Monday, October 1, 2007

Which is the bolder statement?

I am cognitively certain that I exist.

I am not cognitively certain that I exist.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"I" Must Exist

In the English language the word “I” never denotes anything other than the entity which happens to be employing it in thought or speech at a particular time. “I” references one and only one thing – the self. This self-referential aspect of the word's usage automatically imports the concept of being into its meaning. In fact, a proper use of “I” requires the existence of something. The same cannot be said of those words frequently used in third-person contexts, or even those commonly called “nouns”. Saying “I exist” isn’t the same as saying “horse exists,” or better yet, “chimera exists,” because the nouns “horse” and “chimera” do not carry the added implication of existence. Horses and chimeras may not exist. The referent to which “I” refers, on the other hand, cannot be non-existent, at least not at the time the reference is made. In fact, one cannot say “I do not exist” without entering upon a contradiction.

As previously stated, the chimera may not exist, but then again, it didn’t assert its own existence now did it? Whatever deliberately thinks “I exist” must exist, and this applies to the chimera as much as it does anything else. If the chimera asserts its own existence using the formula “I exist,” then it must exist for it has declared it so, albeit in a pleonastic fashion. The chimera (or any other entity for that matter) really only needs to say “I” in order both to state the fact of its own existence and avoid the embarrassment of speaking redundantly, because the “I” can never be used properly without the added implication of being. In other words, it need not use the fomula “I exist,” which really means that “this entity, which must exist in order to use the term ‘I’ properly, exists.” The chimera should just say, "I," and nothing more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What is "I": A Crossroads in My Life

A few weeks ago I had an experience that I hope one day to reflect upon as a defining moment in my life. It all started innocently enough. I was looking on my bookshelf for something to read. I don’t recall exactly what I was thinking about at the time, but I’m sure it was something like, “What am I in the mood for today?” That’s when it hit me.

I suddenly realized that there was no rhyme or reason to my reading patterns. There was no aim or purpose. In fact, I would describe my choice of reading material on any given day as being all over the map. I might read Hume one day and Melville the next with no justification for the switch other than my mood. When I look at my bookshelves, I see Dostoevsky, Kant, Augustine, Russell, Dante, and so forth. I’ve read much of what I find there, but why? Why do I read at all? My answer to this question was not very satisfying. Until that moment, my primary motivation for reading was little more than a desire to know what a particular author said about a particular topic, which he or she happened to be discussing in a particular publication, and which I happened to be interested in at that particular time. I read Kant to see what he said epistemology. I read Dostoevsky to see what he said about humanity and the problem of evil. I read Melville to see what he said about the destructive nature of a heart bent on vengeance. My choices were driven by my mood at the time of the selection. In fact, I am notorious for reading part of a book and moving on to something else. I frequently get bored with whatever the author is discussing, and I go on to another book having never really looked at the material critically or having used it as fuel for my on thoughts on the subject. I now believe that the my primary reason for failing to do so was my lack of direction. Either I didn’t know what I was looking for; or I wasn’t really looking for anything at all.

You can’t imagine the impact that this realization had on me. I felt lost and without purpose. I sat down on my bed in dismay and stared at my bookshelf. Suddenly a question popped into my head. It was a simple question, but it had a profound effect on me. The question was this:

What is it that you want to know?

I asked myself, “If you could have any question answered, what would it be?” You might suppose that formulating “the question” would take considerable time and contemplation, but I assure you that in my case it did not. A question entered my head almost immediately. It wasn’t the one that I most wanted answered, but it was instrumental in getting me there. The question was this:
Does a real world exist outside of my mind?

I can remember sitting in my yard as a child, looking at a tree, all the while thinking, “Is this real?” In a similar way, I have often asked myself if the people around me are real. I wondered if they were actually intelligent beings, thinking and acting independently of myself, or if perhaps they were mindless automata created by some being for my amusement, or if they were simply a creation of my mind. Is the world around me real or is it . . . well . . . something else? That’s a question the greatly interests me, but it still was not “the question.”

In thinking through these things, I recognized that there was at least one question which was more fundamental than the one above. It was “the question” for which I was searching. I had contemplated it many times before, and I recognized it immediately as the one that I most wanted answered. When one asks “Does a real world exist outside of my mind” he makes a critical assumption. He assumes the existence of the “I”. Before one can inquire into the nature of the external world, he must inquire into the nature of the one who perceives that world. It was this line of thinking that led me to ask myself: What is “I”?

For the first time, I no longer needed to depend on my mood for book selection. I was no longer going to read simply for the sake of knowledge acquisition. I was no longer going to snatch up volumes of philosophical ponderings at random or on the basis of some fleeting mood driven whim. Oh, I can imagine that there will be times when I want to break from my search and read an unrelated work of intellectual value for purely entertainment purposes; or perhaps I will occasionally get side-tracked by some curiosity that has gotten the better of me; but those times will be few and far between. I knew that from that day forward, I would be reading to see what conclusions others had reached about the nature of the mysterious “I”; and I would use their thoughts to stimulate my own original thinking on the subject. I am excited to see where my journey to find the “I” will lead me!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Was Jesus Really Tempted in Every Way?

I have often wondered how it is that a man who only lived to be approximately 33 years old could have been "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15 NASB) There are many, many ways that man can sin against God, and there is no doubt that we who are wicked have been creative in our pursuit of evil. I'm not sure that I have been tempted in every possible way, and I'm older than Jesus was when he was crucified.

Now, I suppose that one might say that Jesus was tempted to do every evil activity imaginable or that man has faced. I have met people who interpreted Heb. 4:15 in that way. I don’t agree with this interpretation, because I don’t see that Jesus was ever tempted to look at internet pornography given the fact that the internet didn’t exist during his lifetime on earth. Most any sin that you can think of, on the other hand, can be categorized under a broader heading. For example, the temptation to look at internet porn, the temptation to have sex before marriage, the temptation to commit adultery and so forth might be categorized under the broader heading "lust." Therefore, a person need only experience one of these particular temptations in order to say that he has experienced the categorical temptation, lust, which has undoubtedly snagged a person or two during the course of history. A man who succumbed to lust and committed adultery could rightfully relate to a man who succumbed to lust and had pre-marital sex. I believe that this is a healthier way of looking at Christ's temptations than the first, but I also think that there might be a better way to understand the author of Hebrews when he says that Jesus was tempted in every way.

