A Dilemma For Van Tillians?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Cheshire Cat, Dec 31, 2008.

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  1. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    Paul says that all men have knowledge of God. So if a person has propositional knowledge at a point in time, then that person has knowledge of God. But either not all men have knowledge of God because some people believe that they do not have knowledge of God due to a defeater, which is a reason that they have to not to believe something, and one cannot know what they do not believe, or knowledge of God cannot be reached. Therefore, not all men know that God exist.

    If a person claims to not know who God is, then they claim that they understand who God is and that he does not exist. But from their understanding of who God is, it is possible to show that God exists. They understand that God is a necessary being, so that they understand that he must exist, but they believe that he does not exist anyway. So if they know that God exists, they cannot disbelieve in God, since they have knowledge of him.

    If they have both knowledge of God and a reason that God does not exist, then they believe a contradiction. This contradiction defeats the proposition that all men have knowledge of God. If the atheist has a defeater for his belief in God, then he has a reason why God does not exist. A reason to disbelieve in God is assented to, rather than the belief that God exists. So since an atheist believes that there is a reason to not believe in God, then not all men believe in God.

    Perhaps the atheist is lying when he says that he has a reason to not believe in God, since if he had a reason to not believe in God, then he would be able to give his reason. But once he gives a reason why God does not exist, then he is giving a reason why a necessary being does not exist. But this is impossible, since a necessary being must exist.
  2. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    The initial statement is phrased wrongly in regard to Van Til.

    All men have a sense of God, but not all admit it, due to a defeater.

    The defeater always is built upon their own human reason which they attempt to place above all else. In other words, they have built a system on an error, that they are able to arrive at full truth all by themselves. It is an error because by making themselves the supreme arbiters of truth, they place themselves outside the universe. But since they are inside the universe, they cannot view the universe objectively.

    The error can be viewed by analogy with closed systems, such as an engine in a car. By controlling the input into the car, and closing (limiting) the system itself, one can measure output and come up with reliable results. By studying this system, physical laws can be determined, laws which already exist. But the results of studying the closed system can only be applied to an open system, such as weather, with limited value. There the physical laws learned from closed systems, such as an engine or any other closed system which can be measured with precision, have only limited application to the open system, and thus weather cannot be predicted with much reliability. And even the closed systems themselves have limited value in ascertaining physical laws with certainty, since there is always a range of error within probability, however small. Furthermore, an "open" system such as weather on earth, when viewed from outer space, is itself a closed system, yet human reason is limited in how to interpret it and make reliable coclusions. Thus human reason can draw conclusions from the limitations of human experience, but ultimately falls short somewhere.

    So although a human being is born with a God-sense, he may not admit it due to his error in believing that his reason is supreme. Since by relying on his own limited sense of reality, he comes to wrong conclusions in application to the ultimate open system, the only truly open system, God, who is infinite. Thus man, who is born with a sense of God, can never fully understand who and what God is on his own, and if he try, he introduces a defeater which leads him to a false understanding of God and to a denial that the infinite, ie God, exists, against his own created God-sense.
  3. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    You could know something and not admit it. You could know something about Hook's law and never tell anyone about it. The defeater for belief in God does not allow one to have knowledge of God. Since the atheist has knowledge of God and a reason why he does not exist, then the reason cancels out his propositional knowledge of God.

    By outside the universe you mean that they set themselves up as their own gods knowing good and evil. They could also tell what the truth is without bringing God into their thinking due to the defeater to belief in God. They could still view the universe objectively, since they are still made in God's image. Their defeater distorts their beliefs, but not how they perceive things in the world.

    You admit that they could know things objectively in your analogy, since they could find out about the laws of physics from studying closed systems, but they could not do so with absolute certainty due to their limitations. A closed system is easier to study in comparison to studying an open system such as the stars in space.

    It is not just that the atheist does not admit that God exists, but rather he cannot know about God due to his defeater. Also a man could understand who God is on his own, since God has revealed himself to him. If God did not reveal himself to man, then man could not know him. But since some men have reasoned that God cannot exist due to the concept of God being contradictory, or that the amount of evil in the world shows that he cannot exist, then they cannot know him because of the conjunction of the belief in God and their reason why he does not exist.
  4. BrianLanier

    BrianLanier Puritan Board Freshman

    Paul's post was utilizing the notion of a 'Mental-State Defeater' (MSD). So given MSD, it is analytic that if S takes her belief B to be defeated (where this means that S takes B to be epistemically inappropriate given S's set of beliefs and the evidence E that S has for B) then B is unjustified and/or unwarranted. And given that justification and/or warrant is a necessary condition for knowledge, it follows that if S takes B (where B is S's belief in God) to be defeated (epistemically inappropriate: perhaps do to taking the evidential argument from evil to be persuasive; or perhaps do to believing that B was the product of wish fulfillment, and beliefs produced in that way are not generally reliable; etc.) then S does not have knowledge of B (of God in this case) at t. (See Michael Bergmann, Justification Without Awareness, (New York: Oxford UP, 2006) 152–77.)

