Friday, June 20, 2014

Can I Be Both Classical and Presuppositional? A Possible Fusion of Apologetic Method

Can a person be both classical and presuppositional (covenantal) in apologetic method?  Apologetic method is something I think about quite often, and the reason for that is because first of all, I want to honor the Lord in the way I communicate the truth about His world to people, and I want to honor Scripture.  Scripture says Jesus Christ has superiority in all things. "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent," (Colossians 1:18).  Presuppositionalists tell us that this text requires that Christ be first in order of knowing (epistemology) as well as being (metaphysics).  Classical apologists, following Thomas Aquinas, who followed Aristotle's metaphysics, say God is first in being, but not in knowing. 

I've been reading Ed Feser's "The Last Superstition," and it's been eye-opening.  Feser is an Aristotelian Thomist philosopher, who argues forcibly that Aristotle's realism and causality still stand, despite David Hume's best attempts to deny them.  I'm so impressed with this book about realism that I can hardly contain myself.  This isn't just philosophizing, either.  Feser argues that realism enables us to have certainty about things like sexual ethics, abortion, and euthanasia.  My Thomist friends (and professors at Southern Evangelical Seminary) have told me time and again about "self-evidential truths" such as the laws of logic, universals, and the like, and now I'm seeing that these are undeniable.  It has been reading Feser's account of realism that has blown my mind.  Heraclitus and Parmenides couldn't agree on change, and the other pre-Socratics couldn't figure out the "essence" of things as they witnessed the grueling attempt to fuse together the universals and particulars seen in the world.  Plato comes by with the Forms, but didn't really solve the problem.  Instead, Aristotle solves it by giving an account of universals & particularity (the problem of the one and the many), and change by his ruminations about substance, accidents (accidens), and....  Read Feser's book, because I don't have time to lay out Aristotle's metaphysics on this post.  If you're interested in apologetics - get Feser's book!  That is all. 

Thomists agree with Aristotle's metaphysics about self-evidential truths, some of which are laid out in Feser's book.  They are: 
1) The "one over many": universals like triangularity, redness and humanness, exist and a) are not reducible to any particular thing (such as the aforementioned), and b) would exist, even if there were no human mind available to comprehend them, and c) are immaterial things, and hence disprove materialism (that only matter exists).
2) Geometry: geometrical objects are necessary, not contingent. (Contingency is the idea that something may or may not be or exist.  If something is necessary, on the other hand, it cannot help but be or exist). 
3) Mathematics in general: mathematical truths are necessary (not contingent) and exist outside the human mind.  In fact, if mathematical truths are indeed located in the human mind, all is relative.  But it is self-evident that they are not located in the human mind, as 2+2 = 4 is true and is always true despite the fact that the human brain changes over time.  Sally's brain when she was 5 years old is different than Sally's brain when she is 55.  Her brain has grown, replicated new cells, and yet 2+2 = 4 despite that.  (An argument for personhood is available here, too, as Sally is Sally even though her body has changed).
4) The nature of propositions: like mathematical truths, propositional statements cannot be identified with either the material or the mental.  That is, they aren't physical things only, and neither do they exist only in the mind.  For example, Feser writes, "[T]he proposition 'There is neither a material world nor any human mind' would have been true, in which case it would not be something material or mental."  Feser means, when he says this proposition "would have been true," that this its truth-value holds whether or not any human mind ever existed in order to think such a statement. 
5) Science: scientific laws and classifications make reference to universals, inasmuch as they make use of mathematical truths as well (#3).  The classification "bear" is a universal category of "bearness" intrinsic to bears.  Science therefore makes use of universals "forms" of which Plato conceived, and of which Aristotle clarified.  
6) Vicious regress problem of "resemblance."  Red fire trucks resemble red stop sides due to their common ally in holding the color red.  Since the two things resemble each other, "resemblance" itself is a universal.

7) Universality of words: "Red" uttered by you, me, and Socrates, means the word itself applies to many things shows that there is something in common between those things of which we have denoted their being red.  Words in such a case are hence used as universals.
8) Objectivity of concepts and knowledge: Feser notes that when you and I both think of the Pythagorean theorem, we are both thinking of the one and the same truth, and that this truth is something that exists independent of the human mind.  
9) The possibility of communication: arguing against "conceptualism," the idea that concepts exist merely in the human mind, Feser aptly points out the absurdity of the fact that if true, then communication would be impossible.  If you say "snow is white" and I say "snow is white" and these propositions both exist independently and (simultaneously) in our respective minds, there would be no way for us to know that we are speaking of the same thing.  Hence, communication and shared ideas show that such concepts and propositions are real, objective, and exist outside the human mind.  Eat it, solipsists! 
So far, we've seen from Feser's excellent work that realism is irrefutable, and known by "pure reason," as he states in his book.  He builds a strong case for Aristotelian Thomism.  The point of contention between the Reformed apologetic and A.Thomism is this notion of "pure reason."  I wonder of course, when Christian philosophers talk of "pure reason" if presuppositionalists object to such a concept because of 1) so-called intellectual autonomy, which is a no-no, as it places man in authority over God's revelation of himself in Scripture, and 2) the so-called "myth of neutrality."  However, Feser's argument for realism is a strong one. How can we say otherwise?  Is using pure reason the same as being purely neutral?  Is there a volitional aspect to neutrality/use of pure reason (if the two be the same) that needs to be discussed?

