Monday, December 14, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark: Excursus 1

I've been having a back-and-forth debate with a visitor regarding the first post I made concerning Bahsen's criticism of Clark. I'm going to take a post to handle the main contention and also provide an example of where Bahnsen engages in a contradiction (or at least a very poor reading) of his criticisms of Clark. My visitor's words will be italicized.

The issue is the context of the statements Bahnsen quotes.

You state, "I deal expressly with the immediate surrounding context of Clark's quotes. Read a bit further into the critique before passing final judgment on this point." "This point" is the quote from Clark that Bahnsen claims is a departure from Van Tillian-presuppositional apologetics. I read your second post and you do not continue discussing it. I will read through the rest of the posts to see if you deal with it in detail.

I will grant my visitor's point that in the quoted text Clark's approach is a departure from Van Til's presuppositionalism. But in granting that, I mean to emphasize that the departure is, I believe, superficial. More on that below.

Now you did provide more context in you last comment to me. You say, "Of course they aren't presuppositional in the sense of presenting a positive argument. But that is irrelevant because the entire point is that Clark is performing an internal critique of opposing views, which requires the arguer to adopt the principle of the opponent to demonstrate the contradiction: Modus tollens. As your second question alludes, Clark is, in every one of the quotes that Bahnsen criticizes, performing internal critiques."

I see this as a departure from Bahnsen. In doing an internal critique, Bahnsen would not say something like "Chistianity in particular furnishes a BETTER method than secularism is a POSSIBILITY not to be dismissed." The presupposition that Bahnsen targets in internal critiques is not the unbeliever's adherence to Modus tollens but to his rejection of Scripture as revelation. The non-christian rejection of Scripture undermines logic and reason in totality, not in possibility. Bahnsen is not after contradictions here and there. He is out to show that apart from God there are no contradictions period. There is no modus tollens.

Performing an internal critique of opposing views does not require the arguer to adopt the CONFESSED principle of the opponent. It requires the arguer to confront him with the consequenses of his UNCONFESSED principle: God and His Word.

I think my visitor has created a false disjunction between modus tollens and the confrontation of revelation. Modus tollens, a logical argument that adopts a premise on the basis of demonstrating the absurdity of its implications, does not actually entail the assent to that adopted premise. Indeed, if one assented to the premise while knowingly attempting a modus tollens, one would be setting oneself up for contradiction!

The real difference between Bahnsen and Clark, or even Van Til and Clark, is simply a matter of method, and not of presuppositions. Clark, Van Til, and Bahnsen all presuppose that Scripture is the Word of God and is the only justification for knowledge. Bahsnen presses Clark because of his choice of "possible" or "probable" or other uncertain language, but really the difference is rhetorical rather than substantive. Clark wishes to engage the unbeliever in a discovery, whereas Bahnsen and Van Til wish to provoke their spirit by proclamation.

Clark does not hide his presuppositions from his readers, but he does not assert them with the force of Bahnsen or Van Til. For example, after stating Augustine's position he concludes:
"With the Bible and its theology Augustine's view of history can stand; without that theology Popper's strenuous moral pleading, with which he closes his book, has no foundation." (p. 231 Historiography: Secular and Religious)

Clark here affirms the basic presuppositional argument: apart from Revelation, no foundation for history can be had. While Clark takes 230 pages to reach this statement, it is not inconsistent with his professions of "probability," for in those places he is still canvassing views to indirectly lead his reader through the failures of unbelieving positions (modus tollens, or disjunctive syllogism, which we'll come back to).

Now one may certainly argue that Bahnsen's straightfoward approach is more keen to his liking, and one may even argue that Bahnsen's approach provides more confidence to the believer in his defense of the faith, for it places the critical issue at the forefront. However, to accuse Clark of contradiction is simply fallacious. The language of possibility in a modus tollens does not imply that the arguer is denying what he really wishes to prove. It merely shows that the unbeliever cannot establish what he would like to establish: the impossibility or improbability of Christianity.

Here is the full quote that Bahnsen pulls from Clark's chapter on Augustine (I've emboldened Bahnsen's excised portion):
In Part One the discussion on a few occasions approached, if it did not trespass on, matters of religion. For example, the question whether historians should pronounce moral judgments on great men requires for an affirmative answer an epistemological method of justifying a moral norm. That religion or Christianity in particular furnishes a better method than secularism is a possibility not to be dismissed without discussion.

While Clark is now introducing Christianity into his treatise on historiography, he is still engaging in a disjunctive syllogism, which aims to remove alternatives prior to asserting Christianity as the valid choice. While this is not Van Tillian in nature, it is still presuppositional, for one cannot eliminate on the basis of neutrality, but must have a foundation upon which to argue, which Clark freely admits is Christian Revelation.

On page 264-66 of his book, Bahnsen claims that Clark falls prey to the logical fallacy of asserting the consequent in trying to prove the validity of Christianity, and then, in order to salvage the argument, would have to use a disjunctive syllogism that can only be proven by omniscience, since the disjunction requires EVERY possibility to be dismantled in order to prove only one.

However, in his reply to Arthur Holmes in the edited volume, The Philosophy of Gordon Clark (a chapter Bahnsen cites), Clark expressly details his use of the disjunctive syllogism, and how it comports with his presupposition. First, he explains the usefulness of the disjunctive syllogism (notice the denial of neutrality):
It is the emphasis on system that justifies my use of the "disjunctive syllogism." Since in a logical system all the theorems come from the axioms, and from nowhere else, since indeed the meaning of the theorems depends on the axioms, a particular theorem cannot be found in two different systems. When such a theorem seems to occur, either there is an inconsistency in one or both systems, or the systems overlap--in which case at least one of them is not a universal system. Therefore, the so-called "disjunctive syllogism," the denial of a middle ground, and the principle that "he who is not for us is against us" are logical necessities. (p. 431)

He then goes on to assent to the fact that his disjunctions do not undertake to refute every alternative, but then he argues that many particular alternatives fall under his criticisms of empiricism, because of their basic (and unproven) assertion that physical sensation is a requirement for the possession and/or justification of human knowledge. He follows with more defenses of his disjunctions, then comes to another important presuppositional point:
In my debates with some who deny it, I have maintained that Christians and non-christians have certain "common ground." That is to say, a regenerate and unregenerate person may believe the same proposition [e.g. the sky is blue today]. But this by no means implies that a given proposition can be deduced indifferently from Christian and from secular presuppositions. Hence, the statement [by Holmes] that "We can learn about the form of logical reasoning, therefore, from non-christians philosophers," misses the point. In the case of logic the unacceptability of secular logic becomes clearer than in the case of Aristotle when Dewey brings logic into a more consistent connection with his secularism by denying logic's finality and arguing that the principles of logic, like the principles of grammar, change with use from age to age. Therefore, I should disagree with the idea that we can learn logic from Dewey. The principle involved in my argument is that incompatible axioms [presuppositions] do not imply identical conclusions. If the words sometimes sound similar, the intellectual content is not. (pp. 435-36)

In this quote Clark is denying neutrality, asserting the incoherence of secularist epistemology, and establishing that the Christian system is incompatible with all others. He obviously holds to the Christian system in arguing against all others, and is therefore consistent in accepting it as his presupposition.

There is a great deal more to be gleaned from Clark's reply to Holmes, much of which addresses other objections that Bahnsen makes to Clark. I remain puzzled as to how Bahnsen could have missed the cogency of Clark's replies. A summary may perhaps whet my readers's appetites to investigate further:

1. Bahnsen objects to Clark's use of "autonomous" logic as a means of "validating" Scripture. But Clark replies that Paul uses logic "at least on par with that of Aristotle," and since logic is evinced by Scripture, it is part of God's revelation, and not some autonomous system. In his logic textbook, he gives an example of Paul using an enthymeme (pg. 3), and on pg. 119 he identifies several logical forms found in Scripture:
For example, Romans 4:2 is an enthymematic hypothetical destructive syllogism. Romans 5:13 is a hypothetical constructive syllogism. 1 Corinthians 15:15-18 is a sorites.

If Paul uses logical forms, and Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we know for certain that God exhibits a logical mind. How then can logic be atheistic or autonomous when used to evidence the consistency of God's Word? Note well that I used the word "evidence" and not "prove." I've discussed in another post already where Clark openly asserts that Christianity is only "proven" by a change of mind in the individual brought about by the Holy Spirit.

