In this episode, Kurt has a discussion on skepticism including what skepticism is, a talk on three types of skeptics, and a rundown on ethos, pathos, and logos and how an understanding of each can play a role in reasonable decision making.
UPDATE: Hi all, if this week’s episode is a little “heady” (high-level), I apologize! Just let me know and I can work on making the material easier to understand. Thanks! – Kurt
Here is Frank McKinney’s recent work of art for sale: http://www.frank-mckinney.com/oceanfront-estates/estates-for-sale/micro-mansion
Check out this short walk through of the micro-mansion:
Well, a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on matters of faith, politics, and society. It is a pleasure to be with here on the first of July. It is Bobby Bonilla Day and for those of you who are familiar with MLB and Bobby Bonilla, the New York Met, I will talk to you about what Bobby Bonilla Day is all about and on today’s show, we will be talking about skepticism the philosophy and the different type of skepticism there are and the ways we can understand and respond to skepticism. But before we get into that and before we explain what Bobby Bonilla Day is, I have a special guest here. Frank McKinney is on the line here. He is currently having an open house of his current micro-mansion. Frank, thanks for joining us on the show today.
A Conversation with Frank McKinney
FRANK: Well this is something I’m not skeptical about at all. I can join you anytime you invite me, Kurt. What we’re doing over here today is not any old “open house.” This is not something you want to be very optimistic about. Skepticism- there’s not room for skepticism in the matters of the truth. But the truth is we’re having a 9 AM to 9 PM all day French Toast, to French Fries, to Fireworks open house. So we started with french toast at 9 o’clock. We had a bunch of guests come through. We just passed the noon hour with french fries, homemade french fries, and then, we’ll have a fireworks show.
KURT: Well, that is awesome. So, this is your recent piece of artwork.Which looking from the pictures is the beautiful building- a beautiful home you have for sale. And correct me if I’m mistaken, it’s just a couple of blocks away from the oceanfront. Is that right?
FRANK: Three hundred and forty-five feet from the beach. Yep. This is my 42nd project in the last [inaudible] on or right near the ocean. I’m speculation. So I build it without a buyer in mind. Like the field of dreams, you build it, and hope they will come. Well, that’s what we do. We furnish it down to the gold-plated toothbrush in the bathroom, the towels, the linens in the bathroom closet. This is how we market them. This is how we sell them. I just finished this house. It is a micro-mansion. The definition of micro-mansion is taking everything you would in a 10,000-12,000 sq. ft. house and you know, big, big houses on the ocean and condensing it down into about 4,000 sq. ft.
KURT: Yeah, and while this is a smaller mansion. It is still “decked out” to use the colloquial term. There’s an aquarium in the house, right?
FRANK: Well, it’s not just an aquarium it’s what we refer to as a living reef aquarium wall. The entire east wall of the house is alive with fish and marine life. [Inaudible numerical value] different living creatures in the aquarium.
KURT: That is awesome. And I truly mean that in the true sense of the word “awe-some.” It inspires awe so that’s really sweet what you’ve done there. And it’s just a beautiful home, gorgeous home. For those who are interested- Frank you did a tour on your live stream. We shared that on the Veracity Hill page for those who are interested, check it out. We’re going to be sharing the link on our website to the home as well. It’s just a really beautiful piece of art.So tell me, Frank, who convinced you to wear those Fourth of July themed overalls today?
FRANK: Hey, listen here, over in Ocean Ridge, July 4th just started a little earlier when I chose to put on the Fourth of July overalls. If someone buys the house today, the overalls go with the house.
KURT: On the spot, if they sign the papers right now?
FRANK: Come on over. You know what? How about for you, Kurt, the house is free. You just have to pay for the overalls which would be $3.4 million.
KURT: That’s hilarious. You know I gotta ask, you know ,my favorite drink from the last call is Dr. Pepper,if you may remember from our discussion when you were on. Are you serving any DP there with the french fries?
FRANK: How did you know that’s in my cooler?
KURT: Oh good.
FRANK: I think one of the cans has a 24 flavor in it, Kurt. Come on over and taste the 24th flavor.
KURT: That’s great, Frank.
FRANK: Unless you’re an aficionado of Dr. Pepper, we all know that there are 22 flavors in there.
KURT: You’ve added a special flavor.
FRANK: I added a special flavor to this micro-mansion version.
KURT: That must be a different tasting Dr. Pepper. Hopefully, I would like it, if I had the choice to drink it.
FRANK: One of these days, we should do Veracity Hill live from my tree house or one of my houses.
KURT: Hey, that would be sweet. We have to make that happen. Alright now, I gotta ask, if I get someone as a referral for you for the house, what sort of donation can Veracity Hill expect?
FRANK: I will tell you exactly- we are paying a 3% selling commission. So if you take 3% and multiply that into $3.4 million, you get just over $100,000.
KURT: Hot diggity! Well, listeners, if you want to check out Frank’s house, we’ll have the link for it, and if you want to purchase it, please help out Veracity Hill.
FRANK: And we’ll throw in the overalls as well.
KURT: And the Dr. Pepper can with 24 flavors.
