Philosophical Foundation by Surrendra Gangadean
Review by Mike Robinson
Modern philosophers have introduced some of the finest epistemic innovations in the history of thought. For decades, many philosophers have defined truth as relative or non-existent. The liberal post-enlightenment had expanded epistemic and ontological nonsense by aggressively misinterpreting reason and reality, and selected Christians painted this, altogether incorrectly, as a battle to be fought on common ground. In the last couple decades, though, faithful Christian philosophers have increasingly sought to use their newfound esteem to expose this chimera.
The two compulsions sit side-by-side nervously, like a wrongly convicted inmate who was conducting himself with honor during his incarceration and suddenly he has the chance to join a jailbreak of murderous convicts. What this issue of common ground offered was a way to reconcile the two types of inmates: guilty convicts versus the man wrongly imprisoned.
But there is a profound difference between a guilty killer and a mistakenly jailed man who is legally innocent. The former creates ways to break the law and rebel against authority, itemized or implied by Scripture. The latter seeks to uphold proper and lawful actions. He will not follow the murderers since he upholds a different standard. There is no explicit common ground between him and the wicked.
Do you recognize the distinction? An unbeliever rests his philosophy on a non-Christian worldview. The Christian rests his views on the Christian worldview. They offer assertions and arguments from their worldview. In principle, like the dissimilar prisoners, there is no true common ground (although the unbeliever tacitly borrows from the Christian worldview in his dependence on clarity). And in Surrendra Gangadean’s Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Beliefs one finds a clear demarcation of the presuppositions between Christianity and unbelief. He not only reveals the clear distinction between foundations, he demonstrates the impossibility of non-Christian worldviews by employing the necessity of clarity and meaning.
“All skepticism is grounded in uncritically held assumptions.”
He argues that “some things are clear. The basic things are clear. The basic things about God and man, good and evil are clear. In order to reason Human beings are more or less conscious and consistent in understanding the meaning and implications of their beliefs. There are many degrees and kinds of skepticism arising from degrees of consistency in basic beliefs, as well as from differences among persons. All skepticism is grounded in uncritically held assumptions. These assumptions will be critically examined in preparing to show how some things are clear” (p. 3).
“How knowledge is possible requires attention to the nature of thought and to reason as the laws of thought.”
He points out the importance of guiding rational and ethical precommitments: “Thinking, by nature, is presuppositional. We think of what is less basic in light of what is more basic. If what is more basic is not clear then what is less basic cannot be clear and therefore nothing can be clear. If there is agreement on what is more basic, which is clear, there will be agreement on what is less basic. Basic things are searched out in the most basic questions we can ask. How is knowledge possible? What is real? What ought I to do? How knowledge is possible requires attention to the nature of thought and to reason as the laws of thought. It requires attention to the relation of truth and meaning, and to reason as the test of meaning. It requires attention to experience and to the interpretation of experience in light of one’s basic beliefs. “What is real?” requires the distinction between the temporal and the eternal, and attention to the questions whether there must be something eternal or whether it is possible that nothing is eternal. It deals with the question whether all is eternal in some form or other, or whether only some (i.e., God) is eternal. One’s view of the origin and nature of man will depend on one’s view of what is real. The question, ‘what ought I to do?’ is based on the reality of choice and of values which assume the notion of the highest value or the good. One’s conception of good and evil will depend on one’s conception of human nature” (p. 4).
The author begins by providing a fine outline of what philosophy is and what it can do: It is a “foundation … an attitude … method … application … and a system” (pp. 6-7).
Mr. Gangadean notes the commanding importance of the laws of logic, yet it appears he may have overstated their ontic capacity, in this otherwise fine elucidation, as he initially opines: “First, reason in itself is the laws of thought, which are: the law of identity (A is A); the law of non-contradiction (not both A and non-A in the same respect and at the same time); and the law of excluded middle (either A or non-A).” He then proceeds to demonstrate the ubiquity and necessity of these laws of thought: “If there are other laws of thought they are based on these laws as basic. Their status as laws make thought possible. If a law of life (breathing for an example) is violated, life ceases. So, if a law of thought is violated, thought ceases. What is contrary to a law of thought, when seen as such, cannot be thought. The law of identity identifies and distinguishes A and non-A at the same time: A is A; A is not non-A, which is to say, a thing is what it is. Rock is rock; fish is fish, finite is finite, finite is not infinite; being is being, being is not non-being. To conceive of A is to conceive of non-A and to distinguish the two. To say A is different from, and simultaneously the same as non-A is to lose the meaning of ‘same and different’ and as a consequence, if one is being consistent, to lose all meaning. Certain claims, upon analysis, will be seen to be saying A is non-A, the eternal is non-eternal (that is, temporal), being is non-being.”
