Sunday, June 10, 2007

Presuppositional Debate - Continued

JonathanB has provided a response (link here) to my previous post (link here), in which I responded to several of his objections. In the dialogue below, within the block quotations, the boldface is JonathanB's summary of my response, and the not-boldface type is JonathanB's response.

Rejoinder 1: Some unfounded claims (and some axioms) are arbitrary assertions, some are not. Of course, we are speaking here of claims that are not founded in reasoned argument.
American Heritage Dictionary defines arbitrary as, “Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle.” Any claim that has no reason behind it is arbitrary. Turretinfan can claim that his axiom has necessity behind it. If he says “it is necessary because…” he has provided a reason for his axiom and thus debunked himself. Turretinfan can also claim he has a principle behind it but if he has some principle behind his ultimate axiom then he has both a reason for the axiom and has made the axiom less than his ultimate axiom, ad infinitum.

JB's response relies on equivocation. There is a reason (in the sense of the AHD) but not a reasoned argument (the sense being discussed). The reason that I believe what I believe, is that God has opened my eyes to see that it is true. That is a reason (hence the axiom is not arbitrary), and yet it is not a reasoned argument.


Rejoinder 2: This [that an unfounded claim is arbitrary] is not a legitimate objection, however, because a circular argument is not a foundation (in the sense of a reasoned argument) for a proposition.
Whether or not an assertion made for no reason is arbitrary has nothing to do with circularity, in itself. Take for example the recent Chris Hitchens/Doug Wilson debate: Hitchens asserts that Christianity is bad and Wilson that Christianity is good. Now Hitchens needs to have some ethical standard by which he makes his declaration. However, the fact that Hitchens cannot come up with a standard does not mean that Doug Wilson is relieved of having to come up with a standard for his own assertion.
However, I am willing to bite the bullet on the later half of this assertion. The claim is being made by Van Tilians that in restricted cases circularity is allowed if it is necessary and verified transcendentally. Turretinfan objects that this is not allowed. Okay, so why, Turretinfan, is this not allowed?

At to the first half of the above, the point is that a circular argument does not provide a reason for an otherwise arbitrary assertion. If it did, it would provide a reason for virtually any arbitrary assertion.

As to the second half, given that the general rule is that circular arguments are invalid arguments, the burden is on the Van-Tillians to demonstrate that there is a category of circular arguments that actually are valid. So far, the Van-Tillians have not risen to this challenge.

Instead, the Van-Tillians have simply asserted that the circular argument is "necessary" (which we have demonstrated is not true) and that the circular argument is "verified transcendentally" (which we have demonstrated is actually incorrect, the proposition itself is verified transcendentally, not the circular argument).

Notice that the Bible is a self-attesting authority. To attest to something is to give one’s testimony and to give one’s testimony is to give support for a declaration or a thing. Thus, to self-attest is to give your own support for yourself. Yet this is exactly what Turretinfan needs to avoid. Turretinfan doesn’t want the Bible to be a self-attesting authority but rather to be a mere assertion (admittedly, this is not how Turretinfan would put it but I think this is the position he is forced into). In order for Turretinfan to have his cake and eat it too, he needs to drop the concept of Scripture as a self-attesting authority and instead adopt Scripture as a book of (arbitrary) assertions, or axioms if you prefer.

It should be clear from the second part of the paragraph above, that our position is that Scripture has self-attesting authority. The problem with JB's analysis is to confuse the self-attestation of the Bible with a circular argument, or an argument at all. It is not a deductive argument. That's the simple fact of the matter. Thus, there is no contradiction between saying that the Bible is my set of axioms and that it is not arbitrary. The reason JB thinks I cannot have self-attesting axioms is that JB has mistakenly dichotomized into rigorous proof and arbitrariness, as noted above.

Rejoinder 3: a circular argument is patently worse than just stating that the matter is a presupposition, because it has the appearance of an attempt to decieve the audient into thinking that the matter has been proven using reason.
In order for Turretinfan to be correct he must assume that there can be no self-attesting authority and he must assume that to make a mistake in reasoning is worse than to be arbitrary in reasoning. Sometimes it may be better to make a mistake in reasoning than to be arbitrary. For example, if I arbitrarily decide that the world is sound and fury signifying nothing, and thus I should go on a killing rampage, it would certainly be better to make the mistake of thinking that Scripture is a self-attesting authority (if this is a mistake). On the other hand, it may be worse if the mistake in reasoning is that black people are not people at all but a lower life form and the arbitrary decision is to do what God has said. Thus, he cannot categorically state that to reason in a circle is worse than to be arbitrary.

Here JB continues to mistakenly assert (a) that our position requires that there be no self-attesting authority, and (b) that the only alternative to circularity is arbitrariness. Each of those errors has been thoroughly refuted.

Additionally, based on those mistaken assertions, JB artificially asserts that we must assume that "to make a mistake in reasoning is worse than to be arbitrary in reasoning." Whether we arrive at the right result by the wrong methodology does not make the methodology correct. The ends do not justify the means. If there is a mistake in reasoning, that is something that ought to be corrected, independently of whether "arbitrary in reasoning" is acceptable. Likewise, if "arbitrary in reasoning" is bad, then it should be corrected independently of whether a mistake in reasoning is something bad.

And, as previously noted, the actual position that faces JB's position is not that it is better to be arbitrary than circular, but that one should not be circular. JB's argument is akin to the pinchpurse asserting that I must prove that pinching purses is worse than speeding, if I am going to criticize him for speeding.

What remains unproven by both JB and the pinchpurse, is that the only alternative is what they respectively claim. In other words, one might argue that it is better that one man should die and not the whole nation, if those are really the only two options. But if there is a third option: that both the man and the nation live, for example (or that the pinch purse goes to work, while driving within the law; or that a person acknowledge a presupposition as such, and not attempt to pass it off as a logically deduced conclusion), then the defense of comparative blameworthiness goes out the window.

Here, the third option is to announce the presupposition for what it is, and not attempt to claim that it has been logically deduced, when it has not. It is the path of honesty, and it is better than the deception of asserting that one can prove one's presuppositon by resort to circular argument.