So Bahnsen falsely accuses Clark of asserting the consequent, for Bahnsen's alleged reproduction of Clark (1. If the hypothesis of Christianity is true, then X. 2. X is the case. 3. Therefore, Christianity is true) is not Clark position at all. The second readjusted disjunctive syllogism that Bahnsen attempts to undermine also falls flat because Clark's use of the disjunction is not a denial of Christian presuppositionalism, but is rather built upon it. So far, argues Clark, in the history of philosophy there have only been four basic epistemologies offered: 1. Rationalism, 2. Empiricism, 3. Irrationalism and 4. Revelation. His disjunction does not treat all individual manifestations of these views, but rather he does complete a disjunction of the broad categories of rationalism, empiricism, and irrationalism. The burden of proof is upon individual views to establish epistemologies that do not fall under the three broad categories Clark destroys. Merely asserting alternatives is not enough (as Clark's rejoinder to Holmes also labors to show).

To conclude, Clark was every bit as much a presuppositionalist as Van Til or Bahnsen ever were in their commitment to the Revelation of Christ, God's Word inscripturated. The major distinction comes in the direct vs. indirect method of exposing the folly of unbelief. Bahnsen and Van Til are direct, whereas Clark is indirect. And actually, in his doctrinal writings, Clark is much more explicit and direct.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 7

I’m going to pass over most of the next section in Bahnsen’s critique, because it falls prey to the same arguments in the previous post. However, to add a measure of continuity without too much redundancy, I’ll venture a few remarks.

Bahnsen argues, “We really must query, however, why it is necessary to test the Bible for consistency rather than presupposing it, since the revelation is from the God of truth Himself. Scripture should be used as the canon of consistency for all thoughts of men rather than being itself at the mercy of the creature’s critical faculty” (p. 152). He then quotes Clark to the effect that the intellect is the primary aspect of man.

First of all, Bahnsen provides an incomplete disjunction. It is not true that in presupposing the truth of Scripture one cannot also test its consistency with regard to areas where its claims are borne out. Recall that Clark’s tests involve applying the Scripture to problems in politics, history, ethics, etc. to evidence how consistently it handles these questions where other views do not. It is precisely because Clark presupposes Scripture as the source and justification of knowledge that he is able to make such applications validly. Imagine if Bahnsen’s reply to every non-Christian’s rejection of Scripture’s claims with regard to history or politics was simply that “Scripture is true, therefore what it states or implies about politics is true.” The even if the unbeliever were to grant the Christian his assumption of Scripture’s truth, he would still want to know (as would any Christian, for that matter) how the Scriptures answer the questions of politics or history. Without “testing” or evidencing the knowledge Scripture reveals on these subjects, how can one lay the ground for persuasion to occur by the “ordinary means” the Holy Spirit uses to convince the unbeliever?

Bahnsen concludes the section, “When self-evident rational principles are elevated to sit in judgment over God’s revelation, that revelation is bound to lose its authoritative character in deference to man’s unquestionable use of logic. Instead of faith in God’s Word leading to understanding of reason and science, understanding is taken to lead to faith (thereby abandoning the Augustinian dictum)” (p. 153).

Clark never asserts nor implies that the laws of logic are self-evident, nor that they can be abstracted or externalized from God Himself or His revelation. He explicitly states that the laws of logic (or at least the law of contradiction) are deduced from Scripture, the place where God has revealed the truth, or knowledge. It is not man’s “unquestionable use” of logic, but rather an unquestionable necessity of logic as revealed in Scripture that serves as the formal test for all arguments. Note that as a formal test it must presuppose a substantive truth upon which the tests may proceed. Clark has provided that presupposition: the Bible is the Word of God. Logic is verified by the axiom, not vice versa. But since unbelievers reject the axiom, but not logic, Clark uses the ostensible common ground to undermine their contradictory unbelief—just as Bahnsen does to Stein!

The next section has a few more terribly sophomoric misrepresentations and further blatant misreading of Clark. The first two paragraphs seem to have forgotten that Clark has already acknowledged that Scripture is the source of knowledge, and that the axiom of Scripture is the basis for Clark’s system. Given that presupposition, Bahnsen must, to be charitable, allow Clark’s stated presupposition to define his terms unless it becomes obvious that Clark’s definitions do not stem from his presupposition. When Clark talks about truth as necessary, eternal, immaterial and universal, why does Bahnsen assume that Clark argues this from an autonomous or self-evident position? What the unbeliever knows, yet suppresses, is that their knowledge comes from God, because only God reveals knowledge, and only God possesses truth independently.

Bahnsen argues that Clark somehow denies this, and is seeking to prove the existence of God by his description of the identity of truth with God’s mind. Yet only two pages prior, Clark states:
The “proof” of God’s existence, which is not at all a logical demonstration, results from showing that consistency is maintained by viewing all things as dependent upon God. . . .Though the existence and nature of God are not subject to formal demonstration, yet if Christian theism is true [and Clark has already stated that it this his presupposition], there is no mystery in the fact that all human minds use the same categories. . .

Clark is not seeking to prove God’s existence on the basis of proving that truth exists. Rather, Clark is saying that the proof that truth exists is evidence that his presupposition is correct. Evidence, not formal demonstration. Evidence supported upon and only upon the axiom of Scripture, and not upon autonomous, self-evident verification.

Thus, when Bahnsen asserts, “The very notion of proving God’s existence is inherently misguided; God alone is adequate to witness to Himself,” (p. 154) we must reply, “where has Clark attempted to prove God’s existence?” Clark has given evidence that God has revealed Himself and that His revelation is true, but the giving of evidence is not an attempt at a demonstrative proof, as Clark himself acknowledges. Rather, it is an expression of the strength of the presupposition, just as Bahnsen’s opening chapters were expressions of the strength of the presupposition, rather than an attempt to demonstrate that the presupposition is true.

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 6

Let me begin with a misunderstanding that Bahnsen makes of Clark’s use of the laws of logic as proof of Christianity. Here is the quote:
The question of truth is prior, says Clark, for “unless the Bible is true, there is not much use in discussing inspiration.” Here Clark commits himself to the traditional non-presuppositional apologetic which attempts to work up to an acceptance of the nature of Scripture by proving it to the unregenerate man, who, it is wrongly assumed, can correctly interpret nature on his own unbelieving principles. (p. 149)

It is unclear to me why Bahnsen shifts ground from the priority of truth to the interpretation of nature. Clark’s point is simply that truth is logically prior to inspiration. If inspiration could be false, what would be its benefit with regard to knowledge? A Christian who believes the Bible is the Word of God needs only to construct a deductive argument from Scripture that it is inspired by God to settle the dispute. But the unbeliever, who denies that the Bible is true, will simply deny that premise and reject the entire proof of inspiration. That the unbeliever is wrong does little for the apologist. Thus, the apologist has two options: 1) destroy the unbeliever’s own assumptions in order that they have no ground for criticism and then assert the truth of Scripture, or 2) produce the transcendental argument and then prove it by destroying the unbeliever’s own assumptions. Neither approach requires the apologist to consider the unbeliever capable of interpreting nature—only that the unbeliever can follow the logical progression of an argument!

Bahnsen is incorrectly reading Clark as if Clark is using logic as the first principle in a formal demonstration as opposed to using it as evidence to support his presupposition. On the next page Bahnsen produces several quotes by which he interprets Clark as subjecting the truth of Scripture to rational demonstration. Yet in the first quotation, Clark does not say that knowledge is a voluntary (or autonomous) choice, but rather, belief (a psychological aspect) is. Can Bahnsen deny that our beliefs are not voluntary? To do so would be to destroy all liberty of the will, and thus all moral accountability. Clark isn’t specifying an epistemological criterion in the quote, but rather a fact of human psychology. One must belief something, and that belief is based upon some indemonstrable postulate.

