with his empirical investigation of the human brain. Someone is doing that study. But according to Sam it is merely one brain looking at another brain, and when thoughts are produced, they are unauthored by a person and no person is responsible for them. Notice the following:

  • T/F 1. Sam Harris as a metaphysical soul within a physical body is responsible for his book. (Sam says False).
  • T/F 2. Each reader of Sam’s book is a metaphysical soul within a physical body who is responsible for what he does with Sam’s book (Sam says False).
  • T/F 3. Sam Harris’ brain is alone responsible for Sam’s thoughts which in an “unauthored” way has provided us with Sam’s book (Sam tries to justify this as True though it is a self-contradictory affirmation).
  • T/F 4. Some unidentified brain produced the mind which produced the thoughts which produced the book called The Moral Landscape, attributed to Sam Harris as author (According to Harris’ argumentation as to the nature of man [he is a completely physical entity], this would be True).
  • T/F 5. The “people” who “read” Sam’s book are actually (according to Sam’s view of human nature) only other unidentified brains that produce minds which produce thoughts which produce action, so that only unidentified brains are “responsible” for minds allegedly produced by them (True, if Sam Harris’ view of human nature is correct).

A conscious mind cannot be held responsible, Sam tells us (Landscape, 216). Furthermore, he says that our thoughts are not even “authored.” Remember, he has told us that “…thoughts simply arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions (Landscape, 105). On the cover of The Moral Landscape we find these words describing Sam Harris: “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Therefore, even though Sam Harris is an “author” of books, he assures us that his thoughts have no author other than a personally unattended brain. Believe it who can! How can such drivel be allowed such publication and distribution for public consumption? It is as though Sam is telling us and trying to convince us that our situation is comparable to one computer communicating with other computers, telling them how they ought to act. And there is no “one” in the picture except computers. There is no “mind” behind the brain which uses the brain. There is no Maker of the mind but Sam knows that there can only be a computer and correspondence carried on between computers if someone made the computers and if someone uses the computers. But irrationally, Sam contends the situation is otherwise for the, according to him, evolutionarily developed human species!

Curiously, and without any evidence to support his theory, Harris attributes all thought to a physical organ that is metaphysically unattended, and Sam Harris intellectually attacks any concept of personal moral responsibility! Somehow our moral world is going to be improved when we all face up to what this neuroscientist is telling us: No real person is responsible for anything. Only a brain is! Remember, Harris contends that a “person” is no more responsible for his thoughts and actions than he is for being born into this world (Landscape, 104). As it turns out, given the explanation of the human situation according to Sam Harris, ethics has nothing whatever to do with personal responsibility! Now, there is your ape morality! And mixing such absolute fiction with some sort of “moral guidance” direction for the further development of the human species cannot save it from its on self-destruction.

There are many more very serious mistakes made in the book, The Moral Landscape. But we will not go into the exposure of every wrong turn that Sam took in arriving at his current confusion and explanation regarding morality. Once we see how the foundation for the theory (that science can determine human values) is based on such ontological self-contradiction, we see that everything else to be discussed is peripheral and secondary.

The very idea of a self-styled ape trying to convince other alleged apes how to live is laughable. And while I do sympathize with Sam in his horror over evil done in the name of religion, I cannot sympathize with him in a solution that embodies such incoherence and self-contradiction. And who among us can accurately apprise the misery caused in this nation already over the pseudo-scientific advocacy of organic evolution in its expression of current immorality? Sam incoherently warns us against self-deception (Landscape, 163, 176), all the while assuring us that there is no actual ontological “self” to be deceived! Such confusion is no help in trying to contribute to a better world.

It Is Only My Brain Talking

He said to me that he is not here.
“Who is not here?” I replied.
“Me,” he said as if unaware
That his denial had just been denied!

“If you are not here,” my inquiry began,
“To whom shall I make my reply?”
Someone responded (and I’m not really sure who),
“Me,” without blinking an eye.

“But how can I talk to you when you’re not here?”
“It is merely my brain,” he said with a smile.
“But how can that be?” I asked in response.
He said, “It’s been that way all the while.”

“Your brain? I asked with a skeptical look.
How can that possibly be?
The brain cannot be ‘your’ brain at all
For you just told me that the brain had no ‘me!’”

“There is no ‘my’ brain,” I tried to point out,
Not sure that he at all apprehended.
“If you are not here, the brain is not ‘yours.’
Indeed, the brain is completely unattended.”

Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Existence of God, Metaphysics

The Impoverishment of Atheism

The Bible plainly teaches that the evidence for the existence of God is so plain and available that a man is a fool who reaches the conclusion that God does not exist (Psa. 19:1-4; Acts 14:17; Psa. 14:1; 53:1). Whether or not this man ever expresses his conviction to anyone else is irrelevant to his own miserable condition. If he says to himself that God does not exist, then the God who wrote the Bible declares this man a fool.

