10/24/09

Refuting Skeptics Epistemologically

Luring the Indians out of the Woods
By: Jonathan Harris

Epistemology can be defined as the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity. Essentially, it is the philosophical theory of knowledge. How is it that we can make a claim to know certain things and not others? What is knowledge? How do we obtain knowledge? How do we know if our knowledge is true? What is truth? All these questions, have to do with epistemology. This is an important field of study for us as Christians, because we are met with challenges from skeptics within this realm all the time, sometimes without even noticing it. Before we develop a Christian epistemology, I’d like to start out by introducing you to the tenets of skeptical epistemology. This will provide a contrast that will enable us to have a great confidence in our faith as well as to learn how to rationally give good reasons for a Christian position while rejecting all others.

Skepticism

Today in our society, it seems like everyone is preconditioned with a certain degree of skepticism. Not all skepticism is necessarily anti-Christian, but as a philosophical system it is quite contrary to our religious faith. For instance, it is good to be skeptical about questionable truth claims made by individuals who possess ulterior motives. A good example would be the global warming phenomenon. When we examine those who are promoting cap and trade and the kyoto protocol, etc. it becomes clear that most of the faithful followers are also opposed to capitalism. Now, it doesn’t follow logically that those supporters necessarily are supporting carbon offset legislation “just” because they want to destroy capitalism, but it is wise to be skeptical about their motives and look into the matter further. So ripping down all forms of skepticism is not what I want to do. In fact, Paul commended the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if he himself was being accurate. That’s a healthy form of skepticism. But when it comes to knowing truth, and forming a philosophical foundation, skepticism is weak, but unfortunately very popular, and very hard to argue against for someone who hasn’t been introduced to philosophy yet.

Itinerant Skepticism


Let me give you an example of what a philosophy teacher who holds to skepticism might say to you the first day of class. The professor may ask, “How do you know what’s true.” A well-intentioned student will usually raise his hand and say, “I know what’s true because my senses tell me what’s true.” The professor might further inquire, “Why do your senses tell you what’s true?” The student may say, “Senses tell me what’s true because their designed to,” in which case the professor will incessantly ask, “Why?” Either at the point of this question, or else a few questions down the road, the student will quickly realize that he’s in a trap, and shamefully sit down upon the realization that the professor has the ability to keep asking the question, “why?” until the answers run out. This is a bullying technique used by skeptics to shake the faith of anyone who believes that they can know truth. Unfortunately, as you can see, the professor isn’t offering an alternative view on truth, he’s merely taking potshots at the student. The professor’s philosophical views are hidden, and therefore safe, while the student’s views are out in the open and under attack. The professor’s approach is called itinerant skepticism which is the idea the question, “What is truth?” will always yield an infinite regress if pursued. An easy way to counter someone who uses this argument is to put the burden of proof back on them. You could say, “Why should I answer your question.” If they don’t give you an answer to that, then you can say, “Well, until you give me an answer I’m not giving you one.” If they do answer your question, then you can say, “Why?” For example, if the student said, “We are designed,” and the professor said, “Why?” the student could say, “Why should I entertain your question.” The professor may say, “Because I want to know what truth is,” to which the student can respond by saying, “Why?” You see, the proponent of such an idea defeats his own criteria for knowing truth, by merely begging the question.

Extreme Skepticism

Extreme Skepticism maintains that logic is unattainable. In other words, we can’t know any category of truth. Truth may exist, but there’s no criteria by which to verify it. This position is a logical fallacy. You see, the statement “Truth cannot be known” requires a statement of truth. It’s self-refuting. If I said, “Every sentence in the English language has less than three words in it,” I would be refuting my very argument by my very argument. Saying that truth cannot be known means that you must know some truth. This is easy to see. When someone makes this statement simply reply, “Do you know that?” If they say know than they don’t believe their own statement, if they say yes than they don’t believe their own statement.

Soft Skepticism

Soft Skepticism is a position which says, “Truth can’t be known, but I’m not sure I know that.” They believe it is questionable as to whether the very statement they build their worldview on can be known by them. If you asked a soft skeptic whether he knew that truth can’t be known, he would say, “No,” but rather that he “thinks” he knows. If you ask him whether he knows that he thinks he knows, he would say that he thinks he thinks he knows. Pretty soon you would have an infinite regress. This means, the person isn’t even clear on what their position is. If he thinks he thinks he thinks that skepticism is true, then he doesn’t really have a belief. You can’t reasonably doubt anything unless you know something.