Surely, Turretinfan would want to argue within the context that to arbitrarily assert God’s authority is better than to say that it is its own authority because it is the highest authority. Yet is this true? If Turretinfan allows this arbitrariness then, by his own admission, he cannot offer a reason as to why someone should choose a different axiom and go kill Bob. If I allow this circle in my reasoning then it is not without guidelines, it must be necessitated by the nature of the claim and it must be transcendentally verified. Thus, I can still hold people accountable to not reason in a circle unless they are making a certain kind of claim and when they do make that claim, I can still have some principle of critique.

As noted above, JB continues to (apparently unintentionally) misrepresent our position as advocating arbitrary assertions. However, as has been shown, the assertion of God's authority is not arbitrary, even though it is not the result of logical deduction.

Rejoinder 4: The assertion that God exists is not “arbitrary.” It is God’s own name for Himself. He is the “I AM.” It is not a conclusion that we arrive at by logical reasoning, it is simply the revealed truth of God.
Turretinfan certainly makes this sound nice and what Christian wouldn’t agree that their worldview is not arbitrary? This comment sounds even nicer when he misconstrues the Van Tilian position by making it sound as if Van Tilians believe that we start with logic and can end with God (but maybe he didn’t mean to do that). Turretinfan claims the assertion that God exists is not “arbitrary,” but is this necessarily true? Not necessarily. It isn’t arbitrary because of the nature of who God is. God is the ultimate authority and therefore He can claim that He exists on His own authority. However, I cannot claim that God exists and then leave it at that because I am no authority. If I am going to claim that God exists I must appeal to His authority. Thus, if we merely claim “God exists” we are being arbitrary.

JB's response here appears self-contradictory. JB appears to acknowledge that "God exists" is not an arbitrary assertion. Furthermore, JB appears to recognize that the reason it is not arbitrary is not because it is arrived at by logical deduction. He brings in what he feels are misperceptions of Van-Tillianism, but that discussion is not germane here. JB has to pick: is the assertion of God's existence arbitrary, or not. Those of us who believe know that it is not arbitrary, as JB also appears to recognize.

Rejoinder 5: Consequently, the objection fails both because the Circular Reasoning position is worse than the acknowledgment of the presupposition, and because it is untrue that the only alternative to reasoned proof is mere arbit.
I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that Turretinfan has a misconception of “reasoned proof.” It sounds as though Turretinfan is under the impression that for one to give a reasoned proof they must go to something outside of themselves. Certainly, this is true with one exception: that which is the ultimate authority. God does not go to a reason outside of Himself because reason does not exist outside of Himself. Thus, the fact of reason is, in a sense “a reasoned proof.”
As noted previously, this alleged exception is merely declared by Van-Tillians, not proven by them. Consequently, the burden of showing that it is an exception remains on them.

Their argument appears to be that "ultimate authorities cannot be established by ordinary logical deduction, (so far they are correct) so, we must use a circular argument." It is the latter half where they go astray. There is no more reason to use a circular argument than to employ any other form of invalid argument, or simply to remain silent.

Rejoinder 6: problem is not just that circular arguments are illogical, but that they are (in Frame’s apologetic) being passed off on the unsuspecting public as logically valid.
Notice that this is almost the same as rejoinder 5 and 3. However, I want to raise again the challenge made under rejoinder 2: Why are the types of circular arguments Frame proposes invalid? In addition notice that this rejoinder is in response to my state that “[y]ou assert that circular arguments as illogical and then abandon logic yourself.” One can easily see in Turretinfan’s rejoinder that he did not demonstrate that my objection was not the case. Turretinfan only argues that circular arguments are worse than unfounded assertions. However, my point stands; he wants to use logic to critique other views for being illogical but then wants to put his own view in an ivory tower where logic cannot reach.

As noted in the comment, most of this is addressed above. One point of correction: "Turretinfan only argues that circular arguments are worse than unfounded assertions." That's simply not the case. That is not my argument, nor has it been my argument. JB's failure to get the argument, is disappointing. The argument is that proposing a logically invalid argument (and circular arguments are invalid arguments) as the attempted demonstration is, at best, potentially deceptive.

The "ivory tower" comment is a bizarre mixture of metaphors. In any event, a presupposition is, by definition, outside the bounds of supposition. To assert that it is not is to beat one's head against the wall.

Rejoinder 7: [T]here is not some alternative in which axioms ARE justified by reasoned argument. As noted above, a circular argument is not a reasoned argument.
Notice that this rejoinder was in response to my objection 3, where I state, “If axioms don’t have to be justified by reasoned argument, then I can escape having to justify my position on anything by calling it an axiom.” (In fact, the next 3 Rejoinders by Turretin will be in relation to this objection.) In this, Turretinfan wisely adopts John Frame’s observation that if no alternative exists then no critique can be made. However, this is not a defeater to my Objection 3 because the only thing this means is that the fact that I can escape all justification by calling it an axiom is not a fault (if Turretinfan is correct that there are no other options). The fact remains that I can escape all justification by making all things axioms… a high price to pay to escape Van Til.

JB: yes, if you call your whole position axiomatic, you would remove your position from debate. The only question would be whether your multiple axioms were consistent. No one, however, is proposing making all things axioms, because most people do not hold all of their views with equal dogmatism.

The only question is regarding presuppositions, starting points. As between competing presuppositions, (God exists, God does not exist), either can be "supported" by a circular argument or by any number of other invalid argumentation forms. The honest thing to do is to acknowledge that it is a presupposition and go from there, rather than claiming to have proven the presupposition by the exercise of logic.