And yet some who reach the unenviable position of such irrational foolhardiness evidently, because of the way that they advocate their conclusion to others, think that there is some positive benefit to be had by subscribing to it. It is one thing to see in atheism only a curse. It is another thing to think that atheism somehow is a blessing. It would seem that depressed atheists would be more open to persuasion to the opposite viewpoint since it would lift their spirits. On the other hand, atheists who revel in skepticism would seem harder to convince that their doctrine is absurd.

Just here I want to make a few brief observations that indicate the absolute worthlessness of atheism. It has no value. It is not simply that it has a little of something good to offer; it has nothing. It is not simply a negative view that is wholly innocent in its nature, but it is seriously destructive in its complete makeup. And when men begin to publicly advance it not only as possibly helpful but as absolutely essential to human improvement and happiness on earth, the perverted use of such nonsense needs to be exposed.

The points that I will make will not be elaborated. They will simply be observed with but few comments, but the points are worthy of much consideration.

First, atheism provides no meaning or purpose to human living. Philosophers have throughout human history been wrestling with the problem of what life is all about. Atheism has absolutely no contribution to make. It is stuck between two impossible intellectual commitments: no Mind is responsible for our existence or that of anything whatever that exists. And at the other end of the spectrum, there is no destiny of the human spirit, because no human spirit exists either! So, everything is meaningless. When the searching spirit cries out for meaning, atheism at best can provide only a temporary fix. It has no answer, because there is no answer except that human life has no meaning.

Two, atheism provides no rational explanation for anything. All is the “product” of fluke, chance, and an impossible ontological situation. Not only is it the case that “out of nothing something comes,” but rather that “out of nothing everything comes!” Somehow, nothing is the grand ultimate provider of something. Philosophically, atheism is bankrupt!

Three, atheism has no explanation for the currently operative “laws of thought.” These “laws” that regulate all of human thinking have been discovered, isolated, and described. The law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of contradiction provide the intellectual capacity for human thought. And the essential thing is, that each law was in operation in every accountable human mind before any one of them was located. It is impossible to think without them, and you can only attack them or deny them by using them! Add to these, the “law of rationality” (the law which says that we ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence) and you have the basic mental framework for the whole of intellectual activity on earth. To deny them is to affirm them and to assail them is to use them! What is the explanation for such an arrangement that makes it rationally impossible to be irrational? Atheism has no answer, because it grounds all mental framework in mindless matter!

Four, atheism has no answer to the question of the origin of the human conscience. The conscience is that intellectual apparatus and feature of human personality that intuits moral law. It is that by which a man is able to grasp a moral distinction between “right” and “wrong.” The significance of right and wrong, to the human, is poised at the position of his conscience. If conscience can’t grasp it, the person cannot become morally accountable. To deny the existence and nature of conscience would be to deny human capacity to enter the domain of the moral. To admit the domain of absolute good and absolute evil is to admit the existence of the conscience. And to deny the absoluteness of moral right and of moral evil is to admit that nothing is wrong in any meaningful sense! And yet, no atheist wants to live in a world where everything is considered morally subjective, at least when it comes to how he himself should be treated!

Five, since atheism is a system that can only allow for subjective ethics, then it can provide absolutely no help in describing the way that humans ought to live. In fact, there is no “ought” to be sought; there is no moral obligation with which men should comply. Everything is “up for grabs.” It is “each man for himself,” in a “dog eat dog” world where no man’s opinion is worth any more than any other man’s opinion as far as an opinion’s capacity to reach the level of moral authority is concerned. An atheist cannot tell anyone how to live or the best way to live, given his atheism as the basis for his suggestion. He can only tell you how he wants you to live. Some atheists think that they can tell what makes for happier people and so ground their ethical suggestions on the metaphysical conclusion that a person should so live as to become the happiest by his course of living. Others might think that a person should so live as to make others happy or to make the greatest number happy. But this is a conclusion not based on atheism, and a conclusion that cannot be discovered as it oozes up out of the mud. A man might follow a course that makes him happy (at least to some degree), but whether or not such basis can be “the” basis of a planned life cannot be grounded in atheism.