“Empiricism has increasingly been assumed in the natural sciences and natural science is becoming the stronghold of empiricism. It professes to be the only true source of knowledge, publicly verifiable, and therefore authoritative for all.”
Romans Chapter One declares that all men “know God” so they are “without excuse.” Gangadean relates this to clarity and inexcusability: “If it is clear that there are no reasons in support of one’s unbelief, then unbelief is inexcusable. To merely reaffirm that ‘everyone deep down knows God’ does not show clarity by showing the inexcusability of unbelief” (p. 24).
“It is also acknowledged that reason is useful in giving reasons for the truth of revelation. But it must never be the magistrate over or judge of the truth of revelation. It is a maidservant, not a mistress.”
Unbelievers and selected Christians mistakenly place reason above revelation. Yet revelation is the source for our confidence in reason. Reason is indispensable, but it is to function as an employee of revelation: “It is acknowledged by those who uphold the ministerial use of reason that reason is necessary to receive revelation (the formative use of reason). It is also acknowledged that reason is useful in giving reasons for the truth of revelation. But it must never be the magistrate over or judge of the truth of revelation. It is a maidservant, not a mistress, and the strongest condemnation is reserved for the arrogation of the role of magistrate by reason. It is of use in systematizing truth (the constructive use of reason). And it is used to interpret scripture and to support one interpretation over and against another interpretation: the interpretive use of reason” (p. 24). Reason is necessary for intelligibly, but God is necessary for reason.
Reason has ontological grounding and important issues arise from this ontic reality: “To say ‘reason is ontological’ means that reason applies to being as well as to thought. It means that there are no square-circles, no ‘A’ that is ‘not A.’ It applies to all being, the highest being, including God’s being. God is not both eternal and not-eternal in the same respect and at the same time. Miracles may transcend a created law of nature, but not a law of reason, which is uncreated. There should be no grounds therefore for saying reason cannot grasp reality” (p.25).
Since there are fideists, semi-fideists, and irrationalists running amok and anti-theists calling faith unreasonable, the author posits helpful distinctions apropos faith and reason: “It has been argued that faith is other than reason, that it goes beyond reason and that it may even go against reason. These responses are understandable, given skeptical claims concerning the possibility of knowledge: postmoderns (all is interpretation—one cannot transcend one’s historical situatedness); the probability factor in all historical argument (Schelling, Kierkegaard, William L. Craig); the puzzles that arise from confusing logical with empirical gaps (mind and brain); and explaining unity of diversity (A and non-A). What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Faith comes first, then understanding: I believe in order that I might understand (credo ut intelligam). Or faith completes the natural limits of understanding as grace completes nature (Aquinas). Faith cannot be subject to the vagaries of philosophy or science, it is said. Faith must take God at his word. It believes because God said it” (p. 26).
“Faith must take God at his word. It believes because God said it.”
All men are called to repent and believe the Gospel. The Spirit and the Word by God’s grace enlighten the lost as reason is a vital ministerial feature of this belief. One is born again (John 3) and one is saved by the preaching of the Word and the effectual working of grace by the Holy Spirit. The author observes: “Reason, it is said, is one thing, and the work of the Holy Spirit is another. What is necessary for faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit, the testimonium Spititu Sancti. Man by reason cannot presume to do the work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is by grace, not works. Man’s reason, it is said, is finite and fallen. Sin has a negative effect on the human mind (the noetic effect). Reason does not persuade; the Spirit does. The Spirit regenerates. No one else, and nothing else, can” (p. 26). This is one central reason that proof is not to be confused with persuasion.
“The most basic concept is about existence, whether something is or is not.”
This work covers numerous ontological and epistemic issues as Gangadean takes no metaphysical prisoners. He discusses the conditions necessary for knowledge, Plantinga’s view of warrant, and the Gettier problem (pp. 33-36). Concerning the necessity, identification, and application of basic beliefs in relation to the eternal he offers this explication: “We know the basic by reason and argument. Basic beliefs are about basic things and basic concepts are about basic concepts. We can identify basic beliefs and their different worldviews by identifying the basic concepts. The most basic concept is about existence, whether something is or is not. ‘It is blue,’ ‘It is long,’ ‘It is used for writing,’ assume ‘It is.’ ‘It is’ assumes the distinction of now and not now, whether past or future. Past and future are further distinguished by always and not always. What has always existed in the past and will always exist in the future is eternal. What has always existed in the past and will always exist in the future is eternal. What has not always existed is not eternal; it is temporal. So there are two kinds of existence, temporal and eternal. Of these two, eternal is more basic than temporal, for two reasons. Logically, the mind cannot stop with temporal. It asks, ‘Where did it come from?’ Logically, the mind must stop with the eternal. It cannot ask, ‘Where did the eternal come from?’ Ontologically, what is eternal would be the source of what is temporal. So an eternal being is logically and ontologically more basic concept of being… The most basic belief is an answer to the question ‘What is real or eternal?’ That which is eternal has always existed and will always exist. It did not come into being. It is independent of other beings for its existence for it is self-existing, not having come into being. Whatever comes into being is dependent and likewise finite and changeable. What is eternal does not depend on another for it continues existence; it is self-maintaining. And what happens in it is to be explained from within itself. It is self-explaining. If anything lacks the qualities: self-existing, self-maintain and self-explaining it cannot be eternal. We should also distinguish what is eternal in time (that is, what is eternal) from what is eternal outside time, where time is an aspect of things created. What is everlasting, continuing on forever, could have had a beginning and need not be eternal, that is, without beginning” (p. 40).
