16 August 2012

Philosophical Wanderings 2

Since these comment threads are so long, I'm just putting them up as posts. The comment module will only take about a page at a time. If I want to type a 5 page response, I have to break it up and copy-paste. Plus it's harder to read for anyone following. This is easier.
Pardon any typos....I'm not getting too carried away since this is just an ongoing discussion.

Jim said....
 It's at this point that I'm going to have to defer to your superior knowledge on this subject. I admit that I have not read very much of Van Til and even less of Clark but I'm familiar with the conflict between the two as well as the logical outworking of their presuppositions you've mentioned in this post. I also know that Van Til is accepted in Presbyterian and most Dutch Reformed circles whereas Clark finds a more favorable audience in more hyper-Calvinistic groups such as Hoeksema's PRC.
Proto said....
You exaggerate. Your knowledge on these matters if obviously pretty impressive. I haven't read Van Til in many years. At one point I wrestled with the whole Presuppositional v. Evidential/Classical Apologetics issue. It's all very interesting and helpful on one level. And yet another it's a waste of time.
I say that because I think they've expanded verses like 1 Peter 3.15 'far' beyond what the Apostle had in mind. And... really to interact with all these philosophical systems you have to master philosophy. I don't have the time and while I'm interested when I sit and wade through Kant or Hume....I start becoming convicted. It's all a dead end. It's a case of blind leading the blind.
Which brings me back to fundamental questions about reason, logic, and how this ties in with the Gospel presentation. I think we have dual task...to answer the arguments of the infidel....and yet, somehow the foolishness of preaching must be adhered to. I know they would point to verses like 2 Corinthians 10.5 and say....see, we must engage.
But then look at 1 Corinthians 2.1ff (especially v.7)
I'm not sure writing philosophical treatises is what Paul had in mind. In some ways it's all much more simple. I don't know where to draw the line. I wonder if we're not supposed to just keep it simple?....philosophically basic?....There is a God and He has spoken in the Person and Work of Christ.
Romans 1 teaches us they're guilty. We proclaim the Gospel. We answer their questions, but I'm not sure how far we need to dive in. I don't know. The jury is still out on that one for me.
But I do know this....with Van Til and others, the drive to create a coherent Macro-Philosophical system finds its root in Dominionism. My understanding of Common Grace and some of the ideas concerning Gospel simplicity that I just threw out in the paragraph above....that won't conquer a culture will it? Not a problem from my perspective.
Now Clark...I do have a big problem with him. That's not to say I'm pro- Van Til. Like I said, I haven't read Van Til in many years, but I do listen to a lot of podcasts and programmes....and his thought is always lingering in the background. So I could say I'm at least aware in how his thought continues to play out in certain circles.
With Clark we have the virtual deification of logic. In the beginning was the Logic (logos) and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God.
With this system...the Sovereignty of God...His Decree becomes the central point, the Centraldogma. Everything subsequent, really we could say...the outworking of His Will is dominated by Pure Reason, Pure Logic....Holy Logic you could almost say. Logic becomes pretty much essential to the Divine Being.
Basically the Bible provides us with axiomatic data...and from those points employing logic we can work out pretty much everything. Mystery...that just means you need to work out the syllogism or you've created a fallacy. And for this work knowledge has to be propositional...it has to be tied to the word-forms. Innate, experiential, empirical knowledge are all invalid.
This understanding plays a KEY role in their understanding of Saving Faith. It really ends up being reduced to understanding certain statements worded in the proper way...this is a real big issue if you've ever encountered any Hyper-Calvinists. Getting the doctrinal wording of the formula right is critical.
Including within the definition of Saving Faith the idea of Fiducia (trust, confidence) or as John Cameron put it Persuasio (Action Derived From or rooted in Persuasion (it's genitive)....these concepts are subjective are cannot be coherently formulated or verified with propositional logic....and are therefore invalid.
Hyper-Calvinists suffer from what might be called Westernism. They're Aristotelians by default (we all are to some degree unless we consciously divorce ourselves from it).
·       By the way that IS a point where all this has SOME value. We read the Bible through our cultural eyes. If our culture teaches us a default way to think that doesn't allow the Bible to communicate properly to us...then we need to re-think our Epistemology, which of course involves diving into these issues, dissecting them in order to understand what we need to jettison when interacting with Revelation.
Knowledge and certainly God's Will are Systematic. Now, you go about arranging it. In terms of an A Priori starting point...The Decree of God...they would include Predestination at this point. Everything flows from that and they set up a series of tautologies based on this Axiom. The system becomes hermetic and they can't fathom why you can't see it....your 'sin' problem becomes an issue of reason.
The problem is....they've moved beyond the Bible, and they're ignoring what the text actually says. They've elevated their System and all its assumptions FAR above the Revelatory Text. They've spring boarded from the text and created a parallel theology...
Just like the Liberals who do the EXACT same thing (just with a different start point or Anchor as I call it in my glossary)....they end up using Biblical terms and concepts but don't use them in the way the Bible itself uses them. They're redefined.
I remember for years just shrugging my shoulders when people made the point that Calvin included the doctrine of predestination in Book III of the Institutes...essentially under Soteriology.
Beza and the Protestant Scholastics moved the doctrine back into Theology Proper. Predestination was not viewed in terms of Redemption...Covenant of Grace, Assurance, etc....
Instead it was moved and became the centerpiece of the system itself.
This was what generated the whole controversy with Amyraut...which is fascinating chapter within Reformed history. As I've said elsewhere, it's not that he was just a 4pt. Calvinist...it's that his entire understanding of theological method was different than theirs.
Jim C said...
I'm also familiar with the debate between Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and it's lauded in Christian forums the world over as a decisive defeat of atheism. Of course if you read about it from the perspective of the other side that's hardly the case, and even Stein himself admitted that he was not prepared for Bahnsen's transcendental argument but had since prepared a response. Other thinkers such as Michael Martin responded with a "transcendental argument for the nonexistence of God" or "TANG", where he made reference to the uniformity of nature and how an arbitrary God undermines the validity of scientific investigation, etc. That's not the fullness of his argument but it starts there. He's a lesser-known luminary within atheistic circles but in my opinion has a much more amenable disposition than some of the more famous thinkers.

