Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Scriptural Epistemology of Dogmatism

The Scriptural Epistemology of Dogmatism
A response to quasi-rationalism

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10). This simple, thrice-repeated truth is the foundation of Scriptural Dogmatism. Throughout Scripture we seem the same epistemology of dogmatism. You can find the phrase "Thus saith the Lord" in over 400 verses in the Old Testament in the Authorized Version. Even in the garden, the question was "hath God said?"

Our epistemology is, consequently, dogmatic and revelational, not quasi-rational. We know the truth because it has been revealed to us by God, and that revelation from God is not open to debate.

When people mocked the resurrection of the dead, and others wanted to debate the issue, what did Paul do? Paul departed from among them (Acts 17:33).

There are legitimate debates, and there debates that can be taken on for the purpose of preaching the gospel. When a Reformed apologist debates a Muslim on the reality of the crucifixion, for example, the Reformed apologist is not leaving the question open. The Bible says Jesus Christ was crucified, and that settles it. Perhaps the Muslim will respond that the Koran says that Jesus (whom I suppose no consistent Muslim would acknowledge as Christ) was not crucified.

Why accept the dogmatic view of Christianity over that of Islam? Why believe the Bible rather than the Koran? Why is God God and not the "allah" of the Koran?

The response is that no one will believe the word of God, nor trust in the Son of God, without God revealing Himself to that person. As Jesus said: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44)

It seems that the followers of Van Til stumble at this point in their epistemology stumble. They appear to be unsatisfied with the following epistemology, "I know the truth, because God has revealed it to me."

They appear to want to be able to "prove" God's existence and attributes to an unbeliever. They (at least usually) recognize the futility of appealing to evidence, but appear to believe that they can appeal to reason and the implanted awareness of God that exists in the minds of unbelievers. This is why their position has been referred to above as quasi-rationalism.

But let's stop the critique here, for a moment. There a few a readers out there who are of a Van-Tillian mindset. Let's just ask them:

What is wrong with an epistemology that begins with presuppositions.

God has revealed to me that He is, that He is True, and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Consequently I know that God is, that what God says is true, and that Scripture is an embodiment of that truth.

Based on Scripture, I know the validity and limits of the natural sciences, social sciences, and the like. I have a standard of absolute truth. I may think that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, but I KNOW that Christ has gone to prepare a place for me in His presence for all eternity. I think that the official just botched his first-down assessment, but I know that Solomon was the son of David. I think that all the dinosaurs are dead, but I know that all things were created by God in the space of six days and very good.

If all the world's scientists were on one side disputing the Resurrection of Christ, the reversal of the sun in Hezekiah's day, the calling down of fire from heaven by the prophet, the Great Flood, and/or the Creation, and I'll I had on the other side was the Word of God, I would believe God rather than all the most learned men in the world.

Now, tell me, Van-Tillian, what is wrong with that dogmatism? Why instead of starting from the point raised above, does Van Til assert that He believes in God because if He did not, all would be chaos? Why do the followers of Van Til appear to believe that we can argue people into accepting that the God who created all things and rules all things by His right arm exists and has the attributes that He has?

Is there any answer? Is there any alternative for Dogmatism? Is quasi-rationalism Scripturally valid?

-Turretinfan

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

If by rational you mean rationalism then you really don't understand Van Til's epistemology at all.

A further problem seems to be arising from the fact that you are trying to critique certain portions of Van Til's apologetic by showing how they contradict Clarkian views. Of course they contradict Clarkian views. Let us say that you hold to A and because of A you believe that C is a good course of action. You meet another man who holds to B and because of B believes D is a good course of action. You then attempt to demonstrate to him that he is mistaken for thinking D is a good course of action because it clearly contradicts A. Well, to use an old phrase, "no duh."

If one accepts X, Y, or Z of the Clarkian view then maybe a Van Tilian's attempt to reason with an unbelieve in a manner is rationalistic. However, you have only shown that you shouldn't be a Clarkian and try to act like a Van Tilian.

JB

Turretinfan said...

Dear JB,

If you have time and interest, it would be of more value to me if you would identify those portions of my post where you had substantive disagreement.

Leaving aside the labelling issues (does it need a VT or GC?), what part of the epistemology of dogmatism is objectionable to you.

I'd much rather focus on that, than on the differences between two dear Christian men who are with the Lord.

Maybe we can view Clark as a modified Van-Tillian, or Van Til as a modified Clarkian. Maybe not.