I was attending a weekly Bible study group recently where the question was asked: What attributes characterize a Christian? As a contributor to the conversation, I stated that a Christian abides by the law of love that Jesus laid down in Matthew 22:37-39: a) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” 2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (NASB) I continued to say that every sin can be chalked up to a violation of one or both of these commandments. Actually, one might argue that any sin can be attributed to a violation of the first, and that for the sake of simplicity, we need not attempt to distinguish those sins that are in violation of the second; but since Matthew (and ultimately God) elected to state them separately, I will follow their lead. As I said before, I commented that sin in general is first and foremost a violation of one or both of these commandments, which by Jesus’ own admission undergirds the Law and the Prophets.

The conversation eventually drifted away from this topic, and at some point, my wife, Tracey, began talking about a scenario where one person might say, “Well, you don’t understand the temptation that I face because you’re not tempted by that which tempts me.” At that point, I commented that if what I had previously said was indeed true, that every sin is a violation of at least one of the two greatest commandments, then no brother or sister in Christ could ever say that another did not understand his or her temptation. As true Christians, we all understand the temptation to put ourselves above God and others, which is the very heart of sin. Isn’t this what we generally teach about Adam and Eve in the garden? It was at this point that my mind turned to Hebrews 4:15.

The following thought occurred to me: If the temptation to violate the two greatest commandments is at the core of every sinful act, and if Jesus was ever tempted to put himself above the Father and others, then he was truly “tempted in all things as we are,” even if it he only faced one temptation in his entire life. If I am not mistaken, the Bible only speaks of three temptations that Christ faced. Some may consider his struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane as a temptation as well, but even so, I think it is possible that these are the only ones that he ever faced. If this is truly the case, then he would still be able to claim that he was tempted in every way because he would forever be able to say, “Like you Gary, I have been tempted not to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind; and I have been tempted not to love my neighbor as myself.” The difference between him and us, however, is that he never forsook the love of the Father and the love of others in favor of a love for himself. He obeyed the Father unto death on a cross, and he did it in our stead, in order to bear our punishment, so that we might be saved, because he loved God and man.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Foundationalism: The Criteria for Proper Basicality

In his article, “Fundamental Problem with Foundationalism,” Dan Allen explains the basic concept of classical foundationalism and the problem of infinite regression. His article provides the context for this article, so I would suggest that if you have not read it or if you are unfamiliar with the terms classical foundationalism and infinite regression as they apply to epistemology, his discussion would be a good place to begin. In his article, Dan points out a problem that one might say is foundational to classical foundationalism:

How does one know when he or she has identified a foundational proposition?
As Dan explains, simply stating that a proposition is true or foundational does not make it so. If that were the case, then I might just as well claim that a proposition positing the existence of Santa Claus is foundational. What we are concerned with here is a set of criteria that will allow us to identify whether or not a claim can be rightly called foundational or, to use more modern terminology, properly basic. From this point further, I will use the terms “foundational proposition” and “properly basic proposition” interchangably; and for the sake of this discussion, I will define a properly basic proposition as one which does not rely upon the truth of any other proposition for further justification. In other words, a properly basic proposition requires no other justification in order to demonstrate its truth. It is simply true, and universally recognized as such. Philosophers, logicians, and mathematicians have offered up a number of candidates for proper basicality. As Dan mentions in his article, the law of non-contradiction is a popular example. The law of identity and law of the excluded middle are some others. Some have suggested that sense experience, both internal and external, are properly basic. Regardless of the propositions that have been suggested, however, once a list has been compiled, one cannot help but wonder about the criteria by which they were chosen.

Many criteria have been suggested to help identify properly basic propositions. I am not going to discuss any specific criterion here, nor am I going to argue in favor of a particular set of criteria for identifying properly basic propositions. I am going to discuss a major problem with identifying that criteria in general. The following conversation gets pretty hairy, so take your time and wade through it carefully. I believe that it will be well worth your time and effort if you are interested in this conversation.

Suppose that I made the claim that any properly basic proposition should have properties X, Y, and Z. The prudent philosopher would probably ask, “How do you know that foundational propositions have properties X, Y, and Z?” In other words, where did I get that criteria? Did I just make it up? This is place where things get mighty sticky for the classical foundationalist.

For any given proposition, including one that attempts to state the criteria for proper basicality, that proposition is either properly basic or not. If it is not properly basic, then it requires justification. That justification must come in the form of other propositions, whose justification must come from further propositions, and so forth. As Dan stated, this chain of justification will either regress into infinity or it will terminate at some proposition or propositions that do not require any justification. This applys to any proposition that attempts to define the criteria for proper basicality as well. The claim that “Properly basic propositions are defined by characteristics X, Y, and Z” is a proposition, and it is either properly basic or not.

Here’s the rub:

If the proposition that defines proper basicality is not properly basic, then it must be justified by some other propositions, which in turn must be justified by other propositions, until the foundational propositions are reached. In order to know when we get to the foundational propositions, we must know what they look like. In order to know what they look like, we need the criteria for proper basicality, but the proposition that states the criteria for proper basicality is the very proposition that we are trying to establish! We don’t have the right to use the criteria until we know it is true, but if it is not properly basic, we will be forced into a situation where we must use our unestablished set of criteria in order to demonstrate the truth of our criteria. In other words, we would have to assume the truth of our criteria in order to identify the properly basic propositions that we need to establish the truth of our criteria. This is a major no, no. It is a serious logical fallacy that philosophers often refer to as begging the question.

As far as I am concerned, this entire process is a dead-end. I can only see one way for the foundationalist to get around this problem. If there is a criteria for proper basicality, then the criteria itself must be properly basic. In other words, the criteria for proper basicality must be identified in the absence of any criteria for proper basicality, and once identified, it must account for it’s own basicality. This is a very tall order indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Epistemology: Back to the Basics

The term epistemology refers to the study of what people know and how they know it. There is a particular group of philosophical skeptics who believe that people cannot know anything. Skeptics of this type might argue that, for the sake of accuracy, people should preface all knowledge claims with phrases such as “It appears highly probable that …” or “It seems to me that…” For example, one might say, “It appears highly probable that I exist” or “It seems to me that the sum of 5 and 7 is 12.” There are others, however, who believe that people can know some things. They would argue that definitive claims to knowledge such as “I exist” or “The sum of 5 and 7 is 12” are perfectly acceptable. For those people, the question has ceased to be that of whether or not people can know something and becomes one of how people know something. It is those people who are the focus of the discussion that follows.

Some people believe that all of the knowledge that we acquire concerning ourselves and the surrounding world comes through the senses. They would argue that human minds are essentially devoid of anything that can be characterized as knowledge from conception until the time at which the mind is capable of receiving and processing sense data. As embryos, fetuses, and possibly even newborns, our minds are blank slates. At the time that our minds begin to collect information, however, our knowledge starts to grow. This isn’t to say that everything we experience becomes knowledge, but rather that anything we consider to be knowledge ultimately comes from experience. People who believe that knowledge comes from experience are often referred to as empiricists.

