A Response to Bolt on Three Topics (Nocterro, Offsite at Urban Philosophy)
“[A]ny concept is identical with any other…which implies that perfect understanding is subjective and inexpressible.”
Nocterro requested that we discuss the three topics of the reliability of Scripture, the self-deception of atheists, and the presupposition of God in Nocterro’s reasoning. My opening statement is summarized in three statements which are reproduced individually below and discussed in accordance with Nocterro’s responses to them.
Reliability of Scripture
God has providentially controlled the transmission of Scripture such that it accurately communicates what He intends and this accuracy has been further confirmed through textual criticism. The Bible claims that it is the Word of God and rejection of this claim leads one to absurdity in his or her reasoning.
Nocterro states, “It is interesting here that Bolt is not defending the claim that scripture is true, rather he is defending the claim that our current texts match the originals.” What Nocterro means by “interesting” is unclear, but the statement we are discussing concerns the reliability of Scripture.
Nocerro states, “Also interesting is that one of his justifications for this claim is ‘the providence of God.’” Again what Nocterro means by “interesting” is unclear, but why it is “interesting” for a Christian to appeal to such a central tenet of Christianity escapes me.
No difficulty with what I have stated concerning the providence of God and its bearing upon the reliability of Scripture has been brought to light. Worldviews must be dealt with in whole and Nocterro has not raised any objections with respect to what I have presented concerning my belief in the reliability of Scripture. Recall that beliefs should be understood within the broader context of their respective worldviews. Since beliefs are to be understood within the broader context of their respective worldviews the attempt to dismiss a claim from a position external to the worldview from which it originates is irrelevant to the tenability of the given claim. Nocterro writes, “Bolt can’t use that which necessarily depends on the existence of the divine to argue for the existence of the divine using its proposed divinity as a reliability-maker.” Of course this is irrelevant since I have not done so in any direct manner but one is still left wondering why Nocterro thinks he is in a position to dictate what can and cannot be done as far as recognizing coherence in Christian doctrine.
The Bible teaches that everyone believes in God howbeit not in a saving manner. Those who deny that God exists or deny that they believe God exists nevertheless believe that God exists but are motivated through concerns such as sin and judgment to suppress their belief in God through a belief about their belief which is the belief about themselves that they do not believe that God exists. That those who deny that God exists nevertheless believe that God exists may be shown through an appeal to Scripture and/or through the God-denying individual’s belief that human experience is intelligible, since the intelligibility of human experience presupposes God.
Nocterro takes issue with my statement that he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. I write, “This feat is accomplished through rationalizing away evidence of the existence of God, ignoring obvious points, dodging anything which might challenge his anti-Christ presuppositions, etc.” It should be noted that I am here providing examples of ways in which the truth may be suppressed and not necessarily suggesting that Nocterro has performed any of these in particular. Nevertheless given my position the very fact that Nocterro claims to not believe in God in spite of all of the evidence for the existence of God (Psalm 19, Romans 1) is an example of Nocterro performing the tasks he asks about.
Nocterro has not shown any difficulties with my belief that Scripture is reliable or with my belief that he is self-deceived. Again it is clear that Nocterro in some sense disagrees with my presuppositions and worldview, but it is not clear what objections he actually has made with respect to the claims of my worldview taken within the context of the worldview itself. Thus in theory even if it is not shown that Nocterro presupposes God in his reasoning the two prior claims remain untouched.
Epistemic warrant is in some sense necessary for human intelligibility yet it is foreign to an atheistic worldview while the Christian worldview provides for epistemic warrant. Thus insofar as an atheist believes in or acts as though there is such a thing as human intelligibility he or she borrows from the Christian worldview. The atheist is in this manner shown to believe in God.
In answer to one of Nocterro’s first concerns about the current topic; I do not assume that no epistemic justifications have ever been offered by atheists. Recall that the reason atheistic epistemic justifications fail is because atheism does not provide for objective epistemic normativity which is required for propositional knowledge. When I run a Google search (following Nocterro’s suggestion) on “atheist objective epistemic normativity” it brings up our current discussion. Why Nocterro thinks it is a “grand task” to “offer objections to ALL forms of non-theistic theories of justification” and why he thinks I must even do so is a mystery to me. As already explained; given his anti-theistic worldview Nocterro cannot posit the notion of right or wrong ways that beliefs should either come about or be held. There is no absolute person or persons on an atheistic view which provides an account for epistemic normativity.