One aspect of your comment deserves immediate response:

You will notice that while I rely heavily on Scripture, I do not rely AT ALL on Clark. I did not appeal to Clark or his writings, but to the Scriptures.

My problem with Van Til's apologetic is primarily a Scriptural objection, and secondarily a philosophical objection.

Note also that I specifically have attached "quasi" because Van Til's system of thought is not pure rationalism. Indeed, I attached the "quasi" precisely to avoid the quagmire of assessing/debating how rationalist Van Til is.

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

How can a Reformed Christian not see that the revelation of the Bible is the starting point of knowledge? It has to be. This seems to be such an obvious matter it seems impossible that believers can differ.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Anonymous,

One would think you were right, yet the first comment above is an objection by someone who (I think) is a Reformed Christian.

Suprising, eh?

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sound condescending, as I have said before, you have certainly done more studying than I have (I've only been "Reformed" for two years) but you simply don't understand Van Til's position. This is probably most evident in your use of the word transcendent in place of transcendental. I need a better grasp of Van Til myself, but to construe the Van Tilian position as not having the Bible as its starting point is to show almost no grasp of the position at all.

Perhaps the problem is that you are attempting to understand Van Til by starting with the transcendental argument (which you will completely misunderstand if you think it is "transcendent") rather than simply starting with his actual written works.

Consider these quotes from Greg Bahnsen's "Always Ready" -

"That is, the Christian presupposes the truthful word of God as his standard of truth and direction" (p. 19)

"Humble submission to God's word must PRECEDE man's every intellectual pursuit... Those who refuse to presuppose the epistemic Lordship of Christ, the truth of Scripture as the standard of knowledge, and the necessity of God's light before they can see light, are led into futile thoughts and darkness." (p. 21, emphasis mine).

"All knowledge is deposited in Christ; man's knoweldge of the truth depends upon God's prior knowledge, begins with the fear of the Lord and requires submission to God's word." (p. 23)

"The Christian is a 'new man,' having a renewed mind, new commitments, a new direction and goal, a new Lord, and hence new presuppositions in the world of thought; the believer's thinking ought to be rooted in Christ(after the same manner in which he was converted): submitting to His epistemic Lordship rather than the thought patterns of apostate pseudo-wisdom." (p. 24)

Quotes from Cornelius Van Til's "The Defense of the Faith" -

"The first question we must ask with respect to the relation of our knowledge of God to our knowledge of the universe is, which of these two is prior? ... Man's environment precedes man. God is man's ultimate environment and this environment is completely interpretative of man whi is to know himself" (p. 42)

"...we cannot know ourselves in any true sense unless we know God... the world of objects was made in order that the subject of knowledge, namely man, should interpret it under God." (p. 43)

"God is the ultimate category of interpretation." (p. 44)

Quotes from Van Til's "Christian Apologetics" -

"When man became a sinner, he made of himself instaed of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question." (p. 98)

Many more quotes could be given from those books I have listed including other books I have not listed (especially A Survey of Christian Epistemology).

JB

Turretinfan said...

JB:

Kant made a differnece between the two (between transcendent and transcendental), but unless you are suggesting that Van Til is Kantian, I'm not sure why that otherwise meaningless difference is of note.

Are you suggesting that Van Til was Kantian?

As to the remainder of your comments:

Frankly, even Bahnsen has admitted that Van Til was not always clear, and a major portion of my objection to the veneration of Van Til is that his body of work is inconsistent.

Thus, I'm not surprised to find isolated quotations from him, or his disciple, Bahnsen, that express the correct view.

The issue of what Van Til believed is far less significant, however, than what is the correct epistemology.

The correct epistemology is to begin with revelational presuppositions, acknowledge it as revelation, and then reason from revelation.

If there is a problem with that epistemology, please tell me.

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

1) There are various methods of investigation and Kant does not have the copy right on transcendentals. If you think that one must be Kantian to apply transcendental methods then I doubt you understand Kant as well. This is like calling me Humean, Lockian, or Barklian simply because I try to verify if there is bread in my kitchen by getting up and looking. (This is not to suggest that transcendental concerns are of the same category as empirical, as Mike Butler points out in his lectures: Transcendental Arguments.) I would suggest you read some of Van Til's literature or the literature of Bahnsen or Frame.

2) I find it a little telling that rather than think that perhaps you have misunderstood Van Til you would prefer to think this was one of his inconsistent areas. I see no inconsistency and since it seems to me that if in fact you don't understand transcendental investigation then perhaps it is more likely that the fault lies in your understanding of Van Til, rather than Van Til.

