Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics

Image result for evidence that demands a verdictThe new edition Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, edited with his son Sean, recently caught my eye on Amazon. The first edition did that over 40 years in Christian Publications’s bookstore in Manhattan (8th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets).

Gabriel Monheim (1936-2015: this pic is circa 1979-80), who preached on Wall Street, recommended it to me in 1978. The occasion was my asking questions that someone (certainly an ex-Marxist graduate philosophy student) might have about the Bible.

The McDowells’ 700+-page tome is a compendium of orthodox Christian answers to (mainly) historical and archaeological objections to belief in the Bible as the Word of God written and to the many propositions that this belief logically commits the believer. That is, it’s a contribution to apologetics.

Mainly, but not exclusively. To address new versions of perennial philosophical objections the McDowells have added six chapters: “The Nature of Truth,” “The Knowability of Truth,” “Answering  Postmodernism,” “Answer Skepticism,” “Are Miracles Possible?,” and “Is History Knowable?”

Complementing this approach to apologetics for me are the works of Norman  Geisler (PhD, Loyola, 1970; b. 1932), whom I met at the 1982 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Geisler starts with defending theism, grounding his premises in principles that one cannot coherently deny. He then defends the historical reliability of the Bible. On its basis he argues for the deity of Jesus. Whatever Jesus teaches is true, and He taught the divine inspiration of the Old Testament and promised an inspired New Testament. Image result for norman geisler

Geisler’s apologetical method is commonly labeled. “evidentialist.” It’s also categorized as “classical” as distinct from the “presuppositional” approaches of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and Gordon H. Clark. (1902-1985).

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But facts bear an evidential relationship to each other only if certain background conditions obtain. They connect (a) facts to each other causally and (b) each of them to our evidence-weighing minds (c) within a world created by God. That’s the worldview that grounds the premises of sound classical apologetical arguments. It would take me years to accept that from Van Til (above, on the steps of Federal Hall, Wall & Broad, NE corner, 1978, the year I met Monheim; the man in front of him, resting his chin on his left fist, is my old friend Eric Sigward. ). My reading and interacting with Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) made the decisive pedagogical difference.

God has (as it were) encoded these conditions into every human mind (Genesis 1:27; John 1:6; Romans 1:18-20), even minds that reject the Bible. The worldview expressed in the Bible, and only that one, explicates them. The Bible confirms as divine revelation what every human knower tacitly and spontaneously works with, but can justify (when justification is called for) only on the basis of the Bible.

When apologists argue with an unbeliever about, say, the authorship of Isaiah, they should be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to foreground the conditions of intelligible discourse.

Continue reading “Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics”

My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years

“Elements of a Credo” was probably the first piece I wrote for my antique (i.e., not mobile-friendly) philosophy site in 2004. (Compare the edited version below with the original.) I wrestle with its applicability to my current thinking. That is, I’m unhappy with its pretension to theological “neutrality.” But reading it as though it were written by someone else, I think it good enough to share in the hope that it might provoke conversation.—AGF

“He who tells me only what I already know, what I already believe, and what I like to hear, may please me, but he does not contribute to my grasp of the subject.  Whereas, he who compels me to face aspects of the matter which I would like to avoid really does something for me.”

  George Andrew Lundberg 1

I am a philosopher. That is, I seek to “frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” (Alfred North WhiteheadProcess and Reality).

I am also a commentator on the passing scene.  Apart from any degree of success I may enjoy as a philosopher, I feel compelled to venture provisional, qualified judgments in advance of the completion of my speculative philosophy.

As philosopher and commentator, I seek the truth. To do that, I need the cooperation of some and, more importantly, the noninterference of all.

Some may not refrain from interfering.  They would even coerce my cooperators into shunning me.  For the unfettered seeking of truth invariably leads to the expression of particular truths, or just the exposure of falsehood, which threatens to harm the (at least short-term) interests of the coercers.

That has ever been the nature of the truth-seeking business. It has never been merely about straightening out someone else’s muddled thinking within the ambit of a journal article and then repairing to one’s study for a cigar and a glass of sherry. Socrates made that clear. Nothing has changed since his day. Continue reading “My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years”

“Philosophy vs Misosophy”: Paul’s theology and my (admittedly peculiar) terminology

Christians believe that the ultimate truth is a divine person. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” says Jesus Christ. “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1), is the express image (eikon) of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).