The second quote simply argues that the indemonstrable postulate is tested by its success in producing a coherent and self-consistent system. Bahnsen inserts a parenthesis emphasizing that Clark means “verification” rather than “demonstration,” but this is a confusing manner of interpretation. First of all, “demonstration” in Clark’s use means logical demonstration, which would constitute knowledge when the premises are true. But by “testing” Clark does not mean that one proves as certain (demonstratively), because the assumption or presupposition of Scripture is admittedly indemonstrable (Clark admits as much on the very page Bahnsen quotes). Rather, by test, Clark means how the axiom or presupposition is evidenced, or shown to be sufficient in the questions of life. This is nothing other than the thinking of God’s thoughts after him that every Christian (and non-Christian, for that matter) is commanded to do. If we simply stopped at the assumption that the Bible is God’s Word and did not trace out the necessary implications in all areas of life, what good would the presupposition be?

Bahnsen also mistakenly argues that because Clark admits revelation is a postulate, therefore its epistemological validity can be tested by autonomous reason. But Bahnsen has not read Clark closely enough, for in Wheaton Lecture III, from which Bahnsen pulls his quote, Clark explicitly states that the presupposition (axiom) is that Scripture is God’s Word, and therefore is itself knowledge: “The postulate of verbal revelation is an epistemological success because the revelation itself is knowledge” (p. 93-94 in The Philosophy of Gordon Clark). Further down the page, Clark defines exactly what he means by “testing” the postulate: “Therefore the test of revelation as a postulate is not in epistemology, where it obviously succeeds in providing knowledge, but in its ability to support some general theories in other areas of intellectual interest” (p. 94). Clark isn’t seeking to “prove” that Scripture is true, or that it is God’s Word, but rather that it does what other theories cannot do: give meaningful answers to life’s basic and most important questions.

As an added bonus, we might point out that Bahsen looks over another significant quote on p. 94 of the Wheaton Lecture III from which he pulls his quote. Clark says, “It may be difficult or even impossible to deduce from Scripture an enumeration of the a priori categories other than the law of contradiction” (p. 94). How can Bahnsen, with a straight face, argue that Clark submits Scripture or God to an external, higher test of logic when Clark admits that the law of contradiction is itself deduced from Scripture as the source of knowledge? Logic itself is an aspect of the presupposition or axiom, and not an exterior test by which it is judged to be true.

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 5

Bahnsen’s next major heading is entitled “The Priority of Logic and the Testing of God’s Word.” He argues that Clark does not presuppose the truth of God’s Word, but rather subjects it to the tests of logical validity. If this is true, then Clark is guilty of infecting his system with an autonomous premise.

However, two things should be kept in mind when evaluating Clark on the laws of logic. First, Clark considers the laws of logic to be the structure of God’s thought, that is, an aspect of the Divine essence, nature, being, or definition. Thus, in subjecting anything to the laws of logic, we are subjecting it to the standard God Himself possesses. Bahnsen himself must tacitly agree with this conclusion, for in his debate with Gordon Stein, Bahnsen argues that the laws of logic are abstract, universal, and invariant—they are not subject to change and they are always valid, which is to say, they are eternal laws of thought. What else can be abstract, eternal, and immutable but that which God is in or by Himself? Therefore, when Bahnsen criticizes Clark for subjecting God’s Word to the laws of logic, as though Clark were setting up an eternal principle outside of God, Bahnsen has not understood Clark’s position, or, having understood it, has not directly refuted it.

The second thing that must be kept in mind is that Clark is not using the laws of logic as a demonstrative proof that Scripture is God’s Word, but rather he is using the laws of logic as evidence that his presupposition is sound. Recall the quote from my last entry: “Logical consistency, therefore, is evidence of inspiration; but it is not demonstration.” Logical consistency is confirmation that God’s Word is true, it is not proof, for only the Holy Spirit demonstrates to the believer that the Bible is God’s Word.

Before addressing particular quotations by Bahnsen, I want to remark on a point that my friend Ron DiGiacomo has made that is a valid criticism of Clark. Nowhere in Clark’s writings have I found (and I have read most of Clark’s works, and all of his major works), nor has Ron found, where Clark explicitly argues that the unbeliever must presuppose the truth of the Triune God in order for his thinking to proceed with maximal warrant. In order to use the laws of logic, for example, one must presuppose the God of Scripture. Van Til and Bahnsen have made this argument explicit whereas Clark has used only the internal critique (the disjunctive syllogism) as his method. In this way Clark provides less for the believer’s confidence than does Bahnsen or Van Til, although I believe that Clark’s approach (the internal critique) must precede the transcendental argument (all knowledge presupposes the truth of Christianity) in a debate, for the ground must be cleared of confusion before a positive foundation may be found acceptable, generally speaking.

With these two considerations in mind, I will turn in the next post to the first subsection of Bahnsen’s criticisms of Clark’s use of logic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 4

In the same section, Bahnsen articulates that Clark (unwittingly?) manipulates the doctrine of God’s nature in dealing with natural revelation. He quotes from an article entitled “Revealed Religion” (my copy of the article is in Clark’s book, God’s Hammer), which says:
[T]his amount of power, great as it is, cannot be omnipotence. Beyond the amount we observe, there can always be more. (p. 15 in Bahnsen citation, p. 92 in God’s Hammer)

It is in analyzing this quote that Bahnsen makes the very error he warns us of in his earlier chapters—not distinguishing between epistemic and metaphysical coincidence. Clark’s point in the quote is that the argument for God’s omnipotence cannot be established upon non-revelational observation, or natural theology. Bahnsen again mistakes Clark’s expression for a positive statement of his own view, when in fact Clark is (again) engaging in a destructive critique of his opposition. His point is merely that the observation of nature does not form, in and of itself, sufficient warrant for beliefs about God. Clark isn’t denying that the unbeliever possesses, innately, knowledge of God. Rather, the innate knowledge of God is not arrived at by bare observation! In fact, only a few paragraphs below the quotation, Clark uses Romans 1:20 and 2:15 to affirm the innate knowledge of God as a kind of natural knowledge (but a natural knowledge not established upon bare observation, or tabula rasa empiricism):
Though dim and restricted, this natural knowledge of God is not to be denied. Romans 1:20 may not guarantee the validity of the theistic proofs (Clark’s point in the quote Bahnsen pulls), but it plainly asserts some knowledge of God derived from “the things that are made.” Romans 2:15 shows a minimal a priori knowledge of moral principles. On such natural knowledge human responsibility depends. . . .Yet this natural knowledge is minimal in extent and practically useless in communicating the way of salvation. (p. 92-93 in God’s Hammer)

If Bahnsen had simply read a bit earlier in Clark’s article, he would not have said, “It is hard to know how we should take Clark’s comment.” Clark says, only a page back:
[S]omeone may claim that the creation of the planets and stars is evidence of omnipotence. This claim, however, must be disallowed—not because creation would be insufficient evidence of omnipotence, but because we have no empirical evidence of creation. We do indeed see the stars, but we did not see God create them. (p. 91 in God’s Hammer)

Clark’s point isn’t that the heavens fail to declare the glory of God or God's omnipotence. Rather, it is that the heavens declare the glory of God, man knows that God is omnipotent, but neither of these conclusions can be known apart from the innate knowledge God has placed in man’s mind. And the only place where we are told that such innate knowledge exists is in the revealed Word of God. Thus, without revelation, the arguments from natural theology are logically unsound. Let me repeat it once more: Bahnsen fails to distinguish when Clark is performing a reductio ad absurdum and when Clark is making positive arguments upon the presupposition of God’s Word.

Now before leaving this entry, there is a very important quote that Bahnsen moves to next, and which he also blatantly ignores another quotation that will undermine many of his later criticisms of Clark. These later criticisms involve accusing Clark of making the validity of Scripture subject to logical analysis, rather than logical analysis being subordinate to the authority of Scripture. Notice, however, the following quotation, which includes quite a bit more than Bahsen does in his excerpting:

The more consistent unbelief is, the less can agreement be obtained. So long as the unbeliever is inconsistent, we can force him to make a choice. If he inconsistently admires Jesus Christ or the Bible, while at the same time he denies plenary and verbal inspiration, we can by logic insist that he accept both—or neither. But we cannot by logic prevent him from choosing neither and denying a common premise. It follows that in logical theory there is no proposition on which a consistent believer and a consistent unbeliever can agree. Therefore the doctrine of inspiration, like every other Christian doctrine, cannot be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a clear-thinking unbeliever.