Six, since atheism is reduced to the practice of living without meaning, it assails the dignity of man. Man has a nature, and it is complex. According to Scripture, man is composed of body, soul, and spirit. According to atheism, man is not composed. He is only body. His total makeup is like that of a pig. His brain somehow is more highly developed, but again this is all according to chance occurrence and the mindless program of organic evolution. But in the end, whether one has a man’s brain or a pig’s brain, a brain is a brain. And according to nature, there is no value to a man in principle that cannot at the same time be ascribed to a pig. We are all bound for death and that will end us all. Five dollars is, numerically speaking, greater than one dollar. But all dollars are still only dollars. The Bible teaches us of our kinship to God. That is what explains our rationality and our conscience and our purpose and meaning. Man, because of God, has value and dignity. Atheism attacks God and so attacks man. Even atheists who attempt to suggest a kind of ethical program in the hope of helping man, do so under the illusion that they are actually helping. Alcohol producers warn us to “drink responsibly” while producing the product that enslaves and destroys. When misguided atheists write books to help us live better, they do not realize what they are doing.

Seven, atheism cannot explain the continuing order of the universe. How is it that there continues to be an atmosphere in which even an atheist can live and move and have his being? Why does the world continue to exist? Why are the “laws” that science seeks to discover and explain constant as regulators of the affairs of this universe? How can science itself as a legitimate field or category of inquiry continue? It is because that certain “laws” are stable and regulative. And these laws continue. How could mindless matter give rise to the development of the scientific laws over the millions of years of suggested evolutionary development? How could chaos give rise to order and mud to mind given the evolutionary view of things? And how could things get “fixed” and settled as ongoing principles or laws of operation? What gives such laws any ontological status in the first place, to say nothing of why they continue, in the second? Atheism again has only the irrational mutterings of a man on philosophical dope. The management of the universe is as foreign to any offered atheistic explanation as is the origin of it!

Eight, atheism has no contribution to make to philosophy of history. Why has history gone the way that it has? Since atheism cannot explain anything, it certainly cannot explain why the course of human history has taken the form that it has. Of course, human history is a broad and complex field for human analysis, but there are certain principles that explain it to some degree. The progress of nations has always historically been based on whether or not the inhabitants followed the dictate provided in Genesis 1:28. Unless there was for some reason the need for personal divine penetration into human affairs, the side of history (progress in advancement in time) has always been on the side of the country or countries whose citizenry attempted to “subdue” the earth. Too, human character has played a part. Righteousness and sin still effect historical development. The rise and fall of nations entails the application of this truth (cf. Psa. 127:1; Prov. 14:34). And of course, according to Scripture, the overall outline of human history has involved God’s management of human affairs so that men can be saved (Rom. 9-11). If atheism has made a contribution to human history, it is only by means of its impediment to its advancement.

Nine, atheism doesn’t know what to do about truth! Truth as a concept is both metaphysical and eternal. It is not meshed into empirical facts but resides in an atmosphere of eternity and is attached to the person of God himself. No God, no ultimate truth! If atheists are correct, truth is of very recent origin. Facts have to do with events and states of affairs, with things that happen. Truth has to do with propositions. We can illustrate this way: It is a fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States. The statement that “George Washington was the first president of the United States” is true. This is basically the difference between a fact and truth. The concept of “truth” has to do with accuracy with regard to a claim. Fact has to do with what has occurred or exists in a non-propositional way. Given evolution, truth evolved about six to ten thousand years ago. When man first began to think, truth was created! If I were an atheist, I would spend more time on an explanation for the most recent arrival of “truth” on earth than with obsessing over a relatively “young earth” claimed by some religionists. Truth is a human invention, per atheism. And its value is simply that which humans choose to invest in it! Nothing more! This is why there can never be moral obligation for any man to become an atheist!

Ten, atheism provides no sufficient motivation to what it may consider human progress in morality. When atheists write books that attempt to give moral guidelines to other humans, since men are the highest species yet evolutionarily developed, then man is, in fact, the measure of all things. Shades of the Greek sophist, Protagoras! I would ask, however, which man is the measure of all things? Since all men can’t have their way all the time and live in human society, then who should get to have his way? There is no way for an atheist to prove that one atheistic road is better, morally speaking, than another. If one atheist chooses communism and another humanism, which atheist has the higher ground of authority? At one moment, it could be the one with the gun! At another moment, it might be that the better road (one with greater social appeal) was the one being suggested by the atheist without the gun. But since there is no metaphysical basis for any atheistic authority whatever, the claimant for the “better” moral road is without any evidence! At any given moment in history, either the communist or the humanist might have a message of enormous appeal, given the existing social conditions of the time, but neither kind of atheist could produce rational proof that one kind of atheism is better than another kind at all, ever!