3) You seem to not want to make this a discussion about Van Til or Van Tilianism but rather about the proper epistemology. Yet your post specifically mentioned and attacked Van Tilianism for having the wrong epistemology. However, if you don't think it is that big of a deal then we can move (but why bring it up to begin with?).

JB

Turretinfan said...

Dear JB,

Your last couple of comments seem to be more directed to asserting that I do not know Van Til (and Kant, perhaps), than to advancing the discussion.

Since you've decided to go that way, let me point out that I think the shoe is on the other foot.

If you have not done so, read Van Til's "Why I believe in God," (here's a link). It's not long, and it provides an example of Van Til's apologetic.

Whether you've read it or not, scroll down to the end. You'll see there (in one of the last few paragraphs) this: "Only the great Physician through His blood atonement on the Cross and by the gift of His Spirit can take those colored glasses off and make you see facts as they are, facts as evidence, as inherently compelling evidence, for the existence of God."

Yet, when it comes to answer the question, Van Til does not write, "because God has revealed the truth to me," but instead writes:

"So you see when I was young I was conditioned on every side; I could not help believing in God. Now that I am older I still cannot help believing in God. I believe in God now because unless I have Him as the All-Conditioner, life is Chaos."

"I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy."

(emphasis added)

The conclusion of Van Til's statement is inconsistent with his previous acknowledgment of the necessity of regeneration.

Wby must we believe? Because God has said so? And what if someone will refuse to believe God? We cannot remove their spectacles, only the Spirit can. And what if they ask us why we believe God? We will answer that it is because He has revealed the truth to us.

It is because He has revealed the truth to us that we see the evidence of His handiwork in Creation. It is because He has revealed the truth to us that we see the evidence of his handiwork in Providence.

God's revelation to us provides our presuppositions, our corrective lens, through which we see clearly.

Praise be to the Great Physician!

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

TF,
You write, "Your last couple of comments seem to be more directed to asserting that I do not know Van Til (and Kant, perhaps), than to advancing the discussion.

Since you've decided to go that way, let me point out that I think the shoe is on the other foot.

If you have not done so, read Van Til's 'Why I believe in God,' (here's a link). It's not long, and it provides an example of Van Til's apologetic.

Whether you've read it or not, scroll down to the end. You'll see there (in one of the last few paragraphs) this: 'Only the great Physician through His blood atonement on the Cross and by the gift of His Spirit can take those colored glasses off and make you see facts as they are, facts as evidence, as inherently compelling evidence, for the existence of God.'"

You seem to forget, TF, that I actually quoted this portion of his text to you in my first reply to your first post... Yes, I have read 'Why I Believe in God,' I can only suggest that you expand your familiarity with Van Til to his actual works which lay out his epistemology than with a short apologetic tract.

You write, "The conclusion of Van Til's statement is inconsistent with his previous acknowledgment of the necessity of regeneration.

Wby must we believe? Because God has said so? And what if someone will refuse to believe God? We cannot remove their spectacles, only the Spirit can. And what if they ask us why we believe God? We will answer that it is because He has revealed the truth to us."

I don't see how you could make this confusion. God often works through means and there are primary causes and secondary causes. It seems that if we are consistent with your logic then the only answer we can give to any question is "because God said so," or "because God did it." Why did I water my flowers today? Because God decreed that I should. Why did I feed my fish? Because God declared that I should. Why was Van Til inconsistent (if he was)? Because God deemed it so.

It seems to me that if I were to try and answer, "because I don't want my fish to die," or "because they were hungry" you would want to object "quasi-rationalist!" Why do I believe in God? Ultimately because He gave me grace but the means by which He gave me grace was to understand that without Him, I have nothing.

The subtitle to your post is "a response to quasi-rationalism" which you identify as Van Tilianism, and yet when I "attack" this point you accuse me of not wanting to advance the discussion. Pardon me, but I wont advance a discussion built on a faulty conception of another person's epistemology.

JB

Turretinfan said...

JB,

I had not forgotten your quotation, that's why I thought that relatively short work would provide a suitable common ground for our discussion.

If you'd rather discuss one of his longer writings, feel free to point out the one that is of interest to you.

You wrote: "God often works through means and there are primary causes and secondary causes."

I respond: That's not an issue here.

You wrote: "It seems that if we are consistent with your logic then the only answer we can give to any question is "because God said so," or "because God did it.""

I respond: That does not follow.