Rejoinder 8: The second reason is that if a circular argument IS a reasoned justification, then it could simply be employed to support any arbitrary axiom: consequently, the same criticism would inhere. Frame tries to escape this by saying that circular arguments are only valid sometimes (not all the time), but aside from a self-serving desire to permit circularity when it is helpful, Frame does not justify his resort to fallacious reasoning.
The criticism is not valid because Frame’s guidelines are not artificial. Indeed, most philosophers (I don’t know that all have) have recognized that certain claims are necessarily circular (i.e. induction). (Please note that this “necessary circle” is somewhat dependent on one’s worldview. Under the Christian worldview, induction is not circular: we have the principle because God is uniform and promised the seasons for harvest etc….). When some alternative can be given to a circular argument then a circular argument must not be given and if one does have a circular argument it should be capable of being argued for transcendentally. Turretinfan may not like this but these are in fact reasons for the validity of circularity. Turretinfan’s alternative, arbitrary axioms, cannot have any guidelines which limits their use.

Again, notice the false characterization of our position as "arbitrary axioms."

In addition, yes, Frame's guidelines are artificial. They are a stopgap measure for attempting to prolong deductive reasoning when it has failed. It's not a question of my liking or not liking it. Deductive reasoning dead-ends at presuppositions -- axioms. That's just the way it is.

A circular argument does not help presuppositions, becuase circular arguments do not help propositions in general. The same reasons that a circular argument is not a sound argument for proposition X are valid reasons why a circular argument is not a sound argument for all propositions X: there's nothing about presuppositions that avoid the invalidity problems of circularity.

The fact that a claim cannot be proved apart from circularity does not mean that it can be proved WITH circularity, just the fact that a claim cannot be proved by appealling to the fact that I am a poor, paraplegic orphan whose extraordinarily adorable pet kitten just got run over by the same tank that killed my grandparents does not mean that it can be proven in such a logically invalid method.

"Inductive reasoning" is not deductive reasoning at all, and it is unclear why JB even brings it up.

The proposition may be verifiable in manner that transcends logic, but not the use of a circular argument (or of my pitiful tale).

Rejoinder 9: The third reason is that there is value in people exposing their axioms: their presuppositions. For example, most Arminians have a presupposition that man’s destiny is not (effectively) written in stone, but that the future (to a large degree) is up to each individual person. That’s a presupposition for them, but some (indeed many) refuse to acknowledge that it is a presupposition, choosing instead to assert that is based in Scriptural exegesis. When they acknowledge that it is a presupposition, then the debate can shift to whether that presupposition is consistent with other of their presuppositions, as opposed to whether the presupposition itself is justified.
Notice that this is a type of transcendental argumentation for the axiom. Since Turretinfan doesn’t believe axioms can be justified then it should not be any problem to the Arminian that he cannot justify holding onto two contradictory axioms. Thus, while Turretinfan may be able to show that two axioms contradict, it doesn’t seem to me that the Arminian has to give any of them up; after all, the Arminian has no reason for holding the axioms in the first place. The Arminian can claim that it is his axiom to hold to these two contradictions but that it is also his axiom that he be consistent the rest of the time.

This response again demonstrates that JB consistently fails to identify our actual position. As has been repeated many times, our position is not in favor of arbitrary assertions. It would seem to be a point of fairness that JB try to recognize that.

A second mischaracterization "Turretinfan doesn’t believe axioms can be justified." In fact, I think I've fairly clearly said the opposite. They can be justified, just not by logical deduction.

What JB appears to fail to recognize is that while axioms (as such) are not proved by logical deduction, they can be invalidated within a system by comparison to other axioms. If anyone, Arminian or otherwise, refuses to consistently abide by the law of self-contradiction, they are simply indicating that they refuse to argue.

Rejoinder 10: I don’t see this [the ability to be logical on matters other than your presuppositions is not due to your presuppositions] as a reason to object to my view.
I see this as a reason for objection because it means that the axiom is virtually useless. Turretinfan may wish to object that it is useful in that he has been justified… but this itself is a part of his axiom. His axiom doesn’t give him any thing advantageous over another person with different axioms except the axiom itself. This means that his justification is only useful in that it is a part of his axiom. Unbelieving Bob will not have any use for this “justification” because it is not a part of his axiom. If Bob’s axiom is that murdering is good then it is useful for justifying Bob’s murder, to Bob. It is has no value to anyone other than Bob. I can imagine Turretinfan would want to say that this means everyone should adopt his axiom so they can enjoy its benefits. Yet this assumes that the benefits have a transitive value to the person with different axioms. The shift would have to be arbitrary and Bob can make the same claim.

JB seems to overlook that even if the value of the axiom cannot be proven by logical argument, nevertheless that does not mean that axiom does not have enormous value. A murder-loving person who refuses to debate his view of murder is in an intrisicly bad position, whether we can prove that to his satisfcation or not.

Rejoinder 11: reason has been revealed to be of use in understanding.
Why should I want to be understanding?

There are lots of answers that could be given, including (if you were my son) "because otherwise I'll hit you with this stick." Hopefully, I don't have to tell you why you should want such an object. If some fool really was on the fence about the issue, the answer would be: because God said to make it your goal.

Rejoinder 12: Asserting that a truth is self-evident is dogma, not demonstration, even if one places Aristotle’s signature under the assertion.
First of all, I must object to his reformulation of my statement. My original statement was: “you act as though Van Tilians just made up circular arguments yesterday, when in fact such circularity, which may be justified transcendentally, has been used since Aristotle.” The thrust of this point is not that “Aristotle did it first!” but that the very man who helped systematized western logic realized that in some cases circularity was inescapable. Turretinfan wants to appeal to one logical principle (don’t reason in a circle) and yet abandon another logical principle (don’t be arbitrary). In showing that the principle of non-circularity has exceptions we do not have to throw out the entire system; yet, if we claim that non-arbitrariness has exceptions but we cannot provide any reason for it then we cannot stop the entire system from devolving into arbitrariness.

There is no question of "throw[ing] out the entire system."

On the other hand, JB, you need to recognize that circularity is equally supportive of arbitrary and non-arbitrary assertions. Thus, our rejection of circularity (even if Aristotle himself accepted such arguments as sound in some cases, which has not been illustrated) actually bolsters the system, providing yet another reason NOT to throw it out.

