December 25th, 2011
June 17th, 2014
From A Priori Knowledge and Miracles
by IBD Vice President Matthew J Coombe
Essentially there are two types of knowledge,1 a priori (“from the earlier” or “before the senses”) and a posteriori (“from the later” or “after the senses”). The distinction between the two types is purely epistemic in nature. The most telling difference between the two, as described by Kant is, a priori knowledge is independent of all experience,2 and includes propositions such as, “all bachelors are unmarried males,” and “7 + 5 = 12.3”
Classically, many philosophers have accepted a priori knowledge but recently it has received much scrutiny and even some have attempted to reduce it to pure linguistics.4 The skepticism results from the failure to distinguish a clear and coherent account of the classical conception of a priori knowledge from a general theory of knowledge.5 To properly distinguish and apply a priori knowledge one must ask two questions, 1) what is the primary target of the analysis? 2) Does the analysis of the primary target presuppose a general theory of knowledge?6 If the target requires a theory of knowledge then it cannot be considered truly a priori. Some epistemologists, such as Phillip Kitcher, not only argue that propositions have no intrinsic meaning,7 (and therefore there is no a priori knowledge) but that a priori knowledge is experientially indefensible8 and therefore cannot even be proven at all.
A priori knowledge, if it exists, must be known independently of experience. Several issues are quickly brought to attention, is it possible for man to have knowledge independent of experience? If the answer is “no” then Hume’s a priori rejection fails. If the answer is “yes,” then it must be discerned if the type of knowledge utilized by Hume is indeed free from experience. So then, the issue before the house is. is knowledge contingent upon experience? If one incidence of knowledge can be determined to have occurred apart from experience then a priori knowledge is possible.
Consider a primitive alien planet. On this planet, Gog and Harry (two aliens) are looking at a pile of roldals (the closest equivalent to these on earth are apples). Gog places two roldals on the ground; though to delineate “two” Gog does not utilize the word “two” but rather “glue.” Likewise Harry grabs “glue roldals” and places them next to Gog’s roldals. Now they want to figure out how many they would have if they were to combine them. They designate a stick to be a “+” sign and a rock to be an “=” sign. Further they decide the number four shall be known as “horse.” Therefore: glue roldals, stick, glue roldals, rock, horse roldals— two plus two equals four.
Did experience aid in the formulation of the previous conclusion? It would seem that certain mathematical claims are universal and necessary. James R. Beebe examines if things like mathematical proofs are indeed “putatively a priori necessities.9” Beebe argues that due to pervasive nature of empiricism (or rather a posteriori knowledge) there exists an inherent tendency away from a priori knowledge;10 this tendency is not prima facie against a priori knowledge but rather for a posteriori. Beebe’s thesis is to investigate if this penchant is indeed justified. Instead of focusing on basic principles, most of the skepticism applied to a priori knowledge is concerned with impractical linguistic word play syllogisms. For example: 1) If I know that 2 + 3 = 5, then I know that I am not involved in any subject whose a priori beliefs are massively and constantly in error due to skeptical circumstances. 2) I do not know whether or not I am affected by such skeptical circumstances. 3) Therefore, I do not know that 2 + 3 = 5.11 Beebe sites Wittgenstein and Descartes as those who pose the type of skeptical circumstances that prevent such knowledge. For example, Descartes argues in his Third Meditation that it could be possible for God or some deity to deceive every instance of reliable knowledge12 (such is the basis for the previously mentioned syllogism). The problem is, even the proposition, “I should be skeptical concerning a priori knowledge because my environment could be fake, contrived, and/or deceiving,” is in fact an instance of a priori knowledge. Further, even if the most hyper-skeptical environment existed, it would in no way negate the veracity concerning mathematical principles. Consider the aliens once again, but in this instance suppose that they are in a completely computer generated environment and everything around them is fake. Even in this skeptical and false world, the number of rodals, when properly added, will always remain the same. Ultimately, Descartes viewed hyper-skepticism as a menace that restricted intellectual discourse and argued that it was not a useful epistemic tool.13
To determine the connection between a priori knowledge and miracles we need to question the relationship between “before the senses” knowledge and experience. While a priori knowledge can be independent of a hyper-skeptical world, this in no way ensures a unilateral connection between the two—a connection would be required if miracles were either to be accepted or objected via a priori knowledge. Confusion surround the nature of a priori thought further conflates the issue.