Furthermore, if we accept Van Til's answer (his final answer, the one he presents as primary by placing in the conclusion of his writing), we must also accept (as equally good) the answer, "because there is plenty of archaological evidence that proves that the Bible is a truthful account." Any answer short of the real answer, is just a pretext, and Van Til's answer here is a pretext.

In other words, if we accept Van Til's answer, we must accept Schaffer's answer. The better solution is to provide the answer from Scripture, as suggested in the post above.

You wrote: "Why did I water my flowers today? Because God decreed that I should. Why did I feed my fish? Because God declared that I should. Why was Van Til inconsistent (if he was)? Because God deemed it so."

I respond: The reason that does not follow, is that the it does not answer the question asked. The question is not why did the event occur, but what motivated the actor. The reason that your reductio does not follow is that you have failed to recognize the difference between the general question, "why did you do X?" and the specific question "why did you believe in God?"
The answer to the latter is not JUST that God decreed it, but that God was the active cause. The answer to the former is often a mediate (secondary) cause. He drank a glass of water, because he was thirsty, because he had been in the desert for days. I believe God, because God revealed the truth to me: that is the real, active cause of my belief. I believe because God has opened the eyes of my heart, just as Thomas believed because Jesus presented his physical body before Thomas' eyes.

You wrote: "It seems to me that if I were to try and answer, "because I don't want my fish to die," or "because they were hungry" you would want to object "quasi-rationalist!""

I respond: No.

You wrote: "Why do I believe in God? Ultimately because He gave me grace but the means by which He gave me grace was to understand that without Him, I have nothing."

I respond: I don't agree. You would not know that you had nothing, if it were not for his revelation. The cart, in your explanation, precedes the horse.

You wrote: "The subtitle to your post is "a response to quasi-rationalism" which you identify as Van Tilianism, and yet when I "attack" this point you accuse me of not wanting to advance the discussion."

I respond: What point are you attacking? The label? I call it that in the hopes of snaring all epistemologies that present arguments that purport to spring from the exercise of the mind, like your own explanation above that you arrived at God because you "understand that without Him, I have nothing."

In fact, it is only His revelation (in, perhaps, the law) that provides you with that knowledge. Thus, it was revelation that produced that understanding, and it is revelation of the truth, and recognition of that truth by the de-spectacling of the Holy Spirit (to borrow Van Til's analogy) that is the reason you believe.

You could say that you believe because you were raised in a godly home, fell in the with right crew at the university, etc. etc. but those are not the ultimate explanations: those are not the bottom line.

The bottom line is that you know what you know because God opened your eyes to the truth contained in His word.

You wrote: "Pardon me, but I wont advance a discussion built on a faulty conception of another person's epistemology."

I respond: If such were the case, one way to advance the discussion would be to clarify the "another person's" epistemology.

In fact, however, the article was intended primarily to provide a positive alternative.

Yet I see you neither directly affirming or denying the alternative - just questioning whether I understand Van Til.

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

It seems that you attempt to answer my criticism by ignoring some qualifications and making others.

The pamphlet is entitled "Why I Believe in God"-- as such, you think it should merely say, "Because God made me" and leave it at that. When Van Til attempts to supplement it, you think this is inconsistent with the previous statement. However, as I have pointed out before, this is only because you are working on Clarkian presuppositions.

In writing the pamphlet, Van Til was not simply attempting to provide the obvious answer to the unbeliever that he believes because God caused him too, even though he does give this answer. Van Til is looking at the rejoinder of the atheist, "Yeah, I know you think you believe because God made you, but does it have any rational connection, or is it mere dogmatism (as you would say)?” Van Til's reply is "Yes, because it is the very basis for rationality.” This is only Van Til’s final answer in the sense that this is primarily the question he was seeking to answer. It doesn’t follow that simply because this is the focus of his pamphlet that this is his ultimate explanation. That would be similar to you drawing the conclusion that since I answered “because I don’t want my fish to die” this must be my ultimate commitment.

You state, “In other words, if we accept Van Til's answer, we must accept Schaffer's answer. The better solution is to provide the answer from Scripture, as suggested in the post above.”

This doesn’t follow at all and commits the categorical fallacy of making transcendental investigations equal to empirical or rational investigations.

You state, “The reason that does not follow, is that the it does not answer the question asked. The question is not why did the event occur, but what motivated the actor.

No, I don’t accept this at all and it seems to me that in your overall post you risk dying the death of a thousand qualifications. In both cases of “what motivated” and “why did the event occur” the same different answers can be given on different levels.


