Epistemology: A Thought on Method – Part Ia


Part Ia: Introduction Part Ib: What is Epistemology

Part II: Pre-Modernism (coming soon)

Part III: Modernism (coming soon)

Part IV: Post-Modernism (coming soon)

Part V: Epistemology in a Post-Christian World (coming soon)

I: Introduction

In writing my last post, I was mulling over a series of questions I have been asking myself as I realize major philosophical differences between my predecessors (from what I can perceive) and myself. A few years ago I took part in a theology class where a professor detailed several differences in the way people ‘know’. This subject (epistemology) has continued to fascinate me. I believe the major differences in political and religious thinking to be highly motivated by one’s own epistemology. As I continued in my fascination, the relative ignorance to other forms of thought became more frustrating to me. In our meetings, we often find ourselves reducing our arguments to epistemology or semantics (usually when we’re tired or inebriated). Though arguments can be good or bad whether it agrees with another’s epistemology, the way one views a subject is vital to reception. Considering this, I figured it was high time one of us put together a little essay on the topic.

As a religious thinker, I believe the point of studying this subject affects our perspective on two very crucial points. Initially, the question of ‘truth’ becomes the overwhelming fascination. What is truth? How does truth function? istock_000005659812xsmallIs truth subjective (depending on perception), objective (existing outside of perception) or both? Epistemology is not locked in religious study either. Studies of history, economics, philosophy, psychology and physics all depend on a subset of rules that differ depending on the way the observer “observes” and “analyzes” the issues of their field. Further, the question of social institution becomes interesting. Are we individual thinkers (perceivers) or limited to our social perceptions? If one were born in a different location, how would their epistemology differ?

In our group we have a lot of differences in background. Between the four of us Theophiliacs:
one was born to a Muslim father spguys001
two are pastor’s kids
one has divorced parents
two have grown in the suburbs
two have grown in a rural setting
three are Caucasian
one is of Persian descent
three are married
four of us own and smoke tobacco pipes (yay Jeremy!)

… considering all these things, not to mention all of our similarities, we all think very differently. The way we ‘know’ is part of what makes us individuals.

As each of these methods is introduced, I intend to provoke a few questions within you, the reader.
– Which of these epistemologies seems closest to yours?
– How does your epistemology differ?
– Why do you think this way?
– Why do others think this way?

I would like to immediately convey the way I will be systematizing epistemologies, as it has an inherent strength and weakness. In addressing each form of knowing, I will be categorizing these methods in terms of the three major philosophical epochs: premodernism, modernism and postmodernism. This will allow me to categorize in a historical method how each of these movements relate to one another. Using philosophical epochs may allow one to realize better which method they belong to and why. Admittedly this form of description is incredibly problematic – an individual cannot really be placed completely into one epistemology (unless they founded the method), nor do sociological and philosophical studies agree. In both regards, individual preference and academic study overlap in indeterminate places. grampsandbaby So, when I write ‘logical positivism is a trend in modernist thought’ I mean to leave out the fact not all modernists adhere to logical positivism and not all logical positivists are also modernists. Please accept such overlaps in sociological-philosophical systemization as hypothesis, not conclusion.

It is worth saying, no epistemology is ‘wrong’. Some epistemologies are heavily dependent upon logic/empiricism/analysis while others are based in experience/belief. I will confess my dislike for logical positivism (logical empiricism), as it is a movement incredibly contrary to my bias. However, I must admit my debt to the method, as it has laid groundwork for much of academia, as well as it being the method of many of my mentors.

I hope this short series will be as enjoyable for you to read, as it will be for me to write.


  1. First of all, I don’t wear green so that part is completely unfounded. That said, I am excited for this series. I think it has been a long time coming for this to make its way to theophiliacs. My hope is that it might aid our personal discussions as well. We often elude to our personal epistomologies, but perphaps some formulation of categories could help us better define our perspectives.


  2. Jeremy:

    You wrote, “It is worth saying, no epistemology is ‘wrong.'” Is this something you know to be true? I know it to be false. But if I understand your statement correctly, neither what you “know” or what I “know” is “wrong,” which entangles us in a contradiction. Your knowledge of the truth that “no epistemology is wrong” contradicts my knowledge of its falsity. Since we both can’t be right, at least one of must be wrong, which means that one of our epistemologies is wrong.

    “Some epistemologies are heavily dependent upon logic/empiricism/analysis while others are based in experience/belief.” It’s been a long time since I sat in on an epistemology class, but if memory serves, the fundamental divide in epistemology is between a Cartesian rationalism (“clear and distinct beliefs”), a Lockean empiricism, and a Kantian mix of the two. I would say, then, that “logic and analysis” go together in the rationalist camp, while “empiricism and experience” go into the empirical camp. Of course, rationalists build beliefs on empirical insights, and empiricists use logic, so they’re not watertight divisions.

