Saturday, October 31, 2020

Happy Halloween!

I had a great idea for what to do on Halloween, but there are two reasons I can't do it. I was going to dress up in my medieval peasant garb, pull a wagon around the neighborhood, ring a bell, and shout, "Bring out your dead!" I was warned that it might be too soon and a little insensitive, so that's one reason I'm not going to do it. Another reason is because I took a knife to the knee a couple of days ago, which makes it difficult to walk. Hmm. You know, a limp might've gone well with my persona.

It's been difficult to resist buying huge bags of candy because I've seen it for half off in a couple of places. But I'd just end up eating all that candy. Maybe when it's 1/4 off tomorrow, I'll feel differently about it. I wonder if there'll be any trick or treaters about. I suspect the candy is cheap becuase people aren't buying much of it.

I don't remember if I ever mentioned this, but I wrote a fan fiction cross over. Mainly, it's a cross over of Harry Potter and Pushing Daisies, but it has just a hint of Star Wars and Doctor Who. It also has a little philosophy mixed in. I rarely ever read fiction, and I write it even less, so don't expect anything great. But since there are zombies in it, I thought I better mention it since it's Halloween. It's called Harry Potter and the Pie Maker, and you can read it on or Archive of Our Own.

In other news, I heard Sean Connery died. He was 90 years old.

As far as I know, Melinda Penner is still alive. Today is her birthday. Her sister hasn't posted anything about her in a while, so I don't know how she is doing. I hope she's doing well.

And finally, Happy Reformation Day!

Oh wait, one more thing! There's this girl in North Carolina who makes Macarons who I follow on Instagram. Lately she's been making really cool macarons for Halloween. Check out her instagram page.

For more on the topic of Halloween, check out: "Review: Redeeming Halloween by Kim Wier and Pam McCune."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Kalam Cosmological argument on a B theory

William Lane Craig says that the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) assumes an A theory of time. This makes sense because the claim is that since time had a beginning, the universe must have come into existence. Just taken at face value, and not getting all caught up in the ambiguity of words, claiming that the universe comes into existence implies real temporal becoming, i.e. a dynamic theory of time.

I said in a previous post that causation makes more sense on an A theory than a B theory since on a B theory, everything just sits there, but on an A theory some things bring about other things. I wasn't being perfectly precise there because there is such a thing as static causation. A parking brake causes a car to stay still, for example, but the braking doesn't have to precede the motionlessness in time. It's conceivable that the brake has been engaged from all eternity, and the car has never moved as a result. But I was thinking more of dynamic causes where one event follows another event in sequence, like a golfer whacking a golf ball with a club and causing the ball to go flying. That's the kind of causation I was talking about.

But suppose I'm wrong and that even dynamic causation happens on a B theory, however difficult it may be to explain. If that's the case, then I don't see why the KCA couldn't work on a B theory. The reason is because subscribing to a B theory wouldn't mean that events are not caused by earlier events. There is still "earlier" and "later" on a B theory. It's just that they don't happen sequentially. "Earlier" and "Later" are more like locations in space than moments in time like we normally think of them. The only difference is that whereas the direction of causation in space can easily go from east to west or from west to east, in the case of the block universe, causation always goes from earlier to later and never from later to earlier. So there's only one direction of causation.

Well, if there can be cause and effect in the dynamic sense within the universe, and if the earliest moment of the universe is an event within the universe, then it seems like it, too, could have a cause. It's just that the cause wouldn't be something that happened earlier in the universe. It would be more like a static cause from outside the universe. In that case, you could think of God is being the static cause of the earliest moment of the universe, and therefore the explanation of the whole uiniverse, even if the universe didn't come into being, strictly speaking.

One of the objections I used to have to the idea that God was a timeless being and that the whole spectrum of time was all the present from his point of view was that it didn't make sense to say God created the universe in that case. To say God created the universe is to say the universe came into being from a state of non-being. If God doesn't exist in time, then there is no change from God's point of view, so from God's point of view, he couldn't have caused the universe to come into being from non-being. From his point of view, the universe has always been there, so in what sense did he create it?

Well, he couldn't have created it in the ordinary sense of the word. But, in fact, on a B theory of time nothing is created in the ordinary sense of the word since there's no such thing as temporal becoming. Yet there is still a sense in which things come into being on a B theory. Maybe it's just a matter of perspective. It just means they have an earliest extreme. And if we allow that causation happens on a B theory, then earlier things cause later things to come to be in some sense. My parents are the cause of me coming to be. They are the reason for the earliest extreme of my existence.