FRANK: You’ve got it.
KURT: Awesome. Well, hey. Thanks, Frank. I hope you have a good rest of your day. And put on a great show tonight with those fireworks.
FRANK: And you have a great show on the topic of skepticism which I look forward to hearing later because that is so critical. We gotta be less skeptical, and more believers.
KURT: Yeah, that’s right so we’re going to be talking about that. Cool, awesome. Thanks, Frank. God bless you!
FRANK: Alright, talk to you later. Bye.
KURT: Alright, so that’s Frank McKinney. He is the real estate artist and he really just designs some amazingly gorgeous homes. Beautiful homes that are really just decked out to the max. You wonder where he even gets these ideas, you know? An aquarium wall- it’s just wild; it’s awesome. Well, if you are over there in Florida and within driving distance, I would encourage you to check out that house. The open house is today. It’s a lot of fun those open houses that he does.
The Origins of “Bobby Bonilla Day”
Okay, so, at the start of the show I had mentioned Bobby Bonilla. Some of you might be baseball fans. Some of you might not be baseball fans. So who is Bobby Bonilla and why is July 1st Bobby Bonilla Day? Well, it just so happened when the New York Mets signed Bobby Bonilla, which if my memory is serving me correctly a third baseman at the time that they signed into a contract agreement and pledged to defer payments to Bobby Bonilla. So instead of paying him everything all up front or in that year, they deferred payments from 2011 to 2035. So every year, Bobby Bonilla who no longer plays for the New York Mets will receive paid 1.2 million dollars. Which is more than what many of the New York Mets currently make. And Bobby Bonilla is just sitting at his home, bringing in 1.2 million dollars every July 1st. Let’s see, from the article I’ve got here, Bonilla has also deferred money that’s being paid by the New York Mets and the Orioles who took Bobby Bonilla in his final years back in the 90’s. The five-year deal was signed in 1991 for 29 million. So he’s getting paid for doing absolutely nothing. He’s actually pretty smart. His agent was probably pretty smart. Because for some athletes, they have a hard time with being good financial planners so they just spend lavishly with the money they do have. So in this case, Bobby Bonilla has only been given 1.2 million a year on July 1st. So hopefully he has learned how to manage his finances. So happy Bobby Bonilla Day- July 1st every year till 2035 the legend will live on.
Veracity Hill on Social Media
Okay, so today we will be talking about skepticism and if you have any questions about what we will be talking about we would love to hear from you. The number is 505-2-STRIVE. And we’ve got the live stream going here on Facebook so you can follow along. If you’re listening to the podcast via download on iTunes or Google Play, I want to encourage you to go over to our Facebook and like the page. That way, you can get some notifications about when we do the live stream. You can also follow us on Twitter just “Veracity Hill” is our tag or username. And so, let me just say this, if you are a long time listener of the show, I would love for you to give a review on iTunes so give us five stars if you like what we’re doing. If you’re giving us constructive criticism, just give us a four- that’s fine, and leave us a comment. We would love to get your reviews of the show. You know, the content we provide to you week after week, the variety of topics that we bring to you. How it might perhaps be a bit challenging to your worldview to present a topic that you might not have considered before or a former topic that you might presently consider but have not given much thought to anymore. We hope that this is beneficial to you.
Okay, so, skepticism- what is skepticism? There are a number of ways which we can tackle this subject today. So skepticism is essentially more so than a position, it’s a posture- it’s a philosophy. It’s a way of thinking about something.
And so the eternal skeptic will be the one which asks, “Well, how do you know? How do you know that?”
If I said, “I walked my dog this morning?”
Their response could be, “Well, how do you know that?” That’s the skeptic. Of course, this could lead to a series of questions on more serious topics like “How do you know God exists?” Or “How can we know that Jesus is God?” Or “How do we know Jesus was raised from the dead?” The skeptic will say, “Well, how do you know that? How can we really know those sorts of things?”
Well today, I want to talk about three types of skeptics and categorize them into two camps. The first camp, as I was talking to David Montoya here with me today who is in the studio on our panel today. We were talking about the first type of skeptic which is the iterative skeptic. This is the neighbor boy who asks “why, why, why?” Or, “how do you know that? How do you know that? How do you know that?”
The iterative skeptic is the one who reiterates the skepticism he/she has. And so I was watching a lecture on epistemology by J.P. Moreland who is a philosopher at Talbot School of Theology. And so, he went so far as to say that the iterative skeptic is someone who does not participate. He is not a participant in the conversation. He’s just taking pot-shots at the participants. So when the people are speaking and trying to come to knowledge on the topic, the iterative skeptic is just someone from the peanut gallery. “Well, how do you know that? How do you know that?” Well, why is the person not a participant? Why is the iterative skeptic not a participant in the discussion? Well, because they’re not seeking to find truth. They’re just seeking to continually critique the problems of the people proposing ideas. And so, how can you know this? Well, if you ask the iterative skeptic, “Why should I believe what you’re saying? Why should I take you seriously? Why should I take your objection or your concern (if it really is a concern) seriously?”
