A Review of Sutanto’s Covenental Apologetics And Common Sense Realism
I came across Sutanto’s paper in the Journal of Evangelical Theology (JETS 57/4 (2014) and have been thinking it through. Part of the reason this caught my interest is because I live in Southern California and I have noticed how predominant the Argument from Consciousness is in these parts seeing how I believe it lacked the Theological justification for a genuine apologetic. But I struggled to understand why it was that these well intending apologists were so adamant about using the Argument From Consciousness and did use it with every opportunity seemingly. I believe Sutanto does an outstanding job explaining the situation in this paper and if you get the time I would highly recommend reading his paper.
However, here I provide a very simplified and watered down explanation of Sutanto’s argument. Some readers may not be too familiar with the technical language but many will be familiar with the concept the terminology seeks to communicate. Thus common sense realism (CS) is expressed by Sutanto as “referring to those propositions or intuitions that are perspicuously true, upon, or even prior to immediate reflection. When any subject S entertain these propositions, it is supposed, S will come to see the obviousness of the veracity of the proposition, and thus be lured, or even compelled, to adopt a belief in them. (777)” For example the fact that I have hands is a belief I hold from common sense and it would be difficult for anyone to refute. This is what Sutanto is addressing in the CS thesis. The relationship of CS to the Argument From Consciousness (AFC) is that the common sense reality of my conscious awareness points to belief in God. CS provides the epistemic justification for the fact of consciousness. Allow me to explain.
Sutanto begins by looking at the AFC as it is articulated by J.P. Moreland in The Rationality of Theism. It is here that Moreland wants to argue that the existence of non-physical mental states (consciousness) is a defeater of any naturalistic argument that can be offered since a precommitment to naturalism is inconsistent with a notion of non-physicality (i.e. consciousness or mental states). Sutanto frames Morland’s argument this way:
- Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.
- There is an explanation for mental states.
- Personal explanation is different from naturalistic scientific explanation.
- The explanation for mental states is either personal or natural scientific explanation.
- The explanation is not a naturalistic scientific one.
- Therefore, the explanation is a personal one.
- If the explanation is personal then it is theistic.
- Therefore, the explanation is theistic.
Sutanto seems to be in agreement with Moreland’s AFC. Where Sutanto wishes to “recalibrate” is not the AFC itself but rather Sutanto wants to recalibrate AFC’s foundation.
The argument that Sutanto is going make centers on the matter of the principium cognoscendi (principle of knowing). Morland begins premise one by denying third person scientific investigation. For Morland premise one is based on first person phenomenology hence it is at this point that he invokes the CS thesis as his principium. Here Sutanto offers some objections to the understanding of CS as principium.
Sutanto pulls from different sources in the formulation of these objections. The first objection he calls the “Marsden Olifent objection” named after two scholars George Marsden and Scott Oliphint who address this issue of CS in other works. Without going to far into what was said I think I can summarize their position as a historical refutation of CS demonstrating that there is no ground or reference for what knowledge is in fact common. Without a base or start point the pursuit of knowledge that is common becomes vacuous at best. The next objection he refers to as the “Bishop and Trout objection” which comes from Michael Bishop and J.D. Trout’s book Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. The thrust of the argument is an appeal to a naturalistic epistemology. Because no genuine agreement among epistemologists or people in general can be found in standard analytic epistemology the authors propose a third person naturalistic approach which is precisely what Morland is refuting.
The next set of objections that Sutanto offers is divine revelation and the noetic effects of sin. Here with the text of Scripture he makes the case that there are two implications of the noetic effects of sin (or the way sin impacts our thinking). The first is that which should be common- namely the knowledge of God- which is treated by the natural man as uncommon. Therefore any appeal to what is thought to be CS can potentially be an appeal to what is uncommon. Thus in this sense the natural man will take for granted that his epistemic equipment is functioning properly when in reality it is working from the noetic effects of sin which suppresses true knowledge.
If the noetic effects of sin are so comprehensive what then can be our principium cognoscendi. This is where Sutanto turns to the Triune God. He writes “With these objections we have shown that an appeal to common sense to ground an argument is insufficient at best or simply wrongheaded at worst, especially when we live in the post-lapsarian order” (786). Sutanto goes on to say, “In recalibrating the argument from consciousness, and placing it on divine revelation rather than on natural theology, we preserve its concluding premises from devolving into a proof for some finite god. Instead , we begin from the ontological Trinity, and we lay an argument that concludes, also, with the Trinity” (791).