    “I will confess my dislike for logical positivism (logical empiricism), as it is a movement incredibly contrary to my bias.” Logical positivism’s criteria for meaningful statements was twofold: A statement had to be either (a) self-evidently true (logic, mathematics, etc.) or (b) empirically verifiable. Of course, these criteria themselves are neither self-evidently true nor empirically verifiable. Hence, most philosophers have chucked logical positivism.

    Which raises the issue of how you can have a “debt” to a self-referentially absurd criteria. Furthermore, I think it’s questionable that logical positivism has “laid groundwork for much of academia.” It was a big academic issue 50 years ago, but I’m pretty sure epistemologists generally and philosophers of science particularly have moved beyond logical positivism.



  3. George,
    I didn’t write this post, Dan did. That said, I think that your circular argument is missing the point that Dan was making. My understanding is that epistomology is “how one knows” not “what one knows”. I think that Dan was arguing that there is no wrong way to attain knowledge. I don’t think he was arguing that there is no wrong answers. Your argument seems to want to jump to relativism and the always popular argument of universal truth. However, I don’t think that is where Dan was going.


  4. Jeremy:

    Sorry about confusing Dan’s authorship with yours.

    I’m not sure that I buy the notion that epistemology is only about “how one knows.” The standard philosophical definition of knowledge “justified true belief.” If epistemology studies knowledge in any normative way, that is, to discern which beliefs are justified and true, then not only must it reflect on methodological questions (what does it mean to be justified and true?) but it also must reflect on actual beliefs.

    But let’s say you’re right, and epistemology is only concerned with “how one knows.” Further, let’s say that you’ve accurately captured Dan’s point with this statement: “there is no wrong way to attain knowledge.” I know this statement is wrong, and I can give a number of good, philosophical reasons to support that conclusion. But let me be goofy instead and simply say that I know that statement is false (and hence not knowledge) because I’ve ingested a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms. What’s the response if “there is no wrong way to attain knowledge”? The whole point of the “justified” and “true” criteria for knowledge is that they weed out certain ways of believing things as subpar rationally. If you don’t believe that some epistemological methods are superior to others in producing knowledge, why engage in epistemology? Indeed, why engage in any rational argument of any sort since someone can always claim that what they know is the direct result of their method of knowing, which you’ve just conceded can never be wrong?



  5. George,
    I do believe that you are the most avid deconstructionist I know. I think you are purposely taking the comments out of the implied context for the sake of deconstructing them. The sentence implies acceptable parameters for defining epistemologies. This is seen in the next few lines. Obviously, you can ignore that implication and run crazy with alternative “epistemologies” that make the initial sentence seem absurd. I must assume that you love topics like this where no perfect answer exists. After all no matter what position Dan espoused, you could find a way to deconstruct it. Hopefully Dan will weigh in on what he truly meant. It is obvious that we are all going to have to be excessively careful with how we word things, knowing that you are waiting to pounce. I do enjoy waiting to see how you will rip apart seemingly any and every position taken on this blog. You are truly an asset to all of us. thank you



  6. Jeremy:

    Uh, thank you?

    I’m not sure whose comments you think I’ve deconstructed: Dan’s original statement, quoted in my first comment, or your take on Dan’s original statement, quoted in my response to you. I don’t think I’ve taken either of you out of context; I think both of you are confused. But then again, I always consider myself a beacon of clarity amidst the epistemological darkness surrounding everyone else.

    (That’s sarcasm, folks!)

    If you could let me know whose comments I’ve taken out of context and how, I’ll make sure to deconstruct that as well. LOL.


    P.S. Were any of you philosophy majors in college, or am I the only one?


  7. GW3,
    The candor in your previous statements is a bit unsettling. Epistemology is the study of how one knows. It is a branch of philosophy intersecting cultural dynamics. Additionally epistemology can be used in the determination of what knowledge is.

    Phrases like:
    – But let me be goofy instead and simply say that I know that statement is false (and hence not knowledge) because I’ve ingested a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
    – how you can have a “debt” to a self-referentially absurd criteria.
    – But let’s say you’re right …
    … are unkind, inflammatory and a deterrent from the underlying argument. Please be a bit more genteel.

    Furthermore, phrases like:
    – “I know this statement is wrong, and I can give a number of good, philosophical reasons to support that conclusion.”
    – … false (and hence not knowledge)…
    – The whole point of the “justified” and “true” criteria for knowledge is that they weed out certain ways of believing things as subpar rationally.
    … are all expositions of YOUR epistemology.