Rejoinder 13: Interestingly, though, even the pagan author Longinus recognized that Paul preached in a style that was different from the Greek orators: ‘Let the following men be takend as the summit of all excellence of eloquence and Grecian intellect - Demothsenes, Lysias, Aeachines, Hyperides, Isaeus, Deinarchus, or Demosthenes Crithinus, Isocrates, Antiphon; to whom may be added, Paul of Tarsus, who was the first within my knowledge who did not make use of demonstration.’”
Every atheist, agnostic, and non-Christian would claim that we have no demonstration for our belief system. The testimony of the pagan author Longinus does not convince me that making use of demonstrations is not biblical.

You're equivocating again. And you would be wrong, even in your equivocation. The Pharoah's magicians may have claimed "no demonstration" at first, but after several demonstrations they were persuaded. Paul's demonstration of snake venom resistance actually persuaded those around him of his own divinity and of that of his companion.

But all this is equivocation. Paul did not demonstrate his first principles by logical deduction: instead he preached, as we should do.

You have an uphill battle, because (as previously noted) the use of a circular argument is not the Biblical model. When I join to that the fact that the pagans recognized the difference between Paul's presentation style (not whether he was successful, as your equivocal response seems to suggest) and the presentation style of the Greeks, then you are even further from your goal.

Rejoinder 14: The circularity is not being justified transcendently; the proposition itself (”I AM”) is justified transcendently.
As I understand it, the transcendental argument does not give justification to the proposition, as Turretinfan claims. The only thing that can “justify” God is His own Word. Rather, the argument demonstrates that such must be the case, and that all men know this to be the case. The Authority has the right to claim whatever He wants without rebuttal: including the statement “I AM because I AM.”

The statement in Scripture, however, is just "I AM," not "I AM because I AM." God does not have any duty or need to justify his own existence: God preaches, and we His messangers do the same in His name.

In any event, the goal of any indirect argument for God's existence is to establish God's existence, not to establish a circular argument for God's existence. It's perplexing why JB would think that latter.

Rejoinder 15: Furthermore, we know that the proposition is evident to everyone, even if they refuse to accept it as true, for Scripture reveals this information to us.
In another post Turretinfan stated that men do not accept the proposition and that they do not know the proposition: “The ‘knowledge’ that the wicked have of God is not belief, but information.” Therefore, all Turretinfan means is that everyone has hear, or seen, or “intuited” (whatever that means) the proposition “I AM” but what is the use of this? I can claim “the proposition ‘Blark IS’ is evident to everyone.”
Smith asks, “So you mean everyone knows it?”
Jones: “No, they don’t know it. It’s more like they intuit it.”
Smith: “What does that mean?”
Jones: “Well, I’m not sure if that word has any logical value, to be honest.”
Smith: “So what exactly do you mean that “Blark IS” is evident to everyone?”
Jones: “It just means its there.”
However, Turretinfan may have a particular meaning in mind when he makes that statement. If so I am open to considering it.
I don't see much (if any) interaction between the rejoinder and the response.

JB's question appears to be: "what is useful about the proposition: "God IS"?" It is an odd sort of question. What is useful about any proposition? It conveys true information. That's its use.

Rejoinder 16: We might be perceived to be arbitrary, but we believe because we have been persuaded of the truth by the Spirit of God.
This claim itself is axiomatic. Thus, everyone can claim that their axiom is not arbitrary because they have been persuaded by “Blark, god of murder who declares murder good.”

They can claim it all they like. They are only proving that they are delusional.

Rejoinder 17: As noted in my previous post, there are further categories of invalid argumentation we could employ in the place of the first two options listed (for example we could argue as the Muslims have historically done, ad baculum) and there is the option of responding that the question (what is the justification of your final justification) is as absurd as the question, ‘which building is taller than the tallest building?’ or ‘what lies below the geometric center of the Earth?’”
This is in response to my claim that, “There are three options: circular reasoning, self-contradiction, and arbitrary assertion.” Whether or not there are 3 categories or 5 really doesn’t make to big of a difference to me. However, I will attempt to argue that in the end, argumentum ad baculum would fall under one of the three categories I have listed. For example, Person A “If you don’t believe X is the ultimate authority I will kill you,” Person B: “Why?” Person A can give a reason that relies upon X (therefore circular) or person A can give a reason that ultimately lies outside of X (therefore is self contradictory) or person A can give no reason and kill him (arbitrary).

JB's response here is puzzling. The ad baculum answer to the question "Why" is, a quick blow and "Any more questions or are you ready to agree?" That's neither self-contradictory, circular, or abitrary.

The other option Turretinfan lists is that the question itself doesn’t make sense. This is because the question is loaded. It assumes an outside justification for that which encompasses all justification. The point here is that in such a case the ultimate commitment is self-attesting.

That's not a defense of the question, its a recognition of the invalidity of the question.

Rejoinder 18: although the presupposition that God exists is not founded on deduction, it is not arbitrary, and … circular argument does not weed out arbitrary presuppositions.
Of course the claim that it is not arbitrary is part of what we have been debating. I see no further argument given here that the axiom isn’t arbitrary. As far as the assertion made concerning circular arguments: I would have to see some explanation. I do not claim that if one adopts my distinction between valid and invalid circularity that all arbitrariness will stop all I am claiming is that one can allow for such a distinction to be made without the whole system sinking, as is not the case with arbitrariness.

Two aspects of response here:
a) Note again that JB feels that his repeated claims (at least sometimes) that the axiom is arbitrary makes it so. His entire proof, however, is that some claims are abitrary. Anyone who has taken even one semester of logic, however, should recognize that the fallacy of:

A is B
Some B are C
Therefore
A is C

That's the fallacy that JB is employing. He provides examples of arbitrary assertions, but fails to show that this assertion is arbitrary. Furthermore, as has been stated many times, the assertion is not arbitrary. Since it is not arbitrary, most of the rest of the argument melt away.

b) A circular argument can "support" any arbitrary assertion.

IFF thunderbolts exist, Zeus exists.
Thunderbolts exist.
Therefore
Zeus exists.