He is also the Word (logos) of God (John 1:1) as well as the wisdom (sophia) and the power (dunamis) of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Jesus Christ is before all things (ta panta), and by him all things cohere (susesteken) (Colossians 1:17). Every human being is surrounded and penetrated by creation, as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Because that which may be known (to gnoston) of God is manifest (phaneros) in them (enautois); for God has made it evident (ephanerosen) unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:18-19

This is our epistemological situation with respect to God. We either responsibly affirm or ignobly suppress God’s plainly evident existence in creation. Reason is a tool, not a court before which God may appear as a defendant.

Philosophical theology as it is practiced rejects the epistemological situation as Paul described it.

Continue reading ““Philosophy vs Misosophy”: Paul’s theology and my (admittedly peculiar) terminology”

God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument

My lifelong interest in arguments for and against the existence of God was never the same once it dawned on me that unless the God of the Bible exists, there wouldn’t be any such thing as argumentation (and therefore no theistic argumentation).

A study of Cornelius Van Til Image result for cornelius van tiland his interpreter Greg L. Bahnsen occasioned that dawning.

Not even “God does not exist” is intelligible unless God exists.

Image result for greg bahnsenRare is the philosopher who, inferring God’s existence from the existence or character of the world, asks whether inference itself would be possible in a non-theistic world. If it isn’t, then theistic inference is redundant. Our ability to investigate is itself a divine intention.

Professions of atheism are spiritually insincere because they result from the affirmers’ suppression of their basic awareness of God’s existence. (Romans 1:18-20) We all know the latter as incorrigibly as we know that the world has existed for millennia independently of any of us, a world that has included billions of human selves.

Further, one knows the existence of God, the world, and other selves “primordially,” that is, neither by deduction nor by induction, but prior to any deduction or induction one performs. (See my discussion of Augustus Hopkins Strong’s notion of “first truths” here.)

Continue reading “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument”

I believe that I may avoid absurdity and foolishness

The “motto” that summarizes my understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is not Tertullian’s Credo quia absurdum est (“I believe because it is absurd”).

It is, rather, a corollary of Anselm’s subjunctive Credo ut intelligam (“I believe that I may understand”) or Augustine’s imperative Crede, ut intelligas (“Believe that you may understand”).

It is: Credo ut evitam absurditatem somniumque. I believe that I may avoid absurdity and foolishness.

Absurdity and foolishness are the fruit of “philosoph[izing] after the elements of this world” (Colossians 2:8). In those elements is rooted the opposite of wisdom, “every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). The term “misosophy” marks off that discourse from philosophizing “after Christ.”

“We will hear again of this matter” (Acts 17:32) was the lame response of the Areopagite misosopher to the preaching of the Apostle Paul.

“He who is not with Me is against Me” (Luke 11:23). Non-Christians are not disinterested observers. What God says about them is what matters, and He denies the possibility of their neutrality.

The non-Christian who claims to be neutral about Christ may think he makes good on his claim if he only refrains from ridiculing Christians. They, however, may not (at least not integrally) take the non-Christian’s self-representation at face value.

In Proverbs 8 Wisdom is a person who was with God at Creation. John 1 elaborates upon and complements that picture: the Wisdom of God is the Word of God.

There is a dual promise: “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:35-36; ESV).

It’s safe to assume that he who loves death does not love wisdom. To remove all doubt, God says that such a man hates WisdomHe is, therefore, a misosopher

Bernard Lonergan had it backwards; August Hopkins Strong, about right.

This post develops the point of an earlier post on the Roman Catholic theologian Bernard J. F. Lonergan (1904-1984).Image result for bernard lonergan

“If the real is completely intelligible,” Lonergan argued, “God exists. But the real is completely intelligible. Therefore, God exists.” Insight: A Study of Human UnderstandingNew York: Philosophical Library, 1957, 672; Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Book 3, U Toronto Press, 5th ed, 1992.

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Lonergan seems to derive the minor premise (“But the real is completely intelligible”) from the alleged fact that the human desire to know, which by nature seeks complete intelligibility, therefore affirms (at least implicitly) the existence of a completely intelligent object (which satisfies that desire).