    I would further like to ask for a bit more research on your part on the subject, as the subject is a bit more enormous than Decartes, Lock and Kant. The what and how of knowledge are an enormous task, we will need all the support we can get in this series.

    Oh … GW3, I always appreciate your comments.


  8. Daniel:

    Here is the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on epistemology: http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/epistemo.htm.

    Regarding my “candor” and “phrases” that are “unkind, inflammatory, and a deterrent from the underlying argument,” that’s just the stock in trade of analytical philosophy. Indeed, one of my favorite epistemologists, Alvin Plantinga, is so renowned for extreme examples that Daniel Dennett coined the verb “alvinize”: To stimulate protracted discussion by making a bizarre claim. “His contention that natural evil is due to Satanic agency alvinized his listeners” (http://www.philosophicallexicon.com/#A).

    And anyway, you seem to have missed the point of what I thought was a comical reductio of your statement that no epistemology is wrong. For if (a) epistemology is the study of how we know, and (b) no epistemology is wrong, then two conclusions logically follow: (c) no method of knowing is wrong and (d) knowledge arising from the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is not wrong, which is absurd. The reductio attacks premise (b), which is the conclusion to your post above. How is using a reductio unkind? After all, I wasn’t claiming that you were using hallucinogenic mushrooms (although with the Theophiliacs’ stated fondness for drinking and smoking, I wouldn’t necessarily put it past you. LOL!).

    I’m also not sure why it’s unkind to say that logical positivism’s criteria of meaningful statements is “self-referentially absurd.” That’s just a fancy way of saying it’s logically self-contradictory or internally incoherent. And LP’s criteria of meaningful statements is self-referentially absurd. You seem to think I’m insulting you by pointing this out. Why?

    “But let’s say your right…” is a standard rhetorical trope. It’s called concession for the sake of argument. I used it as part of my reductio of your statement. Again, you seem to have taken this personally, but I was making an argument against your post, not trying to insult you.

    Are the remaining phrases merely “expositions of [MY] epistemology”? Uh, no. Some beliefs are subpar rationally. If they weren’t, why do you expend so much time aruing on this site? If no epistemology is wrong, then the beliefs that arise from any epistemology cannot be wrong. That’s the point of my reductio, which I notice you haven’t responded to.

    Let me lay out a piece of my “epistemology”:

    1. There are a number of ways that we acquire beliefs. In no particular order of importance or value: perception, memory, ratiocination, tradition, experience, revelation, mirage, hallucination, psychological projection, biochemical stimulation, etc.

    2. Knowledge is justified true belief.

    3. Some of our beliefs may be false.

    4. Some of our beliefs false and unjustified because (a) they don’t correspond to reality or are logically incoherent and (b) arise from belief-sources that have misled us. Example: The traveler in a dessert who sees an oasis, which turns out to be a mirage. His oasis-belief is false because there is in fact no oasis and unjustified because the source of his belief was an optical illusion. Hence, his “knowledge” of the existence of the oasis is not knowledge; it is not justified true belief.

    5. Some of our beliefs may be true and unjustified. Edmund Gettier gives several exampples of this. Suppose that you’re going to a noon class. As you look at the campus tower clock, it says the time is 11:56. And in fact it is 11:56 a.m. So, you “know” that you’ve got four minutes till class starts. Your belief is true because that’s what time it is. It’s justified because the tower clock, which is a reliable timepiece, gives 11:56 at the time. But suppose that precisely 12 hours earlier the clock stopped at 11:56 p.m. In that case, the tower clock’s time is off by half a day. You just happened to walk by the clock exactly twelve hours later. Intuitively, that seems to strip your belief of justification.

    6. Some of our beliefs are false but justified. Think of CastAway with Tom Hanks. He was marooned on a desert island for several years. His fiancee came to the eminently reasonable conclusion that he was dead based on the location of the crash, the number of searches performed, and the amount of time elapsed since his disappearance. Hence, she was justified in her belief. It was rational. But it was also false, since he was in fact alive.

    7. A number of sources of belief may yield knowledge; e.g., the first six items in #1 above.

    8. A number of sources of belief do not yield knowledge; e.g., the last four items in #1 above.

    9. The discipline of epistemology helps us sort out #7 from #8 and explain why some sources of belief yield knowledge and why others don’t. Epistemology does other things, of course, but this is at least part of its mission.



  9. Daniel:

    I would be happy to list the books on epistemology and philosophy that I have read and am reading if you think I have done inadequate research on the topic.



  10. GW3 … suffice it to say, my assumptions were incorrect. I apologize I mistook your writings as crass. Further your last statement posted here:


    I would be happy to list the books on epistemology and philosophy that I have read and am reading if you think I have done inadequate research on the topic.


