Another Failure of Empiricism: The Mind is Never “Blank”

BSUnder the assumption of philosophical materialism, many suppose that infants are epistemological “blank-slates,” receiving sensory impressions from the material world every time they open their eyes and cry or soil themselves or shiver when their naked bottoms are exposed during a diaper change. This derivative empiricist epistemology is largely taken for granted, even by Christians, sadly, without them knowing where it comes from. Considering how far the tentacles of materialism stretch in our society, however, it is easy to see why so many take the materialist view of infants for granted. However, the following three considerations demonstrate that the that the mind cannot ever be blank, even if we grant the assumption that the only physical/material things truly exist.

Firstly: If humans are purely physical beings for whom sensory experience is the foundation of all knowledge, and the entirety of human life consists in receiving and processing sensory input (i.e. having sensory experiences), then there is never a point at which any human is an epistemological blank slate. An infant’s inability to articulate his internal life (or thought-life), therefore, is no proof of his mind being a blank slate, even on the materialist’s view. If the infant is a sensing-being, then he is being pre-equipped with the necessary raw data from which concepts are deduced, constructed, analyzed, and so on.

Secondly: It must be noted that the internal mental states of an infant are not observable. Thus, it is simply not possible for the empiricist to have any knowledge of the internal mental states of an infant. The infant’s mind cannot be accessed, in other words; it cannot be identified, therefore, as a blank slate. Given the assumption of materialism, the infant’s mind is is being pre-equipped with the necessary raw data from which concepts are deduced, constructed, analyzed, and so on.

Thirdly: If observation is the only available means of data acquisition for humans, then the belief that the mind is supervenient upon brain states must also be rejected, for supervenience would constitute an unobservable phenomena. Mental states are not material states, by definition; ergo, the claim that mental states are observable is inherently self-contradictory. Furthermore, the claim that mental states are demonstrably supervenient upon brain states is an example of a category confusion, for mental states are, by definition, unobservable and are not, therefore, provable by the same means as are observable phenomena like brain states.

The following argument concisely summarizes the above three consideration.

  1. The foundation of all knowledge is sensory experience.
  2. Sensory experience is always present in humans.
  3. Therefore, the foundation of all knowledge is always present in humans.
  4. Sensory experience always produces raw (i.e. unorganized) conceptual data.
  5. Raw (i.e. unorganized) conceptual data are mind-dependent entities.
  6. Therefore, sensory experiences always produce mind-dependent entities.
  7. Thus, If the mind is always populated with raw conceptual data, then it is never blank.
  8. Granting 1-6, we must conclude that the mind is always populated with raw conceptual data.
  9. Therefore, the mind is never blank.

-h.

A Faithful Friend [A Spurgeon Excerpt]

the spurjmeister[The full sermon can be found here. Thought I’d share these encouraging and comforting words.]

CHRIST IS “A FRIEND THAT STICKETH CLOSER THAN A BROTHER.” And in order to prove this from facts, we appeal to such of you as have had him for a friend. Will you not, each of you, at once give your verdict, that this is neither more nor less than an unexaggerated truth? He loved you before all worlds; long ere the day star flung his ray across the darkness, before the wing of angel had flapped the unnavigated ether, before aught of creation had struggled from the womb of nothingness, God, even our God, had set his heart upon all his children. Since that time, has he once swerved, has he once turned aside, once changed? No; ye who have tasted of his love and know his grace, will bear me witness, that he has been a certain friend in uncertain circumstances.

“He, near your side hath always stood. His loving-kindness. O! how good.”

You fell in Adam; did he cease to love you? No; he became the second Adam to redeem you. You sinned in practice, and brought upon your head the condemnation of God; you deserved his wrath and his utter anger; did he then forsake you? No!

“He saw you ruined in the fall, Yet loved you notwithstanding all.”

He sent his minister after you; you despised him; he preached the gospel in your ears; you laughed at him; you broke God’s Sabbath, you despised his Word. Did he then forsake you? No!