Eleven, atheism has no way to provide for justice. Some atheists, no doubt, would be quite willing to cite the crimes of religion against mankind. And we would have to admit that the history of religion on earth has not always been pleasant to consider. There has been much evil perpetrated on people by religion. But not all religion is right. There is much wrong religion. There are many religions. And there is little right religion being practiced. Truth on earth has been rarely found and more rarely practiced. The religion of the Bible, however, does provide for ultimate justice in that it has a doctrine of accountability and justice. Men do in this life often “get away with murder.” But it is at best only temporary, according to Scripture, for a judgment day is coming. With atheism, however, all of the injustice that men get away with on earth, they get away with, period! Atheism cannot produce nor intellectually defend a system of justice.

Twelve, atheism has no way of really offering any meaningful hope to mankind. Some atheists do see themselves as men trying to “better” the human condition, and they do plan and hope for a “better” life on earth. But, in the final analysis, there is no basis for their suggested improvement and no reason to hope that things will, after all, get “better” for man in any really meaningful sense. And the “better” that they envision, they themselves realize is only “better” for a mere moment. It is true that the best religion can degenerate into awful and oppressive false religion. But atheism in spite of its—at times—“humane” motivation, cannot rise far above its basic evolutionary barbarity. The religion of Christ has been often perverted into enormous religious persecution, it is true, but such is the result of falling away from the truth. When atheism is practiced, however, the Godlessness that it advances undercuts any alleged attempt at making things better on earth. Better for whom? For how long? Even if it tries to make things “better” for all men, it can only attempt to make things better but for a moment. There is no lasting hope to atheism! And remember, there are no atheists after death. If atheism were true, then no atheist could survive death. He would no longer exist. But if atheism were wrong, then an atheist must become a theist when he dies! So, there can only be atheists now—not later. Atheism can only at best be of temporary function. It is no accident of association that atheism and degeneration are conceptually snug.

Thirteen, atheism has no way of satisfying the human spirit to the degree that God desires and to the degree that the properly functioning human spirit desires as well. Consider Isaiah 55:2; John 6:27; Acts 17:27; Matthew 5:6; Matthew 4:4. According to Scripture, man’s spirit flourishes on a certain kind of spiritual diet. And atheism simply cannot satisfy the hunger! The sad thing is that some atheists are still hungry, but they are attempting to fill their bellies with the husks that the swine did eat (cf. Luke 15:16). Some tasks can be performed on such food, but great work cannot be attempted, much less accomplished, on such diet. There is still a “balm in Gilead” and a physician is still there (cf. Jer. 8:22; Matt. 9:12; Luke 4:23). It is a shame when men die of a condition that was operable simply because they refused the doctor and his counsel. And how sad that hungry men will not fill up on that which alone can fill.

Atheism is a poverty stricken viewpoint of long and miserable history. There is no defense for it, there is no improvement by it (only in spite of it), and there is absolutely no future in it. It assails human nature, the nature of truth, the nature of value, the nature of explanation, the meaning or purpose of human life on earth, human morality, and human rationality. It attacks all of these things, and yet some atheists would have us look upon their impoverished offering as helpful insights into the way things really are. How utterly misguided any atheist must be! While we love the atheist, we despise his doctrine. With David of old, we too, declare that we hate every false way, and certainly atheism is a false concept. It is an impoverished concept, and the life it really does undergird is a sad and dangerous way.

Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Existence of God, Metaphysics

Reflections on Mind and God (A Brief Essay Exploring What an Analysis of Our Minds Tells Us)

Humans are in a position, but not a predicament. We are somehow poised in an ontological setting which makes sense if we use sense in evaluating it. By “sense” I do not mean physical impressions, but metaphysical or mind impressions. In other words, if we use judgment, then that to which my mind applies seems rational. There has to be some rational explanation for the fact of the coherence of the physical universe and for the fact of the relationship that exists between the physical universe and my consciousness of it. There has to be some explanation for the fact that I can reason about the universe and that I can reason about reason. Human reason is an element of reality that must be accounted for in its relationship to all other reality. By the use of my mind the only explanation possible for myself and for everything else that I consider in the universe can only be a rational one. Even if I finally decide that the ultimate explanation for everything is a physical explanation (as a final cause), I can only come to this conclusion by the use of my mind. It is in this sense that all of my explanations must be rational. But if all of my explanations must be rational (by the employment of mind and reason), then how could it possibly be the case that the final cause could somehow be less than mind and less than reason?

In other words, how is it possible on the one hand that my explanation for the existence of everything must be rational, but that the final explanation as a cause could only rise to a level less than the nature of my own explanation? Can the final explanation as cause possibly be less in its essence than the partial explanation provided by a person living on this earth? If my explanations as an observer inside the universe can only be rational ones (since I arrive at them solely and essentially by the employment of my mind), then how would it be possible for the ultimate explanation of the universe from the outside be a non-rational one? By the “principle of sufficient reason,” we know that there is an adequate or sufficient reason for everything. But how could the ultimate explanation for the universe be sufficient if it is deficient in essence to explain “rational explanation” that exists on earth?