Any reason we have to doubt that causation happens on a B theory would be reason to think the universe doesn't need a cause for its existence. But any reason to think causation does happen on a B theory makes it reasonable to ask whether the eariest moment in the universe has a cause.

If we can think of causation happening dynamically within the universe in some sense, then what are we to make of the universe coming into being from nothing, i.e. creation ex nihilo? Well, that would just mean the universe has an earliest extreme, and nothing preceded it, meaning there is no earlier moment. And it would also mean the universe isn't made out of anything that existed at any earlier moment. If it makes sense on a B theory to say that something comes into being in some sense, then it also makes sense to say the universe came into being in some sense. The only difference is that whereas things in the universe come into being from things that existed earlier, the universe came into being from nothing. So we could still hold on to creation ex-nihilo on a B theory. It would just have a different meaning than it does on an A theory, which would be true of anything that comes into being on a B theory.

I wonder, though, if the intuition that it's impossible for something to spontaneously come into being uncaused out of nothing would be just as strong on a B theory as it is on an A theory since they don't mean exactly the same thing. It's hard for me to answer that question since I'm kind of iffy about whether causation even makes sense on a B theory. I said in yesterday's post that I was unsure whether the A theory or the B theory was true. One reason I doubted the B theory is precisely because I don't know how to make sense of causation on the B theory. But suppose I was persuaded that the B theory is true. Would I be forced, by logic, to deny causation? Well, that would be a very hard pill for me to swallow. I think what is more likely to happen is that I will still believe in causation. I'll think there's some solution to the problem of causation that I just don't understand. But I think it's very unliikely that I will give up on causation if I adopt a B theory. I'm much more certain that some things cause other things than I am of either theory of time.

Well, if causation is just as certain on a B theory as it is on an A theory, though I can't understand how, it's likely that the intuition that "out of nothing, nothing comes" will be just as strong. If there's no reason to deny causation on a B theory, then there's no reason to deny that the universe has a cause. The fact that it's static would be no reason to deny that it has a cause since it being static is no reason to deny that causation happens within the universe.

It might sound to you like I'm committing the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition would be to say that because every event in the universe has a cause that the whole universe therefore has a cause. This is a misunderstanding a lot of people have about the KCA, even on an A theory. The misunderstanding comes from how apolgists argue for the causal principle. They'll say that because everything in our experience has a cause, the universe must have a cause. But they are not arguing from composition. Rather, they are arguing from induction. I'm not arguing from induction or composition, though. What I'm saying, rather, is that if causation is just as much a part of a block universe on a B theory as it is on an A theory, then the fact that we live in a B theory rather than an A theory is no reason to doubt that the universe had a cause. Presumably, the only reason to doubt the universe has a cause is beause it's static and doesn't literally come to be. It's always been there. But by that same reasoning, nothing in the universe has a cause either since every moment of the universe is static and didn't literally come to be. So I'm just taking two premises to their logical conclusions, not arguing from composition or induction. The premise that static things don't have causes would imply not only that the beginning of the universe didn't have a cause, but that nothing at all within the universe had a cause either. And the premise that static things do have causes would mean not only that thing in the universe have causes, but that the beginning of the universe has a cause, too.

Besides that, the beginning of the universe is a moment or event within the universe. So one can argue that if every event, state, or thing in the universe has a cause, then so does the first event, state, or thing. But since the cause of the first event, state, or thing can't be anything within the universe, it must be something outside of or beyond the universe. If the first event, state, or thing in the universe has a cause, that cause would be the cause of the whole universe. It would be similar to a situation in which you have a stack of books sitting on a table. The cause of the elevation of each book is the book directly beneath it. But the cause of the elevation of all the books is the table, even though the table only directly causes the elevation of the book directly above it, i.e. the first book. In the same way, if God caused the first event, state, or thing in the universe, and everything in the universe from then on caused the next thing in the universe, we can say that God is the cause of the whole universe. That would follow from the fact that God is the cause of the first moment of the universe.

