A Response to Vincent Cheung
(Aquascum, aquascumSPAMMENOT at gmail dot com)
[For a brief overview of the specific conclusions of this essay, please glance at the Conclusion at the very end.]
Table of Contents:
(1) Cheung’s affirmation of Scripturalism
1.1 Can SGP be reconciled with SS2?
1.2 Can SGP be reconciled with SEP?
1.3 Can SGP be reconciled with SGP?
1.4 Concluding remarks on Cheung’s affirmation of Scripturalism
(2) Cheung’s rejection of the authority of intuition and induction
2.1 Cheung’s “biblical epistemologies”
2.2 Should Cheung’s “biblical epistemology” lead him to reject intuition and induction in principle?
2.3 How does Cheung affirm intuition and induction in practice?
2.4 The significance of Cheung’s “biblical epistemology”
(3) Cheung’s affirmation of internalism and infallibilism
3.1 The authority of intuition and induction ruled out for everyone, via infallibilism
3.2 The authority of intuition and induction ruled out for unbelievers, via internalism
(4) Cheung’s affirmation of an occasionalist, divine illumination psychology of belief
4.1 What does Cheung mean by ‘occasionalism’?
4.2 Is occasionalism adequately grounded?
4.3 Is occasionalism in tension with Scripturalism?
4.4 Is occasionalism in tension with infallibilism?
4.5 Is occasionalism in tension with internalism?
Judging from the pdf and html documents he has published at his blog (<http://www.vincentcheung.com>), Vincent Cheung appears to be a Reformed, evangelical Christian committed to applying the authority of the Scriptures to all of life, and to the task of apologetics in particular. As such, I welcome him as a brother in Christ, and I rejoice in the commonality of our faith, since I am committed to the same things. However, a fair bit of Cheung’s posted work strikes me as disturbing, both in content and in style. I am dismayed when I consider that young or otherwise impressionable Christians, mistaking Cheung’s boldness for soundness, might be tempted to imitate his style, and disseminate his arguments as sturdy apologetic fare.
In this essay I limit myself to four themes in Cheung’s published work: (1) his affirmation of Scripturalism, (2) his consequent rejection of the authority of intuition and induction, (3) his affirmation of infallibilism and internalism, and (4) his affirmation of an occasionalist, divine illumination psychology of belief. I think both (1) and (2) spell disaster when it comes to presenting a cogent apologetic for the Christian faith, while (3) and (4) are simply inconsistent with (1) and (2). In addition, Cheung appears to appeal to (3) as a means of grounding (2), an appeal which I will argue is misguided. In short, the apologetic approach Cheung commends and exemplifies in his written work is frankly incoherent, ought to have little plausibility for most Christians, and in practice would spell disaster if deployed against any reasonably reflective unbeliever in dialogue.
Cheung would of course disagree with the above assessment. Indeed, he holds a very high opinion of his own work. Among other things, Cheung claims, with respect to his “theological position on sensation”:
Here I will just refer all of you to the recommended readings listed on the blog entry in question (and listed again below) as my response to ALL criticisms that you can find ANYWHERE written by ANYONE on this subject. I have confidence in my products — they are accurate and irrefutable.
Cheung follows this up by claiming that “Subjectively, the deck is stacked against me; objectively, there is nothing against me” (cf. <http://www.vincentcheung.com/2005/06/22/but-where-is-the-refutation/> for all of these quotes). So apparently, Cheung already knows ahead of time that all criticisms written anywhere by anyone have already been responded to, that his arguments are irrefutable, and that there is nothing in existence against his arguments. Given this attitude, I suppose it would be foolish of me to think that my arguments below would be given thoughtful consideration by Cheung. But that’s OK. Although I do have faith that God can use my arguments to convince even Cheung of his own fallibility, he is not my main target. My primary concern is for those who read Cheung on Christian apologetics and somehow think his proposed method is a coherent one, worthy of imitation, and impervious to cogent rebuttal. It is not any of these, and to the argument for this I now turn.
(1) Cheung’s affirmation of Scripturalism
In his “Ultimate Questions” (<http://www.rmiweb.org/books/ultimate2004.pdf>), Cheung gives a classic statement of a “Scripturalist” epistemology:
Scripture is the first principle of the Christian worldview, so that true knowledge consists of only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture; all other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best. This biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics. Any other epistemology is indefensible, and unavoidably collapses into self-contradictory skepticism. (p. 43; cf. “Systematic Theology,” p. 18 para. 4, p. 22 para. 5, p. 41 fn. 42)
There are a number of claims here. The first two have to do with the scope of our knowledge. Essentially, all knowledge falls into one of two categories, and there is no knowledge outside of these categories. The only knowable propositions are specified for us as follows:
[SS1] Propositions “directly stated in Scripture.” (Let’s call this Scripturalist Source 1, or SS1.)
[SS2] Propositions “validly deducible from Scripture.” (Let’s call this Scripturalist Source 2, or SS2.)
With respect to “all other propositions,” well, they “amount to unjustified opinion at best.” So we get:
[SEP] Propositions not in categories SS1 or SS2 “amount to unjustified opinion at best.” (Let’s call this the Scripturalist Exclusion Principle, or SEP.)
Cheung claims that his Scripturalism is a consequence of good Christian theology about the nature of God, and the relation of God to his world. So we get:
[SGP] “Biblical epistemology,” otherwise known as SS1, SS2, and SEP taken together, “necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics.” (Let’s call this the Scripturalist Grounding Principle, or SGP.)
With respect to SGP, what Cheung is claiming is that SS1, SS2, and SEP satisfy their own epistemological constraints, that is, the very definition of knowledge which they propose. For (on Cheung’s view) SS1, SS2, and SEP are themselves either directly stated in Scripture or validly deducible from Scripture. In particular, they are deducible from Scriptural statements having to do with metaphysics (broadly speaking). SGP says that Scripturalism is itself grounded in Scripture. It does not propose a standard for knowledge and then flagrantly violate that standard in the very proposing of it. To put Cheung’s claim in a modern context, while Alvin Plantinga would claim that classical foundationalism is self-referentially incoherent (because it does not pass its own prescriptions for a rational noetic structure), Cheung would claim that Scripturalism is self-referentially coherent. Yet another way to put it is to say that Scripturalism does not violate SEP; it does not propose a definition of knowledge that is ruled out by itself.
So much for exposition; what about critique? Well, by themselves, I have no great disagreement with either SS1 or SS2. It seems to me clear that the propositions of Scripture and those validly deducible from Scripture are knowable, and indeed must be acknowledged as such by any faithful Christian. Of course, the propositions specified in SS1 and SS2 are not knowledge per se, for propositions are not knowledge; knowledge requires belief. I take it, though, that God knows all the propositions referred to in SS1 and SS2, that all Christians know at least some of the propositions referred to in SS1 and SS2, and that all of the propositions referred to in SS1 and SS2 are knowable by human beings (well, at least those propositions graspable by a finite mind). This much is not in dispute between Cheung and myself, I think.
Rather, my disagreement rests with Cheung’s (implicit) affirmation of SEP and SGP in the paragraph cited above. Each of these claims seems extraordinarily implausible to me. Let’s look at them, and at their relation both to each other and to other things Cheung wishes to affirm.
1.1 Can SGP be reconciled with SS2?
According to SGP, at the very least something like SS1 is either a proposition of Scripture or is validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. That is, according to SGP, it is an explicit or (logically) implicit teaching of Scripture that all the propositions of Scripture either are or can be knowledge. Let’s grant this, for the sake of argument, and assume it in what follows.
Unfortunately, according to SGP something like SS2 is also either a proposition of Scripture or is validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. After all, “biblical metaphysics” is either some propositions in Scripture or something validly deducible from propositions of Scripture, and what SGP says is that SS2 follows from that. But I haven’t the foggiest idea how someone would argue for this, by which I mean (given Cheung’s standards), find SS2 explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. As far as I can tell, the Scriptures never define for us “valid deduction,” or explain what would constitute such a deduction, much less make any claims about all propositions that are validly deducible from Scripture (such as, say, that they are knowable, or known, or something like that). To be sure, Scripture uses a variety of inferential words, particles, and grammatical constructions throughout its pages (so, in the Greek NT, we have ‘gar,’ ‘oun,’ and so on). Certainly a concept of inference – of something following from something else – is employed in Scripture. But that’s not what SS2 claims. What SS2 claims is that all propositions validly deducible from the propositions of Scripture constitute knowledge (presumably, for the people who believe them). And that claim is neither “a proposition of Scripture” nor “validly deducible” from the propositions of Scripture. So it looks like, right off the bat, Scripturalism is self-referentially incoherent. Because SS2 is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture, one important part of the claim of SGP flagrantly violates the standards Scripturalism sets for knowledge.
Of course, Cheung is free to maintain that, as a matter of fact, SS2 is a proposition of Scripture or is validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. But in order for that claim to remain plausible in light of the foregoing argumentation, I think he’s going to need to produce such a case, and not just make vague claims about what follows from “biblical metaphysics”. If he thinks it follows, let’s see the relevant syllogism. After all, this is what Cheung regularly requires of his unbelieving detractors when it comes to their epistemology.
Now, I think someone could make a fairly good inductive case from Scripture for the truth of SS2. That is, we could infer from the scattered practice of the Biblical authors that, since over and over again they commend to our belief that which is inferred from Scripture, that most likely (on the basis of these scattered instances) just any proposition inferred from Scripture is to be believed (and if believed, constitutes knowledge on our part). But even this falls short of Cheung’s espoused epistemological standards, and that in three ways.
First, Cheung rejects induction entirely, as a form of inference that actually preserves knowledge. As he puts it on p. 20 and p. 40 of “Ultimate Questions,” “induction is always a formal fallacy,” and again on p. 19, “a first principle cannot be based on induction, in which the premises do not inevitably lead to the conclusion, such as reasoning from particulars to universals.” As can be seen from SS2 itself, Scripturalism enshrines valid deduction as the sole form of inference by which knowledge can be extended from the express propositions of Scripture. And making an inductive case for valid deduction as our sole form of inference would be rather pointless, for obvious reasons: if the conclusion were true, it would rule out the method of argument in its favor.
Second, precious few of the inferences employed by the Biblical authors are validly deductive inferences anyway, and so their presence in Scripture does not warrant – even inductively – the practice of valid deduction. Precious few of the employments of ‘gar’ by the apostle Paul (for example) exhibit for us an inference that is strictly deductively valid, such that if the premise(s) were true then the conclusion could not be false. This is to be expected, for the biblical authors rarely if at all explicitly present or even imply formal syllogistic reasoning. Something else is usually going on in these passages where inference is employed, something rather more permissive than valid deduction alone. So the idea that there could be even a good inductive case from the Scriptures for something like SS2 looks hopeless. (Of course, Cheung claims that “the Scripture itself explicitly uses syllogistic thinking in many places”; cf. “Apologetics in Conversation, p. 19. But I doubt he can actually provide any examples.)
Third, even if Cheung were to leave induction behind and try to make a deductive case for SS2 from the Scriptures, this would in an important way exhibit epistemic circularity, which is an epistemic sin Cheung often points out in his unbelieving detractors (especially with respect to their empiricism). In order to make the case that SS2 is validly deducible from the Scriptures, one would have to employ valid deduction. But the employment of valid deduction is precisely what we need a justification for, since it is only a Scripturalist epistemology that (on Cheung’s view) licenses for us the practice of valid deduction from the Scriptures as a way of obtaining knowledge, and the question as to whether Scripturalism is self-referentially coherent, and therefore a usable epistemology, is precisely what is on the table. To put it another way, the only right Cheung has to use valid deduction as a form of knowledge-extending inference (such as, say, in making a case for SS2 from the Scriptures), is a right that is licensed by the truth of Scripturalism, and by SS2 in particular. But Cheung only has the right to appeal to SS2 as a piece of knowledge on his part, if he has validly derived SS2 from the Scriptures. But this presupposes he has the right to use valid deduction as a form of knowledge-extending inference, and thus this whole way of proceeding is epistemically circular. We can only show that we can use deduction to extend our knowledge, if we use deduction to extend our knowledge. That is, we can only justify SS2 on Scripturalist grounds, by assuming SS2. Cheung is in the same epistemological boat with everyone else, and Scripturalism is of no help. (This ad hominem point presupposes internalist constraints on rational epistemic practice, of course, but that is precisely what Cheung is committed to, as I hope to show below. So the ad hominem point is one that is relevant for Cheung.)