There is another group of individuals who believe that people are born with certain “built-in” knowledge. They would argue that our minds come pre-packaged with a set of basic information that we can rightly claim as knowledge. Not everyone who believes in built-in knowledge rejects the notion that knowledge can come through the senses. Some believe that we know things both a priori and a posteriori. The phrase a priori comes from the Latin and literally means “from what comes before.” It refers to knowledge which exists in the mind prior to experience (i.e. built-in knowledge). The opposing Latin phrase, a posteriori, literally translated “from what comes after,” refers to knowledge that comes after or posterior to experience.

Anyone who claims that our minds come prepackaged with a fundamental set of knowledge (i.e. a priori knowledge) should be prepared to face some challenging questions. Actually, the people who say that our minds do not come prepackaged with bits of knowledge have some pretty challenging questions to answer as well. At any rate, some of the questions that should concern the advocate of built-in knowledge are as follows:

  1. What is the ultimate source of this built-in knowledge?
  2. How does built-in knowledge get into our minds?
  3. How do we identify and categorize this kind of knowledge (i.e. logic principles, mathematics, etc.)?
  4. How do we accurately express built-in knowledge linguistically or propositionally?
  5. What other propositions can we build off of the ones that express our built-in knowledge, and can we properly claim those propositions as knowledge too?

Given the brief description of the two basic epistemological camps above, think about where you come down on this subject. Do you believe that people have knowledge that is built into the mind, or do you believe that knowledge only comes from experience? If you do believe that human minds come prepackaged with knowledge, how would you respond to the questions above?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Should we abandon the Greek and Hebrew . . .

. . . if we don't know what we are doing? I was recently involved in a class discussion that got pretty heated. A fellow student presented a paper, the thesis of which might be stated as follows:

Students of the Bible should dedicate themselves to learning the original Biblical languages.

During the course of discussing his position, one of my classmates suggested that we be trained to use various tools such as the latest Bible study software, and that such training would be an acceptable alternative to a full-blown lifetime study of the languages in the tradition of the greatest Greek and Hebrew scholars. Upon hearing this, I attempted to argue in favor of some ideas that were similar (if not equivalent) to the following:
Simply training people in the proper use of Bible software and other such tools is the most dangerous move of all. A little Greek and Hebrew is far more dangerous than no Greek and Hebrew. If people are not going to display an on-going dedication to learning the languages, then they would be much better off to exegete the English text, always remembering to take great care in not resting any argument upon an English grammatical structure or the semantic domain of any particular English word. They should simply share the main idea that the English text conveys.

As you can imagine, this sparked quite a "discussion." I do not want to give my justification for making these statements just yet. I would much rather hear your opinions. What do you think about my comments? Why do you think I would make such a statement? Where do you stand?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What does "gospel" mean in the Scriptures?

Consider Romans 1:15-16:

"So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (NASB)

I have been struggling with several questions related to the meaning of the term "gospel" as it is used in Scripture. My primary question is:

Does the meaning of the term "gospel" change slightly depending on the context?

The Romans passage quoted above is a good example because it is a place where there could be a change in nuance from the first usage to the second with the one being in close proximity to the other. In the first, it sounds as though Paul is talking about a verbal account of the story of Christ and His role in the greater plan of salvation as designed and implemented by God from the creation of the world through the eschaton. Please don't read too much into that last sentence. I simply mean a verbal account of the way of salvation that could be as detailed as it is given in Scripture from Genesis through Revelation or as cursory as your average "Roman Road" presentation. What I'm really focusing on here is a vocalization or telling of the gospel to those who would hear.

In the second usage, however, I find it difficult to read the term in exactly same way as I do in the first. If I limit the second usage to a simple vocalization of the plan of salvation, I find myself asking, "Are the words that are coming out of my mouth really the power of God for salvation?" My mind wants to see the term differently in this sentence than it does in the first. I want to interpret the word in way that is more substantial (for lack of a better term) than a combination of fleeting vocalizations that are exiting from my face. When I say "substantial" I am referring to a meaning that points more toward the brute fact of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ; a fact that is the power of God for the salvation of those who would believe.

So I ask you, in verse 16, is Paul still referring to a simple telling of the gospel or is he talking about the concrete reality of God's plan of salvation as executed through Himself, Christ, and the Spirit? Perhaps I have created a false dilemma. Are there other options? What about other usages in Scripture? Your thoughts on this matter are welcome!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part IV

I concluded the previous post by saying that a man is godly at the moment he rejects his sinful heart/desires and submits himself to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit:

Godliness is the result of a choice that occurs in the heart, the choice to follow God. The new nature is already godly because it emanates directly from the Holy Spirit. In order to achieve godliness, all one ever needs to do is put it on.

Part IV concludes this series . . .

Unfortunately, putting on the new nature is easier preached than practiced. It is the place where men stumble; the place where the battle is frequently fought and lost if it is even fought at all. It is here that the application of self-discipline is crucial. In fact, the first stage is the only stage in the process where self-discipline can be exercised at all, because it is the only place where a struggle takes place. Most people assume that self-discipline takes place in the last stage, that is, the stage where the activity is actually performed. Self-discipline is not exercised there because it isn’t necessary there. Discipline is only necessary at the point of struggle, and no struggle should be occurring in the last stage. Reading the Bible is no struggle. Reading is easy. Praying is no struggle. Talking is easy. Evangelizing is no struggle. Telling the story of Jesus is easy. The struggle occurs in the heart. Once the battle with the heart is fought and won, the activities become a joy.

A man does not need to discipline himself to do the things that he loves to do. If he loves to play basketball, then he makes time to play. It may be the case, however, that he does not enjoy doing those repetitive, rigorous, and often boring tasks that will make him a better player. The place where athletic discipline is absolutely crucial is at the point of struggle. I know that doing X will help me to do Y better, but I hate doing X. What should I do? I must discipline myself to do X. Given our previous example, the basketball player may say, “I know that running sprints will give me more stamina and help me to play basketball better, but I hate running sprints.” He must overcome his unhealthy desire to neglect that which would work to his advantage. He overcomes that unhealthy desire through discipline. In his pursuit of a healthy desire, he must first repent from the unhealthy desire. His act of discipline, therefore, begins with a rejection of the negative attitude, not the acceptance of a positive one. For the Christian, X is always turning away from the sinful nature, and then submitting to God. For us, that is the point of struggle. We need to exercise discipline in that area. Once the struggle has been overcome, the heart is properly aligned, and we serve God with joy. The activity becomes a desire and a passion, and regimentation a thing of the past.