“Since any assertion is a form of thought, the materialist must choose between retaining thought and giving up materialism or try to keep materialism while giving up thought.”
Gangadean walks the reader through assorted subjects including Eastern monism, materialistic monism, change versus flux, and materialism. He proceeds as he rightly dismisses sorted materialists such as Marx, Freud, and Skinner: “Diversities may be ordered, one presupposing another, but that does not make one kind reducible to another. Reducing all reality to matter requires the naturalistic thinker to seek some kind of natural explanation for thought. Marx, Freud, and Skinner did so. For Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses. Religious belief is reduced to economic categories of rich and poor. How is true and false to be derived from rich and poor? Applied to Marx himself, is his view determined by his economic condition? If so, then all views merely differ. Then Marx’s view would be neither true nor false, contrary to what he is asserting to be true. His assertion is a complex assertion, which is self-refuting. The same is true of Freud, who would reduce belief to repression of sexual instinct connected with early childhood training. Likewise, this is true of Skinner, who reduces thinking to conditioned response. In each case reducing the rational to the non-rational does away with a meaningful distinction between true and false. Materialists cannot explain the reality of thought in natural terms. Since any assertion is a form of thought, the materialist must choose between retaining thought and giving up materialism or try to keep materialism while giving up thought. The choice to be made is obvious” (p. 58).
The gap is ontological, and cannot be filled by unlimited exploration of natural processes in the brain or in quantum physics.
He continues his assault on materialism by exposing the impossibility of the mind being identified as the brain: “An argument against materialism shows that some non-material thing exists. It shows that the soul exists by showing that the mind is not the brain. As the second argument shows that thought cannot be accounted for as brain activity, the … argument shows that perception, and self-consciousness which accompanies it, cannot be accounted for by brain activity alone. We do not hesitate to say we have a brain. We also say we have a mind. But we are puzzled when asked if we think with our mind or our brain. We are unsure if the mind is the brain or if the mind is the soul. Yet the mind is such that if we had a mind we would surely know it. We would not need to seek special psychic phenomena or out-of-body or near-death experiences to know this. What we are looking for would be so obvious that we would be inclined to overlook it. The third argument begins with our claim about knowing most certainly that the physical world exists, and by analysis goes on to show that what we know most certainly is not that the material would exists, but that the mind exists and that this mind is not the brain. … Human thought and consciousness cannot be explained by natural forces now operating. The gap is ontological, and cannot be filled by unlimited exploration of natural processes in the brain or in quantum physics” (pp. 65-67).
Since God has the attribute of aseity which relates to His immutability and eternality, God alone has the ontology necessary to account for intelligibility. Gangadean explains that the “term ‘God’ has different meanings in atheism, pantheism, dualism, and polytheism. In theism it is generally understood that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. God is personal, having knowledge and will. God is omnipresent as an infinite spirit, spiritually present everywhere. God is omnipotent, having absolute power over what he brings into being. God is omniscient, knowing all things exhaustively, knowing the end from the beginning. God has moral attributes of goodness and justice in an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable way. The attributes of infinite, eternal, and unchangeable apply to all other attributes of God. They are possessed by God alone and cannot be communicated to any creature. Human beings are the image of God, having the same attributes which God has (being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth) in a finite, temporal, and changeable way. All these attributes of God are manifest in the general revelation of creation and history. The first and fundamental attribute is the eternality of God, and with this, his aseity—completeness in self-existence” (p.99-100). Thus God is not merely another important fact within the universe, nay! God alone stands infinitely aloft as sovereign Creator and Lord.
Gangadean posits arguments vis-à-vis a wide range of subjects including the problem of evil. Gangadean meets the problem head-on as he reveals the vital importance of understanding one’s assumptions: “This solution to the problem of evil has certain assumptions. It assumes first, in the definition of good and evil, that there is a clear general revelation that only some is eternal, that God the Creator exists. It assumes clarity and inexcusability. The arguments against material monism, spiritual monism, dualism, and a logically possible world, if they are sound, show this clarity. It assumes, second, that there is no other way to deepen the revelation of the divine justice and mercy. Some things cannot be known except by experience—such as hunger or pain, both physical and spiritual. A book version of human history, or a movie version, cannot supply this experience and is incomprehensible without it. Virtual reality works insofar as it is indistinguishable from reality. Some experience is necessary for imagination to work, so there is no way to deepen the revelation apart from providence in the fall and redemption of mankind” (p. 113).
