01 March 2017

Ockham's Razor, Scepticism and Biblicism Part 3

The Razor and Rationalist Views of the Text

Theologically, even after Nominalism, Ockham and the via moderna, Aristotelianism continued to plague the church. During the 16th century Reformation, Renaissance Humanism with its ad fontes means of interaction and interpretation, freed thinkers, and influenced the Reformers to interact with the Bible a bit differently than we tend to today. Some have simplified the Renaissance (not without some warrant) as a Platonic uprising contra the Aristotelian Scholastic establishment.
The contemporary Reformed Establishment (who impose a theological and historical meta-narrative from 1536-present) insists there is an almost perfect continuity between Calvin and the Princeton Theology of the 19th century. But there's a big difference in how Calvin was going about theology and that of Charles Hodge who viewed systematics as
"…improving on the Bible by putting the facts of Scripture in their 'proper' order and relation..."
In addition Hodge made numerous statements suggesting the theologian goes about his task no different than the man of science, and that Systematic Theology is basically the fruit of induction.
Again I'm no great fan or worshipper of Calvin, but the Scottish Common Sense Realism of Hodge and its empirical method does not describe Calvin's scheme. He's trying to develop a textual-themed theology…and I realize theology obviously represents some sort of system. But for Hodge and all Aristotelian-type Systematicians, syllogistic deduction and induction and the laws of logic end up de facto on par with revelation, and because they are the lens through which it is read, they (the laws of logic and systemic integrity) end up in reality being THE authority. This is a Foundationalist rationalism or Scripturo-axiomatic rationalism…….I realize Hodge didn't classify it thus, but I don't think he would take issue with that description. Perhaps he would object to the rationalist nomenclature…but I fail to see how. Rationalism here refers not to the misguided Rationalist-Empiricist debate over innate ideas vs. the tabula rasa, or even the debate over the prioritisation of deduction vis-à-vis induction, but to Enlightenment confidence in man's ability to reason and utilize logic to come to ultimate truth.
Kant elaborated on the deficient nature of the debate but in the end could not develop an objective system. His subjective solutions ultimately lead to some form of scepticism. As Ockham is to Scholasticism, Kant (standing on the shoulders of Hume) is to the Enlightenment. He tried to avoid this conclusion, but once he took up the Razor (for that is what both he and Hume did) he destroyed metaphysical certainty, relegating it to the noumena, classifying it as unknowable.
We do not need to embrace Empiricism in the form of Direct or Common Sense Realism, nor do we need to accept Kant's categories and develop Neo-Orthodoxy. Biblicism or to coin a term Revelatory Realism provides a solution but not one that will satisfy either the philosopher or the Scholastic. It's not a system that can be developed into a holistic scheme or structure.
Again, even if Scripture is viewed foundationally and as a justification for epistemology, if it is subjugated to syllogistic logic and treated as a sort of materiel for inductive experiment and deductive speculation...than what is really the authority and actual foundation is Logic itself. It is the force and momentum of a creative process. Revelation isn't the foundation anymore, it's merely the raw matter, a sculpting material or perhaps even a doorway into the meta-realm. The foundation becomes the system itself which is something that extends far beyond any notion of Scripture. The Scriptures are no longer sufficient. They function more like a starting point.