    … makes me quiver … as I am quite certain the extent of my philosophical knowledge is limited by comparison. I will comment further on the meat of the issue, right and wrong in epistemology.
    Thanks for your time and effort.


  11. Daniel:

    Whew, you didn’t call my bluff on the reading list! Most of epistemology reading is twenty years old and limited to analytic philosophy. As a more recent college grad, you’ve read more current stuff, so please feel free to post a few of the books that have influenced your ideas.

    Personally, I’ve been influenced by Alvin Plantinga’s writings on epistemology. “Warranted Christian Belief” is his magnum opus, and it makes for good reading. That’s about as current as my reading gets. My old Wheaton Prof Jay Wood has produced a few books on epistemology over the last decade. He might be interesting to look into as well.



  12. George,

    In your numbered explaination of your epistemology, which of the items from #7 justify you to make the categorical denouncement of the items in #8? Have you experienced psychodelic mushrooms, or did you recieve a revelation about them?

    What makes your epistemological dogmatism more convincing than the epistemology of a hard core psychodelic drug aficionado? An intuitive sense of what is real? Scientific evidence? Rationalism? Mabye, but there is an intrinsic danger, especially for pentecostals, but for all Christians generally, in making science, logic, or our fragile sense of reality, our ultimate interpretor of Truth.

    To say that beliefs are untrue because “they do not correspond to reality or because they are logically incoherent” puts alot of Christian beliefs that I hold dear (and some that I don’t) on pretty shaky ground. How is the Trinity or the Two Natures of Christ logically coherent, for example? This is not to say that reason and cience are not useful tools in finding truth, it is just that I don’t accept them as the only or even the ultimate arbitors of what is true. When a Christian does make them the ultimate standard for truth he creates the need for a whole phalanx of apologists to write enormous tomes in which they bend over backwards St. Anselm style to “prove” logically and scientifically that all our dearest held religious beliefs are true or at least “reasonable” (a relative concept to be sure).


  13. James:

    Oh geez, where to begin?

    Let’s start with what you call my “categorical denouncement” of certain ways of knowing. (a) In #7, I wrote “may produce” not “does produce.” That makes my statement in #7 qualified, not “categorical.” (b) I didn’t use the items in #7 to critique, let alone denounce, the items in #8. So your first rhetorical question, “which of the items from #7…,” is an implicit straw man argument. (c) Your second, clever, rhetorical question is similarly an implicit straw man argument. So much for your first paragraph.

    In your second paragraph, you ask, “What makes your epistemological dogmatism more convincing than the epistemology of a hard core psychedelic drug aficionado?” I don’t know. Maybe the fact that my brain is not drug addled and his is? Really, James, I simply don’t know how you got from my #7 and #8 to warning me about “making science, logic, or our fragile sense of reality, our ultimate interpreter of Truth.” Where did I ever say that? I said some sources of beliefs may (not do) produce knowledge, while others do not. I’m more than happy, however, to consider an argument in favor of the epistemic value of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

    Regarding your third paragraph, is it really your considered position that some Christian beliefs do not correspond to reality or are logically incoherent? For example, when we say with the Creed, “the third day, he rose again,” is it your position that “he rose again” does not correspond to what actually happened to Jesus on the third day? And do you really believe that the Trinity and Incarnation are logically incoherent? If you answer yes to these three questions, why do you continue to hold Christian beliefs, for who would want to hold demonstrably false beliefs or entertain self-referentially absurd ideas?

    The New Testament authors strove to ground their Christological beliefs in what Jesus said about himself, which was confirmed by his resurrection, which they saw with their own eyes. This is a good example of an empirically based belief, one experienced through the senses.

    When formulating the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Church Fathers strove mightily to avoid logical contradictions, which they rightly saw as fatal to Christian theology. That is why, for example, Trinitarian doctrine describes God as one in essence and three in person. Had they said one essence/three essences, or one person/three persons, that would have laid the groundwork for a contradiction. As it is, there is no facial contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, if essence logically and necessarily entails person, then there’s a problem, but the Fathers didn’t define the doctrine that way.

    I completely agree with this statement: “This is not to say that reason and science are not useful tools in finding truth, it is just that I don’t accept them as the only or even the ultimate arbiters of what is true.” I agree with that statement. What has me somewhat flabbergasted is how you ever derived the opposite conclusion from anything I wrote above.

    Now, since I’m evidently the king of reductio arguments on this site, I’m open to hearing a reductio of any of my nine points above. Perhaps that’s what you meant to do. But I don’t see how you can even perform a reductio on my rather noncontroversial points above without radically misconstruing what I actually wrote.