In response to this latter sentence Nocterro writes, “This assumes that any justification must necessarily be based on an absolute person or persons (by which I assume he means a deity) – it begs the question against atheism.” It should be noted in response that I am more specifically writing about an account of epistemic normativity and that this does not constitute “begging the question” at all but rather an argument against atheism. Worldviews are not ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in terms of their epistemologies.
Contrary to Nocterro’s assertion, I have not merely asserted “Christianity gives a sound epistemic justification.” In fact, I did not assert this at all. I am afraid Nocterro is missing my point entirely. The character and command of God and His having created us in His image and obligated us toward Him provides for the epistemic normativity necessary to right belief. Christianity provides for epistemic normativity while Nocterro’s atheism does not. Nothing he has stated thus far would lead one to believe otherwise.
The character and command of God and His having created us in His image and obligated us toward Him provides for the epistemic normativity necessary to right belief. Thus in the context of this discussion Nocterro must either presuppose the existence of God or relinquish the ability to argue his case. He opts for the former in requesting discussion on the three claims and in doing so evidences that Scripture is reliable and that he believes in God.
Nocterro offers a complaint about the length of the summary of a theistic account of epistemic normativity as compared to lengthier treatments of the subject and states that this account doesn’t really tell us much at all. Brevity should make it that much easier for him to generate a critique of what I have written, yet he has not done so.
It is evident that Nocterro, like Mitch LeBlanc, is relatively new to presuppositionalism and the Transcendental Argument for God as Nocterro brings up and follows some of LeBlanc’s misunderstandings of TAG. For example in his response Nocterro fails to discern between transcendental argumentation and argumentum ad ignorantium even though the two have nothing at all to do with each other. Nocterro paraphrases a small portion of some of LeBlanc’s material on TAG and writes, “One must have knowledge of all possible non-Christian justifications in order to show that they all share this claim [Christianity is false] in common.” This is incorrect, as non-Christian “justifications” by definition claim that Christianity is false. Nocterro further writes, “If one shows that this claim ‘Christianity is false’ is false, then the TAG is no longer needed.” Again this is incorrect since TAG is the method by which it is demonstrated that “Christianity is false” is false. These misconceptions regarding transcendental argumentation in general and TAG in particular are irrelevant and unhelpful to Nocterro for the purposes of this discussion anyway, for someone with no account for objective epistemic normativity has no place to offer “possible” non-Christian “justifications” and if “Christianity is false” is admitted by Nocterro to be false apart from TAG then Nocterro has conceded.
Finally, Nocterro believes that he can presuppose God in his reasoning without believing that God exists. Not only does the argument presented show that epistemic normativity is impossible on a view where God does not exist, but it is impossible to “presuppose God” without believing that God exists, so Nocterro fails in his attempt to escape the conclusion of the argument given the soundness of the argument. He is essentially proposing what cannot be rationally thought (that God does not exist) if it is the case that God must be presupposed in reasoning.
Neo-Confucianist Plantingian Warrant
Nocterro allegedly provides a brief summary of Plantinga’s position on epistemic justification which I do not adhere to and did not bring up in my opening statement. Following the work of David Tien he presents what is likely a rather ethnocentric interpretation of Neo-Confucianism. In this interpretation Neo-Confucianist epistemology as developed by Wang Yang-ming is thought of as analogous to Plantinga’s position such that it provides for epistemic justification; Wang’s Neo-Confucianism allegedly meets Plantinga’s “criteria for warrant.”
Nocterro explains that in Neo-Confucian belief the liangzhi is the “perfect state of mind” which raises the question, “Relative to what?” He answers this question, I believe, when he states that the li or “principle” is “the way things ideally ought to be”.
Nocterro quotes Tien as stating that “The liangzhi operates as a faculty of the mind that discerns flawlessly, naturally, and spontaneously between right and wrong.” Tien is further quoted as stating that the liangzhi “forms correct beliefs.” Such a belief is unable to account for the limits and errors of human understanding however, and thus more is added to the explanation.
“All things in the universe are a combination of li and qi. Qi is the stuff of which the universe is made. It exists in various grades of purity. Although all things possess all the li of the universe within them, because of the impurity of the qi of which they are composed, some li are obstructed, thereby accounting for the differences between things.”