I suppose that Cheung could leave both induction and deduction behind and just say that something like SS2 is known by intuition. After all, it strikes most of us as self-evident that if we know the kind of propositions referred to in SS1, then we can also know the kind of propositions referred to in SS2, for surely valid deduction is a knowledge-preserving form of inference. The problem, of course, is that Cheung can’t appeal to the intuition enshrined in the final clause of the last sentence, because Cheung officially rejects reliance on intuition in constructing an epistemology, and any consistent Scripturalist must follow him in this rejection. (I say ‘officially’ rejects because, as a matter of fact, Cheung relies on intuition again and again in his various arguments. This is something to be brought out in section (2).)
The upshot, I think, is that there is no Scriptural, inductive, deductive, or intuitive case to be made for SS2, or for SGP’s claim about SS2; at least, no case that is consistent with Scripturalism itself.
1.2 Can SGP be reconciled with SEP?
Things are worse than this, however. SGP doesn’t just make a claim about SS2 (namely, that SS2 is either a proposition of Scripture or is validly deducible from propositions of Scripture). In addition, SGP makes a claim about SEP (as it does about all of the claims which together constitute Scripturalism). What SGP says, in part, is that SEP necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics. In short, the notion that any proposition which is neither contained in Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture is “unjustified opinion at best” (and therefore not knowledge or knowable), is a notion that SGP claims is either a proposition of Scripture or validly deducible from Scripture. That is, the idea that all propositions not contained in or implied by Scripture cannot constitute knowledge, is itself either contained in or implied by Scripture (where ‘implied by’ means validly deducible, of course).
At this point, I can simply rehearse all the above comments about SS2, and apply them mutatis mutandis to SEP. SEP isn’t a proposition of Scripture. SEP isn’t validly deducible from Scripture. And, in any event, neither an inductive nor a deductive nor an intuitive case for SEP from the Scriptures is available to Cheung, for the reasons given. Of course, Cheung is free to dispute any of this, but if so, what we need is an argument for why SEP has the status that SGP says it has. Otherwise, we have yet another reason to reject Scripturalism as self-referentially incoherent. It cannot pass its own tests for knowledge. If we try to find SEP in Scripture or validly deduce SEP from Scripture and we cannot do so, then by Scripturalism’s own lights we ought to reject SEP and therefore Scripturalism itself (since SEP is part of Scripturalism). If I am mistaken here, let Cheung enlighten us by showing us how this can be done.
There is, however, an additional consideration that can be brought to bear at this point. Unlike SS2, SEP is subject to direct Scriptural refutation. While I can think of no Scriptures that imply the falsity of SS2, I can think of Scriptures that imply the falsity of SEP. And if that’s the case, then it looks like the quickest case against Scripturalism is that which can be mounted from the Scriptures themselves.
In short, Scripture itself refutes the notion that knowledge for human beings only comes from validly deducing a proposition from biblical revelation. For instance:
Mt 24:32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” It seems evident that the individuals Jesus is addressing get their ginwskw of the seasons by way of observing the trees, not by way of reading their Bibles. In “Presuppositional Confrontations,” Cheung says, “The Bible includes infallible testimonies about what some people have perceived by the senses, and it is biblical infallibility that we respect” (p. 70). Well, yes. But we only “respect” biblical infallibility when we believe what the infallible Bible is claiming, and what is being claimed here is that at least some knowledge is of propositions not contained in Scripture or validly deducible from Scripture. (Notice that Cheung’s appeal to occasionalism won’t do as a defense of the defects of Scripturalism at this point, since such occasionalism is a departure from Scripturalism, involving as it does divine illumination unto belief in a proposition neither contained in nor validly deducible from Scripture. More on this, later.)
Ac 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.” Again, even though Peter’s hearers were unbelievers, in his sermon Peter appeals to their previous knowledge of historical events. His hearers did not validly deduce these events from biblical propositions, but rather inferred them from their observation of history and/or testimony from those who did observe the history in question. (Cf. also Paul's reference to Agrippa’s knowledge of recent history, in Ac 26:26).
At this point, Cheung may point out that, as a matter of fact, the propositions referred to in these texts are in Scripture, by virtue of being recorded in these texts, and that therefore these texts cannot possibly be a refutation of Scripturalism. But that would be to miss the point. What these texts are claiming is that these individuals had knowledge of propositions quite apart from finding them or validly deducing them from the propositions of Scripture, since the Scripture in question had not so much as been written yet. The fact that the propositions in question are in the texts is, as it were, incidental to the main claim being made from these texts, and not destructive of it. To refuse to reckon with the fact that God himself declares that these individuals had knowledge apart from the Scripturalist way, would be fatuous.
(There is also the delicate matter of whether the propositions said to be known in Mt 24:32 are actually contained in Mt 24:32! After all, Jesus is speaking of a general truth, namely, that his hearers “know that summer is near” whenever the fig tree appears a certain way. Presumably, then, which proposition the words “summer is near” expresses depends upon its circumstances of utterance, in particular, the temporal relation of the speaker or thinker to a particular time of year, such that the reference of “is near” is fixed. And surely those propositions (which are the ones Jesus said they knew), are not “validly deducible” from this text of Scripture, lacking as it does the relevant circumstances of utterance year after year and case after case, which alone can pick out the particular propositions they knew. But I digress.)
Of course, there is no need to appeal to these Scriptures, and make a positive case against SEP, in order to bring out the deficiencies of Scripturalism. The main point at this juncture is to note that SEP is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture, and no case can be made for SEP that is consistent with the epistemological constraints imposed by Scripturalism itself. In short, not only is SGP’s claim about SS2 just false, so is its claim about SEP. This means, then, that SGP is false twice over. All of this holds, even if we can’t make a case against SEP from the Scriptures themselves.
1.3 Can SGP be reconciled with SGP?
It might seem odd to ask if SGP can be reconciled with SGP, but since I’ve repeatedly broached the issue of self-referential incoherence, my point should be a familiar one. SGP makes a claim about the status of several propositions, namely, that SS1, SS2, and SEP are together either propositions of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. But surely SGP itself is part of a “biblical epistemology” in Cheung’s estimation, indeed perhaps the most important part, for it claims that Scripturalism is constituted by or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. If there is anything that Cheung commends to our belief, as a piece of knowledge worthy of having (especially in an apologetic context), it is SGP. So then we may ask: does Scripture claim what SGP claims? Or, failing this, does Scripture deductively imply what SGP claims? It seems to me that the notion that Scripture even remotely addresses, much less sanctions, such a complex meta-epistemological principle as SGP, is preposterous. But again, I do not want to be hasty in judging the case. The challenge is for Cheung to make his case from Scripture. In short, where does Scripture teach or imply that “biblical epistemology” (as Cheung construes it, that is, Scripturalism) follows from “biblical metaphysics” (as Cheung construes it)? Lacking any express statement of this in Scripture, what is the valid deduction from one to the other? Is Cheung prepared to give us the syllogism?
Well, Cheung does make something of an attempt. In the opening paragraph of his section on “Epistemology” in “Ultimate Questions,” he has this to say:
This view of metaphysics produces a necessary implication for epistemology. If God alone controls and facilitates all operations in the universe, it necessarily follows that he alone controls and facilitates all operations relating to thought and knowledge. If the continual existence and operation of the universe depend on God, and man is not autonomous or independent in this respect, then all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God (since these are only specific items within the broader category), and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area. (pp. 37-38)
What’s interesting about this argument is that it sets up an irresolvable conflict between two building blocks of Cheung’s apologetic, namely, his Scripturalism and his occasionalism, for if one is true, then the other must be false. I’ll address this topic at some length below. Suffice it to say that the above argument in no way establishes SGP or Scripturalism, not even in part. Remember, the claim of SGP is that “biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics.” The above is Cheung’s best shot, as far as I can tell, at making good on this claim. Given the above, the relevant piece of “biblical metaphysics” is presumably the claim that “the continual existence and operation of the universe depend on God, and man is not autonomous and independent in this respect.” Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that this is a proposition validly deducible from Scripture (as a matter of fact, I think its Scriptural defense is inductive at best, but let that pass). Also given the above, the relevant piece of “biblical epistemology” is that “all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God, and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area.” Again, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that this is a proposition validly deducible from Cheung’s “biblical metaphysics.”
The problem here is plain enough: the “biblical epistemology” here isn’t Scripturalism at all, or even a part of Scripturalism. Rather, it simply lays the foundation for something like Cheung’s occasionalism, that is, his divine illumination psychology of belief (to be examined later). As far as I can tell, nothing like SS1, or SS2, or SEP, follows (much less necessarily follows) from the fairly vague notion that “the continual existence and operation of the universe depend on God, and man is not autonomous and independent in this respect.” For one thing, the former makes express reference to Scripture (and restricts knowledge to that), whereas the latter does not. How indeed does one get from one to the other? I have no idea. So when Cheung claims (as he does claim on p. 43 of “Ultimate Questions”) that the equivalent of SS1 and SS2 and SEP necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics, he simply fails to make good on this claim. It’s almost as if he thought a few gestures in the direction of occasionalism would do the trick. It doesn’t. So this attempt to derive SGP from Scripture is a spectacular failure.
1.4 Concluding remarks on Cheung’s affirmation of Scripturalism
So, to summarize, it looks like Scripture neither teaches nor implies SS2. Scripture neither teaches nor implies SEP (and indeed, it seems to imply, in some significant sense, the opposite). And Scripture neither teaches nor implies that it teaches or implies SS1, SS2, and SEP. That is, Scripture neither teaches nor implies SGP. In short, Scripturalism cannot be derived by Scripturalist standards from Scripture, and thus any Scripturalist should reject Scripturalism.
I think the upshot is that, whether or not Cheung is correct that the various unbelievers he debates have an “indefensible epistemology” that “unavoidably collapses into self-contradictory skepticism,” it is evident that Cheung’s proposed alternative epistemology is self-referentially incoherent. And if self-referential incoherence in one’s epistemology suffices for skepticism, it looks like Cheung is ultimately in the same epistemological mess that he regularly pins on his interlocutors. Of course, if self-referential incoherence doesn’t suffice for skepticism, then Cheung has lost a major strategic move in his apologetic against unbelievers. The choice is his, I guess, as to what to give up: either his Scripturalism, or his apologetic tactic of inferring skepticism from incoherence, or both. At the very least, a Christian apologist should put his own house in order before pointing fingers at the messy intellectual quarters some unbelievers are living in. As it stands, Scripturalism is incoherent at best, unscriptural at worst. I’ve given arguments for both conclusions.
The apologetic implications are severe, at least for Cheung. In “Ultimate Questions” (p. 7) he writes:
If non-Christian systems of thought cannot provide a foundation for knowledge – if they cannot know anything – then they cannot even begin or produce any content. If they cannot begin or have any content, then they can pose no challenge to Christianity. Without an adequate and defensible – and even infallible – epistemology, it remains that no intelligible proposition can be uttered on the basis of non-Christian worldviews, let alone objections against the Christian faith.
But surely this reasoning is perfectly general. So let’s hold Cheung to his own espoused standards. What follows if Cheung’s Scripturalism cannot provide a foundation for knowledge, because it is self-referentially incoherent? Well, to paraphrase Cheung, if Christian systems of thought cannot provide a foundation for knowledge – if they cannot know anything – then they cannot even begin or produce any content. If they cannot begin or have any content, then they can pose no challenge to non-Christian thought. Without an adequate and defensible epistemology, it remains that no intelligible proposition can be uttered on the basis of the Christian worldview, let alone objections to non-Christian faiths.
Or again, in “Ultimate Questions,” (p. 18), Cheung writes:
Every worldview has a starting point or first principle from which the rest of the system is derived. Some people claim that a worldview can be a web of mutually dependent propositions without a first principle. However, this is impossible, because such a conception of a worldview in itself requires an epistemological justification in the first place, which would probably be its starting point. If this starting point lacks justification, then every proposition in the web lacks justification. The claim that they depend on one another would not help at all, but it only means that all of them would fall together.