If we have been victorious in our struggle and have surrendered our hearts to God, then the Holy Spirit filled, God-oriented heart cannot help but perform in the way that He desires. It should be noted that God is neither performing the activity, nor is He forcing the activity to be performed. A properly oriented heart is in place. A godly man is performing the activity with joy for the purpose(s) for which it was intended. It is in this context that the command “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” comes to fruition. If I feel as though I am having to force or regiment myself to perform a particular activity such as Bible study, or if I have no joy while performing it, then I have failed at the first stage. I haven’t turned away from the sinful nature. I haven’t rejected my sinful self in favor of the new nature. This is why Scripture never describes any activity as producing godliness. This is also why Scripture never describes self-discipline in the context of performing activities. Self-discipline occurs far in advance of the activity.

Given what I have said to this point, I can formulate the last maxim:
Maxim 4: The godly man is he who has submitted to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

If we are ever confronted with the question, “How can I be godlier,” we should never respond by saying, “Pray more. Fast more. Study the Bible more.” We should always respond by saying:
You can be godly by repenting of your sins, turning away from your sinful nature, and turning your heart over to God. Godliness comes from submitting to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Submission to Him results in godliness, which manifests itself outwardly in godly attitudes, behaviors, and activities such as prayer, fasting, and Bible study from which you can reap many benefits and rewards as you grow in your walk with Christ.

Now that the fourth maxim is in place, we can reject our initial thesis which was:
If I perform the activities listed above with a properly oriented heart, that is, having yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God prior to performing the activities, then the end result will be godliness.

We can now formulate a new thesis:
Godliness is not achieved through the performance of any activity or set of activities but by turning away from the old sinful nature, turning toward the new godly nature, and submitting the heart to reorientation by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

If this is true, then I conclude that biblical self-discipline can only refer to the continual rejection of one’s sinful heart, desires, and nature in the effort to relinquish oneself to the new man, which is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is the battleground upon which the struggle for godliness takes place. Worship, prayer, fasting, and so forth are merely outward signs of the inward godliness. I also conclude, in response to my initial question, that a man performs the activities listed above because he is godly, not that he is godly because he performs the activities.

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part III

I concluded the previous post by saying that many Christians believe the following proposition:

(4) If I perform certain activities such as prayer, Bible study, fasting and so forth with a properly oriented heart, that is, having yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God prior to performing the activities, then the end result will be godliness.

I also said that an unsettling question which comes to my mind is:
Am I not a godly man at the moment that my heart has been properly aligned by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit?

Part III . . .

I feel that the best way to answer this question is to look at the process by which God uses the regenerate man for His glory:
a) First, you reject (repent from) the sinful nature and its sinful desires. This seems to be the biblical first step. It’s preached from thousands of pulpits every Sunday morning. For the brother in Christ who wants to pursue godliness, the first step is repentance. He must turn away from his sinful self. He cannot pursue godliness and sin at the same time. The one must be rejected in favor of the other. It is here that he opens the door of his heart to the possibility of godliness. At this stage, the desire for godliness gives way to the potential for godliness, and the potential for godliness awaits realization.
b) Second, in rejecting the sinful nature you have no option but to submit to the new nature. You must choose the nature to which you would submit. It cannot be both, and it cannot be neither. The natures are mutually exclusive. It makes no sense to say that I choose to follow God and my sinful self simultaneously. On the other hand, anything that has no nature is not a thing at all; it does not exist. Therefore, rejecting both natures is tantamount to self annihilation! For the Christian person, turning away from the sinful self means turning toward God. Not submitting to the old nature means submitting to the new one. At this stage, God’s work of heart alignment begins; the work necessary for you to lay claim to godliness.
c) Third, submission to the new nature triggers a reorientation of the heart. The new nature, which is controlled and directed by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, removes (for the moment) any motivation you might have to pursue and satisfy the desires of the old sinful nature, and reorients your heart toward God, thereby motivating you to serve Him. I say “for the moment” because this process has to take place each time we make a decision. In this life, we are continuously confronted with a dilemma, should I follow myself or God? This is why self-discipline is so crucial in this area. Once you have fully submitted to the new nature, you now have a properly oriented heart. At this stage, God finishes His work of alignment and godliness is realized. At this moment, you are godly. Your pursuit of godliness has been successful.
d) Fourth, our godly heart now seeks to perform those activities that are pleasing to God. Your heart, because of God’s work, is able to participate in the activities listed above with the proper motives, which is key to their being pleasing to God and their being performed for His glory. At this stage, godliness, under God’s guidance, strives to impact the world through living acts of worship.
e) Fifth, the activities that you perform become fruitful and fully efficacious. They are performed properly, that is, with the proper motivations. They effect the ends for which they were intended. It is here that the godliness to which you have already laid claim impacts your life and the lives of others. The process begins with the rejection your own sinful desires, your sinful nature. It ends with God’s will and work being actualized through you.

The process above accounts for man’s freedom to make decisions and God’s sovereign work within his heart. If the first step is performed properly, then it will necessarily result in the last step being performed properly because the Holy Spirit is in control throughout the remainder of the process. Conversely, the last step will never be achieved apart from the first, because a) the sinful nature/heart will never pursue the end of the process, and b) even if it did, the Spirit would not be driving the process.

Godliness is actualized in the third phase. Once a person has relinquished control to the Holy Spirit, God is in control; and God always acts godly. The phrase “properly oriented heart” is synonymous with the phrase “godly heart.” If a man has a “properly oriented heart,” he has a “godly heart;” if he has a “godly heart,” then he is a “godly man;” if he is a “godly man,” then he has been successful in his pursuit of “godliness.” All of this occurs before he ever moves a limb or even takes a breath. Godliness is the result of a choice that occurs in the heart, the choice to follow God. The new nature is already godly because it emanates directly from the Holy Spirit. In order to achieve godliness, all one ever needs to do is put it on.

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part II

My conclusion in the previous post was that simply performing an activity such as prayer, fasting, or Bible study is not enough to result in godliness. In other words, the activity alone is insufficient to produce the desired results. There is an intimate relationship between an action and the motive under which the action is performed. In order for prayer, fasting, Bible study, and related activities to have any chance of producing godliness, they must be performed with a properly oriented heart, and the heart must be in place before the activity is performed.

Part II . . .

