Deeper Waters Podcast 11/2/2019

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that has in its own way always been around, but wasn’t its own individual branch until sometime after Descartes. Differences have gone all the way back before from Plato to Aristotle. Plato had the theory of the forms to explain how we know things. Aristotle didn’t disagree entirely with the forms, but said we know things through sense experience, or at least that’s where our knowledge begins.

Today, we can look at the material world and see that we have a lot of science and think that that is the path to knowledge. By contrast, what is religion? Religion is done by authority. The adage of “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Some leave out the “I believe it” which would be redundant in a sense.

Is that the way religion is done? Do we just believe something because we read it in a book? How can we know God exists? How can we know what He’s like? Can we have a proper experience of God? How could we tell if that was a valid experience? Can one just intuit God exists even if they don’t know how to articulate the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

We’re going to be discussing religious epistemology today. How can someone know something that is a religious claim? Does one just have to take something by faith? What is faith anyway?

To discuss all of this, we’re bringing on a young scholar. Young is the word as just checking, my wife and I were surprised to see he’s just a few months older than she is, and yet he already has an Oxford published book called Religious Epistemology.. His name is Tyler McNabb.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Tyler Dalton McNabb (PhD, Glasgow) is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Macau. Before taking his current position, McNabb taught three years at Houston Baptist University. McNabb is the author of Religious Epistemology(CUP) and co-author of Plantingian Religious Epistemology and World Religions (Lexington). He has also authored/co-authored various articles published in journals such as Religious StudiesEuropean Journal for Philosophy of ReligionInternational Journal of Philosophy and TheologyThe Heythrop Journal, and Philosophia Christi.  

We are busy working on getting episodes up. I know we’re behind on schedule, but thanks for bearing with us. Please keep listening.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Moral Ontology vs Moral Epistemology

What is the difference between how you come to know morality and the reality of morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the main arguments used for God is the moral argument. This is the idea that we need God to explain objective morality. While I hold to this, I prefer to speak of the argument from goodness. Still, there is a common misconception when it comes to this.

The theist will tell someone that they need to be able to explain objective morality. The skeptic will often respond that they can know these moral truths by some way such as empathy. This will then lead to laughter on the part of the skeptic saying you don’t need to believe in God to know moral truths.

The skeptic is absolutely right. In order to know moral truths, you don’t need to know that God exists. Since you don’t need to know God exists to know moral truths, then obviously God is not needed for moral truths. Right?

If a skeptic thinks this, this is a common misconception of the argument. This is not about how we know moral truths. This is about how those moral truths exist. We can all for the most part agree that it’s wrong to torture babies for fun. What we want to ask is how that truth itself came to be.

In a universe that is the result of blind chaotic events with no guidance behind them whatsoever, how is it that a moral truth relating specifically to human beings exists? Now as a Thomist, I would more ask how goodness itself exists since this is not a property of something that can be measured by physical and/or scientific means, but let’s stick to moral truths. Do we create the moral truths or do we discover them?

If we create moral truths, then they can be whatever we want them to be. We can say that it’s a supposed truth that it’s wrong to torture babies for fun, but then we can switch that and say that on Tuesdays between 4-5 PM in our time zones, it’s okay then. This would also really do away with objective morality which would mean there’s nothing to explain.

We don’t do this with scientific truths. It’s not that Isaac Newton created gravity. He discovered a scientific truth that was already there. In the same way, with morality, we discover truths that are already there. Before we humans arrived on the scene, there was a moral truth about babies being tortured for fun that was in existence.

And this is the question of ontology, the study of being. Epistemology, how we know, deals with how we discover the truths. The moral argument is not about how we discover the truths. There could be perfectly naturalistic ways of knowing moral truths just like there are for mathematical or scientific truths or other kinds of truths. What needs to be explained is how it is that those truths exist.

Feel free to explain how it is that you think we know these truths. There could be multiple ways or one way and that’s a fascinating discussion, but skeptics of theism need to stop confusing how we know with that there is a truth to know. It’s a fundamental mistake in the moral argument.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Religious Epistemology

What do I think of Tyler McNabb’s book published by Cambridge University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Epistemology, the study of knowledge, is an interesting field, but it will seem contradictory to many internet atheists out there to have such a thing as religious epistemology. You can have knowledge of religious truths? How can we know anything at all if all religion is nonsense?

McNabb’s main focus on this book is to explain what is known as Reformed Epistemology. This involves someone being justified in knowing that God exists even if they don’t necessarily have the best arguments for it. He is not opposed to arguments for God’s existence and it does not mean that God necessarily exists, but it does mean that if one holds to the existence of God, they can be justified even if they don’t have arguments.

I’m not sold entirely on Reformed Epistemology yet, but it is a serious field defended by even philosophical titans like Alvin Plantinga. William Lane Craig is also a fan of this kind of argumentation. If it’s true, it would also be of great benefit to the layman in the pew who will likely never seriously have to engage with internet atheists, but will just want to know if they are really correct in holding that God exists.

Something amusing about reading these kinds of books is all the illustrations that are used to make a point. In philosophy, one can have a powerful imagination and it works to one’s benefit. Where else are you going to read accounts about swamp men rising up to clone someone or about boys being kidnapped and taken to other planets all to make some justification for a point?

All of this leads to the other point of Reformed Epistemology. If theism is true, and Christian theism is included, then our brains are in essence designed in such a way to find out that God exists. We can contrast this to a position whereby if naturalism is true, our brains are the result of a cosmic accident. This could get us into Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Note that none of this requires arguing against evolution. It only requires that you argue against naturalism.