What I have been maintaining is that Cheung’s “first principle,” namely, his Scripturalism, “lacks justification.” And what Cheung concludes about non-Christian worldviews because of this – that “every proposition in the web lacks justification” – he ought to conclude about his own. And so, in a way, by Cheung’s own standards, what he has offered the unbeliever is not a defense of Christianity, but a refutation of it.
Those familiar with Cheung’s works will recognize that, in this section on Scripturalism, all I have done is apply to Cheung the reasoning he applies to others. What could be objectionable about that? As Cheung himself puts it, in his critique of empiricism on p. 18 of “Ultimate Questions”:
Therefore, it remains that every worldview requires a first principle or ultimate authority. Being first or ultimate, such a principle cannot be justified by any prior or greater authority; otherwise, it would not be the first or ultimate. This means that the first principle must possess the content to justify itself. For example, the proposition, "All knowledge comes from sense experience," fails to be a first principle on which a worldview can be constructed. This is because if all knowledge comes from sense experience, then this proposed first principle must also be known only by sense experience, but before justifying the principle, the reliability of sense experience has not yet been established. Thus the principle generates a vicious circle and self-destructs. It does not matter what can be validly deduced from such a principle – if the system cannot even begin, what follows from the principle is without justification.
By reasoning parallel to this, I have argued that Cheung’s first principle lacks “the content to justify itself.” Scripture is a flimsy means of adequately basing Scripturalism.
In closing out this section, let me stress that Cheung often says things about knowledge that are correct and are worthy of all acceptation. So, for instance, I agree with him when he says that “all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God… and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area” (“Ultimate Questions,” pp. 37-38). It just seems to me obvious that nothing like Scripturalism follows from this. Ditto for when he says, in the same essay, that “our knowledge consists of what he [i.e., God] wills to reveal” (p. 7). This seems quite right, and affirms the fundamental dependence of our knowledge upon divine providence, in particular upon God’s activity of revelation. The problem is that Scripturalism proposes far too strict a conception of what God has revealed, and/or the ways he has revealed it, reducing knowledge to that which is contained in or strictly deducible from special revelation. I can’t think of a single reason to restrict knowledge in this way, and plenty of reasons to oppose such a restriction (some of them, as shown above, being Scriptural reasons). I think, for instance, that we have and can obtain knowledge by way of intuition and induction, when by these faculties we reflect upon (or even because these faculties constitute) God’s general revelation of himself in nature. And so the possible scope of our knowledge is much broader than Cheung supposes. Cheung would vigorously disagree that these are indeed modes of genuine knowledge, and to that rejection I now turn.
(2) Cheung’s rejection of the authority of intuition and induction
Throughout his essay “Arguing By Intuition,” (<http://www.rmiweb.org/other/intuition.pdf>, Cheung is quite vigorous in his denunciation of intuition as a source of knowledge. And throughout “Ultimate Questions,” Cheung argues that “induction is always a formal fallacy” (p. 20, 40; cf. p. 19; “Systematic Theology,” p. 38 para. 3 and fn. 29), and that it cannot be a source of knowledge. What I want to consider in these next two sections are Cheung’s possible reasons for thinking this, and whether these are good reasons. I also want to consider whether he embraces in practice what he disavows in principle.
2.1 Cheung’s “biblical epistemologies”
Recall that Cheung has essentially equivocated on his definition of a “biblical epistemology”. We can see this quite readily:
[BE1] “This view of metaphysics produces a necessary implication for epistemology. If God alone controls and facilitates all operations in the universe, it necessarily follows that he alone controls and facilitates all operations relating to thought and knowledge. If the continual existence and operation of the universe depend on God, and man is not autonomous or independent in this respect, then all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God (since these are only specific items within the broader category), and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area… The mind of man is then just one aspect of God's total control over the universe; therefore, God also sovereignly controls all aspects of human knowledge. Christian epistemology is consistent with and necessarily follows from Christian metaphysics” (pp. 37-38).
[BE2] “Scripture is the first principle of the Christian worldview, so that true knowledge consists of only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture; all other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best. This biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics” (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 43).
Notice that the first definition of “biblical epistemology” (or, as Cheung puts it there, a “Christian epistemology”) is a fairly general statement of God’s sovereignty over the knowing process (saying nothing about what knowledge consists in), whereas the second definition of “biblical epistemology” is a fairly precise statement of Scripturalism (defining for us what knowledge consists in). Clearly, these definitions are not equivalent. Just as clearly, while something as general as BE1 might be derivable from “biblical metaphysics” (God’s sovereignty in general), BE2 is not, nor is it validly deducible from BE1. In fact, as we have seen from the previous section, Cheung doesn’t provide us much of a reason to accept BE2 at all. In fact, since BE2 is self-referentially incoherent, we have good reason to reject BE2.
2.2 Should Cheung’s “biblical epistemology” lead him to reject intuition and induction in principle?
What I want to consider in this section is Cheung’s rejection of intuition, induction, and other ‘non-Scriptural’ sources of belief as sources of knowledge. We’ve already seen that something like BE2 (i.e., Scripturalism) is utterly hopeless as a reason to rule out non-Scriptural sources of knowledge. Surely a self-referentially incoherent definition of knowledge has no authority to tell us where we can and cannot get our knowledge. But what about BE1? This strikes me as a reasonable constraint upon knowledge (insofar as it is a constraint), and something that ought to be perfectly acceptable for any Christian, at least those who are well taught about the sovereignty of God. The question is whether BE1 should lead us to believe that non-Scriptural sources of belief do not give us knowledge as well.
I think it’s fairly clear that BE1 implies nothing of the sort. Consider the ongoing activity of human beings (whether Christian or non-Christian) relying upon such processes of belief-formation as memory, testimony, a priori intuition, and a posteriori induction, as sources of knowledge. Why can’t this activity be eminently compatible with something like BE1? Just for the sake of argument, let’s say (with Alvin Plantinga) that what turns true belief into knowledge is “warrant,” and that warrant in turn depends upon the proper functioning of our cognitive faculties, where we ‘properly function’ when we function as we were designed to function. If indeed we were designed to form beliefs (or, better, have beliefs) when we use memory, encounter testimony, reflect upon our a priori intuitions, make a posteriori inductions, and so on, then when we engage in these activities while cognitively functioning in a proper manner, our beliefs are warranted, and if true, constitute knowledge. (This is a simplified statement of Plantinga’s account.)
It seems to me that that account is quite compatible with the notion that “all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God… and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area” (i.e., Cheung’s “biblical epistemology” construed as BE1). It could even be the case that, when we engage in any of these activities, on the “occasion” of that engagement God directly produces various true beliefs in us (as the divine illumination theory has it), whereas if we are cognitively malfunctioning God does not produce (or tend to produce) such true beliefs in us. What follows from this is that we can get knowledge from the various sources which Cheung explicitly rejects as sources, despite the fact that we’ve posited the truth of Cheung’s “biblical epistemology” (i.e., BE1). Again, I’m not saying that Plantinga’s epistemology is true, just that it is compatible with the thought that all of our knowledge depends upon the sovereign activity and control of God. In other words, BE1 does not, by itself, rule out intuition, induction, and so on, as sources of knowledge.
The fact of the matter is that it is quite strange to say that since God is sovereign over the knowing process that therefore all knowledge must be of propositions of Scripture or of valid deduction from propositions of Scripture. If God is truly sovereign, then presumably he could grant us knowledge of propositions not contained in Scripture, and by means which do not involve reflection upon Scripture. Is there really anything in BE1 that rules this out? If Cheung has an argument on this score, I haven’t seen it.
So the upshot is simply this: although BE2 isn’t entailed by BE1, a broader view of knowledge is quite compatible with BE1. It is a non sequitur to suppose that if God is sovereign over the knowing process, that therefore we cannot rely upon intuition, induction, memory, and testimony as sources of knowledge, in addition to Scripture. Yes, they would be sources only because God has designed us in a certain way, or operates on us in a certain way, but they are sources nevertheless. At the very least, the practice of forming our beliefs by way of these activities can be construed as reliable, and perfectly proper, given God’s design of and control over our lives.
2.3 How does Cheung affirm intuition and induction in practice?
At some level, Cheung already believes this. To be sure, consistent with his profession of Scripturalism, Cheung regards Christianity as a “deductive system.” To wit:
Christianity is the only deductive system with a self-consistent and self-justifying first principle that has been infallibly revealed by an all-powerful and all-knowing God, and that is broad enough to yield a sufficient number of propositions to construct a comprehensive and self-consistent worldview. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 21; cf. “Systematic Theology,” p. 8 para. 3 and p. 39 para. 3)
But when it comes right down to it, Cheung again and again affirms propositions that are neither propositions of Scripture nor validly deducible from Scripture. Indeed, again and again Cheung appears to employ intuition and induction as a means of knowledge. In practice, Christianity is not a “deductive system” at all. Before closing this section, I want to consider five examples of this phenomenon (out of scores of possible candidates).
First, here’s an example of an assertion that is definitely not validly deduced from propositions of Scripture:
In any case, the Scripture teaches that man is born with an innate knowledge of God, so that apart from any experience, man knows something about God and something about the moral code that God has imposed upon all of humanity. This knowledge is specific and detailed enough to contradict and exclude all non-Christian systems of thought, and to demand the adoption of the complete Christian revelation. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 16; cf. p. 11, 14)
Clearly, this will not do. From the fact that man innately “knows something about God and something about the moral code that God has imposed upon all of humanity,” it is not validly deducible that “This knowledge is specific and detailed enough to contradict and exclude all non-Christian systems of thought, and to demand the adoption of the complete Christian revelation.” The very idea is absurd. Man’s innate knowledge of God contradicts and excludes all non-Christian systems of thought? This innate knowledge demands the adoption of the complete Christian revelation? Where does the Bible ever teach or imply this? Certainly not Ro 1:19-23 or 2:14-15! These texts may teach innate knowledge, but they certainly do not imply what Cheung says they imply. At the very least, to have a grasp of what “all non-Christian systems of thought” have in common requires induction from particulars, unless Cheung wants to say that this (fairly massive amount of) information is somehow contained in or validly deducible from the propositions of Scripture.
Second, here are some examples of propositions claimed to be known by Cheung, none of which are propositions of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture:
It is also impossible to begin a worldview with a self-contradictory first principle. This is because contradictions are unintelligible and meaningless. The law of contradiction states that "A is not non-A," or that something cannot be true and not true at the same time and in the same sense. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 18)
Consider in particular Cheung’s statement of “the law of contradiction.” Is this law, in its perfectly general form, found anywhere in Scripture? And how, exactly, would one validly deduce it from Scripture, when of course any “valid deduction” would presuppose the law in question? After all, whether or not an inference is deductively valid depends upon whether the premises could be true and the conclusion false, but this in turn depends upon a more general conception of what could and could not be true, and informing at least part of that general conception is the notion that contradictions could not be true. There is, of course, one key way we can come to know this law, and it’s not by ‘deducing’ it from Scripture in a superfluous, because epistemically circular, manner. That way is intuition, but unfortunately that is a source of knowledge which Cheung roundly rejects.
(Ditto, BTW, for Cheung’s claim that it is “impossible to begin a worldview with a self-contradictory first principle.” Does Scripture ever state this? Does Scripture ever deductively imply this? How could it, when Scripture has nary a word about ‘worldviews’ to begin with, much less talk about “self-contradictory first principles”? Again, intuition is the way out here, but it’s not a way available to Cheung.)
Third, consider how Cheung poses the problem of induction for the unbeliever, and then claims that Christians have the (revelational) resources for solving the problem. To wit:
On the other hand, the Christian worldview alone provides the basis for affirming that nature is uniform and stable. As Genesis 8:22 says, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease… God tells us through Scripture that the operations of nature will remain uniform and stable. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 23)
This example is instructive because it is a paradigm of Cheung’s non sequiturs throughout the book. Apparently, Cheung wants to find a basis for the following proposition:
 “Nature is uniform and stable” or “The operations of nature will remain uniform and stable.”