I chose the existence of Zeus more or less arbitrarily. You pick another propisition if you like. I can support it with circular argument. There are a few obvious exceptions: "Circular arguments are false," would have a paradoxical circular proof, and "Self-contradictions are valid" would have no proof at all.

Rejoinder 19: the two options are (from the standpoint of reasoned argument) the same. Circularity does not ADD to the justification of something, and transcendent justification is inherently not reasoned argument. Furthermore, there is no reason that the label “transcendent” cannot be appropriately applied to the presuppositions in the absence of a circular argument.
This of course assumes that my distinction of circularity is invalid. In the case of
one’s ultimate commitment, circularity is the only appeal that can be
consistently made. I would need to see an argument for the rest of these
assertions.

As noted above, ad baculum, ad nauseum, ad miseracordiam, etc. could equally consistently be made with the circular argument, because they are all equally not logical arguments for the proposition. A circular argument is properly considered, no argument at all.

In any event, the issue of "transcendent justification" must be addressed first (under JB's proposal) before the "validity" of the circular argument can be considered. And it turns out that if the answer to that issue is affirmative, then there is no need to construct a circular argument for the proposition, just appeal to the transcendent justification as such.

In short, a circular argument in any "proof" of God's existence is worse than useless: it is potentially deceptive, unbiblical, and distracting. The better, more honest, approach is to simply acknowledge that we believe God because He has revealed himself to us by His work of regeneration in our hearts. This is the message of Scripture, it is the message of Paul, and it should be our message.

Praise be to our Sovereign God!

-Turretinfan

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. I have started writing a reply but right now I have given a brief synopsis of our basic debate to Mike Butler and Tim Harris to make sure that I am in fact arguing in the Van Tilian tradition (you may want to check that synopsis to make sure I have summarized your position correctly).

I was able to find some other quotes regarding Van Til's understanding of circularity that may be helpful:

In the introduction written by William Edgar to Christian Apologetics he quotes Van Til as saying "The very factness of any individual fact of history is precisely what it is because God is what he is." Edgar notes, " Is this circular reasoning? In a way, it is. But it is not a vicious circle that says, 'It is true because it is true.' Rather, it is a set of complementary realities: 'The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.' How could it be otherwise, if God be God?" (p. 5-6)

Later, in the same book, Van Til states, "To admit one's own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another." (p. 130) Edgar remarks of this, "Against the criticism of circular reasoning, Van Til simply states that such reasoning is appropriate, at least in the sense that one cannot step outside of the circle without losing the truth of the Christian worldview. His is not advocating simple tautologies, such as, 'the Bible is true because it says it is.' His methodology is 'transcendental,' getting over to the other side (not in reality but for arguments sake)and pointing out the incapacity of unbelief to establish meaning and value." Van Til continues to say in the next paragraph, "Let us say that the Christian apologist has placed the position of Christian theism before his opponent. Let us say further that he has pointed out that his own method of investigation of reality presupposes the truth of his position..."

I think then that this is what Van Tilians mean when speaking of circularity: their use of logic, ethics, etc. presupposes the validity of their worldview.

I must then apologize and retract my earlier endorsement of tautologies and state that it was not in fact Van Tilian. However, there are still many things that I would have to beg to differ with you on, but I am glad I got this sorted out before I started the class next month.Perhaps we will have to go at it again concerning the other related issues.

Till then,
JB

MAGMA2 said...

I’ve enjoyed the back and forth here, but I also think part of the problem and the impasse lies is in exegetical questions raise in your earlier exchange:

JB writes (and I assume with Romans 1:19 in mind):

“ . . . as I have already stated in my last reply, it is in fact a proof even on the grounds you have suggested because all men do in fact have knowledge (justified true belief) of the God.”

To which Turretinfan replied:

“They have knowledge of the truth, but they suppress it in unrighteousness. So, no - they do not accept the premise, and if they did, there would be no need for the argument.”

Which raised the question from JB; “how do you define knowledge?

TF agrees that knowledge can be understood as justified true belief, but the sense of the word “know” (again, I assume Romans 1:19 is in view here) has to do not with belief but “information.” I would agree, but instead of just information (i.e., the law written on the heart, etc.) I would include understanding as well (i.e., “ . . . their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them . . . ”).

I think men understand there is right and wrong, A is A and not Non A, that there is a God, but they don’t believe it. Hence they suppress the truth. For the Van Tilian it seems this suppression has no noetic effect, which is why, at least to me, the TA is begging the question.

Therefore, if belief is understood as an assent to an understood proposition, then a person can understand something yet not believe it. Consequently, the key element of knowledge, in the sense of justified true belief, is belief and without belief no one can be said to “know” in the strict or “philosophy textbook” sense.

I think this is an important point since much of JB’s argument, and the force of the TA, seems to rest on men having knowledge of God in the epistemic sense. But all men do not know God as per 1 Cor 1:21a; “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God.” The Scriptures also teach that there are those who are ever learning and who never come to a knowledge of the truth. Rather than knowledge, the Scriptures teach that "GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY." Conversely, those who abide in Christ’s words or doctrine will know the truth (John 8:31,32).

Just my two-cents.

Anonymous said...

Magma2,
Thanks for jumping in. It was starting to get lonely (although I suppose I could have hoped for another Van Tilian rather than another Clarkian...). I did realize at the time that our over all discussion would hinge on our difference in this area of knowledge... however, I dind't want to get into it and then open up a 3rd debate before settling the rest!

It seems to me that you don't want to define knowledge as JTB in Romans 1:19 but you do want to define it as JTB in 1 Corinthians and John 8! This hardly seems fair and yet you would say that I cannot have JTB in Romans 1 and not have JTB in the other two passages.