Global vs. Local Skeptics

A Global skeptic applies his skepticism across the board. He would say, “It is doubtful (or impossible) that we can know truth in any area.” Local skeptics on the other hand believe some areas contain knowable facts, while other areas are impossible to know. This view is predominant in academia. They believe that in the area of science and mathematics truth can be accounted for, however, in the area of ethics, philosophy, and religion nothing can be known. What they don’t realize is that every academic pursuit is connected with other academic pursuits. For instance, the evidence for Jesus Christ’s resurrection alone touches the fields of history, religion, philosophy, psychology, science, and mathematics. Many will ignore historical testimony and psychological evidence simply on the basis that Christ’s resurrection is a religious issue which can be true for some and not others.

Skeptical Arguments

There are two basic arguments that skeptics use. The first is called the possibility of error, and the second is called the problem of the criterion. A skeptic might ask, “Have your senses ever fooled you?” or, “Has your memory ever been wrong?” The obvious answer to such a question is yes. Our senses can fool us. Optical allusions and magician’s tricks fool us all the time. The skeptic will quickly assert, based on this testimony, that nothing therefore can be known. The problem with this first argument is that he uses our senses to disprove the reliability of our senses. Yet another self-refuting statement. He maintains that since we can examine something with our senses to find out that our senses were fooled, therefore we can never trust our senses. Unfortunately, the skeptic is trusting in his senses in order to make such a claim. The criterion argument is an attack on the criteria for knowing anything. It states that one cannot know truth without a criteria for such knowledge. In other words, there exists no standard by which truth can be measured. This is another statement that blows up on itself because there is no criteria for the claim that there are no criteria.

Theories of Knowledge

Methodism

Methodism (not the denomination) states that before I can know anything I have to have a criterion that answers the question how I know it. There are two things we need in order to claim any statement as being true. You have to know some criterion that tells you how you know something is true, and you also need something that indicates whether the thing which is true actually satisfies your criterion. So basically, you have to answer how you know something before you can know it. The problem with this view is- if I have to have some criterion for knowing something, I have to have a criterion for my criterion. This turns into an infinite regress invalidating the entire theory.

Skepticism

This view is addressed at length earlier in this piece, but for all practical purposes, it is the idea that we don’t know anything.

Particularism

Particularism is the idea that human beings start out as “knowers.” There are some things which are just self-evident. Natural law is a product of particularism. There are certain things we know without having to know how it is we know them. We accept the fact that we were programmed (in the Theistic view) with a conscience and a sense of certain truths. Self-awareness, mathematical knowledge, and moral knowledge all are examples of things human beings “know” apart from any of the five senses and are inherent within us. This is the view of Scripture. Those without the law being a “law unto themselves” as Romans states has this idea in mind. A Christian can take this model a step further and state, “Since we innately know certain things such as our being designed, it is logical to conclude that our senses are meant for their intended purposes.” Therefore our senses become tools by which to examine the world accurately because they had their origin in a Being of logic, rationality, and order.

Debating Skeptics

Skeptics and particularists are always debating about the burden of proof. The skeptic always wants to say, “Prove you know that!” While the particularist says, “Prove I can’t know it!” A skeptic may say, “Prove you went to work this morning.” The correct answer from the particularist would be, “I can’t prove to you one hundred percent that I went, but you cannot give me a good reason to think I didn’t. In fact, all the criterion indicates that I did go. Unless you can give me a good argument proving that either I have misread my criterion or that my criterion were wrong, why should I listen to you?” The skeptic may state, “Because I want to show you that you can’t know whether you went to work.” The particularist then can say, “Prove you want to show me whether or not I went to work.” Hopefully, such a statement will show the ludicrous nature of the skeptic’s proposal. The skeptic thinks that knowledge requires a level of absolute certainty, which is really the motivation for even asking the question in the first place. The particularist should focus on rebutting the skeptic, instead of refuting him in such cases. Refutation requires proving the other person wrong. Rebutting instead states that the opposing side hasn’t shown that they are right. So in regards to the example above, acknowledging the fact that there may exist good reasons for thinking you didn’t go to work (called an epistemological “if”), the skeptic hasn’t presented any of them.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line in this discussion is that every philosophical system has axioms which it uses to work off of. Not even skeptics drive their cars on the right side of the road because they believe they will get killed. In practical day to day life those claiming they can’t know seem sure to know an awful lot. Whenever dealing with someone who is a skeptic it’s important that we answer a fool according to his folly which means calling out his self refuting claims. We can have confidence that our Christian Faith is accurate.