The answer to them is a source of knowledge. “Well, because…” and then the iterative skeptic provides some reasons.
In this case, then, you can play the iterative skeptic in return. “Well, how do you know that?”
Then he/she might respond with, “Well, yadda, yadda, yadda.”
And you can say, “Well, how do you know that?” And it just continues on, and on, and on, right? So you can all of a sudden begin to feel like, oh, let’s have a serious conversation. And even if there are skeptical concerns- that would be more from an academic standpoint. And that would be the second type category of skepticism that I want to talk about. But let me hold on to getting into that in the meantime. I just first want to talk first about this iterative skepticism that it’s not very constructive. In many instances, I don’t think it’s that serious either. I think the iterative skeptic is one who hasn’t given much thought to his own position and is merely posturing. I don’t think they’re really all that concerned with seeking truth. They’re more about getting someone to doubt what they believe. And sometimes, doubting things are good. I think we should sort of have an open hand on many beliefs we have. But the iterative skeptic is the eternal skeptic, forever just questioning “why, why?” or “How do you know? How do you know?” And it’s not constructive. So I think, for the most part, we should just ignore iterative skeptics until ultimately, they’ll become self-defeating. Okay, so that’s iterative skepticism. But before we get into academic skepticism, I want to talk about some other issues that will lead us into a bit of academic skepticism. By the way, I am here following comments on the live stream. Thanks for those that are tuning in. I see your comments there, Bob. Thanks so much for that.
Okay, so, one of the things that got me thinking about skepticism and why I should do the worldview series, right–it’s the first Saturday of the month–on this topic was because I came across an article shared by a Facebook friend. It was on a political topic shared by the Huffington Post. It’s called, “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You that You Should Care About Other People.” And so the author basically talks about how the only way that we can care about people is to support government programs. She writes, “Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3% for my fast food burger if that means the fast food worker making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you’re not willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.” She writes, “I don’t know how to explain to someone that they should care for other people. I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go to public schools even though I am childless and intend to stay that way because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye-to-eye.” She continues to go on about different political programs that are beneficial for people–or at least intended to be beneficial for people–and this got me thinking because in classical rhetoric and I include this into some of my Facebook followers about how classical rhetoric can help us understand and to defeat skepticism. There are three themes: ethos, pathos, and logos. Not all rhetoric is bad rhetoric. In former years, I used to think, “Oh, well, that’s just rhetoric. That’s just political rhetoric. Well, there’s bad rhetoric, but there’s also good rhetoric.
So what is ethos? Ethos is essentially living in one’s habitat. You want to see that someone’s like you. For example, a great example of this- Marco Rubio when he was running for president of the United States in the Republican Primary gave a number of speeches multiple times- he said the same thing over and over. That he’s the son of immigrants who were workers- entry level workers. They were living out the American dream. And so when he tells that story- or anytime anyone tells that story, they are trying to use ethos in their rhetoric. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a bad thing. It can very much be a good thing. He’s trying to get everyone to recognize this- that his life situation is like everyone else’s; he’s one of them. And so that’s the good use of ethos. Of course, I think there is the bad use of ethos. That’s when people try to convince you that they are just like you, but the conclusion may not follow. You know, they might give you bad reasons. We’ll get to reasons in a minute.
Pathos, pathos is emotion. Oftentimes on social media, we use pathos a lot. We can be emotive and say, “Oh, well, here’s this article here on this great injustice and how awful it is this happened.”
Alright, so that is the use of pathos. And sometimes the emotions are good and sometimes and sometimes it’s bad. And a lot of this- the ethos and the pathos- how do we know what’s good or bad? Whether it’s good or bad greatly depends on the logos- the argument, the reason, the evidence. Alright? So here in this Huffington Post article, the author is surely using some ethos for her audience. She’s saying, “I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.” She’s appealing to people who already think that way. She also writes, “Like many Americans, I’m having political fatigue.” So she’s trying to sympathize with people, with their situation. So she’s implementing the ethos here and the pathos, of course, is evident. Right? Well, if you’re not willing to pay for someone to have this free education or to have a so called living wage, well, you just don’t care about people. You must hate people.” That’s the emotive sort of argument; the sort of emotive appeal rather. But of course, the logos come back and sometimes, bites people in the butt because the reality is, there are various ways to care for people and I provided in my discussion with my Facebook friend- I provided a number of examples of why this was the case. Sometimes government programs can be well intentioned but have poor outcomes or bad effects. For example, well, my position on the housing market crash. The government provided incentives for banks to give out loans that they wouldn’t have otherwise given out. Those of you who are familiar with the situation might remember those ninja loans “no income, no jobs, no assets.” Loans that were given out despite the bank’s inability to bring that money back in. I think that was a motivating factor. What was the effect? Well, the housing market crashed and a lot of people lost their homes or they were foreclosed upon. So, that was a government program that had a good intention, but a bad consequence. I can also think of other ones. Those of you who might be more politically liberal minded on issues- here’s one for you. The bank bailouts. The good intention of the government was, we have to save the banks. The bad intention was, well, CEO’s and execs had a lot of bonuses that year. And furthermore, those banks are now even bigger. And so, that seems to go against what you may have liked. Now our proposed solutions to fix the problems might vary. But here’s the point: the arguments don’t always match up with the ethos and the pathos of the rhetoric and so we really got to understand and recognize all three aspects and we should think critically when we’re evaluating arguments.