Let's consider the often asked question, "What caused God?" This comes up in the A-theory of the KCA because it is wrongly assumed that one of the premises says that everything requires a cause. The correction, then, is to repeat that everything that comes into being requires a cause, and since God did not come into being, there's no reason to suppose he needs a cause. But in the B theory version of the KCA, nothing literally comes into being strictly speaking. So we are forced to say that static things require causes. Well, God, on this model, is a static thing, just as the universe is. Neither God nor the universe came into being on this model. So we can't make the same differentiation between the universe and God on the same basis as we can on the A theory. If we say static things don't require causes, then the universe doesn't require a cuase. If we say static things do require causes, then God requires a cause. Either way it would seem the KCA fails.

One differentiation we might be tempted to make is that the universe is contingent and God is necessary. Contingent things need causes but necessary things don't. If we make this move, we have abandoned the KCA in favour of the argument from contingency. They are distinct arguments since the basis for saying the universe requires a cause is different in each. In the argument from contingency, the universe would require a cause whether it had a beginning or not. But in the KCA, the reason the universe requires a cause is specifically because it has a beginning. So to try to salvage the KCA on a B theory by making this move is really to concede that the KCA doesn't work and to rest on a different argument altogether.

I think a better move is to say that the reason the universe requires a cause but God does not is because in spite of being static, the universe is nevertheless temporal, but God is not. The universe has a temporal dimension even if we think of it in static terms. If the earliest state of the universe were an atemporal state, and temporality sprung from that state, then there would be no reason to think the universe required a cause other than to explain how it went from atemopral to temporal. But that could be explained in terms of the atemporal state. William Lane Craig has arguments for why that won't work, but I'm not going to go into that right now. But it is precisely the fact that there is a temporal dimension within the universe that makes room for causation. Earlier moments cause later moments. So if the first moment of the universe is temporal, then it should require a cause for that reason, but that same reason wouldn't apply to God if God were atemporal. And God would have to be atemporal in order to be the cause of everything that is temporal.

I am going to come back to this in a later post because it's relevant to what I think is a very strong argument against the KCA that I've spent a long time stewing over.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Eternalism vs. Presentism

Eternalism is the view that the past, present, and future all exist. Presentism is the view that only the present exists. You may know these as the B theory and the A theory of time, or the static theory and the dynamic theory of time.

Eternalism = B theory = static theory

Presentism = A theory = dynamic theory

I've been undecided on these two views for a few years now. Before that, I came down pretty strongly on the A theory side. Before that I held inconsistent views.

I used to believe that God existed outside of time, and that the whole spectrum of time was laid out before him as if it were all "now" from his point of view. That's basically eternalism.

But at the same time I remember I used to say the present is all that exists. The past was gone, and the future hasn't arrived yet. I used to marvel at how our entire existence was an instantaneous moment that existed between the boudnary of the past and the future. That's basically presentism.

So yeah, I was inconsistent but didn't realize it until I started reading William Lane Craig. That was way back in 1999 or thereabouts. I have subscribed to the A theory of time most of the time since then. But I started to really have doubts a few years ago, and I've been undecided ever since, though I often lean one way or the other.

Why I think the B theory might be true

The major reason I think the B theory might be true is because of special relativity. According to relativity, there is no absolute simultaneity. Two events can happen one after the other from one person's frame of reference but be simultaneous from another person's frame of reference, and neither is wrong. This all follows from the fact that light travels at the same speed from the perspective of everybody in every frame of reference.

So imagine there's a train going by, and there's a lightbulb in the middle of one of the cars and a person on that car with the lightbulb. If the light bulb is exactly in the middle of the car, and if it turns on, light will reach each end of the car at the same time from the perspective of the person on the car. That's because in his frame of reference, the light bulb isn't moving. He and the lightbulb are stationary, and when the light comes on, light travels at the same speed in all directions, so it hits each end of the car at the same time.

But now think of it from the perspective of the person on the ground watching the car go by. From his perspective, the lightbulb is moving to the right, but when it comes on, light travels to the right at the same speed as it travels to the left. And since the car is moving to the right, the light will hit the left end of the car before it hits the right end of the car. That's because the left end of the car is moving toward the light, and the right end of the car is moving away from the light. So it hits the left end first.

So from the perspective of the person on the train, the light hits each end of the car simultaneously. But from the perspective of the person on the ground, light hits the left end of the car before it hits the right end of the car.

Think about that. Consider the moment at which the light hits the left end of the car for both observers. That means the moment at which the light hits the right end of the car is "the present" for the person on the train, but it's "the future" for the person on the ground. I can't see any way to understand this except to say that the present and the future both exist, which suggests a B theory of time.