This affirmation in turn entails the existence of a completely intelligent “unrestricted act of understanding” that understands everything about everything and all the attributes of the God of Christian theism to boot.

Epistemologically self-conscious Christians know that Christ is the light of every human knower. (John 1:9; “In thy light shall we see light.” Psalm 36:9b) They not only know God exists, but know that they know God exists. (Romans 1:18-20)

And so they do not feel a need to prove God’s existence from things allegedly known better, any more than they feel the need to prove the existence of a world order existing independently of their experience of it or the existence of persons like themselves. They reject any presumption of atheism.

Continue reading “Bernard Lonergan had it backwards; August Hopkins Strong, about right.”

The Problem OF Philosophy

Aristotle’s School

There are problems of philosophy, which philosophers have perennially asked and attempted to answer.  What really exists? What can (and do) I know?  What is the nature of the good, the true, and the beautiful?

But there’s also the problem of philosophy, one that philosophy raises implicitly but cannot answer directly. That’s the problem of worldview. Do my answers to those philosophical questions comport or clash with one another? How much about the world must I “take for granted” when I ask my first question? Can I query those takings?

When one is adverting to the problem of “background” worldview one is not trying to solve problems that arise on its terms. And one’s worldview must be able to acknowledge worldview-diversity. But where is one standing when one entertains that problem?

As my interest in the worldview problem has increased, that in philosophical problems has decreased.  That’s because philosophical problems now seem to me a function of one’s basic, non-negotiable stance toward the world. When philosophers pay attention to it, they’re not “doing” philosophy.  When they don’t, their philosophical work is exposed to worldview-level criticism.

It’s not that philosophical questions are unimportant. The almost fifty years I spent studying them were not wasted time. Philosophical questions are endlessly interesting culturally and historically. But worldview questions have supplanted philosophical ones in my mind, perhaps because my worldview is of paramount importance to me and, going forward, I wish to advert to it explicitly. Worldviews assign various values to cultural and historical importance and hence to philosophy.

Philosophers who profess the same worldview can agree or disagree fruitfully about, for example, the veridicality of sense perception. Those who do not profess the same worldview, but are not conscious of that disparity, may misunderstand both their agreements and disagreements, even if when they use the same natural language correctly.  If they are conscious of that disparity, then it is not clear what their apparent agreements or disagreements could mean. “God exists,” affirms the Christian, who thinks the idea of God important. “Yes, God exists!,” answers the Buddhist, who deems it a distraction from the main issue of living. Continue reading “The Problem OF Philosophy”

Return to Philosophy and The Recovery of Belief

The titles of two books by British philosopher C. E. M. Joad (1891-1953) comprise the title of this post. They resonate with me in ways I will try to describe.

Joad’s life and writings are a recent discovery of mine, too recent for me to have dedicated a portal to his essays on my dormant philosophy site as I had done for many other thinkers. I can’t now recall what occasioned Joad’s coming to my attention. Perhaps he wandered onto the stage of his times about which I’ve been reading lately.

It was his prose style, however, that caught and held my attention, which was then drawn to his biography. I get almost as much pleasure from reading Joad as I do Brand Blanshard, Joad’s contemporary, which is to say, a great deal.Image result for c e m joad

The way Joad wrote has reawakened within me the kind of feelings that led me to philosophy almost fifty years ago. A few years ago I found myself unable to write about it anymore after having proposed a metaphilosophy that drew the criticism of William F. Vallicella,  a philosopher I respect. I wrote many pages of notes toward a reply, but found myself unable to articulate to my satisfaction my critique of philosophy’s presuppositions, which critique also serves as an apologetic for orthodox Christian theism.

Perhaps I’ve retreated into metaphilosophy because I despair of reaching philosophical conclusions. Really, what end has my site served other than that of displaying my philosophical interests at the expense of committing to definite answers to philosophical questions?

The charge of conflating defense and critique might occur even to sympathetic readers. Such a charge, however, overlooks a key thesis of the critique, namely, that dependence on God, whether acknowledged, unacknowledged, or even denied, underpins every theoretical enterprise. (Even the enterprise of demonstrating the dependence of all theorizing on God.) An implication of the critique is that denial of such dependence is self-stultifying. Even the failure to acknowledge it is an unstable intellectual position.