So what are we to do? I think the key is that at times Scripture speaks of knowledge as covenant obedience and at other times covenant disobedience. It is the Van Tilian (or is it Van Tillian?) position that God is the precondition to intelligibility. Notice that TF said at one point that his axiom of the Christian God is not necessary for logic. The Van Tilian would strongly disagree and argue that this makes logic something that stands outside of God. Van TIlians claim that all men can be logical even though they deny God because in the end no man can escape the revelation of God. In fact, they are themselves a part of that revelation. Thus, they know God (JTB) but suppress that truth in unrighteousness and deny their better knowledge. The sense in which the unbeliever does not and cannot know God (apart from salvific grace) is in covenant disobedience. Furthermore, the unbeliever deceives himself. I am quite sure that the Clarkians will throw up their hands at this point and think it the most absurd thing they have heard... However, the idea of self-deception is not some oddity made up by Van Tilians to support their system (c.f. Brain Fiction by Hirstein). I think a lot of the fighting and "absurd" labeling between Clarkians and Van Tilians is due to pre-commitments to the person's system. In other words, we hear the position of Clark and try to think of how that must be wrong and vice versa.

JB

MAGMA2 said...

I did realize at the time that our over all discussion would hinge on our difference in this area of knowledge... however, I dind't want to get into it and then open up a 3rd debate before settling the rest!

I did say I thought it was “part of the problem,” not the whole problem. I don't think this should be a major debate either. I think there is plenty of room for disagreement between Clark and Van Til, particularly in the area of epistemology.

It seems to me that you don't want to define knowledge as JTB in Romans 1:19 but you do want to define it as JTB in 1 Corinthians and John 8! This hardly seems fair and yet you would say that I cannot have JTB in Romans 1 and not have JTB in the other two passages.

So what are we to do? I think the key is that at times Scripture speaks of knowledge as covenant obedience and at other times covenant disobedience.


I don’t think this is an acceptable way to proceed, because without clearly defining what you mean by knowledge to talk about covenant obedience is irrelevant. Knowledge may result in obedience or the lack of knowledge in disobedience, but to subsume obedience and disobedience under knowledge is, I think, dangerous.

My immediate problem is that man cannot know and not know God in the same sense and at the same time. If we can agree on that, IMO it would go a long way in perhaps bridging a small piece of the gap that divides us (and I'm really speaking for myself, since TFan might disagree).

It is the Van Tilian (or is it Van Tillian?) position that God is the precondition to intelligibility. Notice that TF said at one point that his axiom of the Christian God is not necessary for logic. The Van Tilian would strongly disagree and argue that this makes logic something that stands outside of God. Van TIlians claim that all men can be logical even though they deny God because in the end no man can escape the revelation of God. In fact, they are themselves a part of that revelation. Thus, they know God (JTB) but suppress that truth in unrighteousness and deny their better knowledge. The sense in which the unbeliever does not and cannot know God (apart from salvific grace) is in covenant disobedience. Furthermore, the unbeliever deceives himself. I am quite sure that the Clarkians will throw up their hands at this point and think it the most absurd thing they have heard...

You’re right, it is a bit absurd and I’ve learned it makes little difference what I do with my hands. ;)

The fool says in his heart there is no God, yet it seems Van Tilians have never met a fool (with the exception of some Clarkian I suppose). If knowledge is justified true belief (and keep those terms in mind), then I think those who suppress the truth that is “within” them, which is part of their a_priori equipment, or, the innate ideas which all men possess by virtue of being made in God’s image, it therefore cannot be said that they all have knowledge in this sense.

Similarly, and a related point, Bahsen (correctly) argued that just believing that something is true – even if it is true – doesn’t constitute knowledge either, because knowledge in-this-sense needs to be accounted for; it needs to be justified.

So, a few things have to come together before a person can be said to possess knowledge. For the Christian this can be expressed as simply as "because the Bible tells me so," or more sophisticatedly as Clark does in his Intro to Christian Phil or in his reply to Mavrodes (see the Trinity Foundation website for that discussion).

Again, I think part of the problem is that Vantilians will often see the word “know” or “knowledge” in Scripture and almost reflexively think it means the same thing in every case (kind of like Arminians with the words "all" or "world"), but clearly it does not. Some examples might be, Adam knew his wife and the ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib.

Consequently, the word "know" cannot always and universally refer to “justified true belief” and I don’t see how covenantal obedience or the lack thereof has anything to do with it? After all, man is justified through knowledge, not through his “covenantal obedience.”

Just as an aside, yours is an interesting position since much of the controversy surrounding justification in P&R churches today has to do with this very idea and that salvation rests on a person's obedience to the demands of the covenant and not, as Doug Wilson derisively calls it, "raw" belief alone. Not to take this discussion on a tangent, but I wonder if that's where some of this controversy (which is much more important than the debate here) stems from?

Regardless, I think the use of the word "know" cannot mean the same thing in Romans 1:19 as it does in, say, 1 Cor 1:21, the question of obedience notwithstanding.

Turretinfan said...

Magma,

I think you sent a pair of identical comments. I published the latter of the two. If I am mistaken, and there was a difference between the two, just let me know.

A quick note. I had missed this comment previously: "Notice that TF said at one point that his axiom of the Christian God is not necessary for logic."

I don't recall saying that, and it's not position. The axiom of the Christian God is necessary for logic, but the only way we can discover this is by appealing to propositional revelation.

-Turretinfan

MAGMA2 said...

I think you sent a pair of identical comments. I published the latter of the two. If I am mistaken, and there was a difference between the two, just let me know.

I'm sorry, that was my fault. They're the same post. I didn't see my response show up, so I thought I might have done something wrong when posting.

Turretinfan said...

No problem, since I moderate all the comments (to avoid spammers and the like), sometimes it takes a while before comments are published.

If I don't publish a comment, I ordinarily post a comment explaining why I elected to reject the comment.

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

I know I said I was going to drop out for a while but I just can't let this last one go...

Magma,

You write, "Knowledge may result in obedience or the lack of knowledge in disobedience, but to subsume obedience and disobedience under knowledge is, I think, dangerous."