Merely because something is a priori, this does not entail that it must necessarily be devoid of any a posteriori components in order for it to remain an instance of a priori knowledge. For example, Plantinga argues that if there were five passengers in a car crash and two survived the crashed, we can know the number who died in the crash a priori is three. The a posteriori knowledge factors in when one considers, what a car crash is or what it means to “survive,” or “die.” Since the combination of the two types of knowledge do not contradict each other, then the combination in no way invalidates the instance of a priori knowledge.14
Consider four scenarios, in each of these scenarios there is a car crash of which there are five passengers, three victims, and two survivors. In the first scenario, the accident took place in a movie, the second was reported on during the evening news, the third was told from a friend who had witnessed the accident (though this friend is known for embellishing) and you witnessed the fourth scenario. The ability to obtain a priori knowledge in each of these scenarios is in one sense contingent upon the a posteriori and in the other independent from it. The veracity of a priori knowledge (in these incidences) is dependent on the efficacy and types of source accounts and evidence.15 In the movie example, the a priori knowledge is sound, but the event is not actual. The other three scenarios likewise result in consistent a priori knowledge iff the sources are accurate.
Therefore, a priori knowledge can be predicated on a posteriori knowledge and the burden of proof in these scenarios is on the a posteriori and not the a priori.16 Further, there is a link between experience and a priori knowledge. This link is not necessary, but when it does occur the veracity of the a priori knowledge is not contingent upon itself, but rather the veracity of the a posteriori presuppositions and justification is the contingency. Thus, to question certain instances of a priori knowledge is merely to question the justification for the a posteriori. It is because of this justification requirement that some epistemologists have argued for the superiority of a priori knowledge.1718
The final question concerning the link between the two types of knowledge is to answer the question if experientially justified a priori knowledge is capable of being defeasible or to question if it is able to be overturned. Epistemologist Joshua Thurow argues that if a priori knowledge is possible then it is defeasible by non-experiential evidence (due to its very nature). However, if it is defeasible by non-experiential justification then it would likewise be overturned by experiential evidence.19 This conclusion however seems unmerited. To determine if a priori knowledge is defeasible or not, the nature of the claims associated with it should be detailed to a further degree.
All necessary truths are incidences of a priori knowledge,20 but not all incidences of a priori knowledge are necessary. For example the law of excluded middle is a necessary truth that can be known a priori; it is necessarily the case that something cannot be both true and not true in the same sense at the same time and one is able to know this without examining anything in physical reality. For example, someone cannot rightly deduce, “I cannot know truth,21” because if true, her premise fails, and if false then truth can be known and would result in an instance of a priori knowledge. Further, this would be an example of an a priori truth that is also necessary.
Some a priori truths might be instances of knowledge but not necessarily true. The only types of a priori truths that are not necessarily true are those that are true by definition. “All bachelors are unmarried males,” is driven by a definition that need not necessarily be true—there could be a possible sub-culture where “bachelor” means a newly married male. What makes such an instance actually a priori knowledge is because “all bachelors are unmarried males” is true by definition and therefore requires no research or experience—thus, a priori.
Some have attempted to reduce necessary truths to pure linguistics.22 But as argued concerning the example of necessarily or axiomatic truths (of which to deny is self-refuting) such examples cannot be reduced to pure linguistics. While some necessary truths can be reduced to tautologies, this by no means entails all necessary truths are reducible to merely linguistically significant statements.2324 Even Thurow eventually concedes that instances of necessary truths which are defeasible by experience are of the “true by definition” variety and therefore the linguistic factor could affect the truth value, but, iff the definition were equivocal.25
In conclusion, a priori truths can be necessary or true by definition and either can be justified depending on the usage or if is predicated on some a posteriori truth. Necessary a priori truths are irrefutable but are limited in scope. True by definition a priori truths are contingent upon language and in some cases limited by a posteriori foundations (such as the example of car accident). Even before examining Hume, it seems unlikely he would consider his objection as “necessary” therefore, if his objection has merit it would have to be a true by definition or a posteriori contingent a priori truth.
1Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, USA, 1993).2
2Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup, A Companion to Epistemology (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). 1
3Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 3
5Albert Casullo, “Analyzing a Priori Knowledge,” Philosophical Studies 142, no. 1 (January 2009): 77–90, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/10.1007/s11098-008-9302-5.