“Determined to save, he watched o’er your path, Whilst, Satan’s blind slave, you sported with death.”

And at last he arrested you by his grace, he humbled you, he made you penitent, he brought you to his feet, and he forgave you all your sins. Since then, has he left you? You have often left him; has he ever left you? You have had many trials and troubles; has he ever deserted you? Has he ever turned away his heart, and shut up his bowels of compassion? No, children of God, it is your solemn duty to say “No,” and bear witness to his faithfulness. You have been in severe afflictions and in dangerous circumstances; did your friend desert you then? Others have been faithless to you; he that eat bread with you has lifted up his heel against you; but has Christ ever forsaken you? Has there ever been a moment when you could go to him, and say, “Master, thou hast betrayed me?” Could you once, in the blackest hour of your grief, dare to impugn his fidelity? Could you dare to say of him, “Lord, thou hast promised what thou didst not perform?” Will you not bear witness now, “Not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord God hath promised; all hath come to pass?” And do you fear he will yet forsake you? Ask, then, the bright ones before the throne—”Ye glorified spirits! did Christ forsake you? Ye have passed through Jordan’s stream; did he leave you there? Ye have been baptized in the black flood of death; did he there forsake you? Ye have stood before the throne of God; did he then deny you?” And they answered, “No; through all the troubles of our life, in all the bitterness of death, in all the agonies of our expiring moments, and in all the terrors of God’s judgment, he hath been with us, ‘a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.'” Out of all the millions of God’s redeemed, there is not one he hath forsaken. Poor they have been, mean and distressed, but he hath never abhorred their prayer, never turned aside from doing them good. He hath been ever with them.

“For his mercy shall endure, Ever faithful, ever sure.”

But I shall not longer stay, since I can not prove this to the ungodly, and to the godly it is already proven, for they know it by experience; therefore it is but little necessary that I should do more than just certify the fact that Christ is a faithful friend—a friend in every hour of need and every time of distress.

-h.

Is the Word of God Impersonal in the OT?

wpid-wp-1433137781246.jpegDenying the Personality of the Word

The assertion that the New Testament does not identify God’s Logos as personal is frequently made by unitarians. A staple belief among unitarians is that the Logos of God was a-personal, but through the influence of Greek philosophical traditions began to be incorrectly identified as a divine personal being. This has been demonstrated to be both exegetically untenable and historically/philosophically wrong (for instance here). There are some unitarians, however, who because of this exegetical and historical/philosophical evidence argue that the a-personality of the Word of God (i.e. the Dabar) is clearly taught in the Old Testament. However, is this true?

Not for the attentive reader of Scripture. Beginning with the book of Genesis, the attentive reader will note that there are instances in which the Word of God is addressed as Yahweh, as the Lord, as God. And God is hardly an a-personal entity. How then can the unitarian assert that God’s Word in the Old Testament is a-personal? Whatever their reasoning is, they are not deriving it from the Scriptures, as the following article aims to demonstrate.

Here are just a few instances of this phenomenon.

The Voice of the Lord

1. In Genesis 3:8, the Holy Spirit says Adam and Eve heard the “sound” of the Lord God walking in the garden. The word for sound is a Hebrew word which is usually translated as voice. This fact is reflected in the King James Version, where the reader is informed of the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. This voice calls out to Adam and his wife, who are hiding, and reveals their sin, judges them, and promises them redemption through the Seed of the Woman.

Contextually, Hebrews 4:12-13 echoes this narrative and states that the “Word of God” is “living and active” and “no creature is hidden from his sight.” That is to say, the Word (here, logos) of God is living and active, judging the wicked and saving the elect, and there is no one hidden from his sight. Note how swiftly the writer moves from “Word” (i.e. Logos) to the personal pronouns “his” and “him.” Note further  that before him, i.e. the Logos of God, “all are naked and exposed,” even as Adam and Eve were when the Voice of God walked through the garden and confronted them with judgment and salvation. Hebrews 4:12-13 seems to be directly alluding to the Garden of Eden in which the Voice of the Lord, the Word of God, walked among the trees and called out in judgment and salvation, revealing hidden sinners and exposing them completely. [For a devotional treatment of the same subject, see this previous post].