The most obvious questions are: a) How can I ensure that my heart is properly oriented, and b) How can I make sure it is properly oriented before I perform the activity? Before addressing these questions I would like to quickly address the objection that performing the activities can result in a properly oriented heart, an idea that I touched on in the previous post. In order for this to be true, the following statement would also have to be true:

In order to align the heart in such a way as is necessary for the activities to result in godliness, one need only perform the activities.

There is an uncomfortable circularity in this claim. Is it possible that the activities can produce the very heart that lends power to the activities? When the cycle begins, we have to assume that we do not have a properly oriented heart. That is in fact our goal. So we begin performing the activities without the properly oriented heart, hoping that it will emerge. But I have already argued above that there are many people who perform these activities on a daily basis and that godliness does not result. I argued that it does not result because they are not performing them with the right heart. The claim, therefore, that performing the activity can bring about a proper heart must be incorrect. Otherwise, these people would develop properly oriented hearts and then godliness. The activities must not have the power to produce the heart which is necessary to properly perform the activities. This brings me to the second maxim:
Maxim 2: An activity, through the simple act of being performed, cannot produce the attitude necessary to assure its efficaciousness.

In other words, the heart must be properly oriented before the activity is performed, and it cannot be the result of performing the activity. So we still have a problem. We want to be godly. We want to believe that we can be godly if we perform the activities above with a properly oriented heart; but if that is the case, then we need to get the heart oriented before performing the activities.

Before regeneration man has only one nature, the sinful nature. After salvation, however, he has two natures: 1) the old (sinful) nature, 2) the new (godly) nature. With only the sinful nature to work with, the man can never have a properly oriented heart, because a right heart cannot be produced from a wrong nature. A sinful nature results in a sinful heart. If a right heart is to be had, it can only arise from a right nature, a new nature. What is the new nature within you? It is the Holy Spirit of God. The difference between the man who has the ability to perform the activities listed above with a right heart and the man who does not is that the second man does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is why an unregenerate man can consistently perform those activities and never achieve a properly oriented heart. This leads me to a third maxim:
Maxim 3: A properly oriented heart comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

Only God can reorient your heart
. Apart from the power of God working within you, your heart will forever be disoriented. Unfortunately, the regenerate man can also perform these activities with an improperly oriented heart because he still has the old nature, and he can still surrender to it. Having the indwelling Holy Spirit does not mean that the heart is automatically properly aligned. Whereas before his regeneration he had no choice but to submit to his sinful nature (because it was the only one he had), he is now free to make a choice. Will he submit to the old sinful nature or to the new godly nature? Because of this, Maxim 3 must be modified:
Maxim 3 (modified): A properly oriented heart comes from yielding to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, rather than the old sinful nature.

It seems that in order to have a properly oriented heart before performing the activities, we must choose to submit to the power of the Spirit that is our new nature. Now that we have the third maxim in place, we can modify our original claim again. I have included a recapitulation of the argument for the sake of clarity:

(1) Godliness will be the end result of performing any or all of the activities listed above.

Maxim 1: No activity entails any inherent capacity for producing godliness.

(2) Godliness will be the result of performing the activities listed above if and only if they are performed with the proper motives, that is, a properly oriented heart.

Restated as . . .

(3) If the activities listed above are performed with a properly oriented heart, then the end result will be godliness.

Maxim 2: An activity cannot, through the simple act of being performed, produce the attitude necessary to assure its efficaciousness.

Maxim 3: A properly oriented heart comes from yielding to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

Given maxims 2 and 3, the final form of the proposition should look like the following:
(4) If I perform certain activities such as prayer, Bible study, fasting and so forth with a properly oriented heart, that is, having yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God prior to performing the activities, then the end result will be godliness.

Proposition (4) seems to say exactly what we need it to say. It accounts for all three maxims. It tells us that the activities need something other than themselves in order to be efficacious (i.e. the right heart). It also tells us that a right heart cannot come from the activities themselves, but must come from God, and that it must be in place from the beginning. There is no doubt that many Christians have come to believe proposition (4), and have attempted to put it into practice.

One unsettling question that comes to my mind, however, is this: Am I not a godly man at the moment that my heart has been properly aligned by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit?

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part I

I haven't posted in a while, but I am trying to get cranked back up. I hope to be more diligent in the future. For those of you who have checked my blog for new posts over the last few months, I thank you for your interest, and I apologize for the intellectual void you have encountered.

I was recently involved in a discussion about the nature of certain activities in which Christians often engage such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, and so forth. The main question that we were addressing was: What is the true nature of biblical self-discipline? During the course of the discussion, I argued that discipline was neither developed nor exercised in the actual performance of the activity. I defended the position that the biblical concept of self-discipline has more to do with the rejection of one's sinful heart and desires rather than any positive engagement. That argument developed into a paper that I would like to share with you. The paper, while not excessively long, is a bit much for a single post, and I do not really want to post it as a downloadable document. I have decided to post it in four parts over the next few days. I hope you will take the time to read it. I also hope that it challenges your traditional way of looking at self-discipline, and I look forward to any comments that you might have.

Part I . . .

Thesis: Godliness is not achieved through the performance of any activity or set of activities but by turning away from the old sinful nature, turning toward the new godly nature, and submitting the heart to reorientation by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Consider the following list of activities: Scripture study/memorization, prayer, fasting, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, the pursuit of solitude, journaling, and the pursuit of education. Suppose that someone presented us with the following claim:

(1) Godliness will be the end result of performing any or all of the activities listed above.

How should we respond to this? Is it true that the end result of performing these activities is a state of godliness? I am quite certain that a godly man engages in many (if not all) of these activities, but the question I have is this: Is a man godly because he performs these activities or does a man perform these activities because he is godly? At the very least, I do not believe that any of the activities listed above entails an inherent capacity for producing godliness; and I believe that I can demonstrate this in a fairly simple and straight-forward manner:
  • There are men in the world who read the Scriptures everyday and never come to know God. In fact, there are individuals who once claimed to be Christians but have now renounced the faith altogether. They continue to read the Scriptures diligently, but their efforts never bear fruit. One example might be biblical scholars that read the Scriptures for purely academic reasons. Bart Ehrman is one of the finest New Testament scholars in the world. He graduated from Wheaton University, which is widely considered to be an evangelical institution. He once advocated the doctrine of inerrancy as a foundational belief. He has now publicly renounced his faith, but as a New Testament scholar, he still studies the Scriptures diligently even though it may be in a forensic and academic way (an issue I will address below).
  • People all over the world practice various acts of worship. They worship pagan gods. In fact, their zeal for worship would put many Christians to shame. They exhibit an unyielding dedication in their efforts, but they are not godly people.
  • The same argument that was made for Bible study and worship can be made for each of the activities in question. People in all places and in all ages have practiced the activities, but they were not necessarily godly people.
The most obvious objection to what I have argued so far is this: Yes, but they weren’t reading the Scriptures for the right reason. They weren’t fasting for the right reason. They weren’t pursuing the one true God. Their hearts were not properly oriented, and their motives were incorrect. In other words, something must be added to these activities if they are to produce godliness. They have to be performed with the proper attitude, the proper motive, and with the proper end or goal in mind.

