“Epistemology issues” (6)

In a previous post I mentioned “self-refuting” in the context of epistemology. Here is an excerpt of Doug Wilson responding to a quote from Christopher Hitchens found in his book, God is not great:

“If one must have faith in order to believe something, or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings more ‘miraculous’ and ‘transcendent’ than any theology” ([Hitchens–CD]p. 71).

[Now Wilson–CD] I swear, it’s as though Hitchens has never even heard of epistemology. Over there, we have a bunch of dopes just believing stuff, while over here, under a florescent lab light, wearing our white lab coats, we just know things.

Although not in the sense intended, he is quite right that this is a “miraculous” and “transcendent” business. You see, Hitchens doesn’t believe in things by faith. He just engages in the harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration. So, it would appear to me that he has faith in the efficacy of inquiry, proof, and demonstration. What is this faith based on? Well, Hitchens cannot answer the question because his faith in these things is so absolute that the question itself appears to him to be gibberish. It has never occurred to him that the process of reason can itself be examined and questioned. What are the preconditions of a reason that is reliable and trustworthy, and does Hitchens’ materialistic conception of the universe provide us with those preconditions? Not even close.

Atoms bang around. Some of them bang around in my skull and generate feelings of love for Jesus Christ. Some others, doing exactly the same kind of thing, bounce around in Hitchens’ skull and produce an opposing sentiment. Neither of us thinks the way we do because our claims are true, for pity’s sake. There is no possible way to draw a correlation between my chemical reactions and the outside world, or his chemical reaction and the outside world. I type because my brain burbles. Why does Hitchens type? God only knows.[end of Wilson quote–CD]

Gordon H. Clark, in his book The Biblical Doctrine Of Man, makes the same basic point that Wilson does regarding the incoherence of an epistemology being derived from Materialism. Specifically, Clark is addressing Behaviorism which, briefly stated,

“is the theory that souls or spirits do not exist, and that thinking, which they sometimes call mind, is a function of bodily parts in the same sense that digestion is the function of the stomach (Clark, p. 26).

Now these Behavorists actually

“assert a difference between truth and falsehood. But their assertion is inconsistent with their fundamental principle. Man is physics and chemistry, is he? Well, if a chemist combines hydrogen, sulphur, and oxygen, in certain proportions, he will have sulphuric acid. And to keep the examples elementary, if he combines sodium and chlorine, he will get salt. But is salt more ‘true’ that sulphuric acid? Make the example more complex. If certain brains and muscles perform motions called behaviorism, are they any more true than my brains and muscles whose intricate reaction is called Christianity? Reduce thinking to chemistry and no distinction between truth and error remains. Behaviorism has committed the suicide of self-contradiction (Clark, p. 29).

The self-contradiction of the Behaviorists and Christopher Hitchens demonstrates that they are men who “oppose themselves” (2 Timothy 2:25; KJV). Some translations render the phrase, “those who have opposed” (2 Timothy 2:25; LITV), “those who are in opposition” (NKJV), and “those opposing” (YLT).

I think the context of 2 Timothy 2 favors the translation that these men are opposing the truth of the gospel. Nevertheless, when men oppose the truth of God, creation, knowledge, etc., they will be found “opposing themselves.” For they cannot escape the God in whom they live and move and have their being, and all their “felicitous inconsistencies” and self-contradictions are simply exhibitions of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

The agnostic or atheistic rebel lives in God’s universe and bears His image. Passages like Acts 17:28 and Romans 1:18-23 teach us that the rebel cannot escape his Maker, cannot erase His image though he tries by suppressing the knowledge placed within him (Romans 1:19).

The following is yet another example (given by Watts) of those who adhere to a self-refuting epistemological views:

“The most important question on the subject is this, what is the criterion, or distinguishing mark, of truth? How shall we know when a proposition is really true or false? There are so many disguises of truth in the world, so many false appearances of truth, that some sects have declared there is no possibility of distinguishing truth from falsehood; and therefore they have abandoned all pretences to knowledge, and maintained strenuously that nothing is to be known.

The first men of this humour made themselves famous in Greece by the name of Sceptics, that is, Seekers: they were also called Academics, borrowing their name from Academia, their school or place of study. They taught that all things are uncertain, though they allowed that some are more probable than others. After these arose the sect of Pyrrhonics, named from Pyrrho, their master, who would not allow any proposition to be more probable than another; but professed that all things were equally uncertain. Now all these men (as an ingenious author expresses it) were rather to be called a sect of liars than philosophers; and that censure is just for two reasons:

(1) Because they determined concerning every proposition that it was uncertain, and believed that as a certain truth, while they professed there was nothing certain, and that nothing could be determined concerning truth or falsehood; and thus their very doctrine have itself the lie.

(2) Because they judged and acted as other men did in the common affairs of life; they would neither run into fire nor water, though they professed ignorance and uncertainty, whether the one would burn or the other drown them.

There have been some in all ages who have too much affected this humour, who dispute against every thing, under pretence that truth has no certain mark to distinguish it” (Isaac Watts, Logic, pp. 165-166).