Why I think the A theory might be true

The A theory of time appeals to me primarily because that is the common sense way to see the world. It conforms most accurately to our every day experience of the world. We only exist in the present, and the present is moving in the future direction. The past is over, and the future lies ahead.

There also seem to be problems with the B theory. On the B theory, there doesn't seem to be any exlpanation for why time has a direction. Sean Carroll thinks the direction of time is explained by entropy. But I don't see how that explains anything at all. Granted, entropy increases in the future direction, but how does that amount to entropy defining or causing the direction to be in the future? Assigning a direction to time on a B theory seems arbitrary. In fact, on a B theory, I see no reason for entropy to increase or decrease in either direction. The fact that it only increases in one direction seems arbitrary.

On the B theory, you'd have to dismiss the flow of time as an illusion. As I've explained in another post, I think if you have to dismiss some of your evidence as illusion, that is as much as to say that your model doesn't account for all the evidence. But besides that, the B theory doesn't even explain why the illusion exists. Why does it even seem like time is moving forward?

If the flow of time is an illusion, then it seems like backward time travel would just be a matter of psychology. One could theoretically travel backward or forward in time through meditation or some other psychological manipulation. After all, we would be four-dimentional beings who have extention both in space and in time. Our minds consist of the whole thing, not just one moment. So there's no reason why the mind couldn't subjectively experience any of the moments in any order. But we seem to only experience one moment at a time in one direction (language is failing me here).

Backward time travel also seems at least theoretically possible on a B theory of time without being a mere matter of psychology. You couldn't travel to an early moment of time if there was no early moment of time, but on a B theory there is. And since both space and time can be bent and warped, it's theoretically possible to bend it in such a way as to create a loop allowing you to go back to the past. But backward time travel leads to all kinds of paradoxes that are impossible. If the B theory leads to impossible paradoxes, and impossible paradoxes cannot be real since they are impossible, that seems to cast doubt on the B theory.

Causation seems to make better sense on an A theory than on a B theory. On the A theory, one thing really does cause another thing. But on a B theory, everything just kind of sits there. I don't see how there can be causation. On an A theory, there's a finality to the past, but the future can be caused to be one way or another. On a B theory, the future is just as final as the past, which is counter-intuitive.

Indeterministic interpretations of quantum physics make more sense on an A theory than a B theory. On a B theory, everything that happens is fixed and definite, but according to indeterministic interpretations of quantum physics, that isn't the case. There are probabilities attached to events, and things could go in a multitude of different ways. This isn't my strongest reason for thinking the A theory is true since I'm also undecided on interpretations of quantum physics.

Some other considerations

William Lane Craig doesn't deny relativity, but he thinks it's only apparent. He says that clocks slow down and speed up depending on their frame of reference, but that doesn't mean time itself slows down and speeds up. He thinks there is absolute time and absolute simultaneity, and that this doesn't conflict with our observations. He makes a disinction between our observations concerning relativity and our interpretation of those observations. He doesn't thiink it's necessarily to interpret the observations the way they are commonly interpreted. He didn't just make all this up either. He cites Hendrik Lorentz for his interpretation of relativity. I am skeptical of his view, but I don't completely understand it either. He talks about it with Roger Penrose in this discussion of Unbelievable from 56:10 to 59:20. The possibility of him being right does make the A theory a viable option for me.

Apparently, not all physicists agree with the static view of the universe either. Some of them think it's a convenient model, but that it doesn't map on to realty. Brian Greene has some videos on YouTube where he explains space-time like a loaf of bread where "now" slices can be sliced at different angles so that one person's present can be another person's past. He definitely subscribes to the B theory. But Nick Lucid is a presentist. I asked Nick about that one time, and he said he thinks physicists present the B theory to popular audiences because "it bewilders people and that's good for TV," not because they necessarily think that's how reality is. I'm not sure what Nick's education is, but he did author a book called Advanced Theoretical Physics, so I assume he's a legitimate physicist.