Of course, but the Bible clearly ties obedience to God to growth in knowledge of God and vice versa. Knowledge is an ethical question and all men are under a covenant to God as their creator. In relation to this they are either disobedient or obedient and such is related to (not merely) their epistemological state. It is at least the assertion of the Van Tilian that unbelievers are said to know God. At the same time believers are contrasted with unbelievers in the area of knowledge of God. Thus knowledge is sometimes used in reference to those who are covenantally obedient to God. Those who are not Christian do not know God, (in the sense of covenant obedience). Naturally, I suspect you will reject this but the tension still exists for the Clarkian--they still have to deal with Rom. 1:19 and John 8:31,32. So far it looks like you can have special pleading for JTB in John and not JTB in Rom. or you can say with turretinfan that knowledge in Rom 1 is just "information" but how do you deal with those verses that say men do not know God? Is knowledge there just "information" also? How do you know? Special pleading?

You write, "My immediate problem is that man cannot know and not know God in the same sense and at the same time. If we can agree on that, IMO it would go a long way in perhaps bridging a small piece of the gap that divides us (and I'm really speaking for myself, since TFan might disagree)"

Would you honestly think that myself or any Van Tilian would say "Yep, men know God and don't know God in the same sense at the same time. That's how it is... hyuk!"?


You state, "You’re right, it is a bit absurd and I’ve learned it makes little difference what I do with my hands. ;)"

Well, then I would say to take up your complaint with the many documented cases of self delusion with the neurophysiologists, but Clarkians don't seem to have a hard time throwing out science so I'm not sure what good it would do. So then, I would assume your criterion of "absurdity" is based solely in the Word of God. This is good and fine but can you show me where the Word of God states that man cannot be self-deluded? If not then what is your criterion for labeling this as absurd?

You write, "The fool says in his heart there is no God, yet it seems Van Tilians have never met a fool (with the exception of some Clarkian I suppose)."

I hope you are being funny. If not you would have to think that Van Tilians believe everyone confesses the existence of God. How could you think this? Our positions is this: Everyone has some degree of knowledge (JTB) of God (i.e. they know the wrath of God etc.). All unbelievers supress that knowledge. Those who supress that knowledge deny God's existence and are thus fools. How you could seriously think that this means we don't believe anyone is a fool because we don't believe anyone denies God is ridiculous... man can do nothing but resist God until God breaks him.


You write, "If knowledge is justified true belief (and keep those terms in mind), then I think those who suppress the truth that is “within” them, which is part of their a_priori equipment, or, the innate ideas which all men possess by virtue of being made in God’s image, it therefore cannot be said that they all have knowledge in this sense."

Everyone who resists God is a fool in some sense but do you mean to imply that everyone who resists God falls under the category of denying His existence? I don't think so.

You write, "So, a few things have to come together before a person can be said to possess knowledge. For the Christian this can be expressed as simply as "because the Bible tells me so," or more sophisticatedly as Clark does in his Intro to Christian Phil or in his reply to Mavrodes (see the Trinity Foundation website for that discussion)."

All men have enough knowledge (JTB) of God to condemn them and leave them without excuse (justifiaction) before God on the day of judgment.

You write, "Again, I think part of the problem is that Vantilians will often see the word “know” or “knowledge” in Scripture and almost reflexively think it means the same thing in every case (kind of like Arminians with the words "all" or "world"), but clearly it does not. Some examples might be, Adam knew his wife and the ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib."

Common, Magma, let's be serious. Do you really think that we interpret "know" in the same sense all the time? This seems like mere prejudicial conjecture on your part because you don't like that we use JTB for Rom 1:19... yet you appear to use it yourself for 1 Cor and John 8 so I can turn the charge around on you. Do you honestly think that a Van Tilian is going to say "Golly, Adam justified-true-beliefed his wife!" I'm starting to wonder how retarded you think we are.

You state, "After all, man is justified through knowledge, not through his 'covenantal obedience.'" I beg to differ. More is required then mere intellectual assent and I would argue that some people, including the devils, give intellectual assent to the fact of God's existence but continue to live in disobedience to him. Part of the Christian's salvific faith in God includes a submission to His Lordship.

Turretinfan -

You state, "A quick note. I had missed this comment previously: 'Notice that TF said at one point that his axiom of the Christian God is not necessary for logic.' I don't recall saying that, and it's not [my?] position. The axiom of the Christian God is necessary for logic, but the only way we can discover this is by appealing to propositional revelation."

I don't have the time to go sifting through all the responses and find it but this is as far back as I could go: you paraphrase one of my objections in a rejoinder and quote me as saying "Your ability to be logical on matters other than your presuppositions is not due to your presuppositions" (I didn't use these exact words, I don't think.) You responded by saying, "I agree. I don't see this as a reason to object to my view." (You label this as Objection 4 under the post "Circular Frame.")

So then, I took this to mean that your axiom is not necessary to logic and I still think it is clear that you pretty much said this. Now you are saying your axiom is necessary for logic. So then, let me ask you the question that I was going to ask you originally before you said your axiom was not necessary for logic: How are atheists logical if they do not share the necessary precondition to logic?

Okay, now I'm outie for real. Thanks,
JB

MAGMA2 said...

Of course, but the Bible clearly ties obedience to God to growth in knowledge of God and vice versa. Knowledge is an ethical question and all men are under a covenant to God as their creator. In relation to this they are either disobedient or obedient and such is related to (not merely) their epistemological state. It is at least the assertion of the Van Tilian that unbelievers are said to know God.

I know what Van Til said and he’s wrong as the exegesis of Romans 1:19 demonstrates and when we compare Scripture with Scripture. Van Til admits that he wasn’t much of an exegete and deferred to Murray who sometimes was a good exegete (of course the “free offer” nonsense which was written in response to Clark certainly was not a high point for Murray).

While growing in knowledge is the necessary precursors to Christian growth, this is a completely different issue as to whether or not unbelievers know God in the epistemic sense. It should be obvious, if words mean anything, that they do not because, after all, they are unbelievers and knowledge is justified true belief. If all men believed, there would be no unbelievers.

Consequently, the sense in which men are said to know God per Romans 1 is basically what Turretinfan said. They possess information or innate ideas about God, but because they do not “honor Him as God, or give thanks” they have become “futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Without belief – assent to the truth – even the truth God has placed within them, they cannot be said to know God at least in the sense of JTB.