Rocks are not reasons, and they are not impressionable entities. We humans are characterized by reason, and we are very impressionable. Consciousness makes this possible. And even though animals are impressionable because of their own level of consciousness, we humans are aware of our consciousness, and we can reflect on it. We can reason about it in a way that escapes all levels of life below the human strata. Let us briefly and only lightly explore the human mind and see what we see in ourselves and what, if anything, it tells us about God.

Let us begin with exploring what my mind tells me about me. First of all, (1) it tells me that I am a superior kind of being to anything that does not have mind. Any normal human values himself above anything less than human. And most people (and all people who are thinking correctly) value all other people above anything less than human. Even atheistic humanists consider human beings as the ultimate expression of reality on earth. So, at first base, we realize that my mind informs me that I have standing or a certain position in the universe. I have value. It is true that many times some humans act out of harmony with this truth. But their failure to live in the light of this truth cannot and does not destroy it. A man may become so enamored with money that he disregards some humans in the attainment of it. He disvalues certain humans because they stand in the way of his acquiring more of that which he overvalues. However, if he finally is called upon to surrender riches or face certain death, he will let the money go to save his life. Truth finally is realized in his desperate moment. Some animal rights activists seem to be willing on occasion to kill a man in order to spare an animal, but again, if they are called on to surrender the animal unto death in order to save their own lives, truth again surfaces in their minds as to what is the more valuable. But even if we found one of them willing to die to save a mere animal, surely he would, if called upon to choose life for an animal or his child, he would save his child. No one on earth would commend him for sacrificing his child in order to save a brute. According to Scripture any person who would save the brute and sacrifice the child would be devoid of “natural affection” (cf. Rom. 1:31). False philosophical concepts regarding the place of man and animal in the universe cannot be consistently applied to reality.

Second, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (2) it tells me that I am somewhat complex. Why do I say this? As I reflect on me, I understand that I am thinking about myself. As a person, not only do I have the capacity to focus on something outside of and other than me, but I can turn the intellectual microscope my way and examine myself through it. In fact, there is something altogether different about self-analysis in this regard. When I look at you, I consider you as an empirical being. I see your body and see by the movement of your body that there is someone animating it. And even if I see your corpse at the funeral home, I see an empirical body from which you have gone. And it is true that in the evaluation of myself, I can certainly look at my body and think about my body as well as about my mind. But there is also this very precious, private, intimate look that I can take into myself that is a self-reflection that is not directed by any exploration of my body. I can look inwardly and deeply into my own spirit or self or core of my existence and think about me as an independent and responsible agent, someone accountable for thoughts that are his own and actions that are his own. This inward look that I am taking is my own “look” at myself. I can examine myself and you can examine yourself in a personal and private and penetrating way that is not possible to someone outside ourselves (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11).

The complexity of my nature is further seen in the fact that while I realize that self-analysis is pursued by reason, reason finds other things than reason within me. Not only do I reason about reason, but I reason about sensation. Why is it that I like to see certain things? Why is it that certain foods taste good? Certain things smell good? Certain things feel good? Certain things sound good? How can a world of physical beauty make an appeal to me? So, I can reflect on mind, I can reflect on body, and I can even reflect on the combination of sensation and thought as they are combined in my human experience. I “feel” comfortable and good after a fine meal. Not only is the belly satisfied because of food within, but the spirit has been affected and is satisfied because of its connection to the body without. The spirit has an improved sense of well-being and is content because of its connection to and association with a physical body that demands food for its continuation.

Further, I find myself reasoning about my emotion or my non-physical feelings. Here I am thinking about feeling within my mind. I am thinking about my mental states or psychological conditions in which my mind resides. Think about the various moods that we experience in our spirit in the course of a day. We may pass through the feeling of happiness, contentment, sadness, anger, indignation, gratitude, resentment, jealousy, guilt, humility, etc.

Third, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (3) it tells me that though I am in a sense confined to my body, there is a peculiar sense in which I can extend myself beyond my body. Paul informs us that the divinely constructed limitation of time and space to human beings on the earth is designed so that man will search for God (Acts 17:26-28). But even though we are all limited in time and space, my mind is able to carry me beyond my body and outside my own moment of existence. How can it do this? It is the nature of spirit which entails the nature of thought that makes such a thing possible. My mind simply is not “fixed” to the reality of space and time as my physical body is. The connections are not the same.