If, nonetheless, it can be shown that the Bible—in spite of having been written by more than thirty-five authors over a period of fifteen hundred years—is logically consistent, then the unbeliever would have to regard it as a most remarkable accident. It seems more likely that a single superintending mind could produce this result than that it just happened accidentally. Logical consistency, therefore, is evidence of inspiration; but it is not demonstration. Strange accidents do indeed occur, and no proof is forthcoming that the Bible is not such an accident. Unlikely, perhaps, but still possible.

How then may an unbeliever be brought to admit the inspiration of Scripture? Or, for it is the same question, how did “I” come to accept inspiration? (p. 15-16 in God’s Hammer)

Note carefully that this quotation appears in a section titled, “The Proof of Inspiration” followed directly after the quotation by a new section titled, “The Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” It is in that section where Clark affirms the presppositional nature of God's revelation, and where appears a previously quoted remark that Bahnsen approves of ("Rather, because God is sovereign, God's authority can be taken only on God's authority" p. 19 in God's Hammer). Clark is not asserting that the Bible is possibly and accident upon his own presupposition, but is parroting what the consistent unbeliever’s position would have to be if he maintained his unbelief. Not only is it obvious to see that Clark is explaining the unbeliever’s position, but it is also obvious that Clark does not place logic or logical consistency above Scripture. The difference between evidence and demonstration confirms Clark’s recognition that one must presuppose the truth of Scripture in order to demonstrate the truth of Scripture.

One begins to wonder: could a man of Bahnsen’s considerable intellectual ability have been so careless or obtuse to miss such an obvious conclusion, or was he blinded by his admiration of Van Til to the point of slandering Clark in support of him?

There are several other quotations in the section, but they merely provide further evidence of Bahnsen’s inability or unwillingness to distinguish Clark’s internal critiques from his positive exposition of his own presupposition.

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 3

Bahnsen’s next section is entitled “Possibility vs. Necessity.” In it, he argues that Clark assumes that Christianity is merely probably rather than certain, a possibility rather than a necessity. If this were true, Clark would be giving too much to the unbelieving view, which always reduces to absurdity and meaninglessness in its disbelief.

As before, and what may prove to be a consistent error on Bahnsen’s part, Bahnsen does not read Clark in the charitable manner that he promises. The chief error in Bahnsen’s criticism is the failure to distinguish between Clark’s argumentation from within his opponent’s assumptions, and Clark’s argumentation upon his own presupposition. Clark’s professed methodology is to use the laws of logic to do internal critiques (variously through reductio ad absurdum, argument ad hominem, and modus tollens forms of argument) of his opponents’ positions. In doing so, Clark’s language assumes what his opponents’ would assume in order to demonstrate where they are inconsistent, overestimate their conclusions, or underestimate the Christian position.

Keeping this in mind, let us turn to Bahnsen’s criticisms.

His opening quote from this section is from Clark’s book on Karl Barth. The quote in full says:
A more skeptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation, with the help of operationalism, might bring the idea of subordination back again within the limits of possibility. The Scripture is a better source than experimentation is for the norms of ethics and politics; perhaps there is some way to bring physics and zoology also under this authority. (p. 68 in the 1963 edition, p. 77 in the 1997 edition I have)

Continuing, Bahnsen pulls a quote from Clark’s book, Religion, Reason, and Revelation:
From a logical standpoint it is equal whether one’s assumptions are philosophical or theological, Christian or not. (p. 8 in the 1961 edition, p. 112 in the 2004 book, Christian Philosophy)

Bahnsen then argues on the basis of these quotes that Clark has “completely dissolved” whatever absolute character the presupposition of God’s Word held.

In the context of the quotation from Karl Barth’s Theological Method, Clark is examining Barth’s own approach to theological study. Clark is exposing how Barth has capitulated to modernism rather than maintaining a consistent Reformed approach. The quotation is simply pointing out that any view more skeptical of the truth of observation than is modernism would allow for the possibility of subordination of the sciences to theology. Following the quote, Clark inquires as to what may be Barth’s view of science, and then Clark articulates the Reformed position, without any qualifications of “possibility.” What Clark is doing is comparing Barth’s view to various others in order to expose what may be accepted as consistent with his own presupposition (and really with Reformed theology) and what is not. Clark is nowhere articulating that his own presupposition is “possible” as opposed to dogmatically absolute. In fact, his language is decidedly assertive:
From any professedly Christian point of view it is difficult to maintain that the cosmos is unordered; and or a Reformed theologian this is about the poorest reply possible. Calvinism strenuously insists upon the eternal all-comprehensive plan of God, in which neither a hair of one’s head nor a dead sparrow lies outside the foreordained order. Equally impossible in Calvinism is the notion that theology is a stopgap, a makeshift, a temporary expedient to be discarded at the first opportunity. (p. 78 in the 1997 edition)

As for the quote from Religion, Reason, and Revelation, Clark is criticizing James Bissett Pratt for attempting to maintain a neutral or presuppositionless definition of religious conversion. Clark’s point isn’t that Christianity and unbelief are on the same footing with respect to the validity of their presupposition. Rather, Clark’s point is simply that all assumptions must begin with some presupposition that biases all further conclusions. Clark, working within Pratt ‘s own view, shows that Pratt’s claims to neutrality or unbias, cannot be so. Consider the sentences that immediately follow Bahnsen’s selected quote:

If it is reprehensible to operate on Christian presuppositions, is it any less so on other presuppositions? The only difference would seem to be that the writer with Christian principles is probably more aware of the fact, while the scientific writer sometimes claims that he has no preconceived notions at all. In other words, Pratt—attempting to avoid the bias of a Christian view of conversion—does not seem to be aware of his own bias in assuming Ardigo’s conversion was a religious conversion and that the essence of religion is the unification of character. (p. 112 in the 2004 edition of Christian Philosophy)

Clark has not made a claim on the basis of his own presupposition, but merely demonstrated from within Pratt’s own position the absurdity of attempting a neutral or unassuming set of principles. Bahnsen does not grasp that Clark’s remarks are given in the context of an internal critique rather than an assertion of points made from his own presupposition. Far from undermining his presupposition, Clark is establishing it through a destructive critique of alternative views.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 2

Bahnsen’s next criticism comes in the same section, and regards Clark’s treatment of Collingwood (in HS&R) as a representative example of Clark’s failure to consistently uphold Scripture as primary and non-Christian views as thoroughly impossible.

Bahnsen is again simultaneously drawing the line too narrowly, and also missing the import of Clark’s manner. He says that Clark seems to give Collingwood to much credit, because he undertakes only to correct “some” of his views, and says that Collingwood “almost” makes history impossible. Clark’s language is opposed to what Bahnsen thinks is adequate, which would be complete undermining of Collingwood’s position.

However, to be entirely accurate, a complete undermining would require every point of Collingwood’s error to be refuted. Even Bahnsen does not attempt such a level of criticism. But even if Bahnsen means that Clark should always present his apologetic as a complete undermining of the opponent’s position, that conclusion seems to me to be a non-sequitur. Bahnsen has already agreed with several Clark quotes, one of which affirms that unbelievers are not thoroughly consistent in their rebellion, meaning that on some points there is psychological agreement, which forms a point of contact in discoursing with unbelievers. What else is Clark doing in acknowledging Collingwood’s ostensible value while undermining what point shall sufficiently reduce his main theory to absurdity? What Bahnsen sees as an insuperable flaw appears to be rather an application of the psychological or ontological point of contact.

The criteria that Bahnsen appears to be applying to Clark would similarly undermine his own approach to other unbelievers. If Bahnsen wanted to be thoroughgoing in his epistemic criticism of unbelievers, he could not assent to any single proposition they stated because it would rest upon an undisclosed and contradictory presupposition that Bahnsen would be disposed to point out in every case. Yet, when Bahnsen debates with Stein, for example, he does not repeatedly tell Stein that this or that argument is invalid precisely because he does not presuppose God. Rather, he deals with subsequent levels of logical analysis, which set up his larger, or more basic criticism.