Proto said....
Yeah the Bahnsen-Stein debate was a big deal. I still have my cassette tape copy of it somewhere. It was helpful though. That's when a lot of these ideas were first opening up for me. That was back in about 1995-1996. I was wrestling with Theonomy and was fascinated by Bahnsen. He seemed the most reasonable (no pun intended) of the Theonomy trio (North and Rushdoony being the others).
I was challenged by him and spent years wrestling with their ideas. I remember receiving his newsletter in January 1996 which announced his death. I was pretty moved...enough that I remember exactly where I was....sitting with a good friend in a Fiat on a flight line just outside Aviano Italy.  I had a VHS copy of Bahnsen speaking on Covenant Theology, and a tape of Sproul's Holiness of God. My friend and I would watch them over and over again....that and Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. We still quote from that thing all the time.
Stein was hardly a worth match. Yes, they pounced him with the TAG argument, but like I said....it's really just a variation of Anselm's Ontological Argument. If Stein was familiar with Hume's critique of the Theistic Proofs...then he should have been able to lock horns with a bit more effectiveness. He needed to attack Bahnsen on the issue of a priori reasoning. In order for TAG to be true, then you would have to prove that without it (God) you would have a contradiction.
Since there's no way to 'prove' that, you cannot treat God as Axiomatic and reason a priori from that point.
This is where Logic breaks down when it comes to metaphysics.
TAG (as Sproul would be happy to point out) is simply question begging...in terms of logic, a fallacy.
But that doesn't mean I'm very keen on Sproul's Thomistic method either.
Maybe TAG is best and Biblical....God is and to make sense of the universe without Him is impossible.
But....that's not really an apologetic. It's a declaration. It's unverifiable. So then in order to sort of verify it....they critique all other philosophical options and demonstrate their incoherence...and then say...all your left with is TAG/Christian Theism.
But again if you're resting on logic...that's a non sequitir. TAG 'could' be true, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's true. It's still not verifiable.
TANG to me count account for the validity of anything...they're kind of left with some problem....they can't verify their premise. Interesting though. But I guess for me....it would once again set me on a road toward nihilism. You can't attach meaning to anything.
Jim C said....
Later in your post you said, "I just don't have any confidence in logic when applied to metaphysics nor do I think it's ontologically rooted in metaphysics." That actually threw me for a loop and left me scratching my head. What did you mean by this?
Proto said....
The first part of the statement ties in with what I was just talking about with Bahnsen, Stein and TAG......the problem of logic when interacting with metaphysics in a general sense.
The second part ties in with what I was saying about Clark and the Protestant Scholastics.
I'm not anti-logic, but I think it's limited to the physical/temporal realm. I think it's part of Creation (part of Natural Law)....not tied in with the Divine Attributes.
Does that help? If not, I'll try to explain more....

Jim C said...

You also said that with regard to logic you were a "conceptualist" as opposed to a "realist". Again, I'm not sure what the distinction means.

Proto said...
I'm borrowing from the Problem of the Universals. Generally speaking I tend toward Realism...not equal to Plato...but the idea that there are Universal Forms. This makes sense with the whole idea of meta-physics, Biblical typology....and Divine Absolutes. We could say that we have particular concepts of goodness etc...but that 'Goodness' is a concrete idea in the mind of God.
Plato believed you started with the Universal Forms and worked out your ideas from there. He believed in concepts like Recollection and Inherence (these are the later basis for some of the mysticism in Neo-Platonism)...and that we had innate a priori knowledge.
Of course we would reject that, but we could say that the Bible, or Christian Theism for us are taken as a priori knowledge.
Aristotle of course developed the syllogism and the ways of 'evidencing' or 'proving' the proposition. He developed a priori laws of logic...but basically you had to start with what is demonstrable and the categories (universals) you create that help you organize ideas are not real, they're just linguistic ways of arranging ideas.
I think logic is unable to move beyond this...but as Christians we must move beyond it. So I'm not a conceptualist, but as far as logic goes...that's as far as I think it 'can' go.
For me logic is not enough. We need Revelation. And once we have it...we can't dissect it with logic. It's an insufficient incapable tool. Our job is to submit.
Does that help? I hope I'm not being too confusing.
Jim C said...

