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.


Bret L. McAtee said...

So, repeatedly the point is that Bahnsen doesn't read Clark in context.

My only observation would be that what is taken as logic is world-view dependent. Certainly logic as God counts logic is co-terminus with the mind of God but since logic, when dropped in alien worldviews, is no longer logic (though still called that) I think we must be careful in how the appeal to logic is taken up.

Thanks for your work here. The lack you have revealed may explain why Bahnsen decided not to publish this manuscript.

One wonders if he treated Schaeffer and Carnell with the same lack of care.

I still have my issues with Clark (just as I have issues w/ Van Til) but between the two of them I've not found any other competitors.

Joshua Butcher said...


I agree with your observation about logic being worldview dependent (or even presuppositionally dependent). Still, Clark's point is similar to Bahnsen's, which is that unbelievers do not operate consistently with their unbelief, and maintain common ground with Christians that is inconsistent; e.g. the laws of logic as a valid method of testing arguments.

I'm reading through the chapter on Carnell now, but I haven't read any Carnell to know if Bahnsen is doing him justice. I'll be in the same boat with Schaeffer when I get there.

Clark has his own problems, as you say, but I think Clark's brilliance is too often overshadowed by Van Til's prominence and the ineptitude of several of Clark's professed followers. After all, Van Til was a Westminster Seminary man, whereas Clark was an outsider to the seminary, hailing from the philosophy department at Butler University.

Politics has ruined too many a reputation, and obscured too many sound arguments and pristine truths. It is, perhaps, even more shameful to the church now because it happens on the internet where so many more are witnesses to such prideful arrogance.