    Richard, bringing in the OA (assuming it’s successful, which I doubt, at least in the way that you seem to be cashing it out) doesn’t help, since all that matters is that S takes her belief to be defeated. (For Bergmann (and others) all believed defeaters are actual defeaters. Remember the defeater is a mental state of the subject S, not some objective proposition.)

    You also say “If they have both knowledge of God and a reason that God does not exist, then they believe a contradiction.” But this strikes me as odd. If they have knowledge of God then they must lack the defeater of which you speak (“a reason that God does not exist”; that is, assuming that they believe this ‘reason’). Now maybe you just meant that they (i) believe that God exists, and also (simultaneously) believe (ii) that they have a persuasive reason to think that God doesn’t exist. If that is the case, then (i) can’t become knowledge—if S recognizes the relationship between (i) and (ii)—, since (i) won’t be justified and/or warranted for S. This just seems confused.

    Peter, you wrote roughly three paragraphs and I’m not sure how any of it is relevant to what Paul M. wrote. You might want to check out some work done on defeaters (and probably epistemology in general) and then come back to this question. I’m not sure that you understand what defeaters are. If you’d like, I can point you in the right direction. I don’t mean this any disrespect. It just might help to know your way around a bit.
  5. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    All defeaters could be stated as an objective proposition; otherwise the defeater is a feeling that the subject has. Mental states are either feelings we have, or they are thoughts that could be written down for all to see. But even if the atheist feels sad one day, and this feeling defeats his belief in God for some reason, then that feeling could still be written down as an objective proposition. It would be that he felt sad last Thursday.

    Someone can have knowledge of God and have a defeater for belief in God, but the combination of the two things is contradictory. It is possible to believe a contradiction without knowing about it, but once it is discovered, then the subject chooses which proposition to believe after examining both of them. An atheist knows that God exists, and he has a defeater for his belief in God. The reason this is confusing is because the atheist is foolish enough to believe a contradiction.
  6. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    No. (Also note that I am trying to avoid technical vocabulary, which besides being outside my specialties, is, I think a source for misunderstanding of Van Till. This seems to be what Vytautas is doing, too. This is good, because a conversation means that no one is making pronouncement ex cathedra; it's a give and take that we do because it is interesting, and whether we are right or wrong, we learn something. In other words, everyone has a right to contribute; Van Till spoke in ways and about things without needing specialized training. [Actually that is an important comment, since Van Till talks about the error of man-based reason, including and especially philosophy.] I used the same approach when I wrote out five-page proofs for differential equations; so that I did not get lost in my technical formulae, I would summarize what I was doing as a brief spatial relationship, and keep that picture with me as I wrote. In other words, keep it simple, stick to basics, As Vytautas seems to be doing.)

    What I am saying is that the original statement is a misunderstanding of Van Till. This is incorrect: "The defeater for belief in God does not allow one to have knowledge of God."

    As I understand the statement, it is also incorrect that the atheist has a "reason why he does not exist." Van Till clearly indicates that human reason is flawed; thus an atheist may think he has a reason, but if you look at it, it is a faulty reason, and thus no reason at all.

    In context, both statements are false, and since they are the grounds for the rest of the argument, it would be incorrect as well.

    -----Added 1/7/2009 at 04:20:21 EST-----

    No, because being in the image of God is not to be gods. That is, they cannot leave the universe.

    Right in the sense that objectivity is limited. Van Till also talked about common grace, being created in the image of God, etc, so that humans can think, they are born with a God-sense (or knowledge that God exists), but they cannot come to full knowledge (in practice that means salvific knowledge) without divine revelation. Remember, Van Till supported evidentialists as doing something much better than he did, but he cautioned that they make sure they not operate out of a presupposition in man's reason, as if man all by himself could reason himself to God and to an undistorted picture of him.

    But as for thinking about things, man is not dead. He can draw conclusions. In fact, God does reveal himself in creation, but man cannot see it all on his own, because of distortions (notice I am avoiding operational terminology, such as "defeater") in his reason. Thus Van Till approved of evidentialism as a means whereby the Holy Spirit could guide the mind to see God. But man on his own could be given compelling reason after compelling reason to come to God, but he will not without something of God's grace and mercy.