The key element is a properly oriented heart, which leads me to the first of four critical maxims:
Maxim 1: No activity entails any inherent capacity for producing godliness.

If godliness factors into these activities at all, it can only do so if they are performed in the right way, that is, with a properly oriented heart. In fact, anyone who wishes to claim that they will result in godliness should add this stipulation to the original claim in order for it to have any chance of being true. The claim should be modified in the following way:
(2) Godliness will be the result of performing the activities listed above if and only if they are performed with the proper motives, that is, with a properly oriented heart.

It might be beneficial for us to restructure proposition (2) such that it is in the form of a hypothetical (or conditional) proposition:
(3) If the activities listed above are performed with a properly oriented heart, then the end result will be godliness.

In other words, a right heart must be in place in order for the desired results to be achieved. It is critical to note that the heart is primary in the formulation above. The heart cannot be properly oriented after the activity is performed because its orientation is necessary in order for the activity to be performed correctly. The evidence for this claim is the same as that by which I argued that the activity itself cannot make you godly. The people who perform these activities daily and with improperly oriented hearts (members of any other religion) would eventually develop properly oriented hearts and then become godly people. I conclude, therefore, that if there is any chance for the activity to make us godly, then the heart must be in order from the start.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Should we engage in "confrontational evangelism?"

I received several comments on my blog-post "How high should evangelism be on your priority list?" All of them were great and much appreciated. One comment in particular caught my eye because of a question that the author posed to me. After thinking about my response for a time, I decided that I would dedicate a blog entry to answering the question rather than simply batting it around in the comment area. It is after all a very important question, and one that I believe every Christian must ask at one time or another.

Drew Pearce asked, "[A]re you saying that there is no place for confrontational evangelism, or just that it should not be our primary evangelistic method?"

I talked with Drew briefly about what he meant by "confrontational evangelism" because I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page before I began formulating a response. We agreed on the following definition for the purposes of discussion: Confrontational evangelism is the act of sharing the gospel message with a person with which you have no substantial relationship. Drew and I are referring to situations where the Christian person finds himself/herself in a position to share the gospel message with someone on a plane, a bus, door-to-door, etc. One might refer to the intended audience as a "stranger" or at the very least a "casual acquaintance."

Anyone who engages in evangelism should be aware of certain traps or pitfalls that he/she might encounter along the way:

1) The temptation to forego our scriptural mandate to disciple. The Great Commission is not a command to tell the story of Christ. It is first and foremost a command to disciple fellow believers. All too often it is the case that the person receiving this new information (whether they decide to step out in faith and act upon it or not) is left to deal with it without follow-up, guidance, or instruction. You are never "off-the-hook" when it comes to your responsibilities to disciple. Sharing the gospel is a commitment. It is a commitment to a relationship. Even if the person does not accept Christ on the spot, you are not relieved of your responsibilities. You should always provide them with some sort of contact information and tell them to feel free to contact you if they have questions or would like to know more; but you must remember that in doing so you are committing to building a rapport and relationship with that person should they so desire. If they accept the gospel, then you've definitely got some work ahead of you! Paul understood this commitment. He didn't just run around the Mediterranean telling the story of Jesus, getting a few bites, and then moving on to new and greener pastures. The church has to be built, and the building process relies on established relationships, not casual acquaintances.

2) The danger of reducing the gospel to a story, and thereby ignoring its full power for the salvation of everyone who believes. The story of Jesus is only a part of the gospel, albeit a crucial part. The whole of Scripture and its teachings, at the very least, constitutes the entirety of the written gospel. Simply summarizing the contents of this or that narrative (e.g. the crucifixion/resurrection narrative) is not a complete gospel presentation. God may move a person to accept Christ after he/she hears the F.A.I.T.H. presentation, but don't think for even a second that the gospel has been shared in its entirety. This goes back to the relational commitment. Those whom I consider to be examples of mature Christianity are still sharing the gospel with me through their knowledge of Scripture and their living witness!

3) The danger of pointing someone down a path and then leaving him/her to complete the journey alone. Satan is our enemy, and he will try to coax us away from the path of righteousness at every turn. I am not trying to be flippant or to trivialize Scripture when I say that discipleship is God's "buddy system." Discipleship is the passing of wisdom from those who have more to those who desire more. We are to confess our sins to one another; we are to build one another up in love; we are to encourage one another. This is the core of mutual edification. Discipleship and mutual edification, when executed scripturally, function as a system of "checks and balances" designed to keep us walking in the light. If someone is left alone to fend for himself, the chances of his straying from the path greatly increases.

I could say more, but I have to stop. This post is getting ridiculously wordy. Please note that the common denominator between all of the points above is the concept of "relational commitment." When you identify someone with which you intend to share the gospel, remember that you are about to make a serious commitment. I personally believe that long-distance relationships can be more difficult to maintain than close-proximity relationships. If you are going to engage someone who does not live near you, then make sure that you are ready to assume the discipleship role if necessary (meaning if they accept). When evangelism is viewed in this way, then the phrase "confrontational evangelism" comes to mean "the discipleship journey that began with someone I did not know." Given that your gospel presentation begins at the first handshake of any relationship, the term loses any significant definitional value.

In other words, I'm not saying that "there is no place for confrontational evangelism." I'm saying there's no such thing. A stranger is simply someone whom you have yet to accompany on the path to their salvation, sanctification, and glorification; and they have yet to accompanying you on yours.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How high should evangelism be on your priority list?

I hear it all the time. I hear people in various churches saying things like, "We need to be a Great Commission church." I hear sermons about the dire need for people to stand up and tell the world about Jesus. "When was the last time you shared Jesus with someone," they'll ask. "Jesus gave his all for you. Are you ashamed of Him?" Evangelism programs have been cropping up everywhere for years: F.A.I.T.H., G.R.O.W., The N.E.T., and the list goes on. When one program gets old and enthusiasm withers, the pastor will attempt to re-energize the congregation with the latest program designed to win the world for Christ. They'll say, "If you want to recommit yourself to sharing Jesus, then come down to the alter and pray. Pray that God will give you the boldness to share His gospel with the world. Commit yourself to sharing Jesus by participating in [Place Evangelism Program Name Here]." And here they'll go. They'll go in droves. Why? Because if you stay in the pew then you don't want to commit yourself to sharing Jesus. If you stay in the pew then you don't want boldness, and you don't want to share Jesus with a lost and dying world. If you stay in the pew, then you don't love Jesus.