Clark’s method is no different with Collingwood. At the close of the chapter from which Bahnsen draws his quote, Clark concludes his criticism with what one would think even Bahnsen would find admirable:
But note well, that if Finley and Collingwood rule out faith and make claims to mathematical certainty, history vanishes. Scientific history, autonomous history, certain history is a chimera. One accepts testimony or he does not. The choice is between faith and nothing. (p. 209 in the 1994 edition)

And because Collingwood’s position necessarily excludes such claims to faith, the critique is a reductio ad absurdum that clears the floor for a sound Christian construction to be built.

The last portion of this section of Bahnsen's critique of Clark addresses the concern that Clark posits the laws of logic prior to Scripture. Since he promises to address this error later in the chapter, I'll wait to deal with it in full. However, as a preliminary remark, I think Bahnsen is creating a false dilemma. Clark's assertions about the laws of logic are talking about their instrumental value for our thinking, but even if Clark were using them as a more basic principle, he would argue that the laws of logic are an expression of God Himself, which we can only know as such from Scripture. Thus, he argues from the laws of logic because he recognizes these as something unbelievers will be willing to engage whereas they would not understand the presupposition of Scripture as valid without having first removed the alternatives the falsely believe to be valid.

The difference between Bahnsen and Clark here is not substantive.

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 1

It has been awhile, but I've finally found a new topic on which to write here. I'm presently reading through a posthumously published book by Greg Bahnsen that came out this year: Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended.

In this book, the 25 year-old Bahnsen undertakes a lengthy refutation of Gordon Clark's apologetic method. As those of you who read this blog may know, I'm an admirer of Clark's contributions. That being said, I'm not very impressed by Bahnsen's criticisms. Since many presuppositional followers of Van Til and Bahnsen will consider this newest work the definitive word on Gordon Clark's method, I wish to do my part to give Clark a fighting chance, since he is no longer alive to defend himself, and his chief defender, John Robbins, has also recently deceased.

In the interest of brevity without the sacrifice of thoroughness, I'm going to treat each quotation one at a time, one per blog post.

The first quote appears on p. 142 of Bahnsen's book, and is from Clark's book, Historiography: Secular and Religious (from here on, HS&R):
That religion or Christianity in particular furnishes a better method than secularism is a possibility not to be dismissed without discussion. (p. 232 in the 1971 edition, p. 213 in the 1994 edition I have)

Bahnsen argues that Clark’s use of the words “better” and “possibility” as incomplete in stating the impossibility of a non-Christian worldview. He also indicts Clark for calling the end of non-Christian systems “human despair,” rather than meaninglessness.

Despite his claim to take a “charitable” reading of his opponents, Bahnsen does not take sufficient care with the manner of expression Clark has chosen in HS&R. The remark occurs at the beginning of Clark’s chapter outlining Augustine’s Christian construction of history. This chapter appears after the first seven chapters (more than half of the book), where Clark has been criticizing unbelieving viewpoints. The second half of the book is not simply an exposition of Clark’s own view, but of several ostensibly religious or Christian views, upon which Clark himself will level criticism. Bahnsen is criticizing Clark for failing to push the issue, whereas Clark’s aim is not to assert his position, but to engage in criticism of incomplete Christian views! The term "Christian" in Clark's usage is more general than Bahnsen's reading would suggest. Clark is not yet promoting his own apologetic position, but preparing the reader to engage several Christian constructions, which he himself will criticize.

As for the remark about despair being somehow a less complete refutation than meaninglessness, Bahnsen is simply splitting hairs. Elsewhere, in A Christian View of Men and Things (from here on, CVMT), Clark repeats in similar language the problem of any non-Christian viewpoint:
The two views [secular and Christian], however, have been sketched, as two pictures in outline. If the secular view is chosen, history has no significance [and without significance, what meaning?]; human hopes and fears are to be swallowed up in oblivion; and all men, good, evil, and indifferent, come to the same end. Anyone who chooses this view must base his life on unyielding despair. (p.57 of the 1998 edition)

Now perhaps Bahnsen prefers to use “meaningless” over “no significance” and “unyielding despair,” but can any reasonable and charitable reading argue that there is a substantial difference in the perceived outcome of the non-Christian view? Meaninglessness and despair appear synonymous rather than antithetical or incompatible.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What is Education?

I just finished the bulk of Gordon Clark's A Christian Philosophy of Education (I have only the appendixes left to read). This volume of Clark's spends more time than usual addressing political aspects involved in the topic of education, but this is hardly surprising given the two separate times he is writing (1946, 1988). In 1946 the world was able to see just how State-run education could develop into tacit acceptance of totalitarianism, and in 1988 another State controlled nation was on the brink of collapse. During both of these times, certain political perspectives prevalent in our own country were having sway over educational policies at both the state and federal levels. But even without these historical factors, the book remains timeless, because as the maxim Clark quotes says, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

His opening chapter discusses the necessity of worldview for establishing any principles or practices of education. Worldview is an inescapable category, not because one's thought must be coherent (though we should strive for such an ideal), but because thought itself imposes its perspective upon whatever subject matter is directed at contemplating. I may decide I want to eat a burger and fries, but my decision is not made apart from underlying assumptions. Even if my decision is one of pure emotion (I'm so hungry!) it is the underlying beliefs that determine what significant factors will come to mind as I seek to fulfill the urge to satiate myself. Consciousness of worldview is not a necessary component of having a worldview anymore than coherence is a necessary component of worldview.

The assumption of these two factors (consciousness and coherence) lead many folks to reject the idea of worldview on the basis of its philosophical idealism (that is, ideas or the intellect underlies or determines action, rather than irrational or material forces). Yet even the thorough-going materialist has a worldview, for his explanations of experience are based upon the assumption that ideas do not determine human action, but rather chemical and biological reactions do. It is precisely on the basis of the inescapability of worldview that the Christian must be self-conscious of his or her own assumptions, and the implications that follow from them. The less coherent the worldview, the less Christian, for a fundamental assumption of the Christian worldview is that God is eternally omniscient, and therefore His thought thoroughly determines the knowledge of all things whatsoever. Thorough intellectual determinism implies coherence, or system, as Clark puts it.

Clark's second chapter outlines the Christian worldview on the basis of Scripture and in distinction with several outstanding alternatives offered throughout the history of philosophy. The main point of the chapter is to prove how pervasive worldview must be if it is to remain consistent and coherent with God's revelation. To poison the Christian worldview with external presuppositions is to undermine the sum of knowledge that constitutes the system of beliefs that God has given us to know, to contemplate, and to direct our lives upon. The third chapter further clarifies the necessity of a thorough Christian worldview by demonstrating the impossibility alternative worldviews face in explaining the most basic assumptions regarding knowledge (and therefore man, the world, God, and everything).

Chapter four provides what may be the most applicable chapter to the contemporary Christian culture in the United States: No neutrality can be found among worldviews. Superficially, worldviews may arrive at the same conclusions, but they can never arrive there by the same steps of reasoning. Though superficial thinkers may conclude that it is only the conclusion that matters, such a conclusion is not only hasty, but irreverent. If God demands all of our thoughts to be directed toward worship (Clark labors to demonstrate how pervasive "religious" activities are in the Scriptures) then not even the chains of reasoning we follow are quarantined from the commandments of God to love Him and love one another. Beside the commandments given by God, the unbeliever is no more able to maintain neutrality. By rejecting the God of Scripture, all of his knowledge is purposed upon something other than glorifying God.

Even the most basic instruction in arithmetic cannot escape this factor. It may be inconsequential whether an atheist or a devout Christian instructs a child that 2+2=4, but the application of such knowledge, as well as the labor of relating that knowledge to all other knowledge (for Christianity is a system of beliefs, not a disconnected mass of propositions and feelings) demonstrates how opposite is the instruction of each. To the objection that young children need not learn how to apply or relate arithmetic until some later age, we may reply that children enter the world no-less-like adults in their attempts to synthesize and explain the information they receive. Children are already, apart from any instruction, attempting to "put two and two together." This conclusion is necessarily implied by the doctrine of the imago Dei. Because God has made man a reasoning being, and because reasoning follows the laws of logic, and because the laws of logic reveal the systematic nature of knowledge, therefore all knowledge must interrelate. We may be marred by sin and reason mistakenly, but we no-less strive to integrate what knowledge is to be had.