  14. George,

    I did not call statement #7 a categorical denouncement. The one I called a categorical denouncement was statement #8–the one where you explicitly state that certain “sources of belief do not yield knowledge.” Now I know I don’t have a philosophy degree from Wheaton so maybe I’m using the wrong terminology here. Let’s try again with different terminology: you have made an absolute statement about the fact that at least four sources of belief do not yield knowledge. And since in #9 you said that epistemology helps us sort out which sources of belief may yield knowledge (#7) from the one which do not (#8), I naturally assumed that something explicit in your epistemology, namely item #7, had helped you state unequivocally that certain sources of belief, especially psychedelic mushrooms, cannot produce knowledge. If, as you say, you haven’t used any of the sources of belief in item #7 to critique the items in #8, then how do you “know” that the items in #8 cannot produce knowledge? Isn’t that what the wider discussion is about–How do we know that we know anything?

    You mentioned that you agree with my statement that I don’t trust science and reason as the ultimate arbiter of truth. You also mentioned that you were flabbergasted that I concluded from your statements that you do make science and reason the ultimate arbiter of truth. But you also seem flabbergasted (disgusted?) that I would believe something that isn’t reasonable, and you suggest that I abandon any such beliefs. This seems (and I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong) like you are making reason as the ultimate criteria for whether or not I should hold a particular belief. My point is that I don’t , and so I’m very comfortable saying that a) I do believe in the Trinity, and b) the Trinity is neither reasonable nor “scientific” unless you change the way those terms are meant by 99% of the people who use them. The trinity like the Gospel itself is foolishness in the eyes of the world, and that’s okay (with me).

    As for your comments concerning the empirical knowledge of the NT testament authors even the most conservative evangelical scholar would have to admit that Mark, Luke, and Paul were not eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, rather they believed the testimony of others (who, I believe but cannot verify in a scientific way, were eyewitnesses). More liberal scholars would tell us that Matthew and John were not actually disciples of Jesus and therefore not likely eyewitnesses either.

    As for your comments on the Church Fathers, their choice of words in formulating doctrine seems to be determined more by their need to reach a broad consensus among a diverse Church, and negotiate between and compromise with a variety of different interests, than by their meticulous concern for Cartesian logic, or by their desire not to offend the sensibilities of modernist philosophers.

    Finally, my intention in responding to your post was not primarily to perform reductio ad absurdum (assuming that is the ruductio over which you claim sovereignty), but was three-fold: first, to make a statement about science and reason and their role in epistemology; second, because some of the things you have said throughout this thread hit me as overly doctrinaire (i.e. the now forever infamous psychedelic mushrooms); and third, because as juvenile and selfish as it is, I wanted to know if the son of the General Superintendent of the AG had ever used psychedelic mushrooms. I think in the end, our bickering is but another example of the seemingly inescapable differences that modernists have with postmodernists, and visa versa ; but that’s okay; we can still get along, because after all—no epistemology is technically wrong, right?


  15. James:

    For the record, I have never used hallucinogenic mushrooms.

    Paragraphs #7 and #8 talk about sources of beliefs, which may or may not yield knowledge. The point of paragraph #9 was that epistemology helps us systematically reflect on our beliefs to sort out which yield knowledge. I stand by my statement that mirages, hallucinations, psychological projections, and biochemical stimulations do not yield knowledge, i.e., justified true beliefs. I eagerly await your defense of the knowledge-inducing properties of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

    I think good scholarship stands behind the eyewitness claims of New Testament doctrine. I believe Mark may have seen and Paul definitely saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15). Whether the Gospels of Matthew and John were written by Matthew and John, as I believe, it is reasonable to conclude that eyewitness testimony underlies them, as Richard J. Bauckham argues extensively in his recent, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

    More than a desire to unite disparate parts of the church animated the Fathers as they wrote the creeds, although of course that was part of the bargain too. The fact is, they had to write a creed that took into account Scripture and liturgical tradition and historical tradition while at the same time responding to the rationalist criticisms of the various heresies. Logic may not have been uppermost in their minds, but it was not totally absent either. And by the way, logic existed long before Descartes. Not sure why you had to throw his name into the mix.

    In re: Paul and “foolishness,” I think you’ve seriously misread Paul. He’s not arguing against logic. He’s arguing against cultural presuppositions. As he makes clear in 1 Cor. 1-2, Greeks search for “wisdom” (high falutin’ philosophical rhetoric) and Jews for “miracles” (displays of power), but Christians preach Christ crucified, which is neither high falutin’ philosophical rhetoric or a display of power. But Jesus is the “wisdom” of God. To use Paul’s statement about the “foolishness” of the cross to downplay a concern for logic is, well, bizarre. After all, if you chuck logic, then Paul could just as well say that the cross of Christ is and is not the wisdom of God, at the same time and in the same respect. Or that God does and doesn’t exist. Or that Christ saves and doesn’t save. Or that Jesus lived and didn’t live. How far, exactly, do you want to push logic away from Christian truth claims?

