01 March 2017

Ockham's Razor, Scepticism and Biblicism Part 2

Saving Faith and Scepticism

If Scripture is to be reckoned authoritative, we must be somewhat sceptical with regard to our own epistemological capabilities and rather than seek a coherent system, we subordinate our categories and method and seek a form of correspondence rather than coherence. The result is a three dimensional, dynamic, or Dialectic logic that is not verifiable by Aristotelian categorised proofs. Indeed to the Aristotelian, it is irrational and incoherent foolishness.
At this point Fideism is charged and it carries a negative connotation, an epithet to describe irrationalism. The alternative seems to be a rationalistic faith that deems man's problem as almost merely intellectual. The Biblicist resting on revelation will argue flesh and blood did not reveal the truth to us and that man's wisdom cannot bring anyone to the faith. At best we can form a basic coherence that recognizes the existence of God, something of His nature and that we're under judgment but these things are not empirically verifiable nor can we formulate dogmatic certainties. This simplified if shadowy coherence, while both frightening and humbling is the intellectual basis of our faith, but once we cross the line, the quest for coherence must be abandoned.
It is the intellectual basis in the sense that the produced limited coherence is in the end defeating and condemnatory. We are left with an unpleasant cloud of inconclusiveness. Nature points to a God we cannot seem to properly know. Man in all his philosophical and idolatrous capacity has sought to form coherent expressions, answers as it were to this daunting and inescapable dilemma. Most expressions of the Christian faith echo this project but with the Bible or some other form of authority in hand.
Faith as described in Scripture is a revealed mystery not based on inferred logic but reliance and trust placed in an Oracular Person, one who breaks into history and provides a Way of reconciliation and salvation. Based on His Word and faith in His Person, we accept the authority of the Apostles and of Scripture.
Faith is therefore a humble and trusting cry for help, not a consequence of a right-reasoned coherence, but instead an admission of its failure. Broken and despondent we come to Christ as the Light, the one who will leads us out of the impenetrable fog and the inescapable labyrinth of our fallen existence as well as our limited, flawed and even diseased ability to understand it.
Faith is the result of the failure of coherence and the collapse of not only reason but the whole of epistemology.
Ockham's Razor facilitates this process in destroying the philosophical systems of the world but again we must cast it aside once we cross the line. Ockham himself seemed to understand this. All revelation can be spoken of as metaphysical and utilising subordinated logic we develop a theology of correspondence. Systematizing, developing and/or creating a metaphysic are ultimately speculative, resting on man's logic. The philosophical approach to theology, whether of the Thomistic or Anselmian variety is to re-introduce a confidence in man's intellectual ability and capacity. It is to re-infuse faith with the various criteria and categories of human reason. This not only is a challenge to the doctrine of the Fall but ends up assailing the authority of Scripture itself.
Without reason the apologists of these methods will insist we cannot formulate doctrine. We cannot speak of 'a faith' let alone elaborate upon it. We cannot communicate it or teach it to others without the categories of logic and rationality. The dismantling of epistemology results only in scepticism and one that is necessarily brought with us to the Bible and to faith itself.
That would be true if it were not for Jesus Christ.
The line dividing the Temporal Common Grace realm of Natural Revelation, and the Eternal Redemptive Grace realm of Special Revelation is the Theanthropic person of Jesus the Christ. He is quite literally in His Body, the ground of our Christian Epistemology and the only thing that can rescue us from scepticism. 
Philosophically we ought to view Nominalism as a logical end, the unintended telos of Aristotelian thought. Though the Greek master himself was perhaps better labeled a Conceptualist, the Universals in his thought were defined and dependent upon the Particulars. To put it another way, the Universals are empirically defined, or to put it in the categories I often utilize, the Invisible is dependent and defined by the Visible.
Our limited logic can only prove (via coherence) that the Visible…IS, while the Invisible is a concept describing a set or category of the Visible Subject/Universal or Form if you will. Either way it's in the mind, a mind that cannot escape the limitations and experiences of temporality. The Visible, the empirically verifiable becomes the governing principle of the system. The Universals (or in reality the categories of Metaphysics) are subjugated to these empirically developed and dependent axioms. The Universals serve the purpose of coherence, to unify and to create new theoretical axioms from which further deductions can be made and which are subsequently integrated into the holistic system.

This aspect of Aristotelianism I would conclude (others would disagree)….is really just a more profound and complex (if inconsistent) Nominalism. While it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest this, the scholastic approach creates a system resting on proofs, rationally coherent but ultimately empirically verified proofs. It believes Universals (though abstract) are verifiable and can contribute to the system. It's an abstract or derived Empiricism that allows for confident speculation even into the extra-empirical realm of metaphysics. Nominalism returns back to the basic premise of Empiricism, ups the ante, takes this form of intellectualism to the next level, with higher demands and more stringent parameters. It challenges all assumptions and questions the validity of these categories. Are they in keeping with the basic assumptions and demands for evidentiary proof? If not, they must be parsed, dissected, analyzed and if found wanting, dispensed with.
Aristotelian demands for validity and coherence would not stand for otherwise. But as the system grows in complexity, the dilemmas and antinomies multiply. Even the conceptual elements in the end cannot stand the tests of consistency and the law of non-contradiction. The demands of logical validity insist on rejecting unverifiable abstractions. The system is reduced at best to a conceptual device and begins having to compete with alternatives, ones that present a more holistic explanation built upon dynamic and ever widening sets of criteria. Rationalism (here meaning abstract reasoning and logical deduction) will over time, as it is worked out and subsequently developed, slowly destroy the structure...and then begins to work on the foundation. Ockham's method (which is at the heart of what human logic is) questions coherences that are the creation of the mind and not verifiable. It begins a process of dismantling, deconstruction and ultimately disintegration.
It sows the seed of its own destruction. That which was utilised to build the system, because it is a finite tool attempting to deal with either the fallen world, the infinite or both is found incapable. It begins to implode and once the foundations are destroyed you end up with Scepticism.
Nominalism is in effect the method of Aristotelianism turned in on itself. It is a destroyer of all man-made systems, a mortal danger to the philosopher and the scholastic who wishes to derive a coherent system for not only understanding Scripture but developing a social order and a wider range of metaphysics. Ockham's gift as it were is that he has peeled back the veneer of human logic and exposed its core. And what is it? What has he found? Something cursed, human vanity, even a sham. The solid rock we think we're standing on turns out to be not only wet sand but quicksand.

To the Biblicist, the true Scripturalist it is a gift and a weapon to be wielded, but it must be cast aside when we approach Biblical doctrine. Wielding the scholastic method when we approach Scripture will unveil the Razor once more and the self-destructive process begins again. The Razor can be used to compare matter with matter, but in a universe that rests in spiritual (metaphysical) reality, the Razor in the end can only destroy.

Continue reading Part 3