After neutrality, Clark spends a chapter on ethics because it is prerequisite to the development of the practices of education. There is much philosophy in this chapter, which may lead the reader to wonder how exactly it relates to the subject of education. A key thought that helps to remember is that skepticism--the conclusion at which all non-Christian philosophies of necessity arrive--not only destroys our ability to know the truth, but therefore as well our ability to live according to the truth. Since education is not simply instruction of what is, but also of what may be done with what is, only the Christian worldview is adequate to make men holy as well as well-informed. Though humanism's overarching purpose is the improvement of man, its inherent skepticism ensures that it can never maintain that purpose in any definitive manner--all is groping in the dark, or as Scripture states it; the blind leading the blind. So while humanism may affirm the very same conclusions of Christianity, its underlying beliefs destroy all of its ability to accomplish such ends, all the while hating the very philosophy (Christianity) that can ever have success toward the improvement of humanity.

The best chapter in the book, in my opinion, is the sixth, where Clark outlines a Christian philosophy of education in general. He masterfully reduces heretical epistemologies to absurdity and affirms the necessity of intellectualism and the subscription to, use of, and glorifying nature of creeds. Many Christians in the present day are opposed to the intellect and therefore to creeds, because they have imbibed the Kantian doctrine of knowledge that was promulgated into religion by Schleiermacher. Kant believed that God was unknowable because human knowledge could only grasp the finite, temporal objects of knowledge, and because God is infinite and eternal, He is not even an object of knowledge to be known by men. Therefore, since God cannot be known, yet He is, He can be felt. Schleiermacher developed this notion of Kant into a thoroughgoing religion of sentiment. Later authors, such as Kierkegaard, were dissatisfied with intellectual and sentimental Christianity and therefore asserted the will as the primary means of worshipping God. One must do, and do sincerely, if one is to please God. But Clark demonstrates that one cannot do without first knowing something, nor can a feeling such as love be made superior to the feeling of hatred without knowledge, which is intellectual. Those who would wish to make all three equal (emotion, will, and intellect) have no basis upon which to decide whether to follow an emotion rather than suppress it; for all things being equal, none can be used to determine a decision.

Because the intellect directs the human being, the most natural form of expressing one's devotion to the truth is to intellectually reproduce it, summarize it, meditate upon it, and memorize it so as never to lose it or have it fall away from consciousness. Creeds are precisely this sort of worshipful engagement because they seek to make explicitly those truths which are both explicitly and implicitly given by God in His revelation to us. Clark points out the numerous Scriptural passages dealing with the relationship between knowledge, truth, and fellowship with God, but perhaps this one expresses the idea best:

Before the enjoyment or possession of the object, whether it be picture or God, there is desire, love, or volition; afterward there is enjoyment, possession, contemplation. The will is directed toward an end or aim that is future; possession present. Clearly the desire of an end is not the attainment of that end. Now the Scriptures make certain definite characterizations of the end of our endeavor. The Apostle John records the words of Christ in his High Priestly prayer: "This is eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God". . . .The end is something we long for now; it is something we desire. When we come to this final state, we shall desire it to continue, we shall still love to see God face to face. But the act of desiring and the act of seeing are two conceptually distinct acts; the former is the means and the latter, the beatific vision is the end.

Seeing is a metaphor for understanding with our mind what is true, and the chief end of man is to glorify God, which implies a true knowledge of Him, unfettered and unveiled. Here is why the intellect is supreme, because it is God's purpose to be known and thereby glorified. What else then should any and all education be directed at than this chief end?

The last two chapters deal with two subsidiary matters (chapter 7) and an outlook on how Christian education might proceed in practice (chapter 8). There are a few helpful applications to be gleaned here, but which I will refrain from commenting upon in detail. One note of importance for contemporary readers is that Clark sees both the family and the Church as responsible for the education of children, and therefore accepts as valid both family cooperative (parochial) schools as well as church incorporated Christian schools. The practical costs and benefits of either are circumstantial, but both--unlike public schools run by the State--are commanded and sanctioned by Scripture.

It should be evident to all reading this post, and even more so those reading Clark's book, that State-run public education is inherently anti-Christian--even in a Christian State. The tendency of State-run education is to inculcate its own doctrines into the minds of its pupils (Roman Catholicism is explicit in this regard) and a secular State is no less inclined by necessity to this end than is a religious State. Education is the province of the family and the Church, and though the State is duty-bound to protect the rights of families and Churches to instruct their own, this duty does not extend to State-controlled (this includes funding, even funding such as school vouchers) educational programs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Insanity of Naturalism

In two consecutive days my students have brought before me arguments based in thoroughgoing naturalism. Naturalism argues that, because humans are the inevitable result of evolutionary processes, we ought to base our decisions upon what we observe in nature, and not upon any moral code or philosophical idea based in non-natural a priori principles.

The first student made the argument that humanity, like viruses, might be able to solve problems of population control by simple procreation. At least, he argued, procreation doesn't hinder population control. While we can probably agree with my student's conclusion, it would be insanity to agree with his premise. Why, you ask?

In his refutation speech, the same student backed up his argument by an appeal to Aristotle's theory of mimesis. We ought to imitate nature, he said, by learning from the natural processes we observe there, and by applying these processes to human interaction. There are several difficulties here.

First, let's start with definitions. What is a natural process? Or better, what ISN'T a natural process? Remember, naturalism posits that ALL of what we observe stems from evolutionary processes. Even human rationalizations, including moral and philosophical codes, are but the movements of chemicals and the coding of our genes. Can any decision or principle of action be considered unnatural under such a definition? But even if we find a non-natural distinction to posit against naturalism, how do we decide which natural processes to imitate? We might choose to imitate viruses, which multiply in seemingly indiscriminate and rampant reproduction. Or perhaps we should imitate other species who choose one mate and remain monogamous throughout their entire life? Or maybe the best model to imitate are those species that use the male to reproduce, and then devour him in order to eliminate unnecessary competition for the future generations?

The other student presented me with an article from the New York Times, which he was assigned to analyze with a model of analysis called Toulmin's model of arguments. The article can be found at this link. The article reports that scientists are questioning the traditional understanding of moral decision-making being based in reason or reflection. Rather, we make moral decisions on the basis of immediate analysis, which is grounded in our emotions. We just know what tastes good. We just know what looks pretty. We make such aesthetic judgments and most of the time we are right. Corrections often come from reflection or from others who talk to us, and this is sometimes good. Scientists are also qualifying Darwin's model of competition to include a more communal aspect of cooperation. Like bees who seek collective existence in hives, so we as humans can cooperate through out emotions and reasons.

One commentor on the newspaper article mentioned that this is old news that goes back as far as Henry James (and John Dewey, we might add). The problem with the view ought to be apparent to any thinking individual, but for those who have abandoned reason for emotion, reasons are less apparent. So let's help them out, like a worker bee helps out a drone who has finished his job of fertilization.

First of all, emotions and snap decisions are not always regular in the manner in which the examples given in the article seem to indicate. Sure, most of the time we like the taste of ice cream or blueberries, or whatever it is we like, but such emotions are contingent upon other factors. If we are sick, we may not enjoy the taste of certain foods. If certain foods are rotten or ill-prepared we don't like the taste. The contingency of circumstances and our immediate reactions can tell us nothing about the reasons for those immediate reactions. It is only by our use of reason that we can determine that our taste is influenced by sickness, or the fruit is rotten. If all we had to go on was our immediate reaction, we would like blueberries one day and hate them the next, only to love them again at some other time.

A more damaging problem than taste is moral judgments, which are not (as these scientists wish to prove) based upon immediate emotions. If someone punches us in the face and we choose to restrain our anger and cease from punching back, we have applied reason to our immediate emotion. Our scientists might agree that such a reaction was a positive use of reason. But why? If our immediate emotions are the standard for moral judgment, upon what basis is our reason justified in curbing an immediate emotion? The only standard to which evolutionary naturalism can appeal are the observations of nature, but we've already canvassed a few of the innumerable and contradictory examples provided in nature. How does one decide which to apply in a given case?

Consider the example of bees from the article. True, there is a collective aspect to bees, but in that collective organization, individual sacrifices are made all the time, not to mention that the entire society is organized to work for one purpose--the propagation of the species through servitude to one queen. In other words, a totalitarian society where workers slave away endlessly to provide food for the queen and her offspring (which will become slaves) and her harem of drones (who are executed once they have sevred their sexual purpose). Is this really the sort of collective we want to imitate?