Gordon Clark, John Robbins and the Hoeksema Faction represent the extreme end of this hermeneutic. Clark (and presumably his followers?) categorised himself as a Christian Platonic Realist and his Platonic Epistemology is purely rationalistic. He seemed to believe that since Revelation belonged to the meta-realm, it served as the Form or Universal and by simply employing Logic he could (via deduction) unlock the mysteries of the universe and work out all the particulars as it were. Scripture is subjugated to coherence. He would deny the charge of subjugation and would say Scripture is coherence. And yet in not a few cases his detractors would argue that his deduced formulations had compromised the teaching of Scripture. Indeed, sometimes on a very serious level.
The only thing restraining Clark et al. is their Foundationalist basic-belief axiom regarding the Scripture. The moment there is a chink or shadow of a doubt regarding the axiom...the Rationalist element will quickly sweep in and dominate even to the point of overpowering the Canonical Text. The system takes over. They are by no means unique in this, it's a just a more extreme example and more poignant to the observer.
In a way by adopting this method of theology, they're almost guaranteeing apostasy in subsequent generations. The system (and thought interaction with it) will never remain static. Their epistemology is almost begging them to step beyond the Scriptures. It's no surprise their descendants usually do and indeed have. Already within a generation the equation of Scripturalism with the theology of Westminster has waned. The questions keep being asked and whether they realize it or not they're chipping away at the foundation they built their house on. Eventually it crumbles, because buried in the foundation is Ockham's Razor. It slashes and destroys and leaves scepticism in its wake.**
They call it Scripturalism but it's really just a rationalistic system using Scripture as the axiomatic starting point. They might not even have a problem with that description. They've all but deified logic (in Clark's case quite literally) and deductions are to them as good as the pen of Paul. Coherence is deified, a coherence subject to the categories of a finite and fallen world. God is not only apprehensible but blasphemously comprehensible.
This is what happened in Europe and New England in the 18th century. They had already loaded the gun and placed it up to their heads...when they began to question Scripture (which imposing a systematic on Scripture will always lead to by creating problem texts and rational dilemmas)....they took the safety off. In the end it kills itself...The Aristotelian model is incapable of dealing with metaphysics. When it tries to, it self-destructs. In terms of theology it creates a false coherence, a reductionist and thus false system and then it self-destructs. It may take generations to do so but that is the result.
All rationalisms whether a priori Platonism, a posteriori Aristotelianism, theological Nominalism, or Philosophical Nominalism...in every case will erect a standard, construct a hermeneutic that will not allow Scripture to function. Logic is a necessary tool or means, but not an end. We are fallen and our reason especially in the metaphysical spiritual realm must be guided. Logic is utilized to make sense of ideas and apply them but it must be severely limited and subordinated to the confines of the text. Antinomies and dialectical dilemmas are not ours to suss out. We may utilize such concepts as the Analogy of Scripture when it comes to synthesizing temporally rooted narratives but not doctrinal truth. We can only expand in order to correspond. We don't expand in the sense of generating a wider system but only to be certain we allow the inspired text the full breadth and latitude it requires. Rather than become incoherent, our theology actually becomes far more profound, though difficult to order, creedalise and institutionalise. The disciples of Clark will refer to this as 'mysticism'.

This elevation of reason vis-à-vis the text is all the more troubling as one recognizes…as I assert, that logic is in the end an empirical tool or at least not divisible from empiricism. The laws of logic are grounded in a posteriori teleology. They are largely verbal-mathematical tools for observing and explaining the order of Creation. They rest in ideas but the ideas, some of which may indeed be innate, only make sense for us in terms of experience. This is old ground, an old circle, the debate between Empiricism and Rationalism which ends when we realize that neither concept can operate in isolation. Both Locke and Descartes recognized that we are epistemologically dualist creatures, experiencing the real but dominated by our minds. And our minds are limited in their capacity, fallen and dependent on sense and experience which we interpret both wrongly and in a reductionist fashion.
If reality is spiritual and metaphysical and we cannot relate our knowledge properly or if we are limited to our own mind constructs and concepts we are left with scepticism. We are ultimately trapped in a flawed sense-dependent Idealism, which destroys objectivity. Returning to the rigid categories of reason and coherence we destroy our ability to be certain and are left floundering...
Again this finite logic is sufficient for understanding the natural world in an internal sense. We can study matter as it relates to other matter, the temporal as it relates to the temporal. We can invent things and solve problems. We can (so to speak) study the tree branches moving in the wind and respond accordingly but we can't get at what the wind is or why it's there, let alone how it operates within the larger world and universe. And meaning, or the formulation of a truth extracted or derived from the various atomistic facts? The best we can hope to do is come up with a reduction, just as a scientist would.
When Christians criticise science for being insufficient to explain the whole of the universe and existence they are right to do so. But how few realise the same charge can be levied against their philosophical-theological method they would employ to explain reality, which by their definitions and parameters includes Scripture. It falls under the same auspices and is subjected to the same criteria.
** It might be argued that Cornelius Van Til came up with a way to stop this process by grounding all thought to the Axiom of Scripture and the embrace his concept of analogy. But a Dominionist impulse (building on Bavinck and Kuyper) led him to try and apply Scripture to the world's macro-systems in order to develop culture. In this case by trying to keep Scripture Axiomatic in its interaction with the non-Redemptive realm he was forced to posit what I consider to be the false Theonomy-Autonomy dilemma. And yet since the Scriptures don't speak in terms of blueprints for the non-Redemptive/Common realm the only way to develop the operative systems is by inference. And at that point I would argue you're going to end up with a Bible-plus -x type of epistemology. His quest for coherence and the ability to utilize Scripture as an axiom, taking its metaphysical realities and concretely applying them to the fallen world embarked his project on the same road he tried to escape. It has already been hijacked by many within the Reformed world and time will tell what will be its ultimate fruit. 

Continue reading Part 4