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with skepticism? Well, with skepticism, we’re dealing with ethos, pathos, and logos. When we’re approached by someone with, “How do you know that? How do you know that?” Is that an argument? Just think of it from a logos standpoint. Is that even an argument? No, it’s not really an argument. And we’re going to get into that shortly regarding the sort of academic skepticism. So let’s just move into that. So, with academic skepticism, there are two types of skeptics. Remember, I said we’re going to deal with three types of skeptics? We had the iterative skeptic. That’s the one that you should just kind of ignore because they’re not being constructive. And you can illustrate that through a dialogue with them, sort of a role play if you want. And so, in the academic skepticism, there are two types of skepticism. They’re what we might call nihilists. And these are the types who think you can’t know anything. So, if we’re thinking about skepticism, think about how in terms of knowledge we can’t know anything so it’s about depth- it’s about the depth of knowledge. You can’t know anything. Well, are there really people who espouse this position? Well, funny enough you say, yes. Yes, there are. There are people who espouse this position. So here, we are going to play a couple of clips for you. And if you have any questions, I’ll be following along in the live stream. This is from the movie Expelled; it’s William Provine. And listen to a little bit of his experience:
WILLIAM PROVINE: No gods, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will- are all deeply connected to an evolutionary perspective. You’re here today and then gone tomorrow, and that’s all there is to it.
BEN STEIN: Dr. Will Provine, Professor of the History of Biology at Cornell University-
KURT: There, Bill Provine sort of gave an introduction there as to what sort of evolutionary naturalism brought about. This idea where you can’t really know anything about these areas in life. And it was a fascinating experience for him, Provine sort of goes in and expands from his college experience. For those of you who haven’t, I would encourage you to check out the movie Expelled it’s probably about, oh gosh, about ten years old now already. Interesting movie about the intelligent design movement and the censorship behind that. But how does that deal with skepticism? Well, you’ll see there that for some, maybe we even say consistent evolutionary naturalists, we can’t come to knowledge, and I think that’s problematic for some. Now let me play for you another clip from a debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg. And listen to the question from a member of the audience to Rosenberg and he’s going to read a portion from out of his book here. Listen in, this is very fascinating.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Dr. Rosenberg, I wonder if you might help me to understand how your view is not incoherent. Do you really claim in your book that sentences have no meaning or truth value? Even the sentences in your own book? How is that not incoherent and self-refuting? At least the sentences you’ve made tonight, surely are true. But if even you don’t think your position is true, why should we?
ROSENBERG: Two paragraphs from the last chapter of my book entitled “The Brain Does Everything Without Thinking About It.” Now, of course, this is at the end of a long chapter in which I’ve talked about neuroscience, Nobel prize winning research by Eric Handel-
KURT: It’s interesting here, so I’m just going to stop it. Here, he’s explaining how this comes at the end of a chapter. That should be a clue here that what he’s about to tell you is a conclusion he’s reaching from his position. So if metaphysical naturalism- even in this case, epistemological naturalism were true, where does that lead? And interestingly enough, both he and William Lane Craig agree on this. Which is fascinating because usually, debaters don’t agree on topics. But it was funny that both of them agree on the entailments of Rosenberg’s position here.
CLIP 2 CONTINUED
ROSENBERG: A wonderful IBM computer beats us at Jeopardy and about the best semantic and philosophical theories of intentionality. Pardon me for reading:
Introspection is screaming that thought has to be about stuff and philosophers and you are muttering, denying me worse than self-contradictory, it’s incoherent. With you, Rosenberg, neither spoken sentences nor silent ones in thought express statements. They aren’t about anything! That goes for every statement in this book. It’s not about anything. Why are we bothering to read it? It’s not as if I haven’t figured out that this is an issue that is raised by science and in this chapter. Now, I’ll read you the last paragraph.
KURT: Okay, so now there he says he recognizes that this is an objection against his position. Alright? So he clearly sees that this is a concern. So here’s his answer.
CLIP 2 CONTINUED
ROSENBERG: Look, if I’m going to get scientism into your skull, I have to use the only tools we’ve got for moving information from one head to another. Noises, ink marks, pixels, [inaudible], like the optical illusions from the previous chapter in which I had said, “Don’t trust consciousness because it’s mainly mistaken.” This book is-
KURT: Don’t trust consciousness because it’s mainly mistaken? It’s almost like he doesn’t see the irony here. The fact that he shouldn’t even trust his own thinking, and yet, here he goes continuing to think and write and convey messages to people. Alright, let’s finish up here.
CLIP 2 CONTINUED
DR. ROSENBERG: -Conveying statements. It’s rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation, and replacing it with accurate information treated as correcting maps instead of erasing sentences. Now, there’s a big business in philosophy about the nature of semantics and about how intentionality is realized. Now I ain’t so stupid to contradict myself in the puerile way that you’re suggesting, okay? What you gotta do is read the book to figure out the answer. Send me an email and I’ll send you a really long and hard paper called “The Limitivism Without Tears.”