For example, my mind is constantly thinking about things that exist outside my mind and outside my body. A lot—if not most—of our thinking, though done by ourselves, is not about ourselves. So, the limitation of my space (my mind being inside my body) does not prevent me from going to other places in thought. I can think of the house down the street, or the next county that joins my county. I can think of other cities, countries, other people that occupy other spaces, etc. I am all the time thinking about things that exist outside of myself. My own body cannot contain myself in this regard. The body gives way to the spirit’s expression of itself as it explores the universe.

And it is the same in regard to time. My body simply cannot contain my mind when it comes to time. While I am still here in my body, my mind still travels to the distant past. I can even contemplate the “beginning” of Genesis 1:1. I know that I can mentally visit, not simply a prior moment to the present, but I can study the very distant past. And I can even project myself by imagination into the future and think about the things that are to come or the things that I hope will come and even the things that I know will not there occur. And I can reason about the future fulfillment of promises made to me, the fulfillment of which is to take place at some point beyond now. And I can even step beyond time in the sense that I can attempt to contemplate the very meaning of “eternity.”

And the thing is, I do not need a “vision” or miraculous “dream” in order to leave space and time. My mind allows me to do this all the time. And even when I am dreaming in my sleep, I somehow enter a domain that seems to border reality with unreality, another kind of dimension where in my unconsciousness my mind still is active, outside of personal consciousness.

Fourth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (4) it tells me that in description, language is the key to clarity. When awake, my mind is essentially operative. However, it can take in more than it wants or needs. It can speedily scan so many images. But when it focuses so as to describe anything that it has experienced, it articulates the experienced event by language. Language is necessary to precisely describe what the mind contains. It is amazing that while I can (1) think or comprehend by images or pictures of things, (2) when I tell myself about them rather than simply to remember the picture or image, I use language to do that. Language advances insight.

Fifth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (5) I see that my memory is the key to my intelligence or rationality. What we call “memory” is the mind’s enduring quality of visiting the impressions made on it. It is so necessary to intelligence and essential to communication that without it we could not make sense of ourselves to ourselves or to other minds. For example, I can only meaningfully talk to you if I remember each word in the sentence that I speak as I continue to add other words to the sentence. As I construct a sentence to deliver to you, I must remember each word and then its connection to each subsequent word in order to know of the meaning of the sentence that I am speaking. And if you do not remember each word as other words are “tacked on to it” in the sentence, you cannot possibly understand what I am trying to say. Memory is that fundamental.

Sixth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (6) it assures me that I exist. Of course, the Bible speaks of “the inward man” (2 Cor. 4:16), “the hidden man of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:4), and even compartmentalizes us into “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23). Paul once used a rare expression in saying, “I verily thought with myself” (Acts 26:9).

I must confess that I am the one writing this article. Technically grammatically correct, it is I, but, more familiarly, it is me. Who is it that holds memory? Who is it forming these words in mind and typing them out on computer? Who is thinking this through? Thoughts don’t think; thinkers think. Thinkers think thoughts. But just here a curious skepticism has arisen.

The famous (or notorious) Scottish skeptic, David Hume, alleged that he could never find himself without a thought. He concluded that he, therefore, could not know absolutely that he, David Hume, actually existed. But how in the world could Mr. Hume analyze his thoughts without comprehending that thoughts don’t think. Minds do! Thoughts are not the agents; they are the instruments. An agent or source has to produce the thought. As already mentioned, thoughts are not simply “non-connected” abstractions hanging out there somewhere in the universe. If they were, we could simply search for them and collect them as we do butterflies. Only minds have thoughts. Only minds that are somehow like God’s mind can produce thoughts but then can think about them. Men can think about thoughts. Incredible! Somehow we have the extraordinary capacity to focus thought on thought itself. That is absolutely amazing. And when we focus on thought, we can see that every thought is (1) meaningful or intelligible in some sense, (2) a production of a mind, (3) a minimal part of a coherent scheme of things called “rationality,” and (4) an essence completely distinct from all matter.

Just here let us observe that the profundity of these truths admits also a very obvious simplicity. We do not deny the existence of “love” simply because we cannot analyze it in a laboratory. We do not give up the concept of “justice” simply because it is not empirically verifiable. “Mercy” continues as a most desired concept even if many people do not show much of it. Such concepts are meaningful to humans living on earth. All humans live with the constant application of such concepts as fundamental, meaningful, and extremely relevant to human living. There is a constant and driving need to employ words that refer to such things in order to make life in some sense worthwhile and enjoyable.

But let us go back to Mr. Hume. He could not catch himself without a thought. That is because when he sought to find himself, he could only do so by thought. There is no other way! The only instrument at his disposal for the search was thinking! Man alive! That indicates the nature of spirit. Spirit expresses itself through thought; it articulates itself through words. The spirit of David Hume was not subject to vision location but rather to location by intellectual implication.