    What grounds Christian truth claims is the revelation of God in Christ. What guards our apprehension of that truth from sinking into incoherence are things like the laws of logic.



  16. George,
    James said that Paul was not eye witness to the resurrection. You dismissed this by saying Paul definately was a witness to the resurrection. First of all, how can one be so definative? There definately are scholars who would argue your position. However, the tone in which you dismissed James’ point seems to indicate that you lend no creedance to the multitude of Christian scholars who disagree with your position. Please tell me how you have become so absolutely sure of your position? Furthermore, you seem to have dismissed James’ point which was to show that at least some if not all of the early Christians based their theologies on something other than empirical data.

    Also you point out that the doctrine of the trinity was established in such a way as to not be logically self defeating. However, the Eastern fathers who played a major part in formulating the doctrine of the trinity from the works of Plotinus believed that it was a way to counter rationalism that had crept into the Western church. They were trying to salvage what they called the mystical spirit of Christianity. During this pre-modern time, truth was seen to be found not only in the empirical world of logic but also the unknowable world of mythology. So this would seem to lend itself to James’ view that from the earliest of times the church has struggled between rational validation and mystical faith.
    Just my 2 cents have at me George.


  17. Jeremy,

    Not that this thread should degenerate into a Resurrection talk, but how is it that you “lend no creedance to the multitude of Christian scholars who disagree with YOUR position?” We each of us have our reasons yes?


  18. Tony,
    You know that statement is not true. I have always argued that the ambiguity of the resurrection makes me agnostic toward a specific position. I hold to the belief that one chooses arbitrarily based on their personal presuppositions. I was simply pointing out that George’s rhetoric was dismissive. If indeed that is the spirit of his post than I was asking for some clarification as to the reasons for his strength of conviction. I have never dismissed yours or any one else’s views of the resurrection. I have simply shared why I have chosen mine.


  19. Jeremy:

    I based my conclusion that Paul was an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus on Paul’s own words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Paul uses the same word, “appeared,” to describe his experience of the resurrected Christ as he uses to describe the experience the apostles and the 500 witnesses had of the resurrected Christ. The natural inference is that it was the same kind of experience. Please explain to me why I should take the word of “multitude of Christian scholars” over Paul’s own words.

    Of course, not everyone had an eyewitness experience of Jesus. That is where tradition comes in. First Cor. 15:3 begins with these words: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance….” “Received” and “passed on” are quasi-technical terms that Paul also elsewhere uses to describe the handing down of eyewitness testimony. Interestingly, in 1 Cor. 11:23, Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…,” and then quotes the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper.

    Now, please go back and re-read what I wrote in my long, numbered post. I listed 10 specific sources of belief, one of which was tradition. We come to believe some things on the basis of direct sense perception and come to believe other things on the basis of tradition, which often involves an eyewitness sharing with us what he himself has seen. Tradition can include multiple intermediaries.

    With that in mind, I disagree with your assessment: “Furthermore, you seem to have dismissed James’ point which was to show that at least some if not all of the early Christians based their theologies on something other than empirical data.” I didn’t address it that point above. Based on what I believe about tradition, I happen to agree with James that there are more sources of belief (and possibly knowledge) than direct sense perception.

    The Eastern Fathers did not formulate “the doctrine of the trinity from the works of Plotinus.” Indeed, it’s hard to figure out how you could ever use Plato or Plotinus, with their evident disregard for the material world, to arrive at the doctrine of the Incarnation, without which there is no need for a doctrine of the Trinity. No doubt the Fathers, both East and West, used the philosophical toolbox available to them, much like we use the philosophical tool box available to them. For them, the toolbox included Platonism. For us, it includes postmodernism. But I think they used those tools more critically than you seem to be giving them credit for. Indeed, I’m not sure you’ve wrestled with the thorough biblicism of the Fathers. These men were more rooted in Scripture than in the philosophers, since the daily warp and woof of their lives included extended liturgical use of and reflection upon the Scriptures. (Perhaps Tony or Reed could chime in with some comments on this point, since they seem to have read promiscuously in the Fathers.)

    Even more, I think that something like the doctrine of the Trinity has to emerge from Christian reflection on the Bible if only because the Old Testament calls God “Lord” and the New Testament calls Jesus “Lord,” while further drawing a distinction between God and Jesus. That dynamic, of the existence of the One True God with the existence of his Son Jesus Christ, is the Trinitarian problematic of Scripture and the reason why I think something like the doctrine of the Trinity had to emerge.