One the other side of the A.Thomist perspective, James N. Anderson and George Welty write in their article, "The Lord of NonContradiction" that the laws of logic are not only abstract ideas and entities (thus agreeing with A.Thomists in contradistinction to materialism), but verily thoughts, and thoughts that come from a mind.  Anderson and Welty write, "In summary: the laws of logic are propositions; propositions are intrinsically intentional; the intrinsically intentional is none other than the mental; therefore, the laws of logic are mental in nature. The laws of logic are thoughts."  The thoughts are such because of what philosophers call intentionality. That is, they are goal-oriented.  This is a key concept as we discuss apologetic method, because Aristotle, and Thomas after him, remind us of the concept of final causes, which are--you guessed it--teleological in nature: they are goal-oriented.  Anderson and Welty then make the move to show that these thoughts (that law of logic, that is) are divine thoughts.  This is because the laws of logic exist necessarily. Existing necessarily, the thoughts must be from a necessarily existent mind; this in turn implies a person.  Quoting Aquinas (!), they commend to readers his advice that a necessarily existent mind is a necessarily existent person.

It seems then, that with Aristotle's metaphysics--his conceptual schemata concerning immaterial, abstract concepts that disprove materialism (and conceptualism, and nominalism), coupled with Aquinas' notion of a necessary being, that the presuppositionalist argument of Anderson and Welty find a fusion with A.Thomism in terms of the drawing an inferential argument for the existence of God.  The difference, of course, between A.Thomism, and the presuppositional argument, is precisely the whole point of discussion here: the method or way in which one discovers the truth of reality and hence, of God.  Anderson and Welty argue that the laws of logic presuppose God.  A.Thomism (represented by Feser in this post), argues from "pure reason" (quotes here are not sarcastic) to an objective paradigm of reality and hence of God (using the arguments of natural theology with Aquinas' 5 Ways).  It seems to me that both Feser and Anderson and Welty have argued from reason to reach the same conclusions about reality and God.  Their conclusions are slightly different, in that the latter team attempts to show how the laws of logic presuppose the existence of God, while the former uses the laws of logic to show that God exists.  In either case, however, both parties must begin where we stand--as finite creatures pondering the world in which we live, pondering what ultimate reality is, and posing questions about how to reason about all of these things.  I'm reminded of William Lane Craig's famous line about the difference between knowing God, and showing God.  That is, Christians know God; they also attempt to show others why belief in God is reasonable and true.

Can there be a fusion between the A.Thomist i.e. Classical method and the Reformed i.e. Presuppositional (or, as Scott Oliphint wants to now call it, "Covenantal") method?  The point of distinction again is the order of being and knowing.  In the A.Thomist tradition, God is first in being.  As a necessary being, God exists necessarily. That's a no-brainer.  If God exists, then of course He exists first-that is, before all things.  What does Man know first?  Does he know reality (being) first, and then God second?  Or, does he know God first, simultaneously as he knows reality?  These questions become even more difficult when we recall the noetic effects of sin, which impede the psychological process of believing in God.

While presuppositionalists and classicalists tend to treat each other with contempt, it is my hope that more dialogue may ensue in the future about apologetic method, the role of reason in the apologetic task, and the nature of arguments that aim to provide evidence that Christian faith is worth believing.

1 comment:

Kurt Jaros said...

Chris, I share some sympathies with a fusion of sorts. As you know, I'm not a presuppositionalists. But interestingly enough, I think many thinkers like C. S. Lewis held to a sort of soft-presuppositionalism. After all, God has placed eternity in all of our hearts (Ecc. 3:11).

On a soft-presup view, one can reconcile the use of the alternative methods of apologetics. This makes more sense of John Frame's remarks in the Five Views books regarding how the methodologies are more like emphases than exclusive systems.

I suppose most of my qualms against presuppositionalism are the anthropological claims from the underlying Calvinism.:-)