KURT: Alright, alright. So basically, it’s like he doesn’t see the irony. He says sentences don’t have meaning, and yet, there’s he’s providing sentences because it’s merely a tool for somehow conveying ideas. Which apparently, doesn’t exist. It’s quite astounding that he thinks that we shouldn’t even trust our consciousness because it’s largely mistaken. So, this reminds me of a quote from Charles Darwin. Darwin wrote to William Graham on July 3rd, 1881. He wrote:
“But then with me, the horde doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind which have been developed from the minds of the lower animals are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind- if there are any convictions in such mind?”
You see, even for Darwin, if evolutionary biology- I should say, evolutionary naturalism were true, so we’re not talking about theistic evolution. If evolutionary naturalism were true, why would we trust our own beliefs? We wouldn’t trust the beliefs of a monkey. Right, would we? Of course not! But we’re just a little bit more involved than they are. So that seems to pose a problem and that is one of Darwin’s doubts- that he could even trust his own beliefs. And so here, we’re seeing this. We see this type of nihilism with the people who say, “Well, we can’t really know. We should be skeptical that we could know anything at all.”
DAVID: I have an actual interaction here and it says from the atheist, “Well, we do know beyond all reasonable doubt that we are just an evolved ape that got smart enough to be able to invent gods to explain the unexplainable.” I, of course, bring up the quote in which you just cited. And his response was, “To the monkey’s brain, epistemological nihilism [inaudible] was because our brains are all we have to work with. Not a perfect tool, admittedly, but as there is no supernatural outside help (God), it is good enough for me will just have to do. And of course, my response is, “That’s an amazing admission. It’s good enough for me, so it will just have to do? Imagine if I argue, if God exists, it’s good enough for me, so that will just have to do.” I hope you can see why this is not a meaningful interaction with epistemological nihilism.
KURT: Yeah, it just sounds like Rosenberg there where Rosenberg said: “Well, it’s just a tool.” That’s really fascinating and striking. Well, we gotta take a break here and when we come back, we’re going to talk about how this it is self-refuting and this sort of infinite regress it brings about and how to respond to it and other forms of skepticism. So stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
KURT: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Well, in the first half of our show here, we’ve got an introduction to skepticism and we’ve talked about the two types of categories of skeptics: the iterative skeptic and the academic skeptic. And there’s one specific type of iterative skeptic that’s just sort of the neighborhood boy. “Well, why, why, why? How do you know that? How do you know that?” The eternal skeptic, forever skeptical about anything you ever say and why we should not pay attention to that type of skepticism.
Now, there are more robust forms of skepticism- ones that we should take seriously. And so, I want to continue talking about how we should respond to those. So the first type of academic skeptic would be someone who would say is the nihilist who says we can’t really know anything at all about anything. And so there we played the clip from Alex Rosenberg who is an epistemological naturalist and really, a nihilist- that’s where he thinks it leads. I hope many of you were able to see how self-refuting this is because obviously, they’re saying they can know something and that is that we don’t know anything at all. So, they are still claiming to know something and they’re still claiming to use what they call as merely “tools” to convey meaning to us to convey purpose, to convey these ideas which they say don’t exist and yet, here they are using them. So it’s self-defeating. So basically, how it’s self-defeating is that it depends on them knowing something.
So, J.P. Moreland said in a lecture there that I previously mentioned, that you can’t reasonably doubt anything until you know something. You can’t reasonably doubt anything until you know something, alright? So, what does that mean? Well, think about it. Even for Alex Rosenberg, he has to know some things like, how the brain works. Okay? He has to know he exists. He has to know something in order for the skepticism to take root. But then, we’re no longer dealing with nihilism anymore because we can know some things, alright? In order to doubt something, he’s got to know something to begin with. So that’s sort of the depth approach to critique the nihilists. So David, before I move on to the next type of nihilist, was there anything you might want to add? Or not nihilist, the next type of skeptic.
DAVID: No, not at all.
KURT: Cool, good. Alright well, the next type of skeptic and the final type is the one you might think of who doesn’t say we can’t know anything at all, but for all the things we do know, maybe there’s just one area we can’t know anything about. Okay? So think of scientism for instance which says that science is the only arbiter of truth and that any sources of knowledge elsewhere we can’t have knowledge from- from any other field of inquiry, like history. So, this is sort of your local skeptic that whatever you might be talking about, say, religion for example- well, we can’t really know anything at all about religion. We can’t have a basis for knowing that it’s just one’s belief. There are two types of arguments, and this is, by the way, is the most serious type of skepticism. This is the best of the three skeptics. Alright, so the first type of argument is called the fact of error argument. And the fact of error argument goes something like this: that if you have ever been wrong in your life, how do you know you’re not wrong right now? Okay? So, David, have you ever been wrong?
DAVID: Oh, many times.
KURT: Okay, give us an example.
DAVID: Here’s an example. I have a couple from the apologetic world.
