“Sproul Sunday” RC Sproul: Reliability Of Sense Perception – Defending Your Faith Part 7

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The third of the four principles of knowledge is the reliability of sense perception.
The formal questions about the reliability of our senses arise because of Humes’s pointing out the limitations of what our senses can know about causality. Practically speaking, those who attempt to deny the basic trustworthiness of our perceptions end up being certified as insane. While our senses are not perfect, they provide true (though limited) information about the universe, or else God would not have the right to judge those who sin against Him. They could simply protest, “How could I have known?”

1. To see the seriousness of misunderstanding or ignoring this law.
2. To understand the limits of Hume’s objections to common assumptions about causality.
3. To trust that God has not left us without a way to rightly know Him.

What is a fallacy? It is an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. The various descriptions of fallacies are simply different ways in which the premises, true as they may be, do not lead to the conclusion.
A conclusion may be true and the premises be true, but the argument may still be bad because it is based on fallacious reasoning.

I. The laws of non-contradiction and causality are two of the four ideas attacked by non-theists.

a. The law of Non-Contradiction is necessary to survive.
b. Causality was most critically attacked by David Hume (1711-1776).

II. David Hume and His “Inquiry”

a) What we observe when we see things happen are “customary relationships” or “relationships of contiguity.”
b) When one thing follows another, we begin to assume that that which follows is caused by that which preceded. This observation is the kernel of Hume’s concerns.
c) How do we know that some other factor is interceding to create the illusion of a certain cause relating to a certain effect?
d) Descartes and Spinoza postulated invisible causes to that which could not be empirically observed. Hume’s observations were critical to affirming or denying these kinds of speculations.
e) Illustration: Germs and Spirits

III. Hume and Pool Tables

a) Hume’s most famous illustration of his concerns was from the game of pool.
b) Does anyone actually see the transfer of force from the cue to the ball? No.
We do not truly see causality, but we assume a causal nexus.
c) Illustration: Roosters and Sunshine.
d) Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “After this, therefore because of this.”

IV. Did Hume disprove causality?

a) No. He proved that we cannot know cause and effect with ultimate certitude.
But the principle stays intact.
b) This leads to the third principle that is attacked by non-theists, that of sense perception. Hume reveals that sense perception has limits, but does not destroy the principle.
c) At best, we are all secondary causes. The power of God is, as Hume speculates, invisible and unseen. The primary cause of all effects is God, and thus His work actually complements Biblical theism rather than destroys it.
d) Kant affirmed that Hume’s findings drove him to attempt to rescue science from skepticism. Kant understood that if Hume had destroyed causality, then not only theism, but all scientific inquiry, was in danger.

V. What is mind?

a) My senses cannot adequately determine causality (either prove it or see it consistently). But they are the only links I have between the world and the mind. And they are sufficiently powerful enough to assume that they are giving us a true (yet partial) view of reality.
b) “What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.”
c) The brain gives rise to thinking, but thinking or consciousness itself is not physical.
d) Basic reliability of sense perception must be assumed because those senses are the only way in which the mind can gather data. Peter affirmed this as he reported that early believers were not clinging to clever myths or fables, but to things they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears.

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