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.

No comments: