By C.Jay Engel and Luke Miner
The infallibilist constraint on knowledge is in conflict with Scripturalism and yet is regularly employed by Scripturalists against alternative modes of knowledge. The infallibilist constraint on knowledge – that is, the idea that knowledge can only be obtained by a process that is guaranteed to exclude error – is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Although Scripturalists ought to reject this non-revelational epistemological principle on the basis of their Scripturalism, they regularly employ it to argue that intuition, induction, and other sources of belief cannot be sources of knowledge.
Summary of Objection
Essentially, the objection is that while Scripturalism purports to have Scripture as an axiom from which all knowledge flows, Scripturalists use a principle that is not in Scripture itself as a means to prove the inadequacy of non-Scripturalist epistemologies. Stated differently, Scripturalists on one hand claim that there can be no other principles besides Scripture, and yet at the same time claim that there is an “infallibist” constraint (defined above) principle that can be employed in disproving other methodologies.
The objection is confused because it does not realize that the so-called constraint on knowledge is actually the Scripturalist definition of knowledge, though stated in imprecise terms. The Scripturalist is attempting to show which beliefs can both be truth and justified. Thus, the chosen meaning of knowledge in the Scripturalist framework or worldview is “justified true belief.” People have used the word knowledge in other ways and the Scripturalist happily admits this. However, in attempting to defend the idea of “justified true belief,” a word is needed; and the most accessible word is “knowledge.”*
So then, the objection above is actually akin to arguing that Scripturalists are wrong to claim that a process must guarantee the exclusion of error in the Scripturalist’s pursuit of a process that guarantees the exclusion of error. Or in other words, the objection is that Scripturalists somehow cannot have justified true belief (JTB) as the rubric in considering whether other methodologies meet the standard of JTB.
Now then, can the Scripturalist demand that other methodologies be infallible in order to be considered means of knowledge acquisition? They can if their standard of knowledge is justified true belief. There are other “reasons” to believe in the conclusions wrought by methodologies such as empiricism; we might even say such beliefs are “warranted.” But since the methodology itself is not infallible the conclusion simply cannot be labelled “knowledge” given the chosen definition. This is why Gordon Clark simply called these possibly true beliefs “opinions.” They could indeed be true. We just don’t know for sure in a justified way.
*Those who define “knowledge” to accommodate fallibly obtained beliefs must be prepared to face difficulties which arise with “false knowledge” including Gettier problems.