Lovin' this discussion, btw.

Proto said....
Me too!


Protoprotestant said...

Hey Jim C....

If you would, email me at protoprotestant@gmail.com

I wanted to ask you something offline.

Protoprotestant said...

Hey I found Cal!


Sorry I couldn't help it. Those commercials used to make everyone laugh.

Seriously though, he's been writing some interesting stuff over at:


Jim C. said...

Hey John,

I watched that video clip on Youtube and yeah it's pretty kooky - and a bit before my time. It looks like it's from the 1970s. I was actually kind of shocked at his use of wild animals such as monkeys and tigers, especially given that today, animal rights activists would be foaming at the mouth (and perhaps rightfully so). I guess it was a less politically correct time.

Jim C.

Cal said...

I'm so very honored to be missed, you guys are too kind. I've been working on fixing a local's facade. I was only able to put in a week but the house needs a lot of work!

I like Van Till as an apologetic when attacked to say, "Look, your system is as absurd and in fact has no rock to stand on". However, it has such a tendency to be used like a tomahawk to kill all your enemies. Love must inform everything a Christian does.

However, for most things, a pragmatic approach to dialog is something I opt for.

I agree that a Christian's axiom is Christ, it is revelation or nothing.

However, I suppose I don't think the diagnosis of entering into Canaan is very good. To say "We deserve it" would make most people cringe and it would be easy to say that they're in denial. However, we're not met by that god but God in Christ Jesus, who had every right (like you said) but cast His crown down and came to man.

The Holocaust is a judgment on sin but a revelation of what the "mystery of iniquity" is. It is an unmasking of everything in us. In reality, we're all SS officers throwing children screaming into burning ovens; we're all Canaanite priests immolating babies. We become the gods we worship be it Baal or Vaterland. It is our Lord Jesus who is the Mediator, the Decree, of God for man that keeps creation from plunging into utter oblivion. The scary thing is that we don't deserve an Auschwitz but that we deserve nothing. The Void, emptiness. A greater curse is to be left to ourselves and the gods we make. Faceless gods that eat their makers in droves.

One thing I go on about is terms of identity. We're meant to bear image and when the True God kills the gods, those who are united to those gods die. All gods are Satan, they all accuse the Lord and accuse the things He elects. I see in the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the Judean Elite and the Mob as YHWH vs. the Leviathan. It is the Truth being confronted by all of our lies and monsters.

I just gave myself a shiver, it's the existentialist in me coming out!

My friend and pastor levels a good critique against Americana, especially Suburbia, by saying that they're trying to script the Fall out of their lives. Sadly this is especially true of American christians.

When a Colorado Movie shooting happens, it rips the mask off of the fakery that the world produces. God's providence doesn't let humanity forget that we're all slaves to sin but for the Grace of God, but for King Jesus, who atoned for our sins and bring us to life in His Spirit. Union to Christ is the only means from losing the heart of stone and being given a new heart that can obey Christ.

I came to the conclusion that if Christ was not the Son nor with His Father (for there can be no God but Him), I would just go to the Sepulchre in Jerusalem and just weep until dead. If Jesus did not rise, I may as well just die with Him.

Cal said...

I also find it sadly odd to watch the New Atheists laugh at religion and spirituality (especially Christianity as it is wrapped in Western identity) and then go groping for it in dark alley ways.

I remember when Sam Harris was caught with his pants down, so to speak, when he let be known that he thought Zen Buddhism was something to practiced. "Oh, of course not for the silly spiritual or religious aspect! It has scientific and psychological boons". Only when playing with Platonic strawmen can you get away with that (sadly Platonic strawmen is much of American christianity). The Cartesian divorce of soul and body is not necessarily biblical and Sam Harris proved by his so called wisdom that the New Atheists are just a revamped cult of Epicurus and Lucian.

Have you ever seen the movie Contact? It was supposed to end with some sort of consolation, that the fact that extra-terrestrials lived and Humanity was "not alone" was any great joy. The "Scientific" (they get the scare-quotes for trying to monopolize a word) vision is Nihilism with a smiling ET.

Ridley Scott, though I find his religious pluralism too preachy in his films, ripped this facade in half. Alien and now Prometheus say: "Why do you think any life out there would want to be our friends? In fact, given our history, why would they not want to exterminate humanity for its vile crimes?".

You're right: Nihilism is all that's left. It's the Steven King's It. It is the Yawning Chasm that swallows everything.

Praise the Sovereign Lord Jesus!

Sometimes people think I'm morbid for some of my thoughts (as summed up above) but by considering it, it drives me back into the Light. The more a Christian realizes the fullness of the idea of Solus Christus, the more he/she can interact with reality without being swept away by insanity.