Cheung thinks he can validly deduce  from something like:
 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
The problem should be evident: one cannot validly deduce  from .  makes reference to a couple of natural processes (passing seasons, day and night). But  makes reference to all of nature (if it didn’t, then it can’t underwrite induction in general, and Cheung doesn’t have an answer to “the problem of induction” after all). So Cheung is here inferring a universal from a couple of particulars. That is, he’s making an inductive argument, in order to provide a “Christian” grounding for induction. This is the same kind of lame reasoning that he has rejected in the previous pages. Why he adopts it here is anyone’s guess. But my point in this context is not to point out Cheung’s inductive argument for induction (though that is bad enough), but to point out that, despite his official espousal of Scripturalism, Cheung can’t manage to restrict himself to asserting only the propositions of Scripture or valid deductions from the propositions of Scripture. Rather, he helps himself to the resources of intuition and induction when it suits him.
Fourth, here’s another example from the same page, this one a lot quicker:
If man is a product of evolution instead of creation, then on what basis does the non-Christian oppose genocide or infanticide? But Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 23)
Notice that Cheung deduces prohibitions against genocide and infanticide from the statement “You shall not murder.” But again, to make this a deductively valid inference requires not only the truth of Ex 20:13, but also the truth that genocide and infanticide are forms of murder. Interestingly enough, Cheung provides no Scriptural support for the latter claims. That’s probably because their best defense is extra-Scriptural (in particular, noting by way of induction or perhaps intuition certain relevant similarities between genocide/infanticide and the examples of murder in Scripture). Once again Cheung has made an inference that could only be made by means of extra-Scriptural premises, thus disavowing in practice the Scripturalist approach that he espouses in principle.
Fifth, on the same page Cheung asks:
... on what basis does the non-Christian affirm the unity of mankind and the immorality of racism? But Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he made every nation of men.”
But again, the immorality of racism cannot be validly deduced from Ac 17:26, for racism is ordinarily grounded in alleged differences in development rather than alleged differences in origin. (I reject any reasoning in favor of racism, of course, but not because Ac 17:26 all by itself logically excludes it.)
And so on and on, throughout Cheung’s essay. His “Christian worldview” cannot solve any of the problems he raises for non-Christian worldviews, except by means of employing extra-Scriptural premises and inferences that are not deductively valid. Cheung should just admit this up front, rather than playing at Scripturalism. But that would involve him accepting the authority of a priori intuition and a posteriori inductive inference, and that (for some reason) he cannot do.
There are literally scores of these kinds of claims made in Cheung’s books, claims which fail to pass the tests of Scripturalism. I have cited those claims that certainly look obviously true, but I have done so to make a point: Cheung regularly relies upon intuition and induction in his apologetic writings, rather than the deliverances of Scripture (whether explicit or implicit). That is, he makes generous use of intuition and induction, all the while denying any use for intuition and induction.
2.4 The significance of Cheung’s “biblical epistemology”
Before moving on to what I think are the deeper, more philosophical reasons Cheung rejects in principle (though not in practice) these sources of belief as sources of knowledge, I want to close this section with a few comments upon the significance of BE1. For Cheung BE1 is highly significant, for it is one of the main implications of “Christian metaphysics,” allegedly solves a host of problems addressed by secular philosophers, and is a necessary presupposition for Christian soteriology. But the notion that a “biblical epistemology” comes down to asserting that “all knowledge acquisitions and intellectual activities also depend on God… and man is also not autonomous or independent in this area” (pp. 37-38) strikes me as futile. This stance addresses no important epistemological question that philosophers regularly discuss. Does it tell us whether we should have an infallibilist or fallibilist conception of knowledge? No. Does it tell us whether we should be internalists or externalists about justification, or rationality, or warrant? No. Does it tell us how to resolve Gettier cases, or whether justification is defeated if it depends on a falsehood? No. Does it give us an analysis of knowledge, along the lines of “justified true belief” or “warranted true belief” or anything like that? No. Does it tell us that forming beliefs on the basis of (or on the occasion of) memory, testimony, a priori intuition, or a posteriori induction, is a reliable or proper way of proceeding? No. Does it tell us whether the structure of knowledge is in terms of coherence, or correspondence, or some combination of the two? No. Does it tell us that knowledge must be appropriately caused (and if so, in what way?), or rather that it must be reliably grounded? No. Does it tell us that epistemic luck defeats justification? No.
Presumably, the “biblical epistemology” which Cheung presents is compatible with wildly different sets of answers to questions like these. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to offer an opinion, or even anything relevant to an opinion, on any of these questions, which are so central to the concerns of actual epistemologists. How then does it constitute a theory of knowledge? I suppose it might form one part of something interesting to say about knowledge (maybe, “God causes our beliefs” or “God causes the processes which cause our beliefs”), but this is thin gruel for epistemologists, Christian or otherwise. We haven’t even been given any guidance on which, if any, of our beliefs to retain, and why (much less have we been given any reason to affirm anything like Scripturalism). Even with respect to beliefs about the Bible BE1 gives us no guidance as to whether we should use intuition, induction, testimony, or memory when it comes to discerning biblical propositions, or whether we should instead refrain from utilizing any of these methods when ascertaining the teaching of the Bible. In effect, it’s not even a “biblical epistemology” that can be usefully applied to the Bible, much less to anything else. This kind of thinking is epistemologically sterile, and does little to make a distinctively Christian contribution to any of the great intellectual questions of the day. I applaud Cheung for his faithfulness in adhering to the fundamentally biblical conviction that man is utterly dependent upon God, even in his knowledge. But I think Cheung attributes an epistemological significance to this conviction that is vastly overrated.
(3) Cheung’s affirmation of internalism and infallibilism
Again, if there’s one thing that Cheung makes clear, especially in his interactions with unbelievers but also in his commenting on believers, it is that intuition and induction ought not to have even prima facie authority with us, when it comes to obtaining knowledge. What I want to argue in this section is that Cheung rejects these non-Scriptural sources of knowledge not because of any revelational commitments (such as the requirements of Scripture), but rather because of his non-revelational, specifically rationalist commitments. When one studies the actual arguments Cheung gives for rejecting non-Scriptural sources of knowledge, one discovers that the decisive assumptions in these arguments have little to do with Scripture and everything to do with the discredited (or at least highly disputable) philosophies of men. It is not the Bible which drives Cheung’s Scripturalism and attendant ruling out of all other sources of knowledge, but rather some decidedly unbiblical epistemological principles.
3.1 The authority of intuition and induction ruled out for everyone, via infallibilism
In his “Arguing by Intuition” (<http://www.rmiweb.org/other/intuition.pdf>), Cheung comments on a passage by Gregory Ganssle and explains why he rejects Ganssle’s appeal to intuition:
Once you mix “seems like” as an essential part of your argument (instead of a nonessential part of your presentation, such as in a mere illustration), you have departed from the realm of strict rational argumentation. Also, you have just lost the right to forbid your opponent from using exactly the type of same arguments, and to him it “seems like” that you are wrong. (“Arguing By Intuition,” p. 2)
The two arguments in this paragraph here seem fairly weak. There’s little reason to think that appeal to intuition, as a means of providing the premises of one’s argument, is a departure “from the realm of strict rational argumentation.” Unless, of course, one defines “strict rational argumentation” such that its only acceptable premises are the propositions of Scripture or that which is validly deduced from the propositions of Scripture. So this argument has as much plausibility as Scripturalism itself, which is to say, not much (cf. section (1)).
Ditto for the second argument in this paragraph, which seems to be based on a confusion. It is of course correct to say that if you appeal to intuition in your arguments, that therefore you cannot “forbid your opponent from using exactly the same type of arguments” (i.e., forbid him from appealing to intuition as well). But so what? Presumably, an argument will only be persuasive if it appeals to intuitions that the other person accepts. If it doesn’t, then it won’t persuade them, and likewise for their arguments directed to us. It’s not clear exactly what of significance is supposed to follow from this. Of course, whether or not the argument in question is sound as well as persuasive will depend on whether the intuitions contained in it are true, but surely that isn’t determined by any arguments someone else happens to give. Cheung needs to decide whether he is talking about the persuasiveness or the soundness of an argument, and retool his objection accordingly. I don’t see any plausibility in it either way, as a means of excluding a meaningful role for intuition.
However, unless he constructs his claims upon an objective and infallible foundation, then if he can claim to know what I intuitively affirm in my own mind, why can't I also claim to know what he intuitively affirms in his mind? In fact, I deny that I intuit any of the three items above. Thus I affirm that “we are convinced” that he is wrong, and that he “seems to be” quite confused and arbitrary. Unless he stops arguing by intuition as he does, he cannot with consistency reject my claims.
So the whole thing amounts to purely subjective nonsense. (“Arguing By Intuition,” p. 3)
This entire line of reasoning continues the non sequitur from the previous paragraph. Of course if two participants in a dispute appeal to intuitions which the other rejects, then the arguments are probably not going to be persuasive. So what? How does it follow that “the whole thing amounts to purely subjective nonsense?” Cheung might as well say that if he cites his holy book and the other guy cites his holy book, that therefore “the whole thing amounts to purely subjective nonsense.” (Or even better: if he makes a claim, and the other guy rejects his claim, that therefore “the whole thing amounts to purely subjective nonsense.”) Since this would rule out most apologetic encounters altogether, this is clearly not the way Cheung wants to read the situation. Clearly what matters here is the status of the claim that is made (whether the deliverance of Scripture, intuition, induction, and so on, is true or false), not whether someone might reject the claim that is made or someone might make a different claim. Both Scripture and intuition are regularly rejected by non-Christian interlocutors; presumably the propriety of citing Scripture or intuition is not affected by this. What Cheung needs to argue is that Scripture is warranted while intuition is not, but this he has not done.
Despite all this, we have hit upon something interesting: what Cheung is after is “an objective and infallible foundation,” and intuition is definitely not it. When one reads through “Arguing By Intuition,” Cheung’s main reason for rejecting intuition is because it doesn’t satisfy an infallibilist constraint on knowledge. Because intuition doesn’t give us certainty, then it can’t be a source of knowledge, because knowledge requires certainty, that is, a way of proceeding that is guaranteed not to lead to error.
For proof of this, consider the following, which immediately follows the quotes above:
When debating Arminians, or when reading their literature, you will notice that many of them base many of their crucial premises on intuition, and often on intuition alone. Ganssle’s pattern of argument is very common with them – they just assume that their needed premises are true because to them they seem to be true. They say that they are convinced that these premises are true (often they say that we are all convinced), and then they proceed on that basis. One of these premises is that we all seem to have free will; another is that it would seem unjust to hold someone morally accountable who does not have free will. At least in these instances, their ultimate standard of truth and morality is not God’s revelation but their own intuition. Their “seems like” seems unquestionable to them.
However, all the “seems like” could be wrong. To paraphrase Clark, it might be that we think we have free will not because we know something (that we have free will), but because we don’t know something (that we really don't have free will). It might be that some people intuitively think certain things are true because they are ignorant. Luther puts it stronger, saying that we think we have free will because we have been deceived by Satan. In any case, the debate cannot be settled by intuition alone. (“Arguing By Intuition,” pp. 3-4)
What is the main reason Cheung rejects the appeal to intuition? Here it is clear: intuitions are fallible, while knowledge must be infallible. Thus, just because some premises “seem to be true,” or you are “convinced that these premises are true,” or your “‘seems like’ seems unquestionable” to you, this is a very bad way of proceeding. Why? Because “all the ‘seems like’ could be wrong,” that is, because intuition is fallible. To put it another way, it might be consistent with everything else we know (i.e., epistemically possible) that the intuition in question is false. As Clark puts it, “it might be that… we don’t know something,” or “it might be that some people intuitively think certain things are true because they are ignorant.” Or as Luther puts it, we might be “deceived by Satan.” Indeed, it “might be” any number of possibilities that is the source of the deception or mistake. The common thread running through all of these objections is that we might be mistaken about the truth of our intuitions.