7Philip Kitcher, “Knowledge, Society, and History,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23, no. 2 (June 1, 1993): 155–177, doi:10.2307/40231815.
8Philip Kitcher, “A Priori Knowledge,” The Philosophical Review 89, no. 1 (January 1, 1980): 3–23, doi:10.2307/2184861.
9James R. Beebe, “A Priori Skepticism*,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83, no. 3 (2011): 583–602, doi:10.1111/j.1933-1592.2010.00488.x.
12René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (NuVision Publications, LLC, 1960). 12
13Harry M. Bracken, Descartes (Oneworld, 2002).15
14Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 3
15Casullo, “Analyzing a Priori Knowledge.” 89
17Darragh Byrne, “A Priori Justification,” Philosophical Books 48, no. 3 (2007): 241–251, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0149.2007.00447.x.
18Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 8
19Joshua Thurow, “Experientially Defeasible A Priori Justification,” The Philosophical Quarterly 56, no. 225 (2006): 596–602, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2006.461.x.596
20Albert Casullo, A Priori Justification (Oxford University Press, USA, 2003). 88
21Paul A. Boghossian, Content and Justification: Philosophical Papers, Text is Free of Markings (Oxford University Press, USA, 2008). 177. Boghossian is less inclined to believe something so specific can be known via a priori knowledge, but he is willing to allow statements such as, “I am currently entertaining a thought,” which equally argues for my point concerning propositions that are necessarily true because to deny the proposition ultimately affirms it.
22E. D. Klemke, “The Laws of Logic,” Philosophy of Science 33, no. 3 (September 1, 1966): 271–277, doi:10.2307/186275..
24Alfred J. Ayer and Sir Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd ed. (Dover Publications, 1952). 16
25Thurow, “Experientially Defeasible A Priori Justification.” 600
April 28th, 2014
What is it?
The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is an argument commonly used to belittle faith. It is predicated on the notion that as our knowledge of the natural sciences increases, fewer supernaturally motivated conclusions about our universe will be necessary. In other words, God is only a placeholder explanation for phenomena until researchers discover the actual cause.
For example, modern man is well aware that lighting and thunder has nothing to do with angry deities; Instead, it is understood that it is actually an arc of electricity in the atmosphere. In the same way, modern man is also rightly skeptical of the conclusion that illness results from the anger of malevolent “spirits”. Research has revealed the causes to be known bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other related things.
In the past, because god-of-the-gaps was utilized to explain what could not be understood, some theorize that there is a coming time when the “god” of the gaps will explain nothing. In other words, science will explain all of man’s questions. Not only is this conclusion misguided but actually is utilizing the same logic it is attempting to decry.
The classical arguments for the existence of God (ontological, axiological, cosmological, teleological) are not negative arguments. They are not responses to unexplained phenomenon. Rather they are responses to what is known about the world.
For example, because we know all things which begin to exist need a cause, it is impossible for anything that began to exist to be self-caused; It follows then that everything from human consciousness to the universe would need a cause. Further, in all cases where something is caused, the producer of the cause must have certain features which enable it to be the cause the observed effect.
In the case of the universe, for example, such features must include: intelligence, consciousness, intentionality, and sufficient power. Thus, because of what we do know about the world, and how cause and effect works, the existence of God is not a lowest common denominator god-of-the-gaps response. Instead, is the best possible response to the data we have at hand.
Even if one argues that the existence of the universe is not restrained to the laws of causality, as some theoretical physicists do, believing that the universe is an anomaly of the “quantum vacuum” is still highly problematic. If as a recent paper from Japan asserts, the universe is indeed the result of such a rare occurrence as a the expansion of a quantum vacuum bubble, then one would have no justification for believing that such causation would be reasonably possible; Possibility does not necessitate reality. On the other hand, if one assumes it is possible, as the Japanese paper asserts, then why do we only see one universe? An even better question is: Why only universes?
Of course, if one wanted to be honest and go the route of saying that the universe is an anomaly of which we have only mathematical models, with little actual physical evidence, then that same person has just argued that we have no reason to believe the philosophical conclusions they create based on such a model. In reality, the only reason atheists argue that the universe doesn’t need a cause is personal volition. Many argue this way because they personally, but not intellectually, prefer to believe in a religion which allows them to do as they wish. They do not like where alternative conclusions take them.