But, the strange thing about it was that when Hume concluded that he could not know that he was there, although he could find a thought there, someone reached that conclusion! If Hume intended to be taken seriously as to his denial that a person could know assuredly of his own existence, then he had to be equally desirous that his affirmation that the denial is true be taken just as seriously.

The “conclusion” that he could not know that he existed was not and could not be without connection to some mind. Now, if it were not David Hume’s mind, just whose was it? It is paramount to David Hume’s claiming: I am seriously drawing a conclusion, a conclusion that I am seriously intending for others to take equally seriously while at the same time I am also equally seriously meaning to be saying that the one saying this possibly is not making this claim at all! Now, just how profound is that? Not only is it not profound, but it is self-contradictory. Epistemological reality is so constructed that when we humans fall into such high-brow nonsense that our irrationality is showing! But who was on this exploration for the “self” when Hume philosophically tried to locate David Hume?

Consider the following True-False questions: When David Hume attempted to find the “real” David Hume but could only find a thought, then whoever was making the search was…

  1. No one;
  2. Someone;
  3. Everyone.

If it were (1) no one, then the search was not being made. The historical writings of Hume inform us that someone made the search. If it were (3) everyone, no one else knew that he was involved, Hume made no claim that others were involved, and all other men, if they had been asked about it, would have denied that they were in on the search. The evidence is conclusive that the search was being made by the same person who claimed that he could not prove that it was, in fact, himself! The strange thing is that the evidence so available to others as to the identity of the searcher and claimant somehow got overlooked by the searcher and claimant himself! What this bizarre scene tells us is that something so obvious on the one hand (the human self), on the other hand can be so recklessly misplaced even while undergoing intense intellectual investigation (cf. Rom. 1:20-23)!

It ought to be mentioned just here that, given “the law of identity,” no one can look for self unless the looker is the self! Hume cannot at one and the same time say that he looked for himself but could not find himself unless he was himself. The whole enterprise of seeking for self is impossible unless the law of identity holds true. Either (1) Hume was engaged in an irrational search or (2) his conclusion is false. If the one he was looking for was not the same one looking, then he was engaged in an irrational venture. If he concluded that he could not find himself because he could only find thoughts, then his conclusion is false because the thoughts implied himself. Either way Hume presents nothing that ought to disturb the rationally reliable conclusion that each one of us knows of his own existence. And, of course, Hume had to live in practical opposition to the unorthodox theoretical conclusion that he reached in his philosophical inquiry.

The fact is that there was something else that kept him from intellectually finding himself in his search. It could not possibly be that he was not there either as (1) the searcher or as (2) the object of search. If the law of identity holds in all of reality, Hume was both (1) subject and (2) object in his search. His thoughts should have told him that someone was thinking them. “Someone” was pursuing the investigation. If he couldn’t find himself without a thought, then the thought should have told him that he was both the one searching and the one for whom search was being made. If Hume realized he was actually the one looking (and he reported to us in his writings that he did make this search), then there is no rational reason for his denial that it was the same Hume whose location he alleged could not be found! If Hume was the one looking, then the Hume being looked for, had already been found even though not recognized!

The “real” is at times emphatically denied by skeptics. Robert Camp in his excellent article, “The Church Carries the Gospel to the Skeptic,” wrote, “It is often said of a mental patient, ‘He has lost touch with reality.’ This is precisely the position of the skeptic. He contends that it is impossible to be in touch with reality. If he only says it, he may be regarded as a great intellectual, but if his actions are governed by it, he is recognized as psychotic” (The Church of Christ—Essential, All Sufficient, Indestructible, Perpetually Relevant, Being the Freed-Hardeman College Lectures of 1971, p. 436). As Camp went on in his article to point out, skeptics cannot live in the light of their own claimed convictions. What they claim to know does not “fit” real life.

Seventh, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (7) it shows me that my spirit self is far more important and even enduring than my physical body. On this point first let me observe that there is often a connection between the condition of my body and the position of my mind. When my body has difficulty, it affects that way that I psychologically feel. Bodily pain can produce great anxiety within me. But it is also the case that I have “feelings” that are not connected like that to the well-being of my body as such. My spirit can experience some kind of a mood in spite of or without resort to its connection to body. I can have a kind of peace in my spirit in spite of turmoil in the world. I can even have a kind of peace in spite of a bodily ailment and pain. The mood of mind is not always directly the result of bodily consideration. The metaphysical feelings of “guilt” or “innocence,” though not produced by bodily sensation as such do have effect on the human body. None of These Diseases, by Dr. S. I. McMillen, is a good treatment on how the ethic of Christ affects our health in this life. My inner state is more important than my physical body. Many people with good physical health cannot stand life because of their mental torture. If one had only the two options of mental torture with good physical health or bad physical health with mental peace, we would all choose mental peace. The spirit is superior to body.