Colloquially people say they know all sorts of things, but it doesn’t follow that they have knowledge. That’s why I don’t know why this is difficult since you agree on the definition of knowledge, but you don’t agree that the word is being used in another sense here. I admit that is weird to me seeing the definition of knowledge in the strict sense must include belief. Now not only do we have people knowing and not knowing God in the same sense, but unbelievers must actually be believers too. Oh you wacky Vantilians. ;)

At the same time believers are contrasted with unbelievers in the area of knowledge of God. Thus knowledge is sometimes used in reference to those who are covenantally obedient to God. Those who are not Christian do not know God, (in the sense of covenant obedience). Naturally, I suspect you will reject this but the tension still exists for the Clarkian--they still have to deal with Rom. 1:19 and John 8:31,32. So far it looks like you can have special pleading for JTB in John and not JTB in Rom.

It is not a case of special pleading because the sense of the word “know” is different. Do unbelievers abide in Christ’s words (the words of Scripture)? Do they assent to the truth of Scripture as the infallible Word of God? Of course not. Are unbelievers “free” in the sense Jesus is speaking or are they as Romans 1 says, futile in their speculations and have had their minds darkened?

The point Paul makes in Romans is that men are culpable before God even apart from the Word because they reject the truth even that which has been revealed within them. Belief is what makes a man a Christian and by believing they come to a knowledge of the truth which is by God’s grace alone. Further, without the propositional revelation of God they cannot account for even the truths within them. Clark makes the point that non-Christian philosophy failed because it could not provide an account for logic. Christian philosophy, at least Clark’s, doesn’t suffer this same fate. Van Til is not quite as clear and sometimes does seem to assert that logic is created, but we can save that for when you’re ready to jump back into the pool. :)

you can say with turretinfan that knowledge in Rom 1 is just "information" but how do you deal with those verses that say men do not know God? Is knowledge there just "information" also? How do you know? Special pleading?

Again, and as I’ve explained, men “know” God in the sense that all possess a priori equipment. They recognize their minds possess forms even for which they cannot account for. They have what Schaeffer called “moral motions” and all have a sense of right and wrong. To say the word “know” in Rom or John is not being used in the same sense is no more special pleading than saying the word “world” or “all” doesn’t have the same sense or reference each time these words are used in Scripture. Words can and do mean different things in different contexts.

The problem for you is that you are now insisting that men both know God and do not know God at the same time and in the same sense of the word. That’s a contradiction which the Vantilian addition of the word “apparent” cannot alter.


Would you honestly think that myself or any Van Tilian would say "Yep, men know God and don't know God in the same sense at the same time. That's how it is... hyuk!"?

Well, you’ve said as much even without the “hyuk.” You’ve said above both unbelievers and believers know God and in the same sense of the word (i.e., JTB). What makes one different from the other is not a question of knowledge, but rather personal obedience to the covenant. Something that you have not inferred from either Rom 1, 1 Cor or John 8 since none of these verses even speak about our personal obedience to the covenant. Besides, I always thought Christ alone was obedient to the covenant and it was his obedience that is reckoned or imputed to us by mere belief alone?


Well, then I would say to take up your complaint with the many documented cases of self delusion with the neurophysiologists, but Clarkians don't seem to have a hard time throwing out science so I'm not sure what good it would do. So then, I would assume your criterion of "absurdity" is based solely in the Word of God. This is good and fine but can you show me where the Word of God states that man cannot be self-deluded? If not then what is your criterion for labeling this as absurd?

I don’t deny that men are self-deceive, but they believe the deception not the truth. Again, if they believe what is false, how can they said to possess knowledge of the truth or knowledge in the sense of JTB? They believe the lie, not the truth. It is believing the truth that sets men free from the lie. The imperative in Scripture is "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved,” not be obedient to the covenant and you will be saved. As Clark used to say, the problem with unbelievers is that they don’t believe.

You write, "Again, I think part of the problem is that Vantilians will often see the word “know” or “knowledge” in Scripture and almost reflexively think it means the same thing in every case (kind of like Arminians with the words "all" or "world"), but clearly it does not. Some examples might be, Adam knew his wife and the ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib."

Common, Magma, let's be serious. Do you really think that we interpret "know" in the same sense all the time? This seems like mere prejudicial conjecture on your part because you don't like that we use JTB for Rom 1:19... yet you appear to use it yourself for 1 Cor and John 8 so I can turn the charge around on you.


Good luck with that. I have argued (basically in line with Turretinfan) that Paul in Rom 1 has in mind knowledge in the sense of information and understanding and that all men have an awareness of the truth of God within them. They are convicted by it and those without the Word will be judged by it. Calvin said all men possess a “sense of the divine.” Calvin also said; “religion ought not to be separated from knowledge; but I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, or what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets.” A sense of God should not be confused with knowledge, consequently men in Romans 1:19 do not know God in the same sense as we find in 1 Cor or John 8 for the reasons already given. That should be obvious.

Do you honestly think that a Van Tilian is going to say "Golly, Adam justified-true-beliefed his wife!" I'm starting to wonder how retarded you think we are.

While it’s unfortunate that you are now stealing from the Tim Harris play book, the point was merely to demonstrate that the word “know” is used in a number of different senses in Scripture. Consequently, the onus remains on you to show that the word “know” is to be understood in the same sense in Rom 1 as it is in 1 Cor and John 8.

You state, "After all, man is justified through knowledge, not through his 'covenantal obedience.'" I beg to differ. More is required then mere intellectual assent and I would argue that some people, including the devils, give intellectual assent to the fact of God's existence but continue to live in disobedience to him. Part of the Christian's salvific faith in God includes a submission to His Lordship.

I realize we differ. Intellectual assent is a redundancy and belief in God’s existence saves no one. Big deal. Hell is filled with theists. However, belief alone is what justifies and saves sinners. Nothing more. The Scriptures are replete with the same message; "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Nothing more is needed; “ . . . but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Further, Jesus said; “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”