But, of course, the fallibility of our intuitions is only significant if indeed there is an infallibilist constraint upon knowledge in the first place, such that knowledge can’t be had unless the method or practice or process we used to arrive at our beliefs could not be in error. The challenge for Cheung is to give us a reason why we should think such a thing. At this point, the ball is in his court: can he defend this constraint without presupposing it? Failing that, can he show how it is a proposition of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture? For if not, then I’m afraid we’ve found yet another rationalist intuition that has sneaked its way into Cheung’s Scripturalism, an intuition that ironically gets employed as a means of rejecting the authority of intuition. As with his advocacy of Scripturalism itself, Cheung’s rejection of intuition is self-referentially incoherent, depending as it does on intuition.
The above is sufficient as an answer to Cheung on the question of intuition: not only has he not made his case, but the case he does make is self-referentially incoherent. But is there anything positive to say on this matter of whether knowledge is fallibilist or infallibilist? Well, simply by perusing through the basic literature on the topic, I have of course a host of counterexamples for Cheung ready at hand, in which belief arrived at through a fallible method is best construed as knowledge. But since all of these counterexamples make use of intuition (being intuitively plausible cases of genuine knowledge), I doubt they’d be persuasive to Cheung, since his whole point is to challenge the authority of intuition. What I can do is appeal to a method of belief-formation which Cheung presumably accepts, and then draw the moral that his infallibilist constraint upon knowledge is misguided, and therefore his rejection of intuition on those grounds is misguided.
As will become plain in the final section, Cheung accepts occasionalism as applied to knowledge, such that whenever we know something, we know it by means of the divine logos illuminating our mind and producing a true belief within us. Granting the reality of this process for the sake of argument, I have no interest in drawing into question its infallibility. Nevertheless, we can consider the following question. Either divine illumination gives us certainty (i.e., infallibility) in our interpretation of Scripture, or it does not. If it does give us certainty, then it likewise may give us certainty on the occasion of other epistemic practices, which include not only reflection upon the contents of Scripture, but intuition, induction, memory, and testimony. In which case divine illumination licenses these other practices as well, as means by which God gives us knowledge. At the very least, Cheung can’t rule this out on Scriptural or “biblical epistemology” grounds. Alternatively, if divine illumination doesn’t give us certainty in our interpretation of Scripture, and Cheung still wishes to maintain an infallibilist constraint on knowledge, then he must admit that our beliefs about Scripture – even when produced by a sovereign God – are a mixed bag, such that only some of them constitute knowledge. But then he no longer has a basis for rejecting these other sources of knowledge (intuition, induction, memory, and testimony), on the grounds that they aren’t always infallible sources of belief.
Cheung may offer the following rejoinder: “When the logos produces a belief in my mind – say, about the meaning of Scripture – then that belief is knowledge in virtue of its source in an infallible process. But if instead that belief has another source distinct from the divine logos – say, my foolish speculations or my indigestion after dinner – then that belief is not knowledge, because it is produced by a fallible process. Thus, I can affirm that at least some of my interpretations of Scripture are fallible, while affirming the ability of the logos to secure for me infallible knowledge (which is, BTW, the only kind of knowledge that there is). So your reductio fails.”
The problem with this reply is our old friend BE1, “biblical epistemology” broadly construed, by way of inference from “biblical metaphysics”. On that view, we have knowledge precisely because God controls every event in the universe, including our knowledge. And if “he alone controls and facilitates all operations relating to thought and knowledge,” because “God alone controls and facilitates all operations in the universe” (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 37), then even our false beliefs are ultimately caused by God. And so the causal process known as divine illumination isn’t infallible after all. This is even more apparent when we reckon with the fact that, on Cheung’s view, because of God’s thoroughgoing sovereignty, “it is correct to say that he alone is the cause of all things” (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 37).
And this in turn reveals the utter uselessness of BE1 to underwrite anything remotely resembling a useful epistemology. If my beliefs are infallible insofar as they have been caused by the logos, and if the divine logos is indeed the only cause in the universe, then it follows (indeed, with deductive validity) that all of my beliefs are infallible! The problem with construing a divine illumination theory of knowledge as a version of occasionalism, in which God is the only real cause in the entire universe, is that we no longer have conceptual space for false beliefs on the part of the Christian, or indeed on the part of anybody. Either divine illumination (read: causation) doesn’t always secure infallible beliefs, or God is not the only cause in the universe. Either way severe problems are posed for Cheung’s “biblical epistemology,” and the role he wishes it to play in his overall philosophy. (The difficulty raised in this paragraph is simply a theological parallel to its secular counterpart in the philosophy of mind, namely, the widely-recognized difficulty that any causal theory of propositional content has in coming up with a plausible account of error.)
Of course, I don’t need any of this to make my point. The simple fact that Cheung hasn’t yet given a good argument for this infallibilist constraint upon knowledge is sufficient to expose the character of his rejection of intuition. Since the infallibilist constraint upon knowledge is neither a proposition of Scripture nor deducible from Scripture, what reason do we have to accept it? The idea that Scripture speaks with such meta-epistemological specificity about methods of knowledge, much less their fallibility or infallibility, is bizarre at best. Thus my designation, at the outset of this section, of the infallibilist constraint upon knowledge as a “decidedly unbiblical epistemological principle.” In the relevant history of philosophy literature it is generally associated not with the authors of Scripture, but with rationalist, Cartesian scruples about the need to exclude the epistemic possibility of dreams and evil demons. About this need, Scripture has nothing to say.
The above comments apply, mutatis mutandis, to Cheung’s rejection of induction as a source of knowledge. If this rejection is maintained on Scripturalist grounds, well, Scripturalism has been exploded in section (1), and in any event Cheung relies upon induction for many of his exegetical conclusions from Scripture, as section (2) brings out. If this is done on infallibilist grounds, well, the above paragraphs suffice as a response to that. (For Cheung’s appeal to infallibilism as a reason to reject induction, cf. “Systematic Theology,” p. 7 para. 3.) Cheung may have an intuition that knowledge must be infallible, and that as a consequence induction is insufficient for knowledge, but that initial intuition is not licensed by Scripturalism itself (it is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture).
As noted at the beginning of section (2), Cheung is fond of saying that “induction is always a formal fallacy” (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 20, 40; cf. p. 19). It is unclear what force this observation is supposed to have. If Cheung is thinking of deductive validity, such that an argument is valid (and thus escapes being formally fallacious) just in case its premises couldn’t be true and its conclusion false, then sure, no inductive argument is deductively valid. But then this criticism looks like a total non sequitur, for no inductive argument carries with it a claim of validity in that sense. But perhaps Cheung is using “valid” or “formal fallacy” in a non-standard sense. If so, I think it’s up to him to make plain what that sense is. Otherwise, his observations about inductive inference appear wholly trivial (or else simply collapse into the infallibilist objection).
Finally, I think it should be clear, to anyone who reflects upon the matter for a moment, that the vast majority of Scriptural exegesis proceeds by way of induction, not deduction (there are precious few deductively valid arguments for the various Christian doctrines, from the proof-texts adduced in their favor). As such, any responsible steward of the Scriptures and the Christian faith cannot reject induction per se. Even Cheung, who professes that Christianity is a “deductive system,” doesn’t really believe that, judging by the exegetical examples canvassed in section (2).
The upshot is that the infallibilist constraint upon knowledge leads Cheung to reject intuition and induction as sources of knowledge (and, presumably, other non-Scriptural sources such as memory and testimony as well). Since this infallibilist constraint is not a deliverance of Scripture (either directly or indirectly, by way of valid deduction), it is not licensed by Scripturalism, but is rather a non-revelational principle (ordinarily associated with the rationalist epistemological tradition), a principle which functions to exclude non-Scriptural sources of knowledge. What Cheung is doing appealing to the philosophies of men, in order to combat any and all philosophies of men, is anyone’s guess.
3.2 The authority of intuition and induction ruled out for unbelievers, via internalism
There is an additional non-Scriptural principle that drives Cheung’s rejection of intuition and induction as sources of knowledge, at least for unbelievers. This is what is known as internalism. Briefly put, the idea is that if anyone is to know p, he must know how he knows p. One version of this is that if anyone is to know p by means of engaging in X, then he must know how engaging in X gives him knowledge of p. In effect, the conditions that confer the status of knowledge upon someone’s beliefs must be cognitively accessible to that person. The idea that someone can happily know p even though he has no idea how he knows p, is rejected by those who put an internalist constraint upon knowledge.
What does this have to do with Cheung’s rejection of intuition and induction? Well, again and again in his apologetic writings, Cheung claims that if an unbeliever cannot justify the epistemic practice in which he is engaged (say, his appeal to intuition or induction), then the unbeliever doesn’t have knowledge by way of that practice. On Cheung’s view, one must first presuppose the entire Christian worldview in order to know anything, for it is only the Christian worldview which gives us cognitive access to how our beliefs are justified (or warranted), and therefore constitute knowledge. Because the unbeliever qua unbeliever doesn’t assume the entire Christian worldview, the grounds of his knowledge are not accessible to him, and therefore he has no right to that knowledge. He certainly cannot appeal to what he knows as a means of countering Cheung’s various claims about Christianity, the world, the unbeliever, etc., for on Cheung’s view the unbeliever has no right to make knowledge claims, unless he first presupposes the entire Christian worldview. This is Cheung’s internalism.
As a clear example of this, consider the following. At <http://www.vincentcheung.com/2005/04/29/occasionalism-and-empiricism/>, Cheung’s interlocutor posts an eminently sensible comment:
(2) It would be fallacious for my opponent to argue that since sensations are sometimes mistaken, therefore they are always mistaken. Or, it would be fallacious to say that if sometimes you cannot know whether your sensations are working properly, therefore you can never know whether they are working properly.
This seems quite right. The aforementioned inferences (construed deductively) are indeed fallacious. But let's look at Cheung's reply:
Yes, but unless you can show how you know at any given instance whether that particular sensation is reliable or not, then you can’t show how you could trust any given instance of sensation.
So, even if some instances of sensation are reliable, and that in these instances, what you sense really corresponds to what is there to be sensed, unless you can show which instances of sensation are reliable and which instances are unreliable, it makes no difference -- you still can’t trust any of them, since you have no way of knowing when your sensations are right and when they are wrong.
So your opponent does not need to show that you never sense what you think you sense.
Cheung’s response is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, I think he quite rightly points out that he doesn’t need to maintain the inferences in question (‘if sometimes deceived, then always deceived’) in order to maintain his overall position.
But second, it appears that Cheung here espouses a fairly implausible view of knowledge known as epistemological internalism. On this view, if you can’t know how you know p, or at least show how you know p to others, then you can’t know p in the first place. Here’s Cheung’s argument reconstructed:
 I can’t “show how I know at any given instance whether that particular sensation is reliable or not.”
 Therefore, I “can’t show how I could trust any given instance of sensation.”
 Therefore, I “have no way of knowing when my sensations are right and when they are wrong.”
 Therefore, I “can’t trust any of them” (i.e., my particular sensations).
What’s remarkable here is that Scripture itself licenses none of these inferences. In particular, Scripture doesn’t license the inference that my inability to show how I could trust any given sensation, means that I can’t trust any of them. Again, Cheung’s view seems to be that if you can’t know how you know p, then you can’t know p in the first place. To put it in Cheung’s own terminology, you have no right to trust a sensation if you can’t show (to yourself or to others) how you know that that sensation is reliable (cf. “Presuppositional Confrontations,” p. 69, para. 4).
Notice that Scripture never teaches this view. Notice that Scripture never logically implies this view. Indeed, given Cheung’s overall Scripturalism, since he can’t find any of his crucial inferences (listed above) in Scripture, he can’t show how he knows whether any of them are reliable. And, given Cheung’s own epistemological internalism, if he can’t show how he knows whether any of them are reliable, then he surely “can’t trust any of them.” Why then does Cheung proffer this argument in his defense?
Indeed, if internalism were really a constraint on knowledge, then Cheung should reject the internalist constraint on knowledge, since he can’t show how he knows that it is such a constraint, and therefore he can’t know that it is such a constraint. Cheung’s commitment to internalism, as well as to infallibilism, as well as to Scripturalism, is self-referentially incoherent. If any or all of these things were actually the case, then Cheung would have good reason to reject that they were the case.