The point is not simply that naturalism is insane, but that it is also impossible. Naturalist, in order to make any normative judgments at all, must assume a point of departure that they cannot justify upon naturalistic principles. The cheat by importing a universal maxim or principle into their system. Van Til would say that they are living upon Christian capital, and so they are, for the Law of God is God's Law after all, and not a law derived from nature apart from God, or from human invention, apart from God, or from anything else, apart from God. God who made men in His image, also implanted upon their hearts an innate knowledge of His law, by which they all judge the world around them to be just or unjust. All the analogies from nature, all the first principles of rationalism, all the snap decisions of thoughtless emoters are based upon an inherent understanding of God's moral law, expressed in the Ten Commandments (now is an appropriate time to get your Bible and read the Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount, and Romans 1).

The next time someone wants to argue from nature or evolution, tell them that you agree so long as you get to be the queen bee in his hive.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Answers for Suffering and Evil

Many folks find the topic of evil and suffering something rather taboo to discuss in terms of answers. Suffering and evil have no answers, it is said. Or, if answers are given, they are expressed tentatively, with approbation, and with the pious sounding absence of the definite article ("an answer" or "some answers").

Thankfully, there are still men who speak with conviction born of the Spirit of God and borne upon the sound doctrine of Scripture. I recently discovered a short book by John Currid, a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (I believe he is now at the Charlotte campus).

The book is broken into ten chapters divided into four major sections. The divisions are as follows:

Part I: God and Calamity
1 Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
2 Suffering and the Character of God

Part II: Why Do Christians Suffer? The Benefits of Affliction
3 Solace in God
4 Discipline
5 Conforming to the Image of Christ
6 Perseverance of the Saints

Part III: Why Do Unbelievers Suffer?
7 Suffering as Forewarning
8 Suffering as Condemnation

Part IV: Attitudes in Suffering: Encouragement for Believers
9 The Cross Comes Before the Crown
10 Conclusion: A Question of Prosperity

All in all the book is a wonderful theological primer on the subject of suffering and evil, providing sound systematic treatment drawn from faithful exposition of key texts, and including a healthy (i.e. not gluttonous, but neither impoverished) dose of confessions, historical examples, and poignant anecdotes.

Part I deals primarily with Theodicy, or the vindication of God's justice, goodness, and power. Currid affirms God's sovereignty to the full while preserving the unity of His will. Although he uses the unfortunate use of God's "permissive will," his affirmations do not create the contradictions that so often result from this use. God's "permissive will," is not passive, affirms Currid (then why use language of permission, which naturally entail passivity?). Currid affirms secondary causation, God's decretive determination of all things, and the distinction between God's treatment of believers and unbelievers with regard to suffering and calamity (i.e. God uses suffering and calamity for different purposes, which Currid fleshes out in the later parts). Although Currid does not provide the desired demonstrations for these affirmations, the affirmations remains a breath of fresh air.

Part II considers the various reasons why God brings suffering and calamity upon the Christian. The first chapter under this section aims to prove that suffering leads us into greater fellowship with God. First, it does so by giving us greater impetus to pray. Lax in our comforts, God grace is revealed in our suffering when afflictions drive us to pray more frequently and more fervently to Him, leaning upon His Sovereignty as we ought to in any circumstance. Second, afflictions drive us to doubt confidence in ourselves, which subsequently drives us back to our source of knowledge and true comfort, the Word of God. Third, affliction drives out the love of the world from our hearts in order that God may be more firmly rooted therein. Fourth, afflictions humble us by revealing our weakness and utter dependence upon God's grace.

The second chapter under part II considers sufferings as a measure of discipline. Sufferings for the believer at the hand of God are not condemnatory, but are born from God's love for us. As children, we often walk as children, in the foolishness of our ignorance and careless desires. Afflictions remove the childishness from our hearts (often because it drives us into the activities and results of the last chapter discussed). Discipline also refines our souls. Like soldiers who are made strong by physical hardships in the work of warfare, so the Christian is made strong in the forge of suffering. God also uses suffering as preparation for later tasks He has in store for us. As Moses became a lowly shepherd for forty years (shepherds were despised by the Egyptians) from his former state of comfort in order to be God's instrument in leading Israel out of Egypt, so too God uses afflictions in our lives to prepare us for the work of restoration in the lives of others, for the glory of God and the expansion of His kingdom. Affliction also disciplines us in knowledge, for we are instructed by God's Word as we turn to it for answers and support. Currid also discusses the means by which God disciplines His people by looking at Habakkuk.

The third chapter under part II considers the work of suffering in conforming us into the image of Christ. Currid affirms the truth that Christ suffered, details the nature and scope of Christ's suffering, the purpose of Christ's suffering, and the reasons why Christians must follow in Christ's suffering. My focus on the chapter is brief, not for lack of substance, but rather because it is better read entire than summarized here.

The fourth chapter under part II looks at perseverance as a reason for Christian suffering. It matures our faith through its disciplining effects. It proves our faith as it separates us from the world and delivers us into glory. It witnesses to the truth of the Gospel of God as a display of its power to uphold us in our affliction. It confounds the wisdom of the world by its supernatural power and effect upon the believer who overcomes. It improves our efforts for Christ and His kingdom through the removal of remaining sin that would lead us toward self-reliance. It is training for glory because it instructs us to look for our heavenly home, which is greater than this earthly one. It serves to magnify God's promise to preserve His people through every manner of trial and adversity. It serves the glory of God in all these ways, which affirms our chief end.

Part III includes two chapters on why unbelievers suffer. The first discusses how suffering leads sinners into repentance and into great workers in God's kingdom. It focuses upon several historical examples, including John Newton, Robert Murray McCheyne, the Plague of 1665, and the thief on the cross next to Jesus. The second discusses the suffering of unbelievers unto their temporal and final condemnation under the wrath of God. Against the realities of temporal and eternal wrath, Currid asserts the only answer to suffering and evil is the grace of God revealed in His only son, the God-Man Christ Jesus. It is by His work that one may be made right with God; it is by His death that our dead spirit is made alive; it is by His resurrection that we are assured that we too shall have eternal life in the presence of God without sin, shame, or shuddering.

Part IV also includes two chapters. The first is a veritable homily on the necessity and expectation of suffering that believers must apprehend and embrace. Currid focuses primarily upon Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The last chapter handles the problem of prosperity, that is, why do the wicked prosper? He provides brief commentary on Psalm 73 and Ecclesiastes 6-7, both of which provide ample answer to the so-called problem: from the end of things all the answers to our problems are solved in the glorious wisdom of God's determination. We must therefore trust in God, and be cautious in how we judge the circumstances surrounding us. It is not always true that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. It is always true that in the end the righteous shall be blessed and the wicked shall be condemned. We cannot judge a life by its present condition, but only by its completed course. Many an apparent believer has been revealed a blasphemer (consider Judas), and many a blasphemer has become a mouthpiece for God's glory (consider Paul). Can we judge with certainty what any man shall end up? But woe to we who fail to judge the present condition of men's confession and comportment.

Currid's book is better than Carson's book (another book on suffering I've reviewed, in part, on this blog), How Long, O Lord? both in its brevity, its perspicuity, and its theological precision. Both are worthy for your personal library.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Episodes in Epistemology no.1

I picked up a copy of Ronald Nash's Festschrift for Gordon Clark, reading Nash's chapter and Clark's rejoinder.

Nash does an excellent job of summarizing Clark's epistemology, but he, like so many others, reads Clark horribly wrong in a couple of ways. I might deal with Nash's problems and Clark's replies in another post, but for this post I want to focus on Nash's exposition of what he calls Clark's "Argument from the Nature of Truth." Notice how similar it is to Van Til (and more especially, Bahnsen's) "impossibility of the contrary" or "transcendental" argument.

1. Truth exists.
2. Truth is immutable.
3. Truth is eternal.
4. Truth is mental.
5. Truth is superior to the human mind.
6. Truth is God.

1 is proven by the inescapable necessity of truth for thought and expression. To argue "there is no truth" is to claim that the proposition "there is no truth" is itself a true statement, or exemplary of the truth. Or, as Nash puts it, "If skepticism is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, viz., truth."

