Clark and Paradox

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Semper Fidelis, May 23, 2006.

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  1. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I broke this off of the Van Til and Paradox thread to keep the discussion threads "clean":

    Clarkians criticize Van Tillians for accepting paradoxes or apparent contradictions if you will. It is lazy, some say, because we should not accept two conclusions that apparently contradict as it leads to irrationalism.

    Here is my question:
    1. Assume Biblical premises and the right use of reason lead you to conclude that the nature of man's responsibility and freedom are of a certain type.
    2. Assume Biblical premises and the right use of reason lead you to conclude that God's sovereignty is of a certain type.
    3. Assume the two conclusions (both derived by valid Scriptural premises and reason) appear to contradict.

    What do you do?

    The reason I ask is because this charge by a few Clarkians appears very flippant to me. It's as if they assume every Christian that came before Clark didn't reason from the Scriptures at all but merely jumped to their concusions, admitted the paradox, and