DAVID: Dan Barker usually starts his presentations with Bible contradictions. And in a recent debate, he’s had, an opponent said, “Well you once believed in God and you now don’t believe in God, therefore you were wrong, or you don’t exist.” So, he kind of self-refuted himself. This is the fact of error playing out in a consistent manner.
KURT: But in your life though–let me play devil’s advocate–have you ever changed your mind on something? So you used to have a belief on something. You realized you were wrong about that and you changed your mind.
DAVID: Yes, I used to be a faithful, Mormon believing missionary working in Brazil at the ages of nineteen through twenty-one, testifying about the “restored gospel” that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints represents. Now, I don’t.
KURT: Alright, so you were wrong once.
DAVID: Totally wrong.
KURT: How do you know you’re not wrong now?
DAVID: How do I know I’m not wrong now…After careful, careful investigation, and I would say, of course, the leading of the Holy Spirit.
KURT: Okay, good. So what the fact of error argument seeks to do, it seeks to discredit a category of knowledge we might have. So let’s say religion, right? So if you can discredit one of those points, then the category falls. The skeptic hopes that’s the case. But here’s the problem with that type of reasoning. It still depends on knowing something as true. Alright? So you can only know that you are wrong if you are in fact- if in fact, you have knowledge of what’s true now. Okay? You can only know you were wrong if, in fact, you are correct now. And if you are correct now, then you have knowledge. Right? So let’s take a different example. What did you have for breakfast?
KURT: Okay, so how do you know you had nothing for breakfast?
DAVID: Because I’m hungry right now.
KURT: Have you ever been wrong about what you’ve had for breakfast in the past? Have you misremembered or misrecollected what you had for breakfast?
DAVID: Extremely rare.
KURT: But it has happened. So how do you, in fact, know now that you haven’t misremembered?
DAVID: Because I have a conscious, because I have a memory that’s reliable, especially in the short term.
KURT: Ultimately, this type of argument- the fact of error argument fails because it depends upon known facts that we have. Chiefly, that David, you didn’t have breakfast this morning. And you know that. And so while you may have been mistaken in some other instance, that doesn’t mean you are now. And that leads me to the next argument which is the mere possibility of error argument. And this basically goes, “Well, if it’s possible that you could be wrong, how do you know you’re not wrong now?”
Now, let’s see the difference here. The first one is the fact of error- the fact that you have been mistaken, how do you know you’re not mistaken now? Versus: well, you could be wrong, so maybe you are. Right? That’s that type of argument.
Now, before we get into the answers to this, let me move into the structured approach on knowledge. So, there are two main theories on how we can know something. The first type is called methodism. And I don’t mean here the denomination by John Wesley. I’m referring here to this need of criteria- we need a method for how we can know something. Okay? And then, once we have that criterion, then we can come to a basis of knowledge. So that’s methodism.
Now, this is contrasted between what is called particularism. It’s the idea that we start as knowers-that we have knowledge about some things-of course not about all things, but at least some things we have knowledge about and we don’t need to know how we know them. So we know things, but we don’t know how we know them. Right? So basically we know that something is but we don’t know how we know how that something is. I know from here, that my car will take me from the Defenders Media offices to KFC Taco Bell so we can have our religious lunch. By religious, I mean because we do it week after week. I know that my car will take me there. I don’t know how my car will take me there. Okay? I don’t know how you know, an engine works. I don’t know how an engine works-I don’t have that kind of expansive knowledge, but I know that it does work. Until something stops, right? Then, I take it to the mechanic. Alright, so that’s particularism. We know that we know something, but we don’t know how we know it. Okay? So one of the problems–I consider myself a particularist. I hold to- there was a philosopher in the modern era named Thomas Reid, he advocated for what was called commonsense realism. I am sympathetic to his view and the concerns against methodism is-remember that methodism requires criteria in order that we can know something? Alright. How do we know what that criterion is? How do we know what this criterion is until we know some things, hence, particularism is true that we at least know some things?
I at least know I exist, or that this table is here, or that we are in the Defenders Media offices. So we can know things even if we don’t know how we know them. Now here’s where you might get your scientism in here, “Well, we just perceive things through the five senses.” But of course, there are other things we can know without the use of the senses. For example, that I am a thinking thing. I’m not using my physical senses. The fact that I know I am here and that I am the one thinking is something that scientism cannot prove, and yet, I know it. So, I am a particularist, blame me.
Let’s get back to the mere possibility of error argument. If it’s possible, how do you know you’re not wrong? One of the critical aspects to defeating this argument is to distinguish between a refutation and a rebuttal. A refutation is when you prove that someone is wrong. So, for example, if someone says that Hillary Clinton is the President of the United States. Alright, we could say, let’s go to the White House to meet Donald J. Trump. He is the current President of the United States. That would be a refutation. You have proven someone wrong. A rebuttal, to rebut someone, simply means they have not shown you to be wrong. They haven’t successfully proven their case against you. That’s a fine distinction. A refutation is proving someone wrong and a rebuttal is showing that someone hasn’t proven you wrong. Now, when someone says, “Well, could you be wrong?” With the mere possibility error, could you be wrong right now? Sure. That in and of itself is not a refutation of my position, and as such, it provides no defeating ideas, or what is called “defeaters.” It provides no defeaters for me to change my beliefs. Okay? I presently think, no, not just think, I know there are no McDonald’s on planet Mars. How do I know that? Could I be wrong? Of course, I could be wrong. Even though I could be wrong, that doesn’t mean should begin doubting my knowledge that there is no restaurant McDonald’s on the planet Mars. It just doesn’t provide a sufficient reason for me to think that. So ultimately this mere possibility of error argument is not a defeater and within the realm of possibility is not within the realm of facts.