In another post, I explained how I think we ought to affirm the obvious rather than deny the obvious. We should think things are just like they appear unless we have good reason to think they are not. The A theory seems, prima facie, to be the correct view. It's the most obvious one. But this may be one of those situations in which we have good reason to think reality is very different than it appears to be. The argument from relativity I mentioned above seems solid to me. I acknowledge the possibility that it's wrong just because there are people smarter than me who disagree with it, but again the "seemingness" of the soundness of the argument makes me lean in favour of that interpretation. But on the other hand, the intuition about the A theory of time is very strong, and I'm not sure if the argument for the B theory is strong enough to overcome it. It's similar to how Zeno's paradoxes appear, at first glance, to be strong arguments against the possiblity of motion, but our intuition that motion is real is more than adequate to convince most people that there's a solution to Zeno's paradoxes even if they don't know what that solution is. So mahybe there's a solution to the argument for the B theory, and I'm justified in believing in the A theory even if I dont know how to refute the argument for the B theory.

These are all my thoughts, and the bottom line is that I am currently undecided.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Working out an epistemology

Most of my apologetic encounters for the last 25 years or so have involved epistemology. So I've thought about epistemology a lot. Actually, I started thinking about epistemology long before I got interested in apologetics, and even before I had ever heard of the word, epistemology. I'm still not an expert in the sense that a professional philosopher might be an expert, but I think I have my epistemologgy worked out about as well as can be expected. I'm pretty confident in it, too, so let me lay it out in a nut shell.

I am a common sense realist, a weak foundationalist, and a particularist. There's some overlap between these terms, and maybe I'm using them incorrectly, but let me explain what I mean by them.

Common sense realism

I think I first heard this term as a description of a philosopher named Thomas Reid. I've also heard the term, "Scottish realism," and I think it's the same thing, but I'm not sure. Basically, it's just the idea that we should think the world is real because it at least seems to be real, and in the absence of any good reason to think it's not real, we should default to how things seem to be. That's the most rational position to hold--to affirm the obvious.

I'm part of a meet up group that gets together to talk about "hard questions" in culture, religion, philosophy, science, etc. There's a woman in there who sometimes describes herself as being a "meat and potatoes" persons. I like that. I told her I'm a meat and potatoes person, too. I think she's a common sense realist. When she says she's a meat and potatoes person, that just means she doesn't get all hung up on esoteric cunundrums in epistemology. She just takes the world in a common sense way, like just about all the common folk do. Of course there's an external world. Look!

I have often expressed this view as just affirming the obvious, which I think we all do most of the time. If things appear a certain way, we assume they are that way unless we have good reason to think otherwise. The most natural explanation for why it seems like there's an external world is because there is an external world.

Weak foundationalism

Here's where if any of my readers are professional philosophers, they're probably going to tell me how I've got it all wrong. But even if I'm using the wrong term, the important thing is that I accurately describe my point of view.

Foundationalism is the idea that all of our knowledge and beliefs rest on a foundation of axioms, unproven assumptions, or a priori knowledge. The foundation consists of actual items of knowlege. We know these things. We aren't just assuming them arbitrarily or for convenience. These foundational items of knowledge are our starting points. Everything else we know can be traced back to them or can be justified by them.

Aristotle once said something like, "Not knowing what requires demonstration and what does not argues want of education." He realized that there were some things we could know without proving and other things that require proof, and that an educated person ought to know the difference. It would be silly, for instance, to insist that somebody prove the laws of logic since you need the laws of logic to perform a proof in the first place. Our knowledge of logic shouldn't require proof.

But foundationalism comes in the strong and weak varieties. Strong foundationalism is the idea that all of the items of knowledge that belong in our foundation consist only of knowledge of necessary truths, analytic truths, and that sort of thing. Weak foundationalism is the idea that our foundational items of knowledge consist not only of necessary and analytic truths but also a handful of contingent and synthetic truths. An example of a necessary truth is that two plus two is four. An example of a contingent truth is that my senses are giving me true information about an external world that actually exists. While I think we can be certain about some truths--the necessary ones--we cannot be certain about the contingent truths. It's possible that there is no external world. It's possible that our senses produce perceptions that exist solely in the mind without corresponding to anything in the external world. But I nevertheless think our belief in the general reliability of our sensory perceptions is an item of knowledge. And there's a handful of other things I won't go into.


I was introduced to particularism by J.P. Moreland in a talk I saw on the internet many years ago. He explained it by introducing me to the "problem of the criterion" and how there were two schools of thought on it. Well, actually, there are three. Let me see if I can explain this without botching it.

There are a lot of ideas that are all vying for our assent. Some of them are true, and some of them are false. We'd like to be able to sort them, but how do we begin?