He builds upon the previous truth recounted as he contends that the Christian “assumes that the deepened revelation and knowledge of this revelation is worth the suffering. This third assumption is not so clear because it can be asked before or after the revelation is seen and it can be asked of those who do see it and of those who never come to see it. Here testimony is relevant. Job struggled before seeing, and, after seeing, was silenced in awe and repentance. Paul the Apostle said the sufferings of this life cannot be compared with the glory that is to be revealed. Many throughout the ages have confessed the same. The figure of the pearly gates symbolizes that through suffering we come into the knowledge of the glory of God. The answer to the question ‘Is it worth it?’ is a presumed unqualified yes. Asked of those who do not see it, the relevant question can only be: Is the divine justice an excellence to be revealed, inseparable from all the other excellences? And, is justice revealed in the reality of sin and death? Understanding sin as rooted in not seeking and consequently not understanding what is clear about God, understanding death as meaninglessness, boredom and guilt inherent in sin, and understanding human freedom and responsibility in using or avoiding the use of reason, are necessary to begin thinking clearly about the divine justice. This requirement means that the question must be dealt with existentially and not abstractly, and there we must leave it” (p. 113).
The volume weaves through topics including the rational justification of ethics. He then highlights the utterly essential utilization of presuppositions: “By reason we can think constructively (i.e., systematically) by good and necessary consequences, and by reason we can think critically (i.e., presuppositionally) and examine basic beliefs for meaning. What violates a law of thought cannot be meaningful and therefore cannot be true. Reason is natural, ontological, transcendental, and fundamental. And one has to neglect, avoid, resist, and deny reason to avoid what is clear. One has to deny one’s nature as a rational being to avoid knowing and doing what is good. … Thinking by nature is presuppositional. We think of the less basic in light of the more basic. We think of truth in light of meaning. We interpret experience in light of basic belief. In argument we base conclusions on premises. At the level of concepts we think of the finite in light of the infinite, the temporal in light of the eternal. In regard to disputes in general, if there is agreement on what is more basic there will be agreement on what is less basic. Lack of agreement on what is less basic is due to lack of agreement on what is more basic” (p. 120). Men should discern their presuppositions and they must presuppose the clarity of reason to argue for or against its use.
Gangadean presses the extreme difficulty of fallacious religious views concerning God’s mercy as it relates to His justice: “The central question of how God can be both just and merciful is answered, not by mercy satisfying justice through vicarious atonement, but, by mercy setting aside the requirements of justice. In this understanding, God is not infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably just by nature. God is not bound by nature to be just. God has no nature by which he is bound. God has many names, such a just and merciful, but is not infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in justice and mercy. If he were, justice would need to be satisfied it could not be set aside by mercy” (p. 136). In Christianity alone one finds a place where infinite grace and mercy meet: at the cross of Jesus Christ.
As the author makes his argument for presuppositional clarity, he is eager to demonstrate that it is a good deal more than a boring and unaccessible philosophy. He refers to atheistic notions from ancient sources as well as modern; he critiques Eastern religions, skepticism, empiricism, rationalism, and more. He strikes at their foundations—their basic beliefs and guiding presuppositions. Gangadean maintains that argumentation in philosophy or in daily life requires not just more precision than the culture might suggest, but men must submit their ideas to scripture and reject everything that remains inconsistent. Drawing on epistemology, clear arguments, and the work of notable philosophers, the author presents biblical presuppositions that should govern our thinking and conclusions. He also exposes falsities of monism, naturalism, and relativism as he contends that God is the key to clarity needed for a sound worldview.
Gangadean Surrendra has written a notable book that fashions a cogent guide for rational clarity and comprehension. It is also a persuasive escort to interpreting non-Christian worldviews, certain to be employed by Christian philosophers and apologists. The author, it should be indicated, does not suggest that Van Til’s view is wholly correct, but clarity the author is convinced must be a chief feature of worldview analysis. He concedes that his apologetic view is an innovation and is not strictly Van Tilian, Clarkian, or Schafferian. The answer, though, is not for apologists to foist old ideas of autonomous epistemic rights, and thereby possibly cloud the clarity, but to concentrate on the lone basic belief that yields perfect truth and clarity: The Triune God.
Review by Mike Robinson author of numerous apologetic books including Truth, Reason, and the Knowledge of God (paperback) and the new ebook Reality and the Folly of Atheism HERE