2 is proven by the inescapable necessity of logic for thought and expression. The law of contradiction is basic for Clark and is contained implicitly in 1. It cannot be true and not true that "there is no truth." The law of contradiction must itself be true immutably if thought and its expression are to be possible at all. Nash mentions apparent exceptions like "I am now eating," which appears to be true at one time, but false at another. But this does not defeat the law of contradiction, which is understood to mean that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same manner. The proposition "I am now eating," is inherently ambiguous because it does not designate a definite aspect of time, and therefore it does not apply as a refutation or counter-example to the law of contradiction. Once the ambiguity is clarified, the law of contradiction is revealed true (e.g. "I am now eating on February 6th, 2009 at 11:30 p.m."--a statement that happens to be false).

3 follows necessarily from 2. If something is immutable, it is also eternal. Nash demonstrates this in relation to truth with the proposition "The truth itself has perished." If the statement is true, it remains true after the truth has perished (or else is contradictory, and therefore impossible). Like 1, the assertion of any truth (even the assertion that truth is not eternal) is an affirmation of the characteristic of its eternity.

4 follows from the recognition that the physical world is not immutable because it undergoes change. If truth is immutable it cannot be material, yet we may know the truth, so it follows that the truth is a result of thought and not simply chemical or physiological reactions. (Nash stumbles later when he accepts the notion that knowledge is necessarily derived from sensation. If knowledge is immaterial, material sensations are unnecessary to arrive at knowledge)

5 follows from the recognition that human beings are mutable, we change, and therefore we cannot be the source or ground of truth. Augustine's formulation of this view comes in De Magistro, where he acknowledges that truth is what judges our reasoning or minds, not our reasoning or minds which judge truth. On a related note, here is the ground for the argument for "faith seeking understanding," or "I believe in order that I may know." Our beliefs are not supported by an endless chain of arguments, but require a given, a starting point, a first principle which must be assumed without demonstration. We take this principle upon faith, and examine the necessary implications that follow. If they contradict, the truth guides us to reject the starting point and begin afresh. When we discover a starting point that remains consistent throughout its implications (at least so far as we can follow it), then we may be confident that truth has vindicated our assumption.

6 Truth must be metaphysical, for nothing can be known that is not existent to be known. Therefore, truth is God, for God is the only existent that is immutable, eternal, and possessing a mind by which truth is known (and known by immediate eternal intuition). Thus, when our minds arrive at a truth (that is, some part of truth, which is a whole), our minds have conceived or confronted God Himself--thinking God's thoughts after Him.

One thing that may be questioned concerning the above argument is whether the conclusion "Truth is God" implies the Trinity or merely consistent monotheism. I'm not sure how Clark or Nash would answer, and it doesn't come up in the reading.

Notice how this argument for the nature of truth resembles the argument that Bahnsen makes in his apologetics, namely, the impossibility of the contrary. In this argument, Bahnsen says that we must all presuppose the existence of the Triune God because without this presupposition, no adequate ground or justification can be made for knowledge. Clark makes essentially the same argument, using a synonym for the Triune God (i.e. truth) that is, incidentally, a term (but not its meaning) more widely recognized, I think.

So much for the similarities between Clark and Van Til/Bahnsen. Sometime in the future I'll look at Nash's problems with Clark's position, how Clark deals with these, and how Nash's problems and Clark's replies exemplify the major misinterpretations of Clark by Van Til, Bahsen, and so many others.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More on culture

Robert Bellah in his book, The Lonely Crowd, has a typology of three generations of culture--the tradition-directed, the inner-directed, and the other-directed. I will refer to these types as "traditional man," "individual man," and "alienated man."

The traditional man sees his identity in the history and customs that have been handed down generationally. The intrusion of "others" has no significant impact upon his self-image and there is little fluctuation in his beliefs. The traditional man finds his moral compass in the doctrines he has always known and seen lived out in his community.

The individual man is less tied to history and customs and finds his self-image tied to deep-seated values given to him by his parents and facilitated by the economic opportunity and cultural freedom that were present in the U.S. after the industrial revolution. The individualistic man finds his moral compass not in the doctrines of the clan, but in his own self-direction within the scope of abilities he possesses. He is more affected by the "other" than is the traditional man, but the effect of the "other" is to spur on the individual man toward proving himself all the more.

The alienated man is no longer possessed of a history and customs, no longer confident in an inner sense of morality and purpose. The alienated man looks to his imagined neighbors for his self-image, and his real neighbors in turn look to the major source of cultural cohesiveness where the imagined form is fostered--i.e. mass media and entertainment. The spectacle of entertainment places a premium upon a variety of unattainable aspects of humanity, focusing especially upon external facets. The inability to find oneself in the immediate world means that the alienated man is constantly "mediated." He is constantly self-aware, but lacks any confidence because he is always seeking what the social norms are for his situation. He is devoid of any moral compass, because his message and medium pander to ever-changing emotions and desires of an increasingly diverse and heterogeneous mass of consumers.

The great fear of the traditional man is breaking with custom, or transgressing the taboo. He is never in so much anxiety as when he feels forced to break custom, or when custom has no answer to his dilemma. Alienation occurs when the clan casts out the traditional man and he is forced to make due on his own.

The great fear of the individual man is breaking with his inner compass. He is never in so much anxiety as when he feels forced to break his own rules, or when he has failed to accomplish his self-set goals. Alienation occurs when the individual is forced to see the flaws that remain in his character, or sees that his virtues are not enough to set him apart from the crowd.

The great fear of the alienated man is breaking with the social norms mediated to him via media and entertainment. He is always in anxiety, for in the increasingly multi-cultural and pluralistic environment he finds himself constantly pulls him in different and often contradictory directions. Never able to stand against these crashing tides, the alienated man always feels like a fool, though his exterior may present the most confident and secure personality. The alienated man is never sure he has escaped the false ideality and false identities of the simulated world in which he finds himself.

The Christian man is tempted to fear when he speaks out against evil in his midst because speaking against the crowd is the antithesis of everything our present culture represents. The Christian who has undergone even a modicum of exposure to the culture during his youth feels the tension between this dominant mode of being and the one which Jesus calls him to in the power of God. The Christian man must remember that it is not his peers to whom he is beholden to please, to change, or to otherwise effectually motivate (for only the spirit of God may move the hearts of men). Rather, the Christian man must recognize that he knows the God who forms the virtues of all cultural forms without any of their vices:

1. God commands the Christian man to remember his history--his sinful origins, his great redemption by the great and longsuffering God, and the great promises of God which govern the Christian man's outlook on the future.

2. God has given the Christian man the mind of Christ so that within his heart he has access to the truth of God's Word that will serve to define and motivate his self-understanding. He is able to question customs that are not a true part of the history God has called him to manifest, and he is able to stand up against false "others,"--to strive all the more for the prize that God has determined for him in Christ Jesus.

3. God has given the Christian man a love for others that enables him to perceive the pains and joys of the "other" and to rejoice, rebuke, and restore the "other" to his or her place in the Kingdom, if God so wills. Rather than being alienated, the Christian man is at home in the unhomely world of sin (for he knows the Kingdom is here and is coming to fruition), and he is an instrument of reconciliation to those who will repent and believe.

We must always remind ourselves that never has there been a culture that has perfectly reflected God's commandments in the Scriptures. Insofar as we are placed in this moment in time we may compare what we witness in our own culture with what God calls us to in Christ Jesus to work out with fear and trembling (for what else is working out our salvation if it is not the inculturation of Christ into every aspect of life?). We need not fear to break taboos of traditions that ought to be abandoned, we need not fear to look to God's Word as our moral compass despite the ridicule of others who see it as slavish and self-denying, we need not fear to be the social outcasts of a people who take the fluctuating norms of the present culture as their object of faith.

I believe it was Augustine who earliest echoed Paul and was later reiterated by Calvin: We know our true selves when we know Christ. To champion what Christ champions and to deplore what Christ deplores is to know that our words and deeds are salt in the sinful world: the salt that some will savor, the salt that some will feel burn in their open wounds, and the salt that some will spit out for the callousness of their hearts, which have lost the taste for glory.