DAVID: May I add, that we will have a guest speaker at our Deeper Roots Conference coming up that J. Warner Wallace makes the distinction between reasonable and possibility. Whereas anything is possible, not everything is reasonable. A sinkhole can open up right here at the Defenders Media conference and suck us right in. That’s the possible nature of such things. Is it reasonable to believe? Of course not. Therefore we are sitting in these chairs, having this interaction. And the skeptic-or the hyper skeptic- can continue on with this train of thought that anything is possible, however, we have to make the distinction, is it reasonable?
KURT: That’s a great segue. So often times here, the particularists will assert some knowledge and the mere possibility of error argument when presented by the skeptic- by using that argument it will get into the discussion of the burden of proof. So the skeptic will say, you’ve got the burden of proof to prove that “X” is true or that you know “X.” Okay? But the question about the burden of truth needs to be considered upon its reasonableness, as you pointed out, David. So, for example, when I asked you what you had for breakfast and you said, “Nothing,” well, might you be wrong? Is it possible that you might be wrong? Yes, you might be wrong.But what reason do you have for thinking you might be wrong?
DAVID: None whatsoever.
KURT: You know you had nothing for breakfast. So in this case, when the skeptic wants to put the burden of proof upon the particularist, or even suppose on the methodist, the person who already agreed on some criteria–I wouldn’t take that route at all, but if the skeptic is going to do that, you just say, “I don’t think your request for burden of proof is reasonable.” It is clearly more reasonable to know that David, you had nothing for breakfast. It just aligns with reality. So what I mean is the particularist view best fits with reality. So, let me talk more about that.
There are two tasks in the realm of epistemology, epistemology being the study of how we know things. And those two tasks are as follows: first, we want to gain a maximum amount of true beliefs. Secondly, we want to limit the amount of false beliefs we have. What do I mean by that? What I don’t mean is that we believe something is false. What I mean is we think something is true when in fact, it is false. Okay? So the second task of epistemology is to limit those types of beliefs- beliefs which we believe are true, but are in fact, false. So that said, the skeptic cares more for having no false beliefs. The skeptic goes way on the end and says, “Well, because I don’t want to have beliefs which are in fact, false, I’m going to doubt everything.” The skeptic cares more for having no false beliefs. The particularist cares more for seeking truth. The particularist wants to gain a maximum amount of true beliefs, so I think the skeptic goes too far in the second task of epistemology. And so I think that’s interesting when some of us care more for seeking truth instead of just preventing us from having a false belief. Ultimately, what is more important? I think having more true beliefs is more important than having a chunk of beliefs which are in fact, false. Okay, so skepticism, as I have mentioned before in a number of cases in which we have surveyed it, stems from things we already know. Skepticism depends upon already knowing things: that I exist, I am a thinking thing, that I can touch and feel things, that we know we were wrong. Skepticism depends upon knowledge so obviously, we can know some things, alright? Now, if we can know some things, then from that basis we can go on to the more difficult problems in life: having criteria set for how we can know historical facts, and how we do historiography and then coming to a belief or consensus about historical events. So some of those more difficult things might flow from the criteria, but it’s not methodism which starts with criteria. Right? Methodism depends upon the criteria, to begin with. But the particularist already has beliefs. The particularist already knows things to be true even if they don’t know how they’re true. From that, builds criteria for understanding and coming to know things.
So, I think ultimately, particularism fits within reality better than any of those camps. And ultimately, if skepticism were true, then we could know very few things or even nothing at all. And in our attempt to strive for truth here on the show, we obviously would not affirm skepticism. And now, that doesn’t mean we’re not open to being wrong and evaluating some of our beliefs. Of course, I think some of that is the purpose of the show: to get us thinking about a topic that we might not have considered before but that we are still seeking truth and that we are doing that in a constructive way. And so ultimately, I do think particularism fits better with reality because we do know things and we function as such. We function like we know things. So either it’s just a big illusion and if it’s illusory, then we should just stop those things. Why is Rosenberg writing a book where he says sentences have no meaning? It’s pointless! He’s wasting his time because it’s all just pointless! Those are my prepared thoughts on skepticism. David, I know maybe you had a couple of other things, I think you had a quote from Rosenberg, right?