You state, “The reason that your reductio does not follow is that you have failed to recognize the difference between the general question, "why did you do X?" and the specific question "why did you believe in God?"
The answer to the latter is not JUST that God decreed it, but that God was the active cause. The answer to the former is often a mediate (secondary) cause. He drank a glass of water, because he was thirsty, because he had been in the desert for days. I believe God, because God revealed the truth to me: that is the real, active cause of my belief. I believe because God has opened the eyes of my heart, just as Thomas believed because Jesus presented his physical body before Thomas' eyes.””


You are not saying anything new here and therefore I won’t give a new reply.

You state, “I don't agree. You would not know that you had nothing, if it were not for his revelation. The cart, in your explanation, precedes the horse.”

You simply fail to distinguish the means by which grace can be applied.

The rest of your post doesn’t seem to be saying much new. For example, you say, “You could say that you believe because you were raised in a godly home, fell in the with right crew at the university, etc. etc. but those are not the ultimate explanations: those are not the bottom line.” But this just goes back to what we have already been over.

You state, “Yet I see you neither directly affirming or denying the alternative - just questioning whether I understand Van Til.”

In part, I don’t have the time to get into a full blown discussion on epistemology. Furthermore, if you cannot tell what I affirm from the conversation then I don’t think further discussion would help anyway.

I must leave it at this. Much of our conversation now seems to be repeating and it seems you (attempt to) get around my points by making a thousand qualifications which causes you to end up with an atomized view that ends in dogmatism, as you seem to admit. The alternative to such dogmatism is not rationalism or quasi-rationalism. It presupposes the Word of God as its starting point but is not dogmatism in that it is *the* transcendental.

I really don’t have the time to continue on like this, and I am just a simple janitor! Please, tell me what you do for a living so I can also have such time (or maybe you are a janitor too and both of our facilities are starting to dilapidate?). Either way, you can have the last word. I look forward to future conversations.

JB

Turretinfan said...

Dear JB,

I've appreciated our discussion.

I have a suggestion, and it is only a suggestion, for you. That suggestion is not to assume that you know what I'm thinking, or that you have my view all figured out.

I try not to do that with Van Til, and I find that it allows me to think more critically about the Van-Tillian position.

I have read plenty on the subject, but I'm open to new and further light on the subject.

One important point to distinguish: "God made me" is not the answer I have proposed; the answer I proposed is "God opened my eyes so that I can see the truth, and God told me the truth."

Your comment presents something of an imagined dialogue:

Athiest: "Why do you believe in God?"
Cornelius Van Til: "God made me."
A: "Yeah, I know you think you believe because God made you, but does it have any rational connection, or is it mere dogmatism?”
CVT: "Yes, because it is the very basis for rationality.”

You seem to think that this continuation of the discussion is somehow better than simply saying, "God has said it, and you ought to believe it, whether you want to call it "mere dogmatism" or something else."

But it's not clear why such an answer is thought to be better. Because the dialogue will continue:

A: "And how do you know that?"

to which CVT will be forced to appeal back to revelation (in which case, why did he ever leave), to an assertion of self-evidence (to which A's rebuttal is "not to me, it ain't"), some other logically invalid approach, silence, or some option I haven't imagined.

Regardless of the alternatives, CVT is worse off, because he has distracted A from the main point, the gospel.

You wrote: "You state, “In other words, if we accept Van Til's answer, we must accept Schaffer's answer. The better solution is to provide the answer from Scripture, as suggested in the post above.”This doesn’t follow at all and commits the categorical fallacy of making transcendental investigations equal to empirical or rational investigations."

I respond: I don't have to assert that they are equal, just that they are "as good as." Even if I did assert that, though, just calling it a fallacy is not a rebuttal. You would have to show some way in which they differ that matters to the discussion.

You wrote: "You are not saying anything new here [in response to my rebuttal of your oversimplification] and therefore I won’t give a new reply."

I respond: I disagree, and I believe my point remains unrebutted.

You wrote: "You state, “I don't agree. You would not know that you had nothing, if it were not for his revelation. The cart, in your explanation, precedes the horse.” You simply fail to distinguish the means by which grace can be applied."

I respond: I don't see how your response has anything to do with my comment toward which it is directed. I recognize that grace can be applied various ways, but Scripture is clear:

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

That's the Biblical answer to the question, "Why does man believe?"

-Turretinfan

P.S. I also look forward to future discussions with you. Thanks for taking the time to respond.