2. In Psalm 29, the identification of the Voice of the Lord with Yahweh himself is impossible to deny. Specifically, verses 5-9 identify the Voice of the Lord as Yahweh, via the use of parallelisms. Thus, the Voice of the Lord is said to break the cedars in v.5a, but in v.5b the Lord is said to be the one who breaks the cedars. The personalization of the Voice of the Lord, moreover, is carried over into the next verse where the personal pronoun “he” refers back to the Lord, i.e. the Voice of the Lord in v.5a. Likewise, vv.7-8 transition from “the Voice of the Lord” in vv.7-8a to “the Lord” in v.8b. The climax of this worship of the Voice of God can be seen in v.9 where the transition is the smoothest. Psalm 29:9 states that: “the Voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” Note that the transition from “the Voice of the Lord” to “the Lord” is even more explicit. Here the writer says that the temple is the temple of the Voice of the Lord. Do a-personal utterances have temples?

The Word of the Lord

1. Throughout the Old Testament, in addition to the Voice of the Lord propositions identifying that Voice as Yahweh himself, there are also verse which clearly identify the Word of the Lord as Yahweh himself. The first appearance of the phrase, for instance, is in Genesis 15, where “the Word of the Lord” comes to Abraham in a vision, and Abraham responds with these words: “O Lord God…” (Gen 15:1-2) Lest any confusion occur, the Scriptures go on to say that “the Word of the Lord” came to Abram and “brought him outside” (vv.4-6). Throughout this passage, the Word of the Lord is identified specifically as Yahweh and he/him/his.

2. Similarly, in Jeremiah 1 we are told that “the Word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] and said…” (v.4). Jeremiah’s response is clear: “Ah, Lord God! . . .” (v.6) The prophet clearly identifies the Word as the Lord himself, and this is made evident by the following verse, where we read: “But the Lord said to me…” (v.7) Note the transition from “the Word of the Lord” to “the Lord,” a transition which we have already noted in Ps 29. The identification of the Word of the Lord as Yahweh-in-person, i.e. as a Christophany, is made even clearer when we read that “…the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me…” (v.9a)

This Word of the Lord is not a-personal, or even intangible. Rather, the Word is the Lord and he stretches out his hand and touches the mouth of his prophet, Jeremiah.

Concluding Remarks

The Word of the Lord, although primarily a technical formula introducing a prophet’s message as legitimately obtained directly from God, at times designate the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord God himself: the Logos of John 1. It is simply not the case that the Word of the Lord is a-personal in the Old Testament.

-h.

Current Readings in Christology & Philosophy

glarserzHere are some of the works on Christology and other subjects  that I’ve been reading lately.

Books

1. Oliver D. Crisp. God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology.

2. Gordon H. Clark. The Incarnation, .

3.Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes.

4. Athanaius of Alexandria. Four Discourses Against the Arians.

Scholarly Articles

1. Nigel M. de S. Cameron. “Incarnation and Inscripturation: The Christological Analogy in the Light of Recent Discussions,” in The Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 3.2 (1985), 35-46.

2. Kenneth Kantzer. “The Christology of Karl Barth,” in Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 1.2 (Spring, 1958), 25-28.

3. Donald MacLeod. “The Doctrine of the Incarnation in Scottish Theology: Edward Irving,” in The Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 9.1 (Spring 1991), 40-50.

4. P.J. Baldwin. “The Human Nature of Christ,” in The Evangelical Quarterly 36.2 (April-June 1964), 68-77.

Till next time.

Soli Deo Gloria.

-h.