The view that one must be able to show how he knows in order to know at all is defended by several philosophers today (those that defend epistemological internalism), and is disputed by many (ordinarily, those that defend epistemological externalism). My only point is that Cheung’s reliance on this view isn’t licensed by Scripture, although he’s free to make out the Scriptural case if indeed he thinks one can be made.
Another clear statement of Cheung’s internalism is found here:
For empirical data to be intelligible – if empirical data can be intelligible at all – one must presuppose biblical first principles. Paul says that God has built into every human mind such principles, so that one ought to derive Christian conclusions from observing the universe. Man by nature possesses an innate knowledge of God, and it is only when this is presupposed that he may rightly interpret empirical information. This is not to say that reality is subjective, but that it is impossible to gain knowledge of reality in the first place without first adopting the Christian position in full. The point is that man already knows God before he observes the external world; otherwise, no knowledge could be derived from such observation. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 10)
Notice the characteristically internalist claims: (1) empirical data is only intelligible if one first presupposes biblical first principles, or again (2) it is impossible to gain knowledge of reality in the first place without first adopting the Christian position in full. That is, people who don’t presuppose or adopt an account of the world which justifies knowledge (i.e., “the Christian position in full”) don’t have knowledge. Indeed, it is impossible for them to gain such knowledge, and all of their empirical data remains unintelligible quite apart from this adoption of the Christian worldview. That which confers the status of knowledge upon someone’s beliefs (the Christian worldview) must be cognitively accessible to that person (i.e., he must adopt or presuppose it), if he is to have the knowledge in question. This is about as extreme a case of the internalist constraint on knowledge as one can imagine (“the Christian position in full”?!), and yet Cheung gives us no reason (Scriptural or otherwise) to accept such a constraint.
Yet again, Cheung writes the following:
The mind of man is not born a tabula rasa – it is not a blank slate that is without any a priori information. Instead, every human being is born with an innate knowledge and awareness of God. The prerequisites for language acquisition, rational thought, and theological contemplation are inherent in the mind of man. Therefore, no one can think or speak without assuming and using biblical premises that provide the precondition of intelligibility, so that even objections again any aspect of Christianity must first presuppose the entire Christian worldview to be meaningful. But once we presuppose the entire Christian worldview, the force and substance of all objections vanish. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 13)
There it is again, this idea that “no one can think or speak without assuming and using biblical premises that provide the precondition of intelligibility.” People must assume and use biblical premises (which means, at the very least, that such premises must be cognitively accessible to them) if they are going to think or speak intelligibly. This strikes me as obviously false, but that’s not the point; the point is that Cheung never tells us why we should believe such a thing.
Or again, Cheung says:
The question of how it is possible for a person to know anything is sufficient to demolish any non-Christian worldview. Unless a person affirms a comprehensive set of biblical doctrines covering every aspect of life and thought – that is, unless he affirms a complete biblical worldview – his beliefs can be easily exposed as unjustified, arbitrary, and inconsistent. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 22)
Here Cheung clearly says that a person must affirm “a complete biblical worldview” – indeed, he must affirm “a comprehensive set of biblical doctrines covering every aspect of life and thought”! – if his beliefs are going to be justified. That is, you don’t so much as have justified beliefs unless that which justifies the beliefs (i.e., the Christian worldview) is something which you “affirm”. This is the internalist constraint upon knowledge.
Or yet again, Cheung says:
Yet they continue to illegitimately assume the uniformity of nature, among many other things, and then turn around to accuse Christians of being irrational. The problem is not that Christians are irrational, but that non-Christians are stupid and hypocritical. (“Ultimate Questions,” p. 23)
Unbelievers who “assume the uniformity of nature” do so “illegitimately,” presumably (given the larger context of this quote) because they can’t justify the uniformity of nature.
Or yet again, Cheung says:
Do not underestimate this insight, which shows that unless the non-Christian can provide a foundation for knowledge without using Christian presuppositions, all his arguments are just so much noise. (“Presuppositional Confrontations,” p. 13)
On this view, unless a non-Christian can “provide” a foundation for knowledge, then all his arguments are worthless and cannot constitute knowledge.
I could continue in this vein for quite a while, with scores of other examples. Consider how many times, in his online debate with the atheist Derek Sansone (cf. <http://www.rmiweb.org/other/sansone-cheung.htm>), Cheung keeps on asking, “How do you know that? And how do you know that?”, as a means of defeating Sansone’s counterarguments. Apparently, if Sansone can’t justify his knowledge, then he doesn’t have any. If he can’t explain how he knows something, then he can’t know it.
The response to this kind of thinking is clear: why should anyone accept the internalist constraint upon knowledge in the first place? Why should the unbeliever have to appeal to anything (much less, the entire “Christian worldview”), in order to possess knowledge on a whole host of topics? Why, in particular, must someone know how he knows p in order to know p? Is the internalist constraint upon knowledge a proposition of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture? No. It is yet another non-revelational principle to which Cheung makes implicit appeal throughout his apologetic. It functions, in many cases, as a means of denying that the unbeliever has knowledge by way of intuition or induction. Since the unbeliever can’t explain how he knows by these means, then Cheung is free to conclude that they don’t know by these means. Once again, as we saw with the infallibilist constraint upon knowledge, it is the philosophies of men, rather than Scripture, which lead Cheung to denigrate these non-Scriptural sources of knowledge.
Is there anything I could say against this internalist constraint upon knowledge, something that ought to persuade Cheung of how his implicit appeal to this constraint is misguided? Yes, there is, but to get to it we need to examine Cheung’s occasionalism. And so now I turn to the final section of this essay.
(4) Cheung’s affirmation of an occasionalist, divine illumination psychology of belief
It’s clear that Cheung rejects all non-Scriptural sources of belief, including intuition and induction. We’ve seen that this rejection is grounded in (a discredited) Scripturalism, as well as in (fairly disputable) rationalist epistemological principles. Interestingly enough, however, Cheung does seem to affirm a form of knowledge that does not involve reflection on Scripture itself. This is his occasionalism, construed as a divine illumination psychology of belief, and as an alternative to knowledge-by-sensation. I have several questions to ask about Cheung’s occasionalism: What does he mean by it? Is it adequately grounded? And is it in tension with Scripturalism, infallibilism, and internalism?
4.1 What does Cheung mean by ‘occasionalism’?
There are several statements of occasionalism in his writings. Here is one of them, in his section on “Invincible Argumentation” in “Ultimate Questions”:
Now, empirical investigations cannot teach man what he does not already know, [fn. 25] but only the divine logos can convey information to man’s mind, in addition to the innate knowledge he possesses. However, although it is impossible to gain any knowledge by empirical means, man’s observation of nature can remind him about what he already knows about God. Therefore, observation of the universe does not add information to man’s mind; rather, it provides the occasion for one or both of two things to occur. First, observation stimulates the mind to recall what God has already placed into it. Second, observation stimulates the mind to intuit what the logos immediately conveys to it on the occasion of the observation, often about what the person is observing. In both cases, no information comes from the act of observation itself.
Fn. 25 See Augustine, De Magistro. (“Ultimate Questions,” pp. 16-17)
Now, this is a fairly specific set of claims about how man acquires knowledge. According to Cheung:
 “Empirical investigations cannot teach man what he does not already know.” That is why “it is impossible to gain any knowledge by empirical means.” Indeed, “no information comes from the act of observation itself.”
 “Only the divine logos can convey information to man’s mind.”
 When we observe the universe, our minds are stimulated to either recall or intuit something.
 In some cases, empirical observation stimulates recall of “what God has already placed into” the mind.
 In other cases, empirical observation stimulates intuition of “what the logos immediately conveys to it on the occasion of the observation.”
Now, why does Cheung commend to us - as something knowable? Since Cheung is a Scripturalist, one would expect that Cheung holds that occasionalism is either constituted by propositions of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. At first glance, none of - look like they pass this Scripturalist test for being knowledge. Interestingly enough, at this juncture the only support he provides for occasionalism is to refer the reader to a work by Augustine in support of . That’s it! (Later, on pp. 41-42, Cheung actually cites a paragraph or two from Augustine’s De Magistro. Unfortunately for Cheung’s Scripturalism, Augustine isn’t Scripture, unless Cheung subscribes to a dual-source view of special revelation.)
However, earlier on p. 9 Cheung offers the following footnote 11:
Several points in my presentation require me to make certain assertions that I will more adequately support elsewhere. For example, I will further argue for the present point in the rest of this chapter and in the next chapter. Thus if you are perplexed or unsure about a certain point, a later part of the chapter or the book will probably make it clear.
All right, then, let’s give Cheung the benefit of the doubt. Does Cheung give anywhere in “Ultimate Questions” a Scriptural case for his occasionalism? Not that I can tell. Let’s look at the details of the case he does give.
4.2 Is occasionalism adequately grounded?
First, Cheung has a section on the “Logos” (pp. 29-34), in which he employs many extra-Scriptural propositions as a means of exegeting John 1. For instance, he tells us such things as:
“Technical terms are useful in summarizing concepts that may otherwise take several sentences or even paragraphs to express.”
“Heraclitus of Ephesus (530-470 BC) argued that nature is constantly changing.”
“If everything constantly changes, then nothing really ‘exists’.”
“Philo (20 BC – AD 40) was a contemporary of Christ.”
“By the time the apostle John wrote his Gospel, the word logos had been invested with much philosophical background and meaning.”
John’s “intended meaning does have some resemblance to non-biblical usage.”
“John’s teaching on the divine logos supplies the structure and content of a complete biblical worldview.”
“’Reason,’ ‘Wisdom,’ and ‘Word’ are all acceptable translations for logos.”
Of course none of the above are propositions of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Why a Scripturalist should go around asserting such things is anyone’s guess. But I digress. The main point here is that nothing in the section on “Logos” provides anything like a derivation of occasionalism from Scripture.
Second, Cheung has a section on “Metaphysics” (pp. 34-37) that continues in this vein. For instance, Cheung claims on p. 35 that John 1 tells us something about “the laws of logic”. As a matter of fact, there is no reference to “the laws of logic” in the entire Bible, so one wonders why a Scripturalist thinks this claim is deducible from Scripture. Cheung tells us here that “logic is the way God thinks” (cf. “Presuppositional Confrontations,” p. 12 para. 2). But as far as I can tell Scripture no where teaches or implies that God employs rules of inference like modus ponens. If this is really what John 1 teaches, Cheung certainly hasn’t presented a valid derivation of it. (Compare this claim that “logic is the way God thinks” with Cheung’s sustained denial of this in “Systematic Theology,” pp. 47-48, wherein he says that “God does not reason from premises to conclusions”!)
Third, in his section on “Epistemology” (pp. 37-43) we finally get a reference to occasionalism itself:
Consistent with Christian metaphysics, Christian epistemology affirms that all knowledge must be immediately – that is, without mediation – granted and conveyed to the human mind by God. Thus on the occasion that you look at the words of the Bible, God directly communicates what is written to your mind, without going through the senses themselves. That is, your sensations provide the occasions upon which God directly conveys information to your mind apart from the sensations themselves. Therefore, although we do read the Bible, knowledge never comes from sensation. (p. 38)
Unfortunately, this is simply a statement of Cheung’s views. But where is their logical derivation from the Bible? They are nowhere to be found. As far as I can tell, Cheung believes that occasionalism is true because God is the only cause in the universe. But not only is the argument for this unscriptural, it is incoherent. On the previous page Cheung posits a distinction between primary and secondary causes (p. 37). But he bizarrely infers from this that “Therefore, it is correct to say that he alone is the cause of all things.” I say “bizarrely,” because if there are secondary causes, then God is not the only causal agent in the universe; that is precisely why the distinction between primary and secondary causes looms large in Reformed confessions and systematics.