    This is where the God-sense, or the inborn knoweldge that God exists, comes in. As I understand Van Till, man does not get this sense from revelation, but at birth. It is rather minimum. Further, God reveals himself in all of creation, but man, owing to his fallen reason, cannot reliably see it without direct revelation, such as that which is the Scripture. Thus the only way to come to a salvific knowledge of God is by action of the Holy Spirit and reading the Bible.

    See my comment in parenthesis above.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2009
  7. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    The problem is that the argument has no problem with someone saying that human reasoning is flawed (I disagree but for the sake of the argument I agree). The issue is that flawed reasoning does not lead to knowledge.

    Let us say that I use some logical fallacy to come to a conclusion that an employee was not at work today. They were in fact at work, today. One does not in fact say that I know the employee was at work because I used faulty reasoning to come to the opposite conclusion.

  8. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    No, it doesn't.

    The problem is that Van Till is being misstated. The fallacy is built in the misstatement. So I strongly suspect that Van Till was not read. (I recommend Greg Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic, since I think it is the most complete edition of Van Til's actual statements.)

    Just a few short statements. Better than a vague "knowledge of God" out of context should be:

    (1) A sense that God exists;
    (2) A salvific knowledge of God.

    In apologetics, it is (2) that we hope to lead men to.

    To apply (1) to the analogy:

    I know an employee. I saw his car in his spot in the parking lot. However, suppose I am angry with him. I do not look into his office when walking by. I use some logical fallacy to come to a conclusion that he is not at work. No one claims that I know he is there because of my faulty reasoning.
  9. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    To make your counter, you first have to detail what you mean by (1). What does it mean or what does it not mean.

    For example, Calvin said that when heathens bowed down to idols made by their hands, it was proof of the "sense of the divine". Do you mean something similar?

    As far as your analogy goes, I would probably reject your first sentence depending on how you want to cash out "know".

  10. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    I have to conclude from yours and other comments, that no one has actually read Van Till first hand. There is no space here for me to reproduce him and so there is nothing to talk about.
  11. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    So the atheist cannot use his reason to say why God does not exist due his limitations as a creature. If an atheist gives an argument for why God does not exist, then this situation would be impossible because he cannot give a reason. But there are arguments that have been made by atheists, so that the theist would have to account for these atheistic arguments.

    Also if the atheist used bad argumentation to come to the conclusion that God is dead, then he cannot know the conclusion. But if God is known without an argument, then the atheist can know that God exists. The ontological argument does exactly this, since it argues from the concept of God to his existence. The concept of God would have to be known innately because the concept of God cannot be known from the world of sense.
  12. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    Read Bahnsen's Van Till's Apologetic.

    You need to read him to argue with him. That's why so many misstatements were made. Read Van Till.
  13. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    The issue is not a question of reading Van Til it is a question of given a certain interpretation of Van Til, can that position be defended.

  14. Stomata leontôn

    Stomata leontôn Puritan Board Sophomore

    Read the thread.

    The "certain interpretation of Van Til" was far off base -- because the author did not read Van Till. One does not defend a position that does not exist. This is getting ludicrous.
  15. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    God can be known either in a vague sense or in a clear sense. God uses both ways to show himself to man. But what can man know of God in a vague sense? You are saying that man's fallen reason cannot understand what God has revealed in nature in a reliable way. The image is marred, but it can understand something about God from nature clearly enough to be familiar with God. For example, the stars declare his glory, and the law is written on the minds of men. Are the lights of sky and the thoughts that we think so distorted that we must look to scripture to find reliable information about God?

    -----Added 1/7/2009 at 06:52:16 EST-----

    I am sure Paul Manata read Van Til.
  16. BrianLanier

    BrianLanier Puritan Board Freshman

    What is "ludicrous" is the assumption that you make with respect to Paul Manata and what he has or has not read. Being friends with Paul, I can assure you that Paul (as have I) has read *extensively* both Bahnsen and Van Til; probably everything either one has written (or recorded in the case of Bahnsen). What is clear is that you are unfamiliar with the role defeaters play in contemporary (post-Gettier) epistemological analyses. As as I have stated earlier, this ostensible unfamiliarity is responsible for the irrelevancy of your comments with respect to the OP.

