01 March 2017

Ockham's Razor, Scepticism and Biblicism Part 4

Anchoring and Scepticism

Aristotelian-style logic is entirely insufficient for developing a metaphysical hermeneutic. It ends up forcing metaphysics into physical and empirical categories. It must be said again that there are many like Clark and even those less extreme who would strongly disagree with this sentiment. To Clark and all coherentists if they were honest with themselves, logic is akin to God Himself. It's almost the essence of who He is. I wince saying it...but this is idolatry.
One cannot but be shocked listening to John Robbins speak. I listened to him recently critiquing Federal Vision....and was appalled. Though I disagreed with him on the theological issues, I was appalled at the unrestrained arrogance and frankly (from my standpoint) Pelagian view of man's capabilities to grasp the eternal. He would call me a gnostic, a mystic. These are huge issues. I think their view of logic really leads to a sort of deification of creation where the laws of nature become almost coequal with the character of God. God and His knowledge are not qualitatively different but rather simply a question of quantity. They have confused a mechanism, a tool, with the thing itself; a methodology becomes the goal, the object of veneration. That is a god made in man's image if ever I saw one. This is by no means the only instance of a Pantheist tendency within Reformed and Evangelical thought.

But what about the more mainstream channels of Reformed thought, like Charles Hodge and the oft venerated Princeton tradition? Is there a difference? Slight, but not really. In the end, it ends up being an argument between apriorist Platonic Rationalism and aposteriorist Aristotelian rationalism. But in both cases, it's a rationalist system resting on a coherentist foundation. Whatever the precise epistemological road, Systematics ends up interpreting the Bible and becomes the ultimate authority.

Hodge stood directly on the shoulders of Turretin and the legacy of Beza, the progenitor of Protestant Scholasticism. This rationalist construct plagues us today, coupled with Secular Nominalistic Philosophy which is the default setting for anyone growing up in the West. We are programmed to be sceptical of metaphysics and the necessary mindset required to embrace it. Post-conversion we bring our cultural Nominalism and inject it into our theology. The Nominalist Razor is again a tool we can wield but it is dangerous. We can be both thankful for its ability to destroy but its overall influence and the way it has helped to shape the modern world is destructive.
We use it as a weapon to destroy false systems but the scepticism it engenders and the methodology by which it gets there does not represent reality, but the limitations of man in a reality status lapsum. It destroys the philosophical project and man's attempts to formulate an account of reality. For many in our culture the method has become the ultimate. The method is the foundation of reality. And what an impoverished reality they have created. While we can rejoice in the failures of the world system and its idolatrous attempts to create a coherence, it does indeed generate chaos both in society and in the minds of its members. The coping mechanism is usually (and almost necessarily) some form of reductionism, materialist or otherwise. Even subjective relativism and emotionalism rests on some form of reductionist foundation.
Depending on one's reading of the Bible, generational tradition, or one's emotive inclinations or prejudices, they 'Anchor' on one of the temporal/eternal axes and develop an Aristotelian structure based on that central axiom which all too often becomes a Centraldogma.
We bring bringing categories sufficient (though often godless) for temporal life into the realm of metaphysics. As Christians we are metaphysically blind and thus revelation dependent. The metaphysical world is one of shadows. It is certainly and undoubtedly there but our predications are conjecture, our attempts at relation (coherence) are speculative and based on flawed assumptions and a poverty of data. It's presence and our knowledge of it condemns and makes man subject to madness, but he cannot formulate anything approaching a coherent system. When man does this we have a name for it... man-made religion, idolatry.
I'm not advocating mystical experience either. Dependent on revelation we have entered what might be called a metaphysical category but we're not engaged in philosophical metaphysics or any kind of speculation.
Anchoring necessarily occurs and results in theological schism. As fallen creatures we're stuck in a dilemma. Our world is metaphysical but utilizing our tools we necessarily end up sceptics. Revelation is the only rescue, the only way out. Does this mean skepticism is therefore true? It's true in that it represents our reality status lapsum, in a fallen world. But it does not represent ultimate or eschatological reality. This is set against the temporality and impermanence of this present order or age. We can utilize the Razor's scepticism to destroy man-made systems like Aristotelianism and we can leave people with the choice between Scepticism (and thus Nihilism) or the embrace of Revelation and with it a limited ability to grasp the real.
Comprehension will escape us this side of glory and it can be questioned what that term will mean in the hereafter. But it is certain that even with revelation given from God we live in a dependent state of informed ignorance. We are told what we need to know. And actually we are by God's grace told a lot more, but we cannot hope to properly contextualise and relate reality utilising a revelation plus our intellect and sense-data methodology. As stated previously the picture created will necessarily be false. Trust, the essential element of faith extends even to our attempt to know and understand the world.
This Anchoring, or creating Centraldogmas on different axes seems to be the core issue leading to the breakdown of consensus on the majority of theological issues. It's like two people screaming at each other, one at the bottom of the valley, the other at the top. One is trying to describe the valley, the other the mountain…neither can understand what the other is trying to describe. They hear echoes and can make out syllables and an occasional word, but they really can't understand what the other is saying.

Pushing my illustration... If they would just climb a little higher they could see both the mountain, the valley……and many more mountains in the distance.
Man has brought his fallen categories into the metaphysical realm and they don't work. Rather than submit to canonical scripture we tend to seek coherence and end up arguing over the integrity of systems built on reductionist foundations and all their deduced conclusions. Using the Razor while standing on their foundations, they war and destroy and then the Razor turns on them and destroys them as well.
In the end, most Theologies of today could probably claim more of a conceptualist metaphysical epistemology rather than a true Nominalism. Yet, I continue to assert Nominalism is the result or consequence of all Aristotelian Hermeneutics applied to the metaphysical realm. Historically in terms of Christian theology, this either leads to the scepticism producing Unitarian New England and Higher Critical Continental Europe or it leads to an Anchored Theology (always leading to a form of Confessionalism or some sort of Denominational Faction), grounding itself and establishing a kind of System or Creedal Foundationalism upon which an Aristotelian Structure is developed. I further discuss the implications of Anchoring in another post.

Even Clark, though arguing Platonically on certain theological issues like the Creationist/Traduceanist debate is still employing empiricist methods. If Logic is empirical, than all who employ it as the supreme Dissector/Developer are actually Aristotelian. He may think he's reasoning from Universals to Particulars, but by making Logic supreme, he's already an Aristotelian path, reasoning from the Particular Forms to the Universal. Why? Because his Universal (Scripture) has already been subjugated to a lens (Formal Logic) rooted in the physical, the created realm, the categories of experience.
What I'm trying to say is that even though he thinks he's 'reasoning' from the eternal to the temporal, his way of doing this is rooted in and guided by temporally limited ways of thinking. His finite categories and capacities are read into the Universal or Form he wishes to use an axiom. Pure reason as one philosopher so aptly demonstrated is a fiction. While the Prussian philosopher was hardly a friend to Scripture, his employment of the Razor's principles to this question aid in the destruction of Rationalist Metaphysics, a worthwhile goal since in the end it represents a challenge to and corruption of the authority of Scripture.

Continue Reading Part 5