Cheung might have something of a case for occasionalism if he could show from Scripture that God is the only cause in the universe whatsoever, but that is what he cannot show. Indeed, the Scriptures expressly deny what Cheung affirms, that God alone is the cause of all things. When the Psalmist says that “I will cause Your name to be remembered in all generations” (Ps 45:17), surely he was not speaking nonsense when he identified himself as a cause of others’ remembrance of God. Ditto for Jesus’ references to secondary causes in Mt 10:21 and Lk 17:2. Other texts affirming secondary causality include Ro 13:3, 16:17, 1Co 8:13, 9:12, 2Co 2:2, 4:15, Gal 6:17, and Jude 1:19. Just because God is the ultimate cause of all there is doesn’t mean that he is the only cause. Cheung believes in the truth of Jn 20:29, because he cites it on p. 72 of “Presuppositional Confrontations”: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But he misses its significance for his occasionalism. Clearly, Jesus’ claim is that Thomas believed in him because he had seen Jesus. Even though we know (on the basis of other texts of Scripture) that God was the primary cause, there was a secondary cause of Thomas’ belief, namely, his seeing of Jesus. (The irony is that Cheung cites this text as a means of denigrating the reality of empirical sources of knowledge.)
I conclude that Cheung's occasionalism just is a set of extra-Scriptural premises he foists upon the teaching of Scripture. The idea that the Bible actually teaches that all knowledge is given to us by God “without mediation” is just speculation, not exegesis. The denial of mediation is the denial of secondary causality.
Again, Cheung says that “sensations do nothing more than to stimulate intellectual intuition, providing the occasions upon which the mind obtains knowledge from the divine logos” (p. 38). Unfortunately, he provides no Scriptural argument for this, especially for the “nothing more” Are we really to think Cheung can derive this universal negative from a Bible that doesn’t so much as address the topic of the relation between illumination and sensation?
Cheung does tell us that, according to Ronald Nash, John’s prologue “at least hints” at Cheung’s epistemology (p. 42). Of course, inference-by-hinting-at is considerably less reliable than a true law of logic such as modus ponens, and can’t possibly be the source of a valid deduction of occasionalism from the Bible.
Cheung boldly asserts that even if John’s prologue teaches nothing of the sort, that “does not undermine” Cheung’s epistemology, since “nothing in the prologue contradicts the epistemology” he presented. But, of course, if mere consistency constitutes an argument, then I suppose we can argue that Elvis wore underwear, on the basis of John’s prologue. I think Cheung is looking for something a bit stronger, surely. Cheung does say that “the epistemology that I presented is a necessary consequence of the biblical metaphysics that I introduced earlier” (p. 43), but of course that doesn't follow at all. In particular, the notion that everything in the world proceeds “without mediation” (i.e., apart from means, being an immediate effect of divine power) doesn’t logically follow from the notion that God is sovereign, nor does the latter make the former remotely plausible. Again, Cheung is free to argue for this, but that is precisely what is missing in “Ultimate Questions” (despite his promises to the contrary).
Finally, consider the two paragraphs which close out Cheung’s section on “Empiricism” (p. 43). Here is his affirmation of occasionalism:
To summarize, God acts directly on the mind and conveys information directly to it on the occasions when one is experiencing physical sensations, but God acts on the mind and conveys this information always apart from the sensations themselves. Even the act of reading the Scripture depends on Christ the divine logos, and not our senses.
This is familiar enough, and constitutes Cheung’s third statement of occasionalism in the essay (i.e. pp. 16-17, 38, 43). But in the next paragraph, Cheung states how he gets these views:
Scripture is the first principle of the Christian worldview, so that true knowledge consists of only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture; all other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best. This biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics. Any other epistemology is indefensible, and unavoidably collapses into self-contradictory skepticism.
This is the statement of Scripturalism that we examined at length in section (1). So the idea is that everything in the first paragraph above (about occasionalism) is, according to the second paragraph above, either “directly stated in Scripture” or “is validly deducible from Scripture.” But surely it is clear by now that Cheung’s occasionalism passes none of these tests. How could anyone “validly deduce” from Scripture the notion that God conveys information “always apart from the sensations themselves”? That in any act of knowledge God always “acts directly on the mind”?
So why in the world does Cheung, a Scripturalist who holds to not only BE1 but BE2, think he knows the truth of occasionalism? One way to come at this is to appeal, as Cheung does appeal, to the teaching of Scripture that “more than several biblical verses teach that God is the one who sovereignly grants understanding and knowledge” (p. 43). Presumably, what these verses are talking about is spiritual understanding and knowledge, and perhaps even knowledge of the truths of Scripture. If you then think that, given Scripturalism, all knowledge is restricted to knowledge of Scripture or its implications, then it follows that God is the one who sovereignly grants not only knowledge of Scripture but all knowledge, since all knowledge just is knowledge of Scripture. Since God grants us knowledge of Scripture (perhaps enlightening our minds as we read it), and since knowledge of Scripture (and its implications) is all the knowledge we have, then what God “grants us” is nothing less than the entire scope of our knowledge. Occasionalism is then truly a global statement about all knowledge, and apparently derivable from Scripture.
In my mind, this is the best hope for deriving occasionalism about all knowledge from Scripture. Unfortunately, it is also a spectacular failure. For one thing, it requires us to accept Scripturalism about knowledge, restricting all knowledge to Scripture and its deductive implications. Section (1) has exposed this position as self-referentially incoherent. If you accepted it, you’d have good reason to reject it. For another, it requires us to deny the eminently biblical distinction between primary and secondary causes, that is, the notion that God uses means. It requires us to affirm that God is the only cause in the universe, and that God always acts “directly on the mind” and “without mediation.” There’s little reason to believe this, even if one held that “God is the one who sovereignly grants understanding and knowledge.” This is just one of many non sequiturs found throughout “Ultimate Questions”.
I take it then that it is inconsistent for a Scripturalist like Cheung to affirm something like occasionalism as something he knows. Despite scattered attempts in “Ultimate Questions,” none of the derivations satisfy the austere standards of Scripturalism. Indeed, if one were a Scripturalist, one would have reason to reject occasionalism. It can only be derived, if at all, via the use of non-Scriptural intuitions or principles. Occasionalism may have its merits, but being necessarily implied by Scripture is not one of them. I suppose one could try to build an inductive or abductive case for occasionalism, as the best way to explain a whole range of Scriptural texts. But that would be lapsing into a form of induction. And Cheung is already on record as denying that induction “can yield any knowledge”. Induction also violates SEP of Scripturalism.
In addition, not only does occasionalism not follow from the particular thesis of Scripturalism (i.e., BE2), it also does not follow from the general thesis of God’s sovereignty over the knowing process (i.e., BE1). It does not follow from the fact that God is sovereign over the knowing process that therefore God produces within us our every true belief apart from means. This also is a non sequitur. Of course, Cheung claims that occasionalism “is a necessary implication and a consistent application of the biblical doctrine of providence” (cf. <http://www.vincentcheung.com/2005/04/29/occasionalism-and-empiricism/>). But as we have seen, Cheung hasn’t made good on this claim.
4.3 Is occasionalism in tension with Scripturalism?
I turn now to assessing, not the grounds for occasionalism, but its significance for other things Cheung wishes to say.
One very important question is whether occasionalism is in tension with Scripturalism. By this I do not mean whether Scripturalism gives us a reason to reject occasionalism (as I have argued above, it does, for occasionalism cannot be validly deduced from Scripture). Rather, I am asking whether occasionalism gives us a reason to reject Scripturalism. The way this would happen is if Cheung articulates occasionalism in such a way that God gives us knowledge, by divine illumination, of propositions not found in or deducible from Scripture. If this is indeed the case, then if occasionalism is true then Scripturalism must be false, for Scripturalism says that knowledge is only of propositions found in or deducible from Scripture.
An interesting passage in this regard is from <http://www.vincentcheung.com/2005/04/29/occasionalism-and-empiricism/>. Cheung in interacting with the following criticism of his views:
(2) Also, I think you’d have to deny some common sense things, so that you don’t know that ‘Vincent is a man.’ You may be willing to bite that bullet, I don’t know.
In response to the above, here’s what Cheung says:
I am skeptical against ‘common sense’ altogether, and I think that ‘common sense’ itself is incoherent. In fact, I think that ‘common sense’ is not common and it makes no sense.
And if I know that ‘Vincent is a man,’ I certainly do not know this on an empirical basis (what precisely do I sense to know that ‘Vincent is a man’?) or by common sense, but by illumination from the Logos, in accordance with my explanation on occasionalism.
Now, whether the rejection of common sense is a virtue in a Christian apologist, I’ll leave to the reader to decide. More substantively, Cheung claims that he knows “Vincent is a man” not “on an empirical basis... or by common sense,” but rather “by illumination from the Logos.” So, in effect, in reply to the question as to how Cheung knows:
 “Vincent Cheung is a man.”
... Cheung replies by asserting a more complex proposition:
 I know  by illumination from the Logos.
Now this is interesting. How does Cheung know ? Is  contained in Scripture? Is  validly deducible from any propositions in Scripture? The answer here is surely “no”. Indeed, I’d think it’d be hopeless to think otherwise, for Scripture never mentions  (something referred to in ), nor how anyone knows . In addition, Scripture never logically implies that we know  (or , for that matter) by way of illumination from the Logos.
I can think of quite a few ways by which Cheung can know . Unfortunately, all of them involve a rejection of Cheung’s Scripturalist epistemology. And that is precisely the point. This way of construing occasionalism involves the rejection of Scripturalism.
Some may quibble here, and point out that Cheung doesn’t exactly say that he knows . This in itself is startling; a Christian apologist who doesn’t know what his gender or species is? Rather, says the quibbler, Cheung only considers what would be the case if he knew . But surely we are now well on our way to a reductio ad absurdum. Consider the various propositions Cheung would have to abandon all hope of knowing, if this line of defense were to proceed:
“Vincent Cheung is a man”
“Vincent Cheung exists”
“God sustains Vincent Cheung’s life”
“God loves Vincent Cheung”
“Vincent Cheung’s wife is a gift from God”
“Vincent Cheung is going to heaven”
None of these propositions is a proposition of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Unless Cheung invokes divine illumination as the means by which he knows these propositions, then he knows none of them. Particularly troubling is the last one mentioned, as it is part and parcel of a Reformed soteriology (as opposed to a Roman Catholic one) that believers can and do have assurance of salvation in this life. Presumably, knowledge of the general, Scriptural truth that “if I repent and believe, then I will be saved” is insufficient for assurance. We also need knowledge that we indeed satisfy the antecedent, but that is knowledge of a proposition neither contained in nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture.
No, I think Cheung needs occasionalism to vouchsafe to him knowledge of these and other propositions, despite the fact that such propositions are not validly deducible from Scripture. Does a Christian apologist who can’t even manage to defend to the world the notion that he exists, that God sustains his life, and that he is going to heaven, really present a credible witness? Why, such an apologist could never tell his non-Christian friend that he knows he is going to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sins, for how is that validly deducible from the propositions of Scripture (involving, as it does, an essential reference to a person not so much as mentioned in Scripture)?
The upshot is that the most plausible rendering of occasionalism is a reason to reject Scripturalism. If indeed Cheung knows by divine illumination that “Vincent Cheung is a man,” or even that he so much as exists, then Scripturalism is false. So in the citation above, Cheung was entertaining nothing less than the refutation of Scripturalism, under the guise of defending a Christian epistemology.
4.4 Is occasionalism in tension with infallibilism?
What are we to say of the relation between occasionalism and infallibilism? To begin with, recall Cheung’s commitment to the infallibilist constraint on knowledge. As we saw in section 3.1, on Cheung’s view God is the only cause in the universe, and this means God causes all beliefs whatsoever. Since even Scripture abundantly testifies to the fact that many people have false beliefs, it follows that the process of divine illumination is a fallible process, for many cases of God’s causing of our beliefs end up with our having false beliefs. But then the infallibilist constraint on knowledge – so crucial to Cheung’s apologetic, and to his attempts to exclude all non-Scriptural modes of knowledge – ends up being refuted by occasionalism. The only way out is to say either that God is not the only cause in the universe, or that no one ever has any false beliefs, neither of which look promising. It’s not just that, by adhering to the infallibilist constraint on knowledge Cheung has imported into his philosophy a principle alien to Scriptural teaching, but that occasionalism itself gives him a reason to reject the principle. If Cheung abandons the infallibilist constraint, he loses a primary weapon in his debates with unbelievers, as he seeks to reduce their worldviews to skepticism. But if he retains it, he loses not only his Scripturalism but his occasionalism as well! Surely one could not be blamed if he took Cheung at his word that he indeed does reject “common sense”.