Yet this does not mean that natural theology is of no benefit. There is a way you can get from Reformed Epistemology to natural theology. After all, even if you can be justified in believing that God exists without explicit argument, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to reach the other people out there who don’t share that belief in the existence of God. This is another great reason to have good arguments so you can be better prepared to reach those who need to know the reality of God.

One final benefit. This book is short. As far as content goes minus endnotes and references and such, it’s less than 50 pages. You can get a good and quick guide from a well-respected publisher and know something about the issue in a single evening. Check it out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/14/2014: How Do We Know?

What’s coming up when I record the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For those wondering when the episodes will be up soon for your listening pleasure, we are working on that. I will be meeting a techie friend of mine tonight who is going to show Allie and I everything that we need to know to get them online. We are working to do all that we can, but we would appreciate any support from those of you who do like the podcast and want it to keep going.

But for now, let’s move on to this Saturday’s show. What are we talking about?

Epistemology.

Dang. That sounds exciting. Some of you might be wondering what that is.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. What is knowledge and how do we know anything at all? In fact, the book we’ll be looking at is by two Christian authors named James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman. The book is “How Do We Know?” It is an introduction to epistemology.

So who are these guys?

Let’s start with James Dew since he’s listed first on the book.

“Dr. Jamie Dew grew up in Statesville, NC but moved to Raleigh, NC in 1994. Through the witness of some of his friends, he came to Christ when he was 18 years old and surrendered to vocational ministry shortly thereafter. He earned a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, GA in 2000 and then moved to Wake Forest, NC to work on his graduate degrees. He earned his PhD in Theological Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008, and is working on a second PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England. He is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2010), co-author of How Do We Know?: A Short Introduction to the Issues of Knowledge (IVP, 2013), and co-editor of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain (IVP, 2013). Dr. Dew pastored in NC for 10 years, and also served in various churches as a Youth Pastor and Minister to Adults. Now, Dr. Dew is the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Support and is the Dean of the College at Southeastern. He has been married for 13 years to his wife Tara and they have two sets of twins: Natalie & Nathan (6) and Samantha & Samuel (3).”

Dew_2

And who is Mark Foreman?

“Mark W. Foreman is professor of philosophy and religion at Liberty
University where he has taught philosophy, apologetics, and bioethics for 25 years. He has an MABS from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the author of Christianity and Bioethics (College Press, 1999, [reprint Wipf and Stock, 2011] ), Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians (InterVarsity Press, 2014), How Do We Know: An Introduction to Epistemology (with James K. Dew,Jr., InterVarsity Press, 2014) and articles in the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Harvest House, 2008) as well as chapters in Come Let us Reason: New Essay in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012) Steven Spielberg and Philosophy (with David Baggett, University of Kentucky Press, 2008) and Tennis and Philosophy (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). Mark has been a member of Evangelical Philosophical Society for over 20 years and is currently serving as vice-president of the society. His specializations are Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics and ethics.”

Foreman

Please be looking for this broadcast as we discuss their books and questions related to it such as “Is faith an epistemology” as Peter Boghossian claims, and “Is science the only way or the highest way of knowing?” as many internet atheists claim.

I hope to have everything up shortly. Be watching!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Do We Know

What do I think of Foreman and Dew’s book on epistemology? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Foreman and Dew have written this in order to explain epistemology to people who have never really considered it and in our day and age, it’s more necessary than ever. After all, you have people like Peter Boghossian out there wanting to train up “street epistemologists” to deconvert Christians from their faith. In addition to that, there is a rampant scientism in our society that says science is the way to know the truth. If what you say is not scientific, then it is not a fact.

So how is it that we do know anything at all and what is knowledge? Naturally, you won’t find a comprehensive refutation of positions in this work. Instead, it’s more to get you thinking about what the different positions are. The authors themselves do not come down on either side in the debate. After reading it, I cannot tell you what position either one of them holds.

The authors also go through the classical problems in studies of epistemology. One such example that will be well-known to students of philosophy is the Gettier Problem. (To which, I remember when this was discussed in my epistemology class one of my classmates immediately asked the professor about Gettier. His question? “Did he get tenure?” Yes. He definitely did get tenure after that.)

Gettier’s problem was to show that you could have a belief that was justified and that was true, but even then that might not be enough to say that you had knowledge. This is problematic since the prior definition of knowledge has been justified true belief, which means that now philosophers are looking to see if a fourth item might need to be added to the list.

Those dealing with new atheist types will be pleased to see the authors make a statement about faith and how faith is not a way of knowing but is rather a response of trust to what one is shown to be true. Of course, we seriously doubt that Peter Boghossian and others like him will pay any attention to anything that goes against their beliefs.

Along those lines, there is also a section on whether one can know through divine revelation which includes a short apologetic for Christianity. The authors are both Christians and do hold that divine revelation can be a valid way to possess knowledge.

If there’s a concern I have with the book, I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the medieval period. Too often we talk about Plato and Aristotle and then jump ahead to Descartes. A few times Aquinas is cited but not often. I do not remember Augustine being cited but that could have been something I overlooked. There were plenty of great thinkers as well in the medieval period and it does help to see how we got from the ancient to the modern era.

Despite this one misgiving, I find that this book will be an excellent start for those wanting to learn about epistemology. You won’t walk away with a firm conclusion most likely, but you will walk away hopefully knowing that you need to look.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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