One approach is called methodism. A methodist (not to be confused with the Christian denomination) thinks that we begin our quest for knowledge with a method. We sort the true from the false by using our method and applying some criteria or test to see what is true and what is not true. For example, we might adopt the method of observing with our senses. Or we might adopt the scientific method. Scientism is a version of methodism because people who subscribe to scientism think science is the only method for acquiring knowledge. But there are other methods one might use to distinguish the true from the false.

Another approach is called particularism. Instead of beginning with a method and working our way to items of knowledge, we begin with clear case examlpes of knowledge and work out a method. Having worked out a method, we can then use it to broaden our knowledge further.

I think that particularism is not only the correct approach, but it's the approach everybody actually uses whether they realize it or not. Methodism is self-refuting. It falls victim to what J.P. Moreland calls the "iteritive skeptic." An iteritive skeptic is somebody who just says, "Well, how do you know that?" every time you tell him how you know something. He's assuming that before you can know something, you first have to account for how you know it. And if you can't, then you don't know it. But this forces the methodist into an infinite regress. Since an infinite regress cannot be completed, the iteritive skeptic forces the methodist into global skepticism--that idea that we don't know anything at all.

The problem of the criterion is that before you can apply the methodist approach to knowledge, you first have to know at least two things. You have to know what criteria to use (or what method to use), and you have to know that such and such proposition either meets or doesn't meet the criteria. You have to know those two things before some proposition can become an item of knowledge. But then to know those two things, you have to have another criteria and be able to know whether or not those two things fulfill the criteria. So again, this leads to an infinite regress. Methodism makes knowledge impossible, which is why it's self-refuting.

And that brings me to global skepticism, which is the third approach. Global skeptics try to avoid the whole problem by just saying they don't know anything at all. Global skepticm is an untenable position for a couple of reasons. One reason is because it can never be rationally justified. Any reason or argument you give to try to justify global skeptism will depend on premises. But if you don't know anything, then you don't know that any of those premises are true or that your conclusion follows from those premises. So any attempt to justify global skeptism is going to end up being self-refuting as well.

Global skepticism is also untenable because there are obviously at least some things we know. At the very least, we know that we are thinking and that we exist, but if you're reasonable person, you're going to admit that you also know the earth orbits the sun, that a human can't live without water, and that murder is wrong (yeah, I said it).

If the only options are particularism, methodism, and global skepticism, and if methodism and global skepticism are untenable, process of elimination leaves us with particularism. With particularism, you just begin with a handful of what appear to be clear case examples of knowledge. For exmaple, I know that I live in Austin, Tx. I know I have a brother and a sister who both live here. I know that fire is hot. I know that if I strum my guitar, it will make a sound. But if you played a game of "How do you know that?" with me, I might eventually get stumped. There are some things I know without knowing how I know them. But if I think carefully enough about it, there's a chance I might be able to figure out how I know them. And once I do, I will have a new tool in my epistemological tool bag with which I can possibly learn new things.

As I said before, I think particularism is not only the right approach, but it's the epistemology pretty much all of us actually use in spite of whatever epsitemology we claim to use. If this were not the case, then there would be an awful lot of people in the world who don't actually know anything. Consider somebody with an IQ of 70. Even with an IQ of 70, people know who their siblings are. They know the sun is bright. They know it hurts to bump your head. There are lots of things they know. But if you asked them how they know, it probably wouldn't be difficult to stump them.

I remember when my daughter was around five years old, I asked her what colour her eyes were. She said, "Blue." I said, "How do you know they're blue?" She said, "Because I saw them in the mirror." I said, "Are you looking in the mirror right now?" "No," she said. "Then how do you know they're blue right now?" That might stump some five year old, but my daughter had an answer. She said, "Eyes don't change colour." But suppose I had stumped her. Would it follow that she didn't know what colour her eyes were? Of course not. She knew what colour her eyes were even if she couldn't fully account for how she knew.

You don't have to know how you know something before you can know it. If you did, then you'd fall victim to the iterative skeptic who could ask how you know that ad infinitum. Insisting that you must account for how you know something before it's an item of knowledge leads to global skepticism, and global skepticism cannot be rationally affirmed. If anybody really was a global skeptic, they wouldn't know it.

One criticism of particularism that's worth considering is that it allows people to just claim anything they want as an item of knowledge without having to justify it. I could claim to know that Santa Claus is an alien who lives on the moon if I wanted to, and if you asked me how I know that, I could just say, "I don't have to tell you how I know it. I just know it." While this criticism is worth considering, I don't think it ultimately goes through.