The god-of-the-gaps fallacy occurs when one goes from what he does not know to god (or some supernatural phenomenon). The apologist is not following that line of argumentation. Instead, he is going from what he does know (e.g. causality) to God. Basing conclusions on what is known and logical could hardly be considered the a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.
In an ironic twist, if one defends the belief that science will one day answer all of men’s questions, that one should use the belief in science to fill in the “gaps”, he is actually making the same argument … merely with a different conclusion. Scientific methodology and mathematical models become “gods-in-the-gap”.
While the theist is charged with arguing from what is unknown to God, the skeptic is going from what is scientifically unknown (i.e. the answers to man’s problems and questions) to no God; The justification or evidence is the same for both scenarios. Thus if a skeptic convinces someone that they are refuting a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, they may also refuting their own argument. Usually, they are making a straw man argument, because it does not accurately portray the evidence, the conclusion, or the methodology of the Christian.
March 24th, 2014
Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Atheist Delusion
Many contemporary popular writers reject the first century a.d. portrait of Jesus as God, Savior, and Messiah. Instead, they proclaim Jesus as somewhat of a guru who imparted secret knowledge to His followers. This was the false Jesus of the Gnostic writings.
The Gnostic writings were rejected by the early church for numerous reasons. First, the Gnostic writings (i.e., the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, etc.) were written much too late. The earliest possible date given to some of these books is about 140 ad, over one-hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hence, they lacked apostolic authority and did not come from eyewitnesses or anyone who personally knew the eyewitnesses. Hence, the information was written far too late to contain reliable information about Jesus and His teachings.
Second, these writings were deceptive. They are often classified as pseudepigrapha because they were forgeries. The unknown authors were not the persons they claimed to be. No New Testament critic, not even the liberal critics of the Jesus Seminar, believes that these books were actually written by Judas, Thomas, Philip, or Mary Magdalene. The authors were lying; they claimed to be someone they were not.
Third, the Gnostic writings were considered heretical by the early church, and therefore could not be added to the canon. The Gnostics rejected salvation through faith in Jesus and instead taught salvation through secret knowledge. (The word “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means knowledge.) The ancient Gnostics rejected the Old Testament as an evil book written by an evil god. They taught that matter is totally evil and the spiritual realm is totally good. Since the Old Testament God created the material universe, the Gnostics deemed Him to be an evil god. Whereas biblical Christianity has always considered itself to be the completion or fulfillment of the Jewish Faith (i.e., the Old Testament), the Gnostics were opposed to the teachings of the Old Testament and the God of the Jewish Faith. Hence, the early church rejected the Gnostic writings as being heretical; these writings were not in agreement with previous revelation. Hence, as heretical works, the early church believed the Gnostic texts were not edifying for true believers. Since God inspired or guided the early church to write His Word, He also guided the early church to recognize which books belonged in the canon (i.e., the list of books which belonged in the Bible). The Gnostic writings were written too late to be authoritative records of Jesus’ ministry and life. They were heretical, and they were forgeries. There was and is no reason to include the Gnostic writings in the New Testament. The Jesus of the Gnostic writings is a false Jesus. The Gnostic Jesus is not the true Jesus of history.
February 5th, 2014
This is an excerpt from Dr. Fernandes’ book
“Content Earnestly For The Faith“.
The Bible claims repeatedly to be the Word of God. One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of this claim is the many fulfilled prophecies proclaimed in the Bible. This work has already examined a sample of prophecies fulfilled by Christ. Here, a few more of the many biblical prophecies that have already come to pass will be discussed.
The Bible has made many predictions concerning the future of great nations and cities. The following is a brief discussion of a few of the prophecies fulfilled concerning these cities and nations. Around 590—570BC, the prophet Ezekiel predicted that the city of Tyre would be destroyed and never be rebuilt, and that it would become a barren rock which fishermen would use to mend their nets (Ezekiel 26:4, 5, 14). Though Tyre was destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history, it was ultimately devastated in 1291AD by Muslim invaders. Today, all that is left of the ancient site of Tyre is a small fishing community which uses the barren ground to dry their nets.
In the sixth century BC, Ezekiel also predicted that the city of Sidon would suffer much violence and bloodshed throughout her history, yet remain in existence (Ezekiel 28:23). Though Sidon has been invaded and defeated numerous times throughout her history,
the city still exists today. In 625BC, the prophet Zephaniah predicted that the city of
Ashkelon would someday be destroyed, but that it would eventually be inhabited by the Jews (Zephaniah 2:4, 6). Ashkelon was destroyed in 1270AD by Sultan Bibars. The city remained uninhabited for centuries until the nation of Israel was reestablished in 1948. Now, the
Jews have rebuilt and re-inhabited Ashkelon.