    -----Added 1/8/2009 at 12:51:27 EST-----

    No, this is not right. (I) Not all defeaters are propositional defeaters. There can be nonpropositional defeaters like ‘seemings’ or certain experiences we have. (II) It is not true that “all defeaters could be stated …” since certain experience we have might be ineffable. (See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience). (III) What I meant by my parenthetical statement that you were referring to was to contrast MSD from the ‘propositional’ account of defeaters, where “there must be no true (and nonmisleading) proposition which is such that if it were added to the subject’s evidence base, the belief in question would cease to be justified.” (Bergmann, 154.) The propositional account is a more ‘objective’ account of defeat.

    Ad (1) Look, if S has a defeater for B, then it is ANALYTIC (given the account of MSD and justification that Bergmann proposes, and which Paul is utilizing in his post) that B isn’t justified for S and consequently S doesn’t know B. So no, S cannot have KNOWLEDGE of God *and* have a defeater for his belief that God exists.

    Ad (2a) Yes this is true, but for a belief B to be a defeater, B must be a mental state (conscious) of S, so before it is recognized, it is not a defeater for B (at least given MSD).

    Ad (2b) This needs to be spelled out further. It’s not clear that one just “chooses” which belief to believe. (This might assume some sort of doxastic voluntarism; which at present seems to me false)

    Ad (3) See ‘Ad (1)’.

    Ad (4) I don’t think that what is going on is “confusing,” but I think that not taking into account what I said above (Ad (1)) is making it confusing.

    -----Added 1/8/2009 at 03:58:17 EST-----

    I am really suprised that given the fact that there are many Van Tillians on this board, no one is stepping up to the plate and trying to defend Van Til or Bahnsen on this one (or Oliphant or Frame for that matter).
  17. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    If there could be a defeater such as an ineffable experience, then the subject could not know what the experience was. If you could know that you had an ineffable experience, then you could explain this experience to another subject. But an ineffable experience only belongs to the subject that had the experience.

    Also if you have a defeater for a belief, and you have some evidence for that belief, then you are not justified to believe that belief. You cannot believe that belief due to the defeater even though you have evidence for that belief. The defeater calls the belief into question, so that the defeater trumps not just the evidence that the subject has now, but all future evidence as well until the defeater is defeated.

    I yield to your understanding of defeaters.

    But the mental state cannot be an ineffable experience, since that cannot be communicated to another person, and if something is considered to be knowledge, then it is communicable from one person to another.

    If a person discovers that he believes a contradiction, then he (she) will either continue to believe the contradiction or believe one of the conjuncts of either side of the contradiction. He does not have to choose to believe either of the conjuncts because he could continue to believe the contradiction.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2009
  18. BrianLanier

    BrianLanier Puritan Board Freshman


    What do you mean by "the subject could not *know* what the experience was?" What is meant by 'know' here? And why think that since the experience can't be communicated that somehow excludes that experience from being a defeater for S's belief B?

    You then say that "the mental state cannot be an ineffable experience, since that cannot be communicated to another person, and if something is considered to be knowledge, then it is communicable from one person to another."

    If an ineffable experience isn't a mental state of a S, then what is it? Further, I never said that the mental state has to be an item of *knowledge*. I'm not sure where you are getting this from. The mental state doesn't itself have to be justified, warranted, or rational. It just has to seem to S to either rebut or undercut S's B.

    Lastly, I don't think it is true at all that all knowledge must be communicable. Explain why 'communicability' is a necessary condition for knowledge. Spell out what you mean and why. Nonpropositional knowledge and indexicals might pose a problem for this view.
  19. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    Since this ineffable experience does not have to be knowledge, but only a belief, then the subject still must know what the belief is. Knowing a belief means that the subject must be able to state what the ineffable experience is in a propositional format, otherwise the subject cannot know his metal state. If you have a dream, then you could know you had a dream by stating what happened in your dream, but this a belief and not knowledge.

    If something can be known by a subject and his knowledge cannot be communicated to another subject, then the other subject cannot know if the subject knows something. If Joe knows how to blow the snow away by means of a snow blower, then he could teach Moe how to do it. If Moe does not receive knowledge of how to use a snow blower even though Joe tried to teach him, then he would doubt that Joe knows how to blow his own snow.

    Right, you said that the mental state is a belief and does not necessarily have to be knowledge. But the subject must know his own beliefs, and an ineffable experience cannot be known due to the lack of transferability of this belief from one person to another. What good is it to call something knowledge and not be able to teach it to others?

    If a human subject has private knowledge, then it would have to be known subjectively, so that the subject did not learn from an object in creation, but rather he has reasoned from his own idea of what reality is. Knowledge must be potentially public, since otherwise the study of this knowledge would fall into the hands of those who claim to know something, yet they fail to show it to others. You are at the mercy of those who pretend to know something.
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