The second point I wish to make is that the spirit is more enduring than body. Scientists tell us that every time that we live through about a seven year period, the cells in our physical makeup have all been replaced by other cells. We have a new physical body as far as chemical makeup about every seven years. But, notice how this truth was just expressed. I said that “we” have a new physical body. I affirmed the duration of something beyond the duration of something else. The physical body had been replaced by another physical body, but the one whose body it is remains the same in some sense. Also, and interestingly, the new body somehow maintains the same basic form of the old one so that my outward appearance more or less remains the same. My physical body can be identified by others, and I know that by self-reflection that I keep on identifying myself within. I can still recognize my physical form in the mirror as the one belonging to the same spirit within the other body over seven years ago.

And while it is true that my spirit changes in intellectual and emotional and spiritual development, it is not the same kind of change that my physical body undergoes. The growth in development is not a replacement of some sort of metaphysical “cells,” but simply the incline or decline of moral quality. Of course the Bible teaches that the human spirit endures beyond the termination of the physical body (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Now, finally, just what does all of this have to do with God? What is it about the human mind that provides insight into the nature of the Mind that made us all? Does it seem purely coincidental that what we find within ourselves upon self-examination is also what we find contained in Scripture with regard to the ultimate Mind, or God, himself? Let us briefly mention again what, in self-reflection, we have discovered, and then let us see what the Bible says about God.

With regard to what my mind tells me about me, it tells me that:

  1. I am superior to anyone without a mind;
  2. I am somewhat complex;
  3. Though I am in a sense confined to my body, there is a peculiar sense in which I can extend myself beyond my body;
  4. In description, language is the key to clarity;
  5. My memory is the key to intelligence or rationality;
  6. Assuredly, I exist;
  7. My spirit is far more important and enduring than my physical body.

Now, with regard to each insight, compare what we have found about our own minds with what the Bible claims about the ultimate Mind:

  1. God is superior not only to everything without a mind but to all other minds that he has produced. He stands alone as the only self-explanatory and eternal mind (Exod. 3:14; Isaiah 44:6).
  2. God is the ultimately complex being, so much so that while we can and must admit him and submit to him, we cannot completely comprehend him (Rom. 11:33-36).
  3. God has form (Phil. 2:6), but has knowledge of all beyond him that he has made. He is infinite in understanding (Psa. 147:5).
  4. God has always used language with men, either (1) the natural language or communication of nature (Psa. 19:1-6; Acts 14:17), (2) moral law inscribed on hearts of men to inform of the difference between right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-15), or (3) the language of words. On each of the six days of Genesis 1, “God said.” The agent of creation himself—and our Saviour—is called the “Word” (John 1:1-3, 14). The deepest clarity of God’s desire for man is expressed in his word.
  5. As my memory allows me to continually be aware of my own self-identity, God knows himself constantly. Since he is not finite, he does not have to recall, for his Spirit essence is not only to exist but to know. He cannot help knowing everything ( Psa. 147:5; 139).
  6. God assuredly exists. He can be denied but never disproved. He must exist in order for anything else to exist including other minds who are capable to call both his and their own existence into question (cf. Psa. 14:1; Rom. 1:20-23; 9:20).
  7. God, as ultimate Being, is the most important expression of reality that there can be. He is personal and infinite and eternal. Somehow and someway he holds the ultimate explanation of himself within himself. He is ultimate Spirit. He is beyond time and space, though for the sake of man, in the incarnation of Christ, he partially located himself within both for a brief moment in order that man could be saved (Gen. 1:1; Exod. 3:14; John 1:14; 4:24; Psa. 90:1-2).

These things cannot be mere coincidences. We mirror God in our spirit composition. The point of comparison meets in spirit/Spirit kinship. As Moses long ago told us, we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and as some unidentified Greek poets affirmed and as the apostle Paul has told us himself, we are the offspring of God (Acts 17:27-29). And the image is not in the dirt (Gen. 2:7). It is in spirit/Spirit (John 4:24; Luke 24:36-39).

Our human minds are made to search for God, the ultimate Mind. The search need not be futile, for God wants to be found that we might be with him forever in eternity (Acts 17:27; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:2; Rev. 20:11-15). So, let each of us be cautioned: A human mind cannot possibly have found its divinely intended location or position in reality if it fails to find love for God (Matt. 22:37). Finding God is certainly necessary to the well-being of any human mind, but it is inadequate. Loving God with the full expression of all that entails is what God demands (cf. John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).