Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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.


Jacob Haynes said...

Hey Joshua,
Thanks for the detailed review. As I have not read either Bahnsen or Clark (and probably won’t get around to them anytime soon), it is good that someone is out there summarizing them for me. I had the same reservations as Bahnsen did about Clark, namely that he seemed to be presupposing logic. So I am glad that you did not find this to be the case. Though you must admit that it is an understandable mistake to make, especially since most do not read Clark in his entirety and with such attention to detail as you have done.

In light of this review I have a question for both you and Clark: How can you conclusively equate logic with the mind of God?

This has been my question for you since our earliest conversations so I understand if you don’t want to rehash it. But just in case you were bored, here are some of my thoughts:

If the Creator is super-rational, but created us to only function in the rational (and irrational), from our perspective He would be the source of rationality but would not be limited by it. In math terms: square root of a negative number is irrational (doesn’t work in a rational system), the number two is rational, and pi (with its strong connection to reality and infinite string of different numbers) is super-rational. I know, what use is the super-rational if we can’t even begin to understand it let alone communicate with it? The point is that in order for me to be ok with striving for rational conclusions there must be the presupposition that God is bigger than rational conclusions even as He is the source of them.

Joshua Butcher said...

--How can you conclusively equate logic with the mind of God?--

I don't think that the best analogy is to turn to mathematical systems, for while mathematics certainly relies upon logic, the laws of logic a more basic and more broadly applicable than mathematical systems.

Also, I don't think a distinction between rational and super-rational is intelligible. For example, if the law of contradiction is rational, what exactly would a super-rational law of logic be in distinction to the law of contradiction?

Finally, I wouldn't say that logic or the laws of logic are "equated" with the mind of God, for that seems to imply that all that God thinks about is logic. Rather, the laws of logic are the structure of God's thought, that is, God does not think in contradictions. He does not think A and not-A are both true in the same way and at the same time.

Clark defends the eternality of the laws of logic in several places, and the implication is that anything that is eternal must be an aspect of God's being. When we apply the laws of logic, we are thinking God's thoughts after him, for all truth is known by God as an eternal intuition.

The flaw that Bahnsen and other fall into with regard to logic is that they consider it to be something that is exclusively human. Aristotle discovered several of the laws of logic, and men have been using and refining them ever since. But Clark's position is that the laws of logic (particularly the law of contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of the excluded middle) can be deduced from God's very revelation, and are therefore not the invention of human beings, but part of the knowledge God has communicated to men by His Word.

Logic (as described above) is therefore not a mere method of men, but the method by which God has taught us to think after Himself. That there are many different opinions about logic in the history of it as a discipline of study only means that men are confused as a result of sin, just as many differences concerning the Scriptures do not invalidate that they have one consistent meaning determined by God (whatever flaws we make in discovering that meaning).

And one more thing. By identifying God's thoughts with the laws of logic, it does not imply that we can exhaust our understanding of God. For one, God has not revealed all of His thoughts to men, therefore we cannot know all there is to know of God. For another, the way in which God knows (eternal intuition) is entirely independent or self-contained, whereas our knowledge is entirely derivative and dependent upon God's revealing it to our minds.

Jacob Haynes said...

Thanks for explaining it yet again. I know you are quite a bit busier these days with your family, and I really do appreciate the time and effort you put into this. I of course have more thoughts (which will follow) but I will not take it badly if you don’t have time to respond. That said I always appreciate it when you do.

I agree with quite a bit of what you said (Men not creating logic, God’s knowing independent, our knowing derivative). However I still have issue with how you apply laws of logic to God.

You said “For example, if the law of contradiction is rational, what exactly would a super-rational law of logic be in distinction to the law of contradiction?”

If we focus on the “law of contradiction”, I will revert again to a mathematical metaphor: irrationality would be like trying to make a two dimensional shape that is both a circle and a rectangle, rationality would say you can’t make one shape that is both and therefore makes none or two separate shapes, and super-rationality says your first assumption that it had to be two dimensional was wrong and makes a cylinder. Obviously a metaphor since a cylinder is a rational shape.

I agree that logic (rationality) comes from God, but it seems at best a tamed down version of reality, a system that points us in the right direction and allows us to make baby steps in approaching truth. My problem is when we discover these laws, such as the law of contradiction, and assume that they are the fullness of how the mind of God works and not part of the created order that dimly reflects how the mind of God works.