    Finally, let me “have at” this sentence: “During this pre-modern time, truth was seen to be found not only in the empirical world of logic but also the unknowable world of mythology.” The empirical world of logic? One cannot perceive logic with the five senses, Jeremy. They are mental concepts that, though real, are non-physical. The empirical world of logic is an oxymoron or a confusion of categories. And the unknowable world of mythology? If you know enough about it to mention it, or rather, if the Fathers knew enough about it to use it, then it was not unknowable.

    Really finally, you seem to be posing “rational validation” and “mystical faith” as contraries. But if, for example, I by tradition learned of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the source of that tradition is empirical (or putatively empirical, for all you quibblers), then my faith is not mystical as much as it is personal. I’m trusting the person who saw what he saw. To me, that’s a more accurate biblical description of faith than the notion of mystical faith. We believe what has been handed down to us, about the Exodus, about the death and resurrection of Jesus, etc., on the basis of trust in the traditors who handed down the content of faith from its apostolic-era eyewitnesses.



  20. George,

    I am glad that I can amuse you. I do not wish to get into dogmatism, relativism, absolute truth, etc. I appreciate your position on Paul. That said, there are other interpretations of his words. For instance Borg would argue that Paul’s use of “appeared” is representative of the ecstatic vision that characterized the early churches understanding of “the risen Christ”. This Borg argues is why Luke has the colorful version of Paul’s conversion that he does. But again my point was your dismissive rheotoric. If I have read your response incorrectly I apologize.

    As far as the trinity my position comes from Karen Armstrongs work “A history of religions”, in which she explicitly states that the Eastern fathers used Plotinus’ eminational theology to construct the terminology and ideology behind the doctrine of the trinity. A historical analysis of the Capadocians, specifically Gregory of Nanzianzes, shows that he was greatly influenced by hellenistic/platonic philosophy. Again, I appreciate that you hold a differant perspective. I should have clarified that my statement on the trinity was simply my choice among the plethora of choices available.
    In regards to my logic/empirical mystical line, you are correct. That was poorly phrased. However, my intention was to highlight the Eastern theology of the unknowable God. This is present in many world faiths. The basis being that human langauge is too limited to describe the mystical essence of God.
    As for your last statement, the empirical backing of your traditional perspective is relative to the presuppositions that hold in regards to the authors of the Bible and their intent in writing.
    Thats all I have to say. I must say that I do not like the tone of your last added comment. It seems sarcastic and again dismissive. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean you should take a mocking tone.



  21. George,

    You keep baiting me to come up with a defence for hallucinogenic mushrooms as if I were the one being dogmatic and therefore responsible for the burden of proof. Why don’t you use your logic and empiricism to prove to me that a drug induced state is less real than your perception of reality? In reality (wait, mine, yours, or the druggie’s?), all I’m saying here is you can’t “prove” that your reality is real any more than I can “prove” that the sun is coming up tomorrow, or “prove” that God exists ontologically. And I’m not trying to demolish logic, just put it in its place. And, the true place of logic is in the service of fun…

    I will admit that your dogmatism leads into very interesting places. Let’s take Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15, for example. By wanting to claim that Jesus’ appearance to Paul was the same kind of experience as Peter’s, and the other 500+ persons’ you raise some interesting questions. If this were true one of the following would have to be true(using the illustrious and unassailable laws of the logic we all love).


    a. Paul is talking about Jesus appearing to him on the Damascus road. The “natural inference” would be that Peter, James, the 500, the other apostles, etc. had the same kind of Damascus Road Experience as Luke describes Paul as having, which would seem to contradict what the Gospel writers say about some of their (Peter, et al.) experiences.

    (By the way, am I the only former pentecostal who is hard wired to wave a hanky at the very mention of a Damascus Road Experience…can I get an amem?)


    b. The appearance Paul refers to in I Corinthians was a seperate event than the Damascus Road Experience (haaaaaaalelujah). In which case, I’m a little put out that he didn’t clue us in on the details of this other appearance. But, since he didn’t, let’s have a thought experement: what if Paul used hallucenogenic drugs, and then Jesus appeared to him? If the Holy Spirit (who spoke through the prophets) could use whores (Hosea), and flaming poo (Ezekiel) to speak to the ancient Israelites, and if she could use a Roman gambling game to speak to the 12 apostles (Acts) then what is to say she couldn’t use ‘shrooms? God help me, I sound like a druggie, don’t I? Let’s move on.


    c. Luke’s description does not coincide with Paul’s description of his own conversion experience, a possibility already raised by several seemingly divergent accounts of events in Paul’s life (i.e. II Corinthians 11:32-33 vs. Acts 9:23-25; maybe Luke and Paul didn’t get together to discuss what logical inconsistencies might do to modernist Christian doctrine like those church fathers obviously did. [Okay, I admit, I am fond of that reductio ad absurdum thing, you really turned me on to it, George; though I prefer the less philosophical more pedestrian term: satire]).


    d. You’re not really as dogmatic about the whole silly thing as you seemed to be, and ergo maybe you and I (or was it just me) shouldn’t get so uptight about something so elusive and slippery as Epistemology.


