Thursday, January 20, 2005

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt 5: Lovers of Truth

Series Posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

2 Thessalonians 2:10 “…because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

In some circles of evangelicalism, truth is suffering the same fate Ralph Nader suffered in the 2004 Presidential race-nobody is paying attention. Many are proclaiming that the idea of truth, as it has been understood for centuries, has been successfully pulled apart by various forces in the postmodern world. I, however, read things differently.

First of all, not only is truth a vital concept biblically, but it is an objective, universal notion of truth is vital biblically. If believing in the truth saves us, and there are some who refuse to believe in the truth, then truth is not socially or linguistically constructed. It would be impossible for 2 Thessalonians to be accurate if truth were a by-product of a linguistic community because if truth were constructed, it would be literally impossible for someone to not believe in the truth. Everyone would believe what their community believes, and would therefore believe in what is true for them. Hence, it would be logically impossible for someone to fit the description in the verse above.

But, sadly, there are and will be plenty of people who do fit the description of 2 Thessalonians 2:10. The consequence for us philosophically is that there is truth “out there” that we need to believe in and which we need to strive to relate to others regardless of their faith/language community. This reality makes a couple of philosophical theories very important to the Christian faith.

The first is some form of modest foundationalism. Typically, when postmodern/emergent writers attack foundationalism, they are after an extreme view that came about through the Enlightenment, and which most thoughtful evangelical theologians and philosophers have not embraced. The most common epistemological replacement for foundantionalism is coherentism. Coherentism is the view that beliefs are true if they cohere with each other in a web of belief-they each support the truth of the others. There are things attractive about Coherentism, but it has at least one infamous flaw. In court, for instance, it is entirely possible to construct a case against a defendant in which all the evidence points to their guilt and no piece of the evidence contradicts any other piece. The catch, however, is that the defendant is actually innocent. What we have is a coherent but false belief that the defendant is guilty.

The second philosophical consequence is the need to hold to some form of realism and/or correspondence to reality point of view. There will be plenty of things in our language that don’t matter when it comes to actual correspondence. What makes a walking stick a walking stick? Well, people name it such and use it as such. But reality is not as fungible as pomos would like us to think. Can anything make a slug a walking stick? Can naming an orange “walking stick” make it thus? What if we want to really cross categories of reality and try to name the color blue as a walking stick? What we find is that reality determines itself for us in many important ways. We can’t use blue on a hike because reality tells us it is impossible.

In the same kind of way, this proposition is true: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) This proposition carries meaning that translates what reality is like across cultures and time. There is no faith/linguistic community for whom this statement is not true. In my opinion, some are far to ready to give up on an objective notion of truth in exchange for a linguistic and postmodern theory in which language and community determine truth for its adherents. Part of what I find ironic is that many of them will utilize the meaning-carrying power of propositions to argue that propositions carry no ultimate meaning and cannot map onto reality.


Catez said...

Outstanding Phil! I wanted to comment earlier today but Blogger was being temperamental. This is a great post.

Phil Steiger said...

You are too kind! Thanks!

And "tempermental" just scratches the surface on how blogger has been "feeling" in the last couple of days...

Catez said...

Scene and Herd and Spongebob Squarepants.
He's a guy who doesn't want much in life. He works in a burger cafe, has his best buddy, sings out of key and likes to be adventurous. He's not too deep but he is willing to ponder the meaning of life. Did you see the episode when he lost his identity and went searching for himself? His name badge for his work uniform fell in the trash...

dopderbeck said...

I think you're really missing the boat here in some ways -- see my post on it here. I don't really think your critique of coherentism accurately portrays the web-based view of truth or how it contrasts with foundationalism ("soft" or not). Take your criminal case example. Let's say there were a revelation from God that the accused was innocent. This revelation seems to contradict logic: all the evidence the court has been able to percieve logically points to the accused's guilt. Common sense realism would tell us we must convict, because the sole foundation for real knowledge is logic and common everyday perceptions. A web-based view of truth, however, would allow for a revelation from God as one anchor point for our web of truth. We'd then be forced to reexamine the assumptions underlying the "common sense" evidence, and perhaps come to a different conclusion about the accused's actual guilty.

The essential problem with any kind of foundationalism for a Christian, I think, is that many basic aspects of our faith can't be explained by simply logic and common sense. The Trinity and the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will come immediately to mind. If logic and common sense are the only foundation for truth -- and this is what foundationalism of any stripe claims -- we'd then have to reject the Christian faith's truth claims.

Phil Steiger said...

Leaving open the option for a revelation from God does nothing to help web-based epistemoloty or hurt coherentism. It is special pleading. In essence, you are claiming that no matter what we can ever know, God can simply step in and make everything straight. When was the last time God audibly spoke in a court room. Special pleading solves nothing.

The point of basic beliefs is that they are basic. They are somehow outside our ability to reason out to them. Memories are basic and so forth. Again, that is not a problem for foundationalism or Christianity, it is a recognition of the way things really are.

dopderbeck said...

I'm not sure how you can say a direct revelation from God is special pleading when you are trying to construct a Christian epistemology. I suppose it is special pleading if you are limiting "knowledge" to that which human beings can demonstrate using foundational tools like logic. As Christians, though, don't we believe God has revealed Himself to us directly in scripture, and that He continues to reveal Himself to us (though not in the same authoritative sense) in the life of the Church? This is a major part of my point -- for the Christian, direct revelation from God isn't special pleading, it's a legitimate way of "knowing."

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks again for your thoughts. I totally agree that allowing special revelation from God is a part of the Christian worldview and it is a part of mine to be sure. What I think is special pleading is to argue that coherentism is the correct Christian worldview because God can speak to us in scenarios when we are deceived about the truth. There is no special connection between the two. In fact, it might be seen as a weakness in coherentism if we need God to speak audibly in a court room because we are coherentists and not some from of foundationalists.

Additionally, I think a well-rounded Christian worldview contains the point of view that God speaks to us through our ability to reason and think. If we have a good model of epistemology, then we are being faithful. If we have a bad one, then we are not.

I am also a little confused about your exact point of view. You referenced "common sense realism" in your original comment, and that is typically a component of modest foundationalism. Maybe you are confusing "common sense" in the sense of "street smarts" with Common Sense realism, the epistemological construct which is entirely compatable with modest foundationalism?

dopderbeck said...

Thanks, Phil. No, I meant Common Sense Realism of the Reid variety. I tried to clarify some of my thoughts here. I agree with you that reason is an important component of knowing. I'm uncomfortable with saying reason is the "foundation" of knowing.

Back to the court room hypothetical: doesn't that hypo also illustrate a weakness in foundationalism? The rules of evidence in US courts permit a conviction only when the logical inferences drawn from empirical evidence establish guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" (or in a civil case by a "preponderance of the evidence"). These rules reflect a foundationalist epistemology. Yet, they often result in incorrect judgments about the truth.

BTW, thanks for listing the "Reclaiming the Center" book --I hadn't seen it before and just picked it up. Looks good.