Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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.

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