The question I have is this. If evangelism should be so high on the priority list, why doesn't Scripture say more about it and how to do it effectively?

When I read the New Testament, I see a tremendous amount of instruction on the nature of holiness and right action, but I don't see any substantial instruction on how to share the gospel. I see commands left and right in the Epistles, but they all seem to address the living of a holy life. Not once do I hear Paul say, "And I hear that you guys aren't sharing Jesus with anyone. Have we been raised to walk in newness of life to sit on our tails and not share the gospel? May it never be!" Not once do I hear the gospel writers chastise the body for not going door-to-door or participating in some evangelistic initiative. Why is that?

I believe that Scripture makes it absolutely clear that the greatest gospel presentation any member of the body will ever give is a life lived for Christ. A holy life is a living testimony to the power of the gospel. Go back through Scripture and see how many times members of the church were approached by people who wanted to know more about the lives they were witnessing. People saw something in Paul, John, Peter, and others that they had never seen before, and they wanted to know what it was, where it came from, and where they could get some. Were the pioneers of the early church fishers of men? You can bet they were, but a great deal of the time the fish were jumping into the boat. Evangelism wasn't so much an activity that they engaged in as it was the light of the Holy Spirit radiating from within them into the surrounding darkness. It is a trustworthy saying that those remaining souls that constitute God's elect, those that are still lost and groping in the darkness, will quite naturally make their way toward the light; but there must be a light to make their way toward.

If you walk away from this post thinking that I am against evangelism, then you are dead wrong. I am simply trying to follow Scripture and put things in the proper perspective. How does Scripture say that we should share Jesus? Through F.A.I.T.H. or through faith?

Do you believe that evil serves the greater good?

David Hume: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence is evil?” [1]

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume presented what is widely considered to be the classical formulation of the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil addresses the question: "How is the existence of evil compatible with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent God?" Christian philosophers and theologians have posited a variety of different theodicies over the centuries to explain the paradox that arises from the fact of God's existence and the fact of evil's existence. The Greater-Good theodicy (G-G) is one such explanation.

When confronted with the questions "Why does evil exist?" and "What purpose does evil serve in God's creation?", many people will respond with something like the following: Evil serves the greater good, which is to say that God only allows evils that will result in the occurrence of a good that is greater than the evil in question. William Rowe, a self-professed atheist, stated the G-G theodicy in this way: "God would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering He could, unless He could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse." You will no doubt notice that Rowe added the stipulation that God might also allow an evil as long as it is equivalent to any other evil that might occur at that moment or to prevent a worse evil from occurring. In other words, God might allow a beating if it would prevent a murder. Proponents of the G-G theodicy often quote passages of Scripture in support of their position. The two passages that I most often hear are Gen. 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result..." (NASB) and Rom. 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (NASB)

Personally, I am not a proponent of the G-G theodicy, and it is my intention to explain why. I think there are some very serious problems that arise when one approaches the issue from the greater good perspective; problems that are fatal to the theodicy as a whole. Because I am not trying to give a complete exposition of the G-G theodicy, and because I don't want this post to be overly lengthy, I will focus on my top three objections to the G-G Theodicy:

1. The G-G theodicy makes the actualization of certain evils a necessary pre-condition for the actualization of certain goods. Consider a situation where there might be at least two ways for God to actualize a certain state of affairs, S. Suppose that in one way he can actualize S by first actualizing a really good state of affairs that leads to S. In another, he can actualize a really bad state of affairs that leads to S. Face with these two options, doesn't it seem intuitive given what we know about the nature of God that He would choose option 1? Why would God use evil to bring about S when he could just as easily use good? What I am trying to convey here is the notion that if God uses some evil to bring about a good state of affairs, then that evil must be necessary in order to bring about that state of affairs. I think that we can only conclude that God is unable to actualize certain states of affairs without using evil, for if He could, He would qualify as a sadist. This places a limitation on God that I am not prepared to concede. Moreover, I have difficulty believing that any really good states of affairs owe their actualization to any really evil states of affairs.

2. The G-G theodicy does not account for certain instances of intense suffering that seem to be obviously gratuitous. In his attack on theism, Rowe cites the case of Sue as a possible instance of gratuitous evil. Sue was a five year old girl who was raped, brutally beaten, and then strangled to death on New Year's Day, 1986. Rowe's contention is that Sue's situation was an example of evil and suffering above and beyond that which was necessary to bring about any greater good. The degree to which Sue suffered was, in effect, overkill and therefore purposeless. If Sue's death was necessary to bring about a greater good, then surely she could have simply been shot in the head and died immediately rather than suffering the rape, beating, and strangulation. Moreover, if a greater good did actually occur, then who experienced it? Certainly not Sue who is now dead; her last earthly experience being the hands of a murderer clutching her neck and choking the life out of her. As Rowe contends, even if you could demonstrate the greater good that obtained in this case, you would be hard-pressed to demonstrate it for every horrific act of violence perpetrated against man and animals. This brings me to the third and final criticism of the G-G theodicy.

3. Quite often, proponents of the G-G theodicy expect the theory to be taken at face value due to their inability to answer the key question: What greater good state of affairs obtained as a result of this particular evil? When faced with this question, proponents of the G-G theodicy are often at a loss to provide a satisfactory answer. What greater-good came about as the result of Hitler's murdering 6 million Jews? Could God not have brought about the same good with only 5,999,999 deaths rather than 6 million? Wouldn't that be better?

In closing, please remember that I am not denying God's ability to make the best of a bad situation. As in the Joseph narrative, I believe that God can actualize good states of affairs in spite of the bad ones. I am simply denying that He intentionally uses evil states of affairs for the purpose of actualizing better ones. When one looks at the Problem of Evil through the lens of a G-G theodicy, evil appears to be a tool that God uses to accomplish His holy purposes; purposes He can only achieve by using evil. This is an idea that I have a very difficult time accepting, and an idea which I do not think that Scripture teaches.

[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989), 84.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What is a deeper and more intense experience of God?

My friend Alan recently posted some comments on his blog (The Assembling of the Church) about an article released by the Barna group called "House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches." The article is interesting, and I recommend reading it. My comments here, however, are not about the subject of the article itself, but are related to a comment made within the article. When talking about the segment of the population that is attracted to the house church model, the author writes: "The older participants, largely drawn from the Boomer population, are devout Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers." The phrase that catches my eye is the one about "seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God."

I have both heard and felt this sentiment many times, and I would be absolutely shocked if there were any Christian in the history of the world who had not felt it at one time or another. I recently heard an opponent of the emerging church movement say that "[he too] yearn[s] for deeply moving worship experiences." Yes, he is an opponent of the movement, but he made the comment in an attempt to identify with an attitude which he felt was common among the proponents of the movement. From the literature that I have read (which admittedly isn't very much), it seems that a more profound and meaningful worship experience is at least part of the emerging church conversation, especially for those who are ready to throw off what they consider to be the shackles of the institutional church.

I commonly yearn for "deeply moving worship experiences" and a "more intense experience with God" as well. I often wonder, however, what I mean when I think or say such things. What is a deep and intense worship experience? What is a deeply moving worship experience? I find that I am afraid to answer these questions from somewhere inside myself. I know that I am fallen. I fear that I will get caught up in some sort of hyper-emotionalism of my own creation. If a deeper, more intense, and more meaningful worship experience is possible, then its form, substance, and nature should most certainly be derived from Scripture.

I believe that the yearning or desire that we have for a deeper worship experience occurs for a number of reasons, all of which are directly related to God's nature and the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. First, we realize that God is worthy of our worhip and that He is the proper object of our worship, and we long to give Him what He deserves. Second, as Christians we realize to a great extent (even if not fully) how separated from God that we truly are, and as a result of this knowledge we desperately long to be reunited with Him. Although we are saved, guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit, there still remains a gulf between us and God that will not be completely bridged until we are glorified in the eschaton. Third, the Spirit within us desires to be in that perfect fellowship with the Father and the Son, and His desire carries over to us. He is our Counselor, and in this matter, he counsels us in the beauty and meaningfulness of perfect fellowship with God.

Our relationship with God cannot and will not be fully repaired until our glorification. In effect, we long for that which we cannot have, and in realizing this we must exercise great caution. It may be that our attempts to experience that for which we yearn so deeply, that which we are incapable of satisfying, may result in an emotionally driven "worship" experience of our own manufacturing, and ironically, become detrimental to the profoundly meaningful relationship with God that is our heart's desire.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Gettier Problem

It would take far too much space to explain the Gettier Problem, so I leave it to the reader to familiarize himself with the issue at hand. Wikipedia has a very clear and concise description of the problem and I highly recommend it. Gettier's original article is short and easy to understand. I recommend it as well. Most people who would read this post and respond know the problem anyway, so a detailed explanation is unnecessary.

Gettier Case 1: Smith is making three claims to knowlege here, not just one. His primary claim to knowledge stands wholly dependent on two others. His justification for claiming that "the man who gets the job will have 10 coins in his pocket" is that he knows (by the definition justified true belief) that "Jones is the man who will get the job" and that "Jones has 10 coins in his pocket." In order for him to know these two propositions, they must be justified, believed, and true. One of these propositions, however, is in fact not true, so Smith was not within his epistemic rights to claim that he knew it. Consider his argument:

(1) Jones is the man who will get the job.
(2) Jones has 10 coins in his pocket.
(3) The man who gets the job will have 10 coins in his pocket.

It should be obvious that the argument is valid, but it is not sound. Premise 1 is not true, and therefore not knowledge. Knowledge, like truth, propogates through the argument to the conclusion. Smith is making three claims to knowledge in this case. His knowledge of (3) is dependent on his knowledge of (1) and (2). In fact, the heart of Smith's justification for (3) is his knowledge of (1) and (2). In other words, Smith's justification for (3) was poor. If he does not know (1) and (2), then he is not justified in claiming to know (3). Smith's claim to knowledge fails, not because justified true belief is inadequate, but because premise (1) did not meet the criteria for knowledge (it was not true), and therefore served as a poor justification for believing (3).

Gettier Case 2: Like Case 1, Gettier sort of "glosses over" the fact that Smith is making multiple claims to knowlege, some of which depend on others. The first claim is (f), “Jones owns a Ford.” In order for Smith to claim knowledge of (f) under the definition in question, (f) needs to be a) justified, b) believed, and c) true. Smith is justified in believing that Jones owns a Ford and he does in fact believe that Jones owns a Ford, but it is not true that Jones owns a Ford. It is true that (f) entails (g), (h), and (i), but given that Smith cannot claim (f) as knowledge, he is not within his epistemic rights to claim as knowledge any of those propositions entailed by (f). All that Gettier has succeded in showing here is that knowledge carries through the entailment. If Smith knows that “Jones owns a Ford,” then by entailment, Smith knows that “either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona.” The same applies to the Barcelona clause. In order for Smith to know the disjunctive proposition, he must know one or both of the corresponding clauses. Once again, Smith's claim to knowledge fails, not because justified true belief is inadequate, but because (f) did not meet the criteria for knowledge (it was not true), and therefore served as a poor justification for believing (h).

Friday, January 5, 2007

What is the relationship between truth and knowledge?

I have been spending a considerable amount of time lately thinking about the phrase "justified true belief" and whether or not it constitutes an acceptable definition for "knowledge." I have worked through the Gettier examples, and while he may have had a point, the problem I'm talking about is of a much more fundamental nature. Gettier attacked justified true belief at the application level. He attempted to conceive of some scenario where all three elements could be accounted for, and yet, to claim knowledge would be erroneous. In other words, he was attempting to think of a situation where justified true belief would not equate to knowledge. For the record, I do not believe that the Gettier examples, nor any of the "Gettier-type" examples that I have encountered thus far, actually demonstrate that justified true belief is not an acceptable definition of knowledge. I hope to post more on this later, but for now, I mention it so that the reader will not think it is an area that I have overlooked.

Consider the following definition: A proposition q is knowledge for person P if and only if q is justified for P, true, and believed by P. The question that I have is this: If I can determine that q is true, why do I need the justification and belief? It seems to me that the very question that is being asked when I inquire about knowledge is whether or not I have a cognitive grasp of a proposition's truth.

Consider the set of all true propositions, T. It seems to me that the set of propositions K that P could claim as knowledge is the subset of T that P knows to be true. In other words, a true proposition does not become knowledge until its truth is known by someone. The only distinction that can be made between a proposition that is true and a proposition that is known is that the known proposition is comprehended in a special way by P. Any q that is a member of K is so because P has a cognitive grasp of the truth of q. It seems to me that whenever we talk about knowledge, it is this attribute or property that we call "truth" and its comprehension that is in question. In my mind at least, this is the very issue that epistemology as a discipline attempts to address. Can we ever cognitively grasp the truth of a proposition?