DAVID: I just had a couple of thoughts. The foundation of–I’m just going to say it–presuppositionalist apologetics is that the foundation of our rationality is couched in imago dei the image of God and the question for skeptic has always been difficult, especially from the evolutionary point of view which is how do I get the rational from the irrational? That’s a question they have to battle with because a monkey cannot produce Shakespearean literature. And that’s just not possible for them, no matter how many monkeys you give me or how much time is given. There are Scriptures that I would like to cite in closing this program.
KURT: I’m not sure which Scriptures you’re bringing up, so depending, we might have some slight disagreements.
DAVID: You know, I say that the natural man, of course, is in rebellion towards God so when he does (Romans 1:18) he suppresses the truth of righteousness. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you give him, especially for these hard atheists, these hard skeptics, they will continue to suppress it. Second Corinthians 4:4 because their minds have been blinded by the adversary. And we can see this in the Old Testament and we see when the evidence is given the parting of the Red Sea, the ten plagues, the manna from heaven, the water coming from the rock, and still, they reject Yahweh. And in the New Testament, we seeing the raising of Lazarus in John 11:45-46, we have this amazing miracle, and yet, you have in verse 45, those that believed, and in verse 46 in contrast, those-even though they have the evidence in front of them, there is no doubt they reject the evidence.
KURT: I might parse it out a bit differently. By in large, we are in agreement that some people, they just won’t believe. And that’s going to be the case regardless of one’s apologetics methodologies. I think we should recognize that there will be people that will just not believe, that they’re hard-hearted and it’s ultimately a matter of the will.
My concern here is about those who are going to be swayed by the skeptic, hopefully not the iterative skeptic. But it happens. So let me say here, in 2013 there was an article here, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.” This is an article from the Atlantic, I’ll put the link up on the website. An interesting study found that when participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism: people, books, seminars, etc. they write, “We expected to hear frequent references to the names of the new atheists (the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris). I might even think, well when people convert, they might have read David Hume or some other philosophers that influenced their thinking. But I would, of course, understand some of the more popular level- pop atheist icons. But they continue on, but we did not. We did not once. So they did not hear a source for these new atheists. The authors write, instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on Youtube or website forums. You see, skepticism has found its way on the internet. It has seeped into these platforms: Youtube, web forums. And I think people have not been prepared to handle skepticism and so when they all of a sudden might see something and begin doubting something, they don’t know how to handle it and so they go off the deep end.
Some people might, you know, here’s a great example: so Bart Ehrman the critical New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, former Christian, former devout evangelical- he went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is no longer a Christian. His path away from Christianity started as a result of his discovering supposed differences in the gospels. Now, these supposed differences in the gospels shook his faith. And almost as a reaction, he began to doubt everything. Maybe you know someone who is like that. And this does not seem to be a justified logical step. Even if there were differences in the gospels, let me go further, even if there were contradictions in the gospels, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. So to go from differences or even contradictions in the Bible to completely rejecting the faith is an unwarranted belief. And I know people that have like Erman have taken that step, and I don’t think there is a good reason for doing so.
In this sense, I think we just need to rebut that argument that if there are contradictions in the Bible, therefore Christianity is false, we just need to have a rebuttal. I don’t think we even need to refute. We just need to rebuttal and say “Well, that doesn’t follow. That stuff doesn’t happen.” So it’s this type of skepticism that we should try to help people recognize that when they’re watching this Youtube video, when they’re reading this website forum, they don’t have to buy into it. And we need to think critically about this rhetoric, whether it’s good rhetoric or bad rhetoric that one might be reading about or listening to on a Youtube video. Recognize the ethos, the pathos, and the logos. Recognize, okay, what is the ethos being presented here? What’s the pathos being presented here? And especially as someone who is concerned with arguments and thinking well, what is the logos rooted in? What’s the argument? Does it follow? What does that mean? How far does it take me? We should ask these questions because honestly, it probably doesn’t take you as far as what you might be tempted to go. And I think that’s what it’s about-temptation. I think skepticism is the work of the devil. I mean, when it takes root in people’s lives where they just feel lost and alone and drowning in skepticism because they have no foundation for knowledge. But I think we need to recognize how it’s self-defeating. Not only is it self-defeating, but it depends upon knowledge that we have and so I think as such, we should put it aside. There should, of course, be a healthy sense of skepticism. But what I’m talking about here is this philosophical outlook, this methodology of skepticism. I don’t think it’s good at all. It’s unhelpful, it’s not constructive, and as a result, we should reject that type of skepticism.
Closing on Skepticism
I think that does it for the show today. I want to thank you for listening in and for considering along with me here these different types of skepticism, these three different types of skeptics. Also, I hope you enjoy the rest of your Bobby Bonilla Day. 1.2 million dollars every July 1st. Hopefully, you’ll remember that for next year. But before we sign off here, let me say next week, June 8th, it’s our 52nd episode, which means we have been coming to you for a whole year. And so, for next week’s episode, we’re doing an “Ask Me Anything.” So I want you to submit your questions. I already have a couple of people who have submitted questions. You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or you could leave us a message as well on our call line: 505-2-STRIVE.
Alright, well, I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnership we have with our sponsors: Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi. Thank you to the tech team today, Chris, and to our guest, David, I’ll give you credit for being on the panel. And I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.