One reason it doesn't go through is because in reality, a person who said that about Santa Claus is probably just lying. An honest person isn't going to arbitrarily claim to know things he knows he doesn't know. Nevertheless, an honest person can rightly claim to know a few things even without being able to put his finger on how he knows exactly.

Another reason the objection doesn't go through is because being a particularist doesn't mean being infallible. There may be some things I think I know, but I don't really know them. And if I spend enough time trying to figure out how I know it, I may in the process learn that it's not an item of knowledge after all. That doesn't undermine particularism. I'm still going to begin with what appear to be clear case items of knowledge, even if I may be wrong about some of them.

Particularists don't claim that their "clear case items of knowledge" are beyond dispute. You can be a particularist, claim that your knowledge of the external world is a clear case item of knowledge, and be wrong about it. There is nothing inconsistent about that. But if you want to dispute a particularist's "clear case item of knowledge," it may not be enough to convince them that they can't prove it. You may have to disprove it before they'll budge.

Epistemological strategery

The epistemology people actually use is not necessarily the epistemology they claim to use. And it's not that they are being dishonest either. A lot of times, they just haven't thought it through.

A major obstacle in conversations between Christian apologists and counter-apologists is their differences in the epistemologies they explicitly and knowingly subscribe to. When a counter-apologist wants to challenge a Christian apologist, they will often do so by telling them what their standard of acceptable belief is, and it usually has to do with physical evidence, verifiable proof, or something along those lines. This is meant to nip any argument in the bud that depends on a priori information, philosophical reasoning, intuition, and a host of other things that Christian apologists appeal to.

My approach in these situations is not to try to meet their challenge but to challenge their epistemology. I think claiming to only believe what your own sensory perceptions tell you is an obstacle, not just to accepting Christianity, but to epistemology in general. Now, I know that in spite of what people say, they don't actually use this epistemology. There are lots of things they believe they know that are not known through empiracle means. So my strategy in the past has always been to point it out to them by bringing up counter-examples to their claimed epistemology. For example, I might ask them if they can think of a number and know which number they're thinking of. Or I might ask them if they believe their wife has thoughts and emotions and if they have ever seen those thoughts and emotions with their own sensory perceptions. Or I might ask them if they believe the external world is real. Or sometimes I'll force them into an infinte regress and see how they handle it.

I've had these conversations a lot, and I can't tell you how many times the person I talked to just bit the bullet and claimed they didn't know if there was an external world, or if there were other minds. Just a few days ago, a guy told me he was a skeptic and that his standard of proof was high, so my evidence for Christianity had better be impressive. It didn't take but a couple of exchanges before he told me that he was a solipsist because he was even skeptical of the external world and other minds. I simply don't believe him. I think he's blowing smoke. And I've run into a lot of people like him who are willing to embrace these kinds of absurdities rather than concede my point about epistemology.

So I came up with a new strategy for dealing with people like this. It's a little sneaky, but it'll be interesting to try. I haven't actually tried it yet. The next time somebody tells me they insist on physical proof (or whatever) before they'll believe anything, I'm going to ask them whether they believe in evolution, or whether they believe the holocaust happened, or something they will probably claim to have a lot of certainty about and that anybody who denies it is crazy or ignorant. This way, I can get them to commit to affirming something. I think evolution is a good one because this is a point where a lot of critics of Christianity think they are following the science, and a lot of Christians just have their head in the sand. So I suspect most peopel who claim to only believe in things that have physical proof will readily admit to believing in evolution.

Then I'll ask them how strong their belief is in evolution. How sure are they? Let's say, for instance, that they are 90% sure that evolution is true. It might even be higher. Well, if evolution is true, that means the external world exists, right? If there's no external world, then there can't be evolution. So by getting the person to admit that they believe very strongly in evolution, they cannot escape the force of my argument by pretneding to be unsure about the existence of the external world. If they are 90% sure that evolution is true, then they must be at least 90% sure that the external world exists.

Of course, I suppose there's an escape they could use for that, too. They might qualify their statement about evolution and say something like, "Oh, I'm working within the parameters of our 'simulation' on the assumption we're in one. Evolution is 90% certain in our perceived realty. But again, this reality may be illusory." That's the only escape I can see, but I'm going to try it anyway and see what happens.