The law of contradiction is useful in seeing the need of Christ’s sacrifice for God had a need to pour out both His justice and mercy. But it fails us when it comes to the Trinity. To try and rationalize the Trinity either shows just how silly the law of contradiction is or results in success that is only found in a direction opposite of Truth.

Joshua Butcher said...


I'm thankful that you take the time to interact with me here on what must be an otherwise obscure monologue with myself and the books I'm reading :-D.

It appears to me that the central disagreement boils down to this:

I consider what God has revealed in His Word regarding the laws of logic express a straightforward expression of His Divine Nature, whereas you are hesitant to accept that God has revealed to us the essential nature of His thought. That is, there may, or perhaps must, be something higher or greater or more hidden than the laws of logic by which God's mind or thought is characterized.

Your analogy doesn't demonstrate something beyond the law of contradiction, but rather makes a distinction that removes the contradiction that was before violating the law: a two-dimensional figure is not the same as a three-dimensional figure. Therefore, the rectangle and the circle (non-identical shapes) are not both true in the same way at the same time (thus revealing them to be truly non-identical).

The reference to the Trinity also obscures how the law of contradiction functions. It is one thing to say that we cannot fully articulate the nature of the Trinity. It is quite another to say that the nature of the Trinity violates the law of contradiction.

God can be three in one way, and one in another, which in no way violates the law of contradiction. This expression does not exhaust all we might wish to know about the nature of the Trinity, but that is a separate issue.

We might also approach the question from the opposite direction. If the law of contradiction is true for finite humanity, but is not true of God, then God becomes fully incomprehensible to our minds--for we can only know the truth according to the law of contradiction. To say that any aspect of God operates by a different law, a law that is beyond our knowledge, is to open the possibility that God is other than He has revealed Himself to be. Descartes omnipotent evil demon no longer is absurd (because Scripture testifies against it) because God has not disclosed His essential attributes to us in a way we can know.

Recall that the Scripture command us to think God's thoughts after Him. Insofar as God desires His people to obey this command, He will communicate His thoughts to us according to the structure of thought that He has given to us. Further, the Scriptures reveal that we are the image of God, and that image includes our rational mind. Unless the image is reflective of its original, it is not a true image. Therefore the laws of logic by which our minds derivatively distinguish truth from error are an image of the same in the eternal thought of God.

Jacob Haynes said...

Glad you don’t mind the back and forth.

My analogy regarding the cylinder was an analogy, a metaphor, the only way I can think of to communicate the incommunicable. Everything in the metaphor conforms to the laws of identity and contradiction; it wouldn’t render any sense to us otherwise. I was only using it to point to the distinction between irrational, rational, and super-rational.

I never meant to imply that the Trinity violates the law of contradiction; I meant to imply that it goes beyond it. A subtle difference to be sure and one that is not quite communicable for us. For from our viewpoint, which is limited by the law of contradiction, the Trinity can look like irrationality or violation. But we would both agree that it is neither.

It is a false dichotomy to claim that God is either fully comprehensible or fully incomprehensible. Rationality points us away from irrationality and towards Truth but it does not mean it embodies the wholeness of Truth. We as humanity operating at our rational limits can rest assured that rationality comes from God even if we cannot fully comprehend Him.

I am not saying God acts by a completely different law but that the law as we understand it is but a shadow of the actual law that God uses to govern Himself. He has disclosed His essential attributes to us in so far as we can know them. Descartes omnipotent evil demon is unfortunately not absurd, due to our position as created (and ultimately limited) beings. That said, if we pursue revelation and rationality with due diligence all the information available to us points to a good and just Creator. We have plenty to give us a solid foundation for our trust and faith, but at the end of the day there is a jump for us.

We are indeed the image of God but if we are completely reflective of God’s attributes we become God ourselves. We are an image but also a creation. He will communicate His thoughts to us in a manner that is both true to His nature and able for us to comprehend as limited beings. This means that something will be lost in the communication but not enough that it becomes untrue and will point away from Him.

You said: “Therefore the laws of logic by which our minds derivatively distinguish truth from error are an image of the same in the eternal thought of God.”

I agree with this, but I think we are defining image a bit differently. An image is something less than the image maker but still bears resemblance.