There is much more depth to these concepts as well as many other interpretations of them but what Nocterro presents as being his worldview is what will be dealt with for the sake of the discussion.
It is difficult to accept that there is any such thing as a properly functioning faculty on Nocterro’s view. Nocterro has not provided any explanation of how the liangzhi may have been designed to function as it is held to function as opposed to any other way. The liangzhi must be the result of unintentional, undirected, non-human, non-divine, non-intelligent processes by which the liangzhi came to be or comes to be. Nocterro is proposing that there are ends to things without any explanation of how this is possible on his view. Further, he implies through his use of terms like “ought” that li, while only a descriptive concept, is somehow normative. Indeed he states this outright but without any reason for doing so. As it stands there is a leap being made from the way that the li is to the way that things ought to be. In short, Nocterro is appealing to a normativity of design which is nonexistent on his view.
There are other problems with what Nocterro has written. According to Nocterro following Tien’s Westernized interpretation of Wang; humans “possess both li and qi” and yet “are able to purify…[their]…minds in order to eliminate qi”. So far qi has been described as “the stuff of which the universe is made” existing “in various grades of purity” though the “impurity of the qi” is mentioned and qi is said to be “manifested mainly as self-centered desires”. Readers may draw their own conclusions as to whether or not these characteristics are compatible with each other. Nocterro proceeds to compare qi to the Christian concept of sin but the two are very different. For example, sin is always against God. It makes no sense to speak of qi as being “against” anything other than perhaps li, but then the question remains as to why the li should be preferred over qi anyway. Again, epistemic normativity is lacking in this view and there is no apparent reason why one is obligated to conform one’s thoughts to li to begin with.
Some may think that I have already given Nocterro too much, for while Christianity is a revelatory worldview, Neo-Confucianism is not. There are questions concerning how anyone comes to know these sort of claims concerning liangzhi and li and qi to begin with. Has Nocterro ‘discovered’ and ‘reached’ the liangzhi? If he has not, then he cannot claim to have come to know the liangzhi apart from the ‘authority’ of Wang (given that Wang reached it himself), but this is not bringing even one’s most basic thoughts into conformity with li because Wang was just another human being. How did Wang, or how does Nocterro, know when he has discovered and is using liangzhi given the very real danger of qi “obstructing” one’s judgment concerning these things? The liangzhi and li, however they may be construed, do not give rise to “proper function” since they do not, by Wang and Tien’s own admissions, provide for proper function!
The world of li and qi is not an appropriate cognitive environment for the operation of liangzhi since qi obstructs the operation of the liangzhi so that it does not function properly. There is no reason to accept the li as a sort of standard as opposed to the qi, and even if there were a reason to do so, there is no reason one should accept the li as opposed to the qi. On a strictly dualistic interpretation of the Neo-Confucianism in question there is a problem of universals including those used in order to determine whether li or qi is the way things ought to be. A Neo-Confucianism which entails dialectic monism is reducible to monism if it is not simply incoherent from the outset. The identification of li in everything and more specifically the identification of liangzhi with li not only appears to be a correct understanding of Wang’s view but is fatally problematic for Neo-Confucianism. Wang takes the liang-chi to be t’ien, hsing, ming, t’ienli, etc. without differentiation. Further, Gung-hsing Wang comments on the identification of liangzhi with li when he writes that “Wang Yang-ming, when referring to man’s inborn intellect [liang-chih], failed to differentiate it from such terms as reason [li], essence of reasonableness, innate goodness, intuitive ability to sense the good, and native capability of doing the good.” Wang’s identification of li in everything including liangzhi is fatal to Nocterro’s worldview because its inherent monism precludes the possibility of predication. Finally, the identification of li with liangzhi and mind is immediately reducible to subjectivism as alluded to in the opening quote of this rebuttal statement.
Thus unlike Christianity Neo-Confucianism is self-referentially incoherent. Such a system is incapable of providing the preconditions of intelligible human experience and specifically in this case; epistemic normativity. Over against the conclusions stated at the end of Nocterro’s response Christian theism has been presented as a system of thought which provides for epistemic normativity necessary for knowledge and reason while Neo-Confucianism does not and indeed cannot due to problems listed here. I call upon Nocterro again to turn from his would-be self-rule in his reasoning and rest instead in Jesus Christ.