A rejoinder to the above might go like this: “I define divine illumination as that process by which God produces in me a true belief. To be sure, God is the cause of all of our false beliefs as well. But that’s not divine illumination. So the latter process remains infallible after all, and your reductio fails.” The problem with this reply is that it proves too much. In particular, it is no longer the case that I have knowledge in virtue of the fact that God causes my beliefs. Rather, I have knowledge in virtue of the fact that my beliefs are true. But then, any case of having true beliefs constitutes knowledge. Since presumably God is sovereign over the beliefs of unbelievers as well as believers, it follows from this that any true belief of the unbeliever is automatically knowledge. Cheung is then no longer in a position to say that the unbeliever is reduced to skepticism in virtue of his failure to adhere to a Christian worldview. For the unbeliever doesn’t need to have a Christian worldview in order to have knowledge; rather, all he needs is true beliefs, and surely he has plenty of those.
The rejoinder could continue, I suppose: “I define divine illumination as that process by which God produces in those who have a Christian worldview a true belief. So although God produces true beliefs in unbelievers, that doesn’t constitute knowledge, because unbelievers don’t assume a Christian worldview.” At this point of course the inevitable has happened: this is no longer a divine illumination epistemology at all. Whether or not God produces true beliefs in you is now utterly irrelevant to whether you have knowledge, for ex hypothesi God produces true beliefs in unbelievers all of the time and yet they don’t have knowledge. Rather, what makes for knowledge is whether you hold those true beliefs on the basis of having a Christian worldview. So much for the significance of “occasionalism” and “divine illumination” in explaining how we have knowledge! (This is why proponents of the divine illumination theory of knowledge, such as Augustine, Justin Martyr, and Ronald Nash, appeal to Jn 1:9 to explain even the knowledge of unbelievers, despite the fact that they don’t have a Christian worldview. Cf. Cheung’s own citations on this, in “Ultimate Questions,” pp. 42-43.)
Given the failure of these rejoinders, I take it that not only is occasionalism in tension with infallibilism, but it actually gives us a reason to reject it.
4.5 Is occasionalism in tension with internalism?
Whether we have recognized it or not, we have now broached the question of the relation between occasionalism and internalism. In my view, this is an extraordinarily important question, for the best version of occasionalism involves the rejection of internalism, and therefore the rejection of a primary weapon in Cheung’s apologetic approach to the unbeliever.
Recall that at the end of section 3.2, I wondered whether there was anything I could say against the internalist constraint upon knowledge, something that ought to persuade Cheung of how his implicit appeal to this constraint is misguided. I said there the answer had to do with Cheung’s occasionalism. And so it does. Consider Cheung’s claim that his version of occasionalism finds precedence in the Christian church:
Some people agree that the prologue of John’s Gospel at least hints at the above epistemology. As Ronald Nash writes:
“After John describes Jesus as the cosmological Logos, he presents Him as the epistemological Logos. John declares that Christ was ‘the true light that enlightens every man’ (John 1:9). In other words, the epistemological Logos is not only the mediator of divine special revelation (John 1:14), He is also the ground of all human knowledge.”
Several of the early church fathers also taught this view: “On the basis of John 1:9, Justin Martyr argued that every apprehension of truth (whether by believer or unbeliever) is made possible because men are related to the Logos.” Everyone depends on Christ to know anything. Believers admit it; unbelievers do not. (“Ultimate Questions,” pp. 42-43).
Note carefully that Cheung intends his divine illumination theory of knowledge to be applicable to unbelievers as well as believers. John declares that Christ was the true light that enlightens every man (Jn 1:9). I deny that a full-fledged theory of divine illumination is validly deducible from this text. For one thing, this text doesn’t tell us what the Logos illumines us about; every truth we believe? some beliefs? My only point is that, to the extent that Cheung wants John’s prologue to have a bearing on the issue, he will have to admit (as Augustine, Justin Martyr, and Ronald Nash argue) that the illumination in question takes place in every man. (And, indeed, Cheung does take this view of Jn 1:9; cf. “The Light of Our Minds,” p. 34 para. 3, and p. 37 para. 1.)
And that, in short, spells the end of the internalist constraint upon knowledge. By definition, unbelievers don’t assume the Christian worldview (that is, “a comprehensive set of biblical doctrines covering every aspect of life and thought”). They certainly don’t use it to “justify” any of their beliefs. And yet, according to the version of occasionalism which Cheung wishes to defend, the Logos gives unbelievers knowledge by divine illumination. This means that unbelievers have knowledge quite apart from assuming a Christian worldview! To be sure, this is a knowledge secured by God himself, but the point is that the unbeliever doesn’t have to be aware of that point, in order to have the knowledge which God secures for them.
In this respect, we have a parallel with Alvin Plantinga’s proper function theory of warrant, which also holds that God’s causal activity is significant in securing for us knowledge. The difference is that while Augustine’s theory has a rather dynamic conception of God’s relation to our knowledge (God actively produces in us true belief on every occasion in which he wants us to have knowledge), Plantinga’s theory has a rather static conception of that relation (God designs us in such a way that we produce mostly true beliefs on those occasions in which we ought to have true beliefs [where the ‘ought’ here is the ought of proper function]). But notice that in either case we have knowledge of a proposition in virtue of God’s activity in our lives, rather than in virtue of our access to a broader set of propositions which would justify the beliefs we have. Divine illumination theories of knowledge are, by their very nature, externalist in character, for the process of divine illumination is external to us, in the sense that we are often unaware of it. The unbeliever doesn’t have to be so much as aware of the fact that “Christ the Teacher” (as Augustine puts it in De Magistro) is enlightening him to believe the truth. He just has to be so enlightened, and he has knowledge. Christ is “the unchangeable excellence of God and the everlasting wisdom that every rational soul does indeed consult” (De Magistro 11.38), whether or not he is aware of it.
The upshot is that occasionalism is in tension with the internalist constraint on knowledge, and indeed excludes it. Unfortunately, as we saw in section 3.2, Cheung repeatedly makes use of this internalist constraint when it comes to dialogue with unbelievers (i.e., unbelievers can’t know anything if they don’t know how they know it). So with the adoption of occasionalism, Cheung has in effect given himself reason to reject all of the other building blocks of his entire apologetic approach: Scripturalism, infallibilism, and internalism. It is yet one more reason to regard the apologetic method he commends to his fellow believers, and applies to unbelievers, as radically unstable at best, incoherent at worst.
Of course, simple reflection upon the case of the Christian should have been enough to steer Cheung away from the internalist constraint on knowledge. If it is really the case that someone must assume “a comprehensive set of biblical doctrines covering every aspect of life and thought,” in order to have knowledge, then most Christians don’t have knowledge! After all, it is ordinarily after quite a bit of experience and teaching – perhaps a lifetime of it – that a Christian begins to accept the entire set of biblical doctrines. Indeed, many if not most Christians never attain to this kind of understanding. (As Cheung himself puts it, “Most Christians today hardly know anything about biblical doctrines and how they all fit together”; cf. p. 81 of “Presuppositional Confrontations”.) And yet surely they have some knowledge! So why do non-Christians need to assume the entire Christian worldview if they are to have knowledge? The problem with Cheung’s internalist constraint upon knowledge is that it rules out knowledge for the Christian as well as the non-Christian. Once again, under the guise of offering a defense of Christianity, Cheung has argued its refutation. Given Cheung’s own internalist standards of knowledge, most Christians know nothing at all.
Notice that now it is trivially easy to reconcile reliance upon intuition and induction with Cheung’s occasionalism. When we are functioning as God designed us to function (whether we are aware of that or not), we obtain warranted beliefs when we rely upon our intuition, or inductively infer something from various empirical observations, or from other of our beliefs. It might even be that God illuminates our mind on the occasion of each intuition and inductive inference, producing a strong belief in us of the proposition in question (again, so long as we are functioning properly). But in that case, intuition and inductive inference are quite rational ways of proceeding after all, and Cheung’s denial of them as a source of knowledge seems jejune. Since intuition and induction are quite compatible with a strong doctrine of divine providence, why would someone want to use the latter to undermine the former? From this perspective, the problem with Cheung’s argument is not that he believes in divine providence, but that he doesn’t believe in it enough. To be sure, the Scripturalist, infallibilist, and internalist constraints upon knowledge might be a concern here, but those bogeymen have been safely put to rest by now.
Finally, and as a practical matter, Cheung’s commitment to a doctrine of divine illumination might explain the fact that, although Cheung repeatedly challenges his opponents to provide “syllogistic” reasoning or “deductively valid” arguments in support of their views, Cheung himself rarely if at all provides such stringent form of argumentation in support of his own views of Scripture, God, man, knowledge, etc. (contra Cheung’s claim that he does; cf. “Apologetics in Conversation,” p. 19 para. 5). Perhaps Cheung thinks that as long as he has been illuminated by God (or thinks he has been illuminated by God) to believe his various doctrines, then it just doesn’t matter whether or not he can really “validly deduce” his views from Scripture. Well, OK, but in that case Cheung should quit playing at Scripturalism. “Being deducible from Scripture” and “Being produced in my mind by God” are not equivalent concepts, and if Cheung thinks the former is validly deducible from the latter, he’d better make the case for this, and from Scripture to boot.
I said at the outset that I would limit myself to four themes in Cheung’s published work:
(1) his affirmation of Scripturalism,
(2) his consequent rejection of the authority of intuition and induction,
(3) his affirmation of infallibilism and internalism, and
(4) his affirmation of an occasionalist, divine illumination psychology of belief.
We are now in a position to review. (1) spells disaster when it comes to presenting a cogent apologetic for the Christian faith, because it is self-referentially incoherent. Any Scripturalist has good reason to reject Scripturalism. And if we ought to infer skepticism from an incoherent worldview (as Cheung regularly does), then by his Scripturalism Cheung has reduced the Christian worldview to complete ignorance. By affirming Scripturalism, Cheung has provided a refutation of Christianity, not a defense of it.
The addition of (2) makes the apologetic package even more unstable, for a variety of reasons. It is a non sequitur to suppose that if God is sovereign over the knowing process, that therefore we cannot rely upon intuition, induction, memory, and testimony as sources of knowledge, in addition to Scripture. And while Cheung eschews intuition and induction in principle, he repeatedly affirms them in practice (which means he eschews Scripturalism in practice, although he affirms it in principle).
The addition of (3) exposes Cheung’s adherence to a non-revelational epistemology, for the infallibilist and internalist constraints upon knowledge – so characteristic of Cheung’s apologetic against unbelievers – are little more than disputable philosophies of men. They are certainly not deducible from Scripture. The fact that Cheung relies on (3) in order to ground (2) is therefore wholly misguided.
Finally, the addition of (4) is perhaps the nadir of this extended exercise in absurdity, for by affirming occasionalism Cheung gives himself reason to reject Scripturalism, infallibilism, and internalism, and reason to accept both intuition and induction (even as modes of knowledge available to the unbeliever).
I have of course argued for all of these conclusions, and several more besides. I leave it to the reader to decide if there is anything remotely attractive about the apologetic package Cheung has articulated so far. I stand by my initial contention that the apologetic approach Cheung commends and exemplifies in his written work is frankly incoherent, ought to have little plausibility for most Christians, and in practice would spell disaster if deployed against any reasonably reflective unbeliever in dialogue.
In this essay I have focused (though not exclusively) on Cheung’s “Ultimate Questions,” since he advertises it as “a system of apologetics that is consistent with the sufficiency of Scripture” (“Systematic Theology,” p. 25 fn. 15). I have reviewed Cheung’s other works, in which he addresses these same topics to a greater or lesser degree: “Systematic Theology,” “Presuppositional Confrontations,” “Apologetics in Conversation,” “The Light of Our Minds,” “Renewing the Mind,” and various blog entries. Frankly, it is simply more of the same, and interacting with these works would have probably added quite a few more page references, and further illustrations of the fallacies I have been addressing, but no fundamentally new positions that are relevant to my arguments above. Of course, if Cheung or anyone else thinks this assessment is due to distortion or ignorance of these latter works, they are free to compose a reply along those lines, providing me much needed correction. In that respect, this “Response to Vincent Cheung” will serve a valuable function as the start of a conversation. I certainly do not intend it to be the last word.