Indian Criterion for Revelation (Sabda Pramana)

From Epistemics of Divine Reality, pp. 244-246

An understanding of the three-fold criterion with reference to rational fideism may also prove helpful in the epistemics of divine reality. The three-fold criterion is the condition of extra-empiricality (alaukika), the condition of non-conflict (abadhita), and the condition of antecedent probability (sambhava).[1]

The Condition of Extra-Empiricality (Alaukika). According to this condition, the revealed truth should be such that it is unattained or unattainable from experience. In other words, the knowledge gained, thereby, is not purely empirical. This doesn’t mean that such knowledge has nothing to do with experience; for in that case revelation having no relation with the human experience would fail to communicate in understandable terms. Rather by the condition of extra-empiricality is meant that the revelatory content must be transcendental or esoteric, something which is beyond the reach of human experience. Similarly, in rational fideism it is contended that experience cannot serve as data for the epistemics of divine reality. All experience contains a considerable degree of probability, especially in relation to the quest for divine reality. In addition, it has already been proved that empirical epistemics is immanent and opposed to all metaphysical enquiries. Empirically speaking, then the metaphysical quest for knowledge of ultimate reality has no meaning. But this is contrary to the passion of reason. Therefore, it may be concluded with the Indian logicians that experience cannot serve as data for divine epistemics; consequently, the revelatory content must come from beyond experience.

The Condition of Non-Conflict (Abadhita). According to this criterion, the revelatory content must not be contradicted by any of the other pramanas. Neither should it be inconsistent with itself. Thus, the revelatory content must not be opposed to either reason or experience. Rational fideism contends that the revelatory content must not contradict either reason or experience or even nullify either of them but must be such that a harmony between reason and experience is achieved. Thus, the monistic rejection of phenomenal experience and the pluralistic rejection of absolute rational reality is to rational fideism a contradiction of the pramanas. Consequently, neither of them stand up to the criterion of non-conflict.

Secondly, the revelatory content must not be inconsistent. This is necessitated for any possibility of understanding. Inconsistencies only tend towards confusion of meanings. In order for the revelatory content to be consistent, its contents should not be in conflict with each other. This means that the revelatory content should be conducive to the formation of a system which can be proven to be totally conformable to the revelatory content. Though human frailty may be cited as inadequate before the revelatory content to build such a system, yet its theoretical possibility cannot be ignored. In Christian theology, this conditionality of Revelation is reflected in the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy. According to the doctrine of infallibility, the revelatory content is infallible as to its communication of the message of Revelation. According to the doctrine of inerrancy, the words themselves that form the content of Revelation, are free from errors in the sense that they are the right words that rightly communicate the revelatory message. Thus, internal consistency is recognized as important for the revelatory content to be true.[2]

The Condition of Antecedent Probability (Sambhava). The third condition is that reason should foreshadow what revelation teaches. This means that the truths of revelation are not such that conflict with the anticipation of reason. Accordingly, rational fideism contends that the objectivity of revelation must find an associate in the subjective dimension of human rational-empirical or metaphysical experience. The existential dimension of the human (for whom existence is a concern) anticipates revelation. In this sense, then, reason foreshadows what revelation teaches. Consequently, the content of revelation may not be said to be completely new, though it is essentially novel as being ‘extra-empirical’.

For instance, rational fideism contends that, on the basis of non-conflict of the pramanas, reason foreshadows ultimate reality to be both a unity and plurality; however, reason itself is not able to find out how such a unity and plurality can be a possibility. The Christian Revelation of God as Tri-unity, tells that God is, in essence a unity and, in relation a tri-personality. Thus, the Christian Revelation finds an element of antecedent probability in reason.

Consequently, it may be argued that rationality (consistency), empiricality (non-conflict), and existentiality (as rational anticipation) must form the cognitive framework of an understanding of divine reality.

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1. M. Hiriyanna, Indian Philosophy, pp. 180-181
2. It is a debate whether the whole of the Bible should be regarded as the revelatory content or that the revelatory content is not limited to or extensive with all the words of the Bible. Differences of opinions lead to differences regarding the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. However, it is rationally obvious, that infallibility and inerrancy must be integral to the revelatory content in order that it possess internal consistency; for revelation cannot contradict revelation unless it is false, and in that case unreliable.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007

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