Zephaniah also predicted that the Philistines—a powerful enemy of the Jews throughout much of the Old Testament—would be totally wiped out. Though they continued to prosper for many centuries, they eventually became extinct in 1200AD (Zephaniah 2:5). The prophet Obadiah, writing in either 841BC or 586BC, prophesied the extinction of the Edomites, who were the descendants of Esau and enemies of the Jews (Obadiah 18). When the Romans devastated the city of Jerusalem in 70AD, they also defeated the remnants of Edom (called the Idumeans at that time). At that time, all traces of the Edomites disappear.
In 740—680BC, the prophet Isaiah predicted that Egypt would still be a nation in the last days (Isaiah 19:21-22). In spite of the many wars Egypt has encountered throughout her four-thousand year history, this ancient nation remains in existence to this day. In 1410BC, Moses predicted that Israel would be scattered among the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 28:64). The prophet Hosea, in 710BC, predicted this dispersion of Israel as well (Hosea 9:17).
History records that after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the Jews were scattered throughout the world. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied that Israel would be regathered in her land in the last days (Isaiah 11:11-12; Ezekiel 37:21). This happened in 1948AD when the nation of Israel was reestablished. The Jews continue to return to their land to this day. God told Abraham that those who cursed Israel would be cursed by God (Genesis 12:3). This prophecy has been fulfilled many times.
Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, the Roman Empire, and Nazi Germany are a few examples of nations or empires that persecuted and oppressed Israel. While the tiny nation of Israel still exists today, Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany have collapsed and are no longer in existence. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Nazi Germany had slaughtered six-million Jews and its war machine was devastating Europe. By 1948, Nazi Germany was nonexistent and the Jews had control of their homeland—the nation of Israel— for the first time since 586BC. Each of these prophecies has been fulfilled to the detail.
Many other biblical prophecies have also been fulfilled. It should also be noted that no futuristic prophecy of Scripture has ever been shown to be false. This separates the Bible from false prophets such as Edgar Cayce and Jean Dixon. Their success rate is much lower than the perfect accuracy of the predictions made by the Bible. Henry Morris made the following comment: It seems reasonable to conclude that the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy constitutes a unique and powerful evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible.
The evidence provided above for the Bible being God’s Word is threefold. First, Jesus (who is God) taught that the Bible is God’s Word. Second, the Bible contains insights that go beyond mere human wisdom. Third, the Bible made numerous predictions, many of which have been fulfilled. None of these predictions have proven false (though some prophecies have yet to be fulfilled). In short, there are good reasons for believing the Bible is God’s Word. Those who reject the divine inspiration of the Bible have failed to explain the three factors above.
December 27th, 2013
This is an excerpt from chapter six of Dr. Fernandes’ 2011 book, Seven Great Apologists.
THE UNITY SCHOOL OF CHRISTIANITY
The Unity School of Christianity is an offshoot of Christian Science. Founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, this cult teaches that man is divine; all have the “Christ-consciousness” within them. Unity views Jesus as merely a man who exercised his Christ consciousness more than any other man. Sin, the devil, and eternal punishment do not exist; they are illusions. Salvation in the Unity cult is through reincarnation, and everyone will eventually be saved. Unlike Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity does believe in the existence of the physical world.
The teaching of the Unity cult can be refuted in much the same fashion as those of Christian Science. However, a scriptural refutation of reincarnation should be added when dealing with Unity. The Bible teaches that it is appointed for a man to die once, not many times (Hebrews 9:27). The Word of God makes it clear that Jesus alone was punished for our sins (Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18); man does not need to be purged for his own sins through reincarnation. Jesus clearly taught that a deceased person cannot return to this world for a second chance (Luke 16:19-31).
December 19th, 2013
When so many others left, the 12 disciples decided to stay. But why?
November 25th, 2013
Atheism isn’t a destination. It’s a stopover on the road back to paganism.
November 25th, 2013
Not many have loved Jesus. Many have hated him. Many are apathetic. What do you say about Jesus?
November 21st, 2013
The question is one asked by many men. What is your reply?