To summarize my position: I am hesitant to accept that God made us in such a way to completely grasp the essential nature of His thought. The way He made us, the reality in which He has placed us in, and the revelation about His nature all are adequate in pointing us towards His Truth and Glory. Though we are created in His Image we are but creations, God Himself is the only being adequate to fully comprehend God Himself. Therefore it is good that we pursue the rational but must realize its limitations when it comes to the limits of human comprehension.

In reality I suppose there is no difference between super-rational and rational besides our epistemological limits as created beings. So I suppose our real difference is the existence of these limits.

If I believe in these limits then it might lead me to not pursue far enough the limits of the human mind or to sell short the nature of God. On the other hand the benefit would be that I will not try to rationalize things upon which being rationalized reduces their truth. I might be in a position to be swayed but I have been witness to far too many things in this life that speak to a position greater than the rational, at least the rational as we are able to comprehend it. This could just speak to my own cognitive limits.

Joshua Butcher said...


I interpret your hesitation as a pious attempt to preserve a real distinction between our creaturely minds and the greatness of our Creator. However, your position must ultimately assume that God does not want us to know Him as He knows Himself. Note that the Jesus prays that we may know God as He knows God, and that we may be one with God as He is one with God.

Now that does not imply that Jesus wants us to become part of the Trinity, but that our knowledge of God is to be complete--to know what He knows after Him. Surely we will never exhaust such knowledge, but neither should we argue that we are prevented from knowing God in some extra-rational or super-rational way.

To admit the possibility of Descartes's omnipotent demon is to deny the plain testimony of Scripture--that our omnipotent God cannot lie, nor deny Himself.

If we cannot affirm what Scripture plainly states, then we cannot affirm any truth whatsoever, for what is more certain that what God Himself has given?

Epistemological limits are set by God. God desires to be known by His elected sons. Therefore, we know God has He has revealed Himself. God does not lie, therefore He has not withheld from us a truth that subverts our understanding.

Jacob Haynes said...

Jesus was human as well as God so one could interpret His command to “know God as He knows God” as to know God as He with His human limits knew God. I ultimately believe that God wants us to know Him in so far as we can know Him. To admit the possibility of DOD is not to admit to it actually existing, just admitting our epistemological limits. We can affirm Scripture and we can affirm a whole host of other truths about reality but we cannot affirm them with the same certainty as God can. Our role as a created being, even with revelation from the Creator, brings with it an inherent portion of uncertainty. Absolute certainty is never mentioned as a prerequisite for belief or worship.

I would rewrite your last statement as thus: Epistemological limits are set by the inherent properties of the creatures God chose to create. God desires to be known as well as He can be by His elected sons. Therefore, we know God has revealed Himself in a manner in which His elected sons can comprehend. God does not lie, therefore He has not withheld from us a truth that subverts our right but limited understanding.

Joshua Butcher said...


In Acts 2:36 Peter tells the Jews that they may know assuredly--certainly--that the same Jesus they crucified is both Lord and Christ.

All that God has revealed we can be assured beyond all doubt is true, because the God who has delivered it is true.

The properties that we possess are not inherent in any way apart from God's having made us accordingly. Not once have I said that the way in which God knows is the same as the way in which we know. But what we know truly is the same as what God knows, because all truth is found in the mind of God, for God is truth. If we know the truth, we know the mind of God accordingly.

I would suggest that you take the Scripture at its word: What God has taught us to know we may know without a doubt.

Jacob Haynes said...

I do take Scripture at its word and I do have a great measure of certainty of Jesus being both Lord and Christ. This doesn’t mean that I don’t doubt from time to time or that I can say for Absolute certainty that my knowledge is good. Scripture is filled with people who though doubting their epistemology followed the Lord anyway; not the least of which was Christ Himself in the garden.

It has been a good debate but I fear we a reaching the inevitable impasse and we have to save some disagreements for the future.

Joshua Butcher said...


I don't think you are grasping what the quoted Scripture is saying. It isn't saying, "a measure of certainty," but rather full assurance. In fact, epistemological certainty has no "measure" at all. It is either certain or uncertain, without probability.

Whether or not you doubt is irrelevant to the epistemological status of Scripture. Epistemology is not psychology, unless one wishes to adopt a humanistic epistemology that denies Divine Revelation.