10/20/09

Leviticus and the Goodness of God

Can God be Good and Promote "Bad" Things?
By: Jonathan Harris

Have you ever heard this before? “The God of the Old Testament was a tyrant!” or, “God didn’t demonstrate love until the coming of Christ.” Such phrases are common to hear especially among atheists and agnostics who use such statements as justifications for their own beliefs. If God is good, why did he require the death penalty for blasphemy, sexual deviance (homosexuality is the first mentioned usually), and cursing parents (Lev. 20 and 24)? In the same token, God seemed to put his stamp of approval on slavery (Lev. 27). After stating these facts, the skeptic is quick to argue that such a God should be resisted instead of served. In essence, they start evangelizing for their cause, encouraging Christians to join their moralistic ranks. While briefly looking at such passages it can be rather disturbing, especially when they are isolated from their historical and grammatical contexts. So how should a Christian deal with these passages, especially when evangelizing?

About a year ago I had verses from Leviticus thrown at me twice in the course of evangelizing, as if the person I was witnessing to would come to Christ if only it weren’t for such “blatant” contradictions in God’s character. My reaction was to try to answer as best I could in a brief manner the arguments being espoused, but to quickly get back to the main points of the Gospel so as to avoid a complete rabbit trail. One individual I talked to went online to the “Skeptic’s Bible” and showed me Leviticus 20:9 which states in KJV:

“And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”

Seeming completely unjustifiable that God would first of all condone slavery, and secondly punish a slave girl because she was “raped” (as he put it) by an Israelite, I found myself in one of those “gotcha” moments. Fortunately, he showed me the verse, and when he did I was able to immediately look it up in other translations, none of which stated that the slave-girl was punished. For instance, the ESV states:

“If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”

The passage goes on to state how the man is to make recompense. So where did the “They” come from in the second version? Well, plain and simply, the KJV in some places (rarely) will call upon mistranslated Gk. texts, and add additions made since the time of the original writing. This doesn’t mean the Bible has contradictions, it just means that the Bible is in Greek and it takes some work sometimes to go back to the original manuscripts to establish authorial intent. Since every single translation other than the KJV, agreed with the ESV’s approach, I simply explained that he wasn’t using the best translation. After this the young man was kind enough to allow me the privilege of sharing the Gospel with him. Below I have compiled an issue by issue answer key to those who will attempt to sidetrack a witnessing encounter because of an issue in Leviticus. Be aware that some of this material will have to be quickly condensed when you’re put on the spot, but it is necessary to as briefly as I can, explain as much as I can, in order for their to be complete understanding so that we can fulfill the mandate of 1st Pet. 3:15.

Slavery

This one’s a skeptic’s favorite topic to throw out there, especially in my experience, however there are so many misconceptions regarding the concept of slavery it can be hard to know where to begin. The atheist will say, “Christ lived among a nation of slaves, and never spoke against the practice,” or, “Paul commands Philemon to go back to his master.” Both statements are true, and it would be highly unwise for us as believers to try to somehow state that slavery is sinful or unbiblical. Instead, we should focus on what God’s intentions regarding slavery were, and how they weren’t remotely met in what we think of as American slavery. Let’s examine the misconceptions skeptics have when it comes to the practice of slavery. Firstly, there’s the mis-characterization in the skeptics mind of what American slavery was like. Being a grandson of the Southland it can be tempting for me to start giving a history lecture when someone starts talking about how great Lincoln was, and how evil the South was for wanting to own slaves because they believed in the Bible. If you’re at all like me, I would simply suggest ignoring this point altogether, especially on a witnessing encounter. It’s not immediately important and doesn’t pertain to the Gospel, at least directly. The second misconception a skeptic holds usually is regarding slavery in the ancient world and its historical context. I would highly suggest making this misconception the one on which to make your stand. You can do so by:

  1. Explaining that racism and slavery are two entirely different concepts. Most people immediately think about a Southern white male incessantly beating a poor helpless African American to near death whenever the word slavery is mentioned. Biblical slavery however, is not based on race, it is based on economic standing (see Ex. 21:2-6; Deut. 15:12-18). Hebrews would sell themselves into slavery for the purpose of obtaining livelihood (our equivalent of declaring bankruptcy). Also, criminals would become slaves as a way to pay for their crimes (our equivalent of community service). Therefore, it was voluntary.
  2. Stressing that “kidnaping” was not an option. Contrary to what New England’s “middle passage”slave ship captains did (or for that matter the tribes in Africa who were the actual ones to capture opposing tribes and sell them for rum on the coast), the Israelites were never to go out and capture slaves. In fact in Exodus 21:16, the death penalty was instituted for those who engaged in such practices.
  3. Emphasizing the limits placed on slavery. Most people think that slaves were routinely beaten to death, overworked, and treated as the scum of the earth. However, this was not the case in ancient Israel. Hebrew slaves were freed after six years (Ex. 21:2), All slaves were freed on the year of Jubilee ( Free slaves were released with a handsome payment (Deut. 15:12-15), slaves were given responsibilities such as having families (Ex. 21:3-4), runaway slaves from other cultures curious about Israel’s God were not to be returned (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), excessive punishment was forbidden (Ex. 21:26-27; Lev. 24:17), foreign slaves could become proselytes (Lev. 22:10-11), slaves could share inheritances (Prov. 17:2), slaves were to rest on the Sabbath, and female slaves were to be protected (Exodus 21:4-11).
You can conclude by saying that, “Slavery was part of an economic system just like socialism, communism, or capitalism. There are bad aspects to every economic system because people are sinful and refuse to do things the way God has told them to. Have you been disobedient to God?”

Another way to wrap up a discussion on slavery is to state, “I’m a slave of Christ, the Bible says you’re a slave to sin. The question is which master do you want?”

Either way, It’s important to get back on track, and sidestep such smokescreens, because that’s all they are, excuses.

Corporal Punishment for Backtalk?

I remember when the Dutchess Christian Fellowship held its viewing of Ben Stein’s “Expelled,” a skeptic afterward brought up Leviticus 20:9 which states:

“If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.”

He quickly pointed out that God could not be moral if He called for such harsh treatment (I suppose he had never heard of damnation in hell for all sin?). Of course, this is a ludicrous statement, because without God there is no moral transcendent standard by which to judge anything. If morality is based in man or culture, than Adolph Hitler was a pretty good guy (a point Ben Stein made in his documentary). Either way such a passage sounds harsh to the ear of any modern American. I believe there are three points by which we can dismantle such confusion however, and get back on track.

  1. “Curses” is an action. What’s being described here is not something said in a moment of indiscretion or, “I curse you mom,” in a nonchalant way. It’s carries more than that. The Darby and YLT translations translate the Hebrew word to be “revileth.” The connotation is acting in a manner which opposes honoring father and mother (the 5th commandment). One commentator stated that physical abuse was the issue being raised here. Either way, this is more than repeating words, it is a heartfelt action.
  2. Children haven’t always been this way. Looking around our nation, it would be easy to say, “Every child would be dead if we followed this rule.” However, in ancient Israel, where there was more respect and discipline, children would have been aware of such a command and well behaved. The things children do today (screaming at the top of their lungs in Stop and Shop) wouldn’t have even happened fifty years ago let alone under a Theocracy.
  3. God’s standards are higher than ours. If something seems unfair to us, but fair to God, guess who’s standard wins? That’s right, Gods. He hates sin so much he will send us all to hell for any one of them if we do not repent and receive His Son’s precious gift. Have you received it?
Homosexuality

Leviticus 20:13 states: “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.”

Homosexuals love to cherry pick this verse and compare it to the Levitical prohibitions against mixed fabrics and non kosher foods. They’ll say, “Hey isn’t this in the same book that the laws against other ridiculous things are found?” This would be a great time to explain the difference between ethical, civil, and ceremonial laws. To the Christian, God’s moral (ethical) laws are to be followed, namely because they reveal God’s standard of righteousness, and we desire to please Him. They are repeated in the New Testament (yes, even prohibitions against homosexuality: see 1 Cor 6:9), and abundantly clear throughout the old. Because of the New Covenant we don’t have to obey civil and ceremonial laws since we are no longer under them. We no longer live under a Theocracy as the ancient Israelites did. Christ fulfilled the sacrificial system, and no longer reigns over Israel in the same manner that He use to in a Theocracy (though He will again someday). Today we are to remain separate from the world by the “renewing of our mind” (Rom. 12), not by wearing un-mixed fabrics. Ask the homosexual, has your mind been renewed? And get back on track with sharing the Gospel.

I hope this is useful for those who may have run into problems such as these while sharing their faith, or being attacked for being a Christian. It is my prayer that such issues will not deter you from your primary duty which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I realize there are a couple other issues Skeptics like to bring up from the Old Testament, namely the conquering of the Canaanites in Numbers, and Darwinian Evolution in Genesis, and I will try to deal with those as well in another post. For now, this will have to suffice as a defense of Leviticus. God Bless.

10/7/09

I Bring You...The "Back to School Guide"

If you are in a class, or thinking of going to a class which has neo-evolutionary thought, you need to take a look at this "guide" on what to, and what not to do.


http://www.evolutionnews.org/BacktoSchoolGuide_Sept2009_FN.pdf
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