As it happened, a little book entitled Return to Philosophy (1935) came into my life, and reading it has encouraged me to give the whole thing another try. Maybe. I’m keenly aware that I had begun to pursue worldview-apologetics and metaphilosophy at the expense of actual philosophizing. Whether I have it in me to philosophize any more is an open question.

Image result for c e m joadFor most of his life Joad was not only a socialist, but also a professed atheist who became dissatisfied with the worldview that underpinned that profession. He returned to the Church of England of his youth a few years before his death. (He never repented of his socialism, although he increasingly acknowledged, and feared, that the means to that end was a bloated and rights-violating state.) In The Recovery of Belief (1953) the many arguments he had relied on in support of his atheism pass in review. Some of them are arguments that have occurred to me, as have Joad’s criticisms thereof.

An ex-Communist myself, I experienced my own recovery of belief about forty years ago. The work of relating my return to my recovery, however, is a work in progress. This blog may provide a platform for it.


Bernard Lonergan’s “Insight”: on becoming an intellectually fulfilled theist

“Well, they’re deductivists. And you know what I think of deductivists.”

That’s how Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984) answered when I asked him about the Austrian school of economics.

Yes, I did know what he thought of them. More on that presently.

On June 22, 1983 I was on the campus of Boston College, engrossed in an afternoon session on Lonergan’s then-unpublished “Essay in Circulation Analysis, the economics section of that year’s Lonergan Workshop. (An unofficial edition circulated among Lonerganians.) My aunt, the late Anne T. Flood, Sister of Charity, Ph.D. (Catholic University of America; dissertation on Bishop Christopher Butler and Lonergan) beckoned me from the hallway.

Would I like to meet the great man?

I didn’t return to the classroom.

Patricia “Pat” Coonan, who had known Lonergan since 1945, drove us from Chestnut Hill to Weston, where he was convalescing at the Campion Center. When we arrived, it wasn’t certain that Lonergan was up to a visit. We might have to turn around.

But soon he was ready [my diary shows] and greeted us [from his hospital bed] with a smile. Pat introduced me to the master, and I managed to comport myself properly. I did not interview him, but I did tell him about myself, what his work has meant to me, and even raised the question [of] macroeconomics with him when Pat brought up her difficulties with the “Circulation Analysis.” Lonergan stressed his own macroeconomic approach, not seeming to be aware that [Ludwig von] Mises’ and [Murray N.] Rothbard’s “microeconomic” approach has addressed the “Depression” argument against the free market.

Image result for bernard lonerganIn the aftermath of the Great Depression, immersed in theological studies and spiritual formation between his profession of vows in 1924 and ordination in 1936, Lonergan produced that manuscript. In the ‘70s, after his methodological work was done, he returned to it.

Continue reading “Bernard Lonergan’s “Insight”: on becoming an intellectually fulfilled theist”

Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order

“What ‘banged’?”

That was the derisive reaction of Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) to someone’s mentioning the prevailing cosmology, the Big Bang theory (not to be confused with the television comedy whose theme song’s lyrics encapsulate the disordered cosmology Voegelin analyzed*).

He asked that rhetorical question on March 26, 1983 in Newton, Massachusetts during a Friday night-Saturday afternoon conference arranged by organizers of the annual Lonergan Workshops. (During that year’s meeting in June I’d meet Bernard J. F. Lonergan, SJ, whose mind I revered as much as Voegelin’s.)voegelin

Being a Rothbardian libertarian, I could hardly resist asking Voegelin about the seminars that Ludwig von Mises led in Vienna in the twenties. Smiling, Voegelin said he appreciated learning from Mises that inflation is not an increase in prices but rather the central bank’s increase in the money supply not commensurate with an increase in production of commodities. (A government may politically “freeze” prices, but then the economic effect of the inflation, that is, of the physical increase, is a shortage of the goods whose prices were frozen.) 

At the cocktail hour I asked Voegelin (I paraphrase from memory) how he could communicate with scholars whose grasp of the historical material was far below his (among whom he did not number Father Lonergan, but I certainly include myself). “With a kind of controlled irony,” he deadpanned. 

Continue reading “Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order”