That Scripture is filled with testimonies of doubt is also irrelevant to whether or not Scripture is certainly true as an epistemological foundation. It is irrelevant for the same reason: the psychology of Thomas (or any other doubter) is not the same as an epistemological proposition.

Finally, it is a serious heresy to say that Christ doubted in the Garden of Gethsemane. Doubting God's Word is a sin, and Christ is without sin. Christ's struggle in the garden was not a doubting of the truth, but rather a desire to avoid enduring the wrath of God, if possible. He affirmed in that desire a stronger desire to obey God's will. The passage has nothing to do with doubt.

The inevitable impasse, Jacob, seems to be that you have a confused notion of what certainty means, and how the mind of man relates to the mind of God. The latter is admittedly not simple, but the former can be answered very simply for the Christian: what the Bible states is certainly true; true beyond any doubt; true though every man be a liar.

May God show you grace as you think on these things, and you are always welcome to continue in our infrequent exchanges. I am always thankful for your sustained interest and tenacity.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

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?

Indeed. Not only was this agreement tacit, I think it was explicit. In Bahnsen’s debate with Stein, Bahnsen said that the laws of logic reflect the very mind (or was it thinking?) of God. I don’t think for a moment that Bahnsen held to “human logic” as if it were some created tool of learning. He and Clark would agree, I think, that logic is a divine attribute. I don’t know that Clark was more explicit than Bahnsen on that point, but he certainly underscored the point more than Bahnsen. It truly needed to be – and now more than then.

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.

I think the former. He had not understood (for whatever reason) Clark’s meaning. Clark does write somewhere that the Bible must be tested like any other hypothesis. That statement can be readily taken to mean something that it does not imply. Clark does not suggest by that sentiment that he believed that our confidence in the Bible can only rise to the level of our confidence in any other hypothesis that is tested by inductive examination. It does suggest, however, that one may use the laws of logic, even autonomously, in his pursuit of testing an hypothesis; yet Bahnsen would have agreed with that. Like CVT, Bahnsen well appreciated that would-be autonomous man can count (but he just cannot account for their counting). Clark may have said that with an epistemologically sound, evangelical motive: Go apply God’s word to the world and see what you find. To make such a recommendation is not to imply that men have justifiable claim on logic apart from God’s word. It is, however, to recognize that inscripturated revelation would make no sense to creatures apart from coming in contact with God’ creation and general revelation. Here was Bahnsen’s complaint I believe. He was very jealous to guard the epistemic Lordship of Christ. And he was correct in his renunciation of evidentialism. But that is not what Clark was promoting. Whereas Bahnsen wanted men to submit to the epistemic Lordship of Christ immediately, upon hearing the self-attesting Christ in Scripture, which all men are responsible to do since they are in contact with the created order and already have enough providential experience for God to grant increase in accordance with his Word; Clark’s approach was a bit different but just as biblical. His approach was, go take this Word-paradigm to the street and see what you find. Again, he was not affirming that one could come to know Jesus died for his sins by induction; rather, he was presupposing that through an attempt to use induction God might give salvific knowledge, but that is a far cry from an evidentialist approach that implies that all man need is more evidence in order draw a rational inference (that might be correct). No! We have a much sure word of knowledge, as both men understood.

Aside from all that, I read in Clark a couple of months ago that all systems are ultimately circular, which would shock many so called “Clarkians”. In fact, I’ve often considered blogging multiple quotes from both CVT and Clark and asking anti-Clark and anti-CVT people to try to guess who said what!

Joshua Butcher said...

The point about methodology is most astute Ron.

I think it is possible to be effective by appealing outright to Christ's Lordship or by appealing indirectly to the unbeliever's attempt to apply the Christian system consistently. It reminds me of the verse in Proverbs that Bahnsen was fond of: answering or not answering the fool according to his folly.

Some folks need to be abruptly met in their rebellion with the Lord's authority, whereas others seem more genuinely inquisitive to the intellectual validity of Christianity. Perhaps more fall into the former than the latter, but I must say that my own predilection is for Clark's approach.

I've often wondered if the difference doesn't lie in the intellectual environment in which one finds oneself. Bahnsen, a seminarian, had the luxury of stating Lordship up front, whereas Clark, at a non-Christian philosophy department, had to lead (as department head) a cast of what probably included many unbelievers, some of whom were probably intelligent and hostile to Christianity.