  22. James, I am sorry this is too delicious to pass up:

    “The appearance Paul refers to in I Corinthians was a separate event than the Damascus Road Experience (haaaaaaalelujah). In which case, I’m a little put out that he didn’t clue us in on the details of this other appearance. But, since he didn’t, let’s have a thought experement: what if Paul used hallucenogenic drugs, and then Jesus appeared to him? If the Holy Spirit (who spoke through the prophets) could use whores (Hosea), and flaming poo (Ezekiel) to speak to the ancient Israelites, and if she could use a Roman gambling game to speak to the 12 apostles (Acts) then what is to say she couldn’t use ’shrooms? God help me, I sound like a druggie, don’t I? Let’s move on.”

    You have now injected a healthy dose of skepticism into the argument. Not that it is unwarranted, mind you, but I did not want to be the person shouldering the burden of saying, “Nuh-uh, prove you can(not) know that.” I find this option of yours compelling. Not because it is such an air-tight argument, but because it points to the fact that we are all ultimately operating off of what amounts to a posteriori knowledge about Scripture in our hermeneutics parading itself about with a priori resoluteness. We want our truth claims to be forgone conclusions that stand independent of the biblical author handed down from on high. When in reality we have biblical authors making reference to constipated demigods and angels hiding their genitals from God and modern translators turning them into “sleeping” giants and heavenly beings with an extreme modesty for their feet. We cannot have our cake and eat it, too. Who is being crass when Israel is called a slut with her legs spread, the prophet or God? I think your question emphasizes further the unease that modern culture has with placing the content of Scripture (truth claims included) within the realm of experiential knowledge. If Scripture is the a priori arbiter of truth, then Ezekiel’s “flaming poo” is nothing more than a dismissible narrative element that we do not have the burden of verifying (clearly your intended point of contention, no?). But what if these claims do require verification and these methods are literally what they seem to be? Can’t James have his “hallucenogenic” (were you high when you spelled that?) mushrooms and obtain knowledge from them too?

    Doshoe, I hope I am not hijacking your thread, but when I read your initial post I wondered if everyone wouldn’t eventually meander down the path that skepticism must ultimately play in the pursuit of truth and Scripture’s relationship to it.



  23. In reference to George,

    Eusebius’s church had a creed which pre-dated Nicea:

    “We believe in one God, the Father All-sovereign, the maker of things visible and invisible;
    and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, Son only-begotten, Firstborn of all creation, begotten of the Father before all the ages, through whom also all things were made; who was made flesh for our salvation and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead;
    We also believe in the Holy Spirit”

    It is obvious that much of this creed made it into the Nicene one, and so it’s not like the Council just sort of created it “using” a specific philosophical perspective. They were certainly not walking around calling themselves “platonists” like some walk around calling themselves “post-modern” (which I have been guilty of sometimes!)


  24. Turtullian had this creed: (ht:RJS on Jesus Creed)

    “We, however, as we indeed always have done … believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία , as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin, and to have been born of her – being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete,the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics,…”


  25. Thank you guys-can’t remember the last time I had this much fun. Keep posting!
    And please, more on resurrection would be delightfully timely…Re-reading Gunter’s “Resurrection Knowledge” and hungry for more on post-modernism and resurrection….Feels like “the academy” is finally giving credence to intuitive knowing and dislodging the idol we’ve made of Reason…God, I love the mystery of it all.
    Recommended readings for a latecomer to all this?


  26. Well thanks Margot, we try to have a little fun. This series on Epistomology never went off the ground. Eventually we will add an essay here and an essay there, but if you wanted to get a start on our method and writing I’d go to our series’ on Sexuality and Authority.

    We have our most clarified essays there. Because of the fact that we play off each others thoughts I would recommend going in chronological order, which is the opposite that they appear, so go to the oldest first. Thanks for checking out the site!



  27. Excellent. Perhaps we can simply start by awaiting Dan’s next writing on epistemology. Unless, of course, other members of the “theophiliacs” have written little pieces of their own that are currently receiving feedback. Have they?
    I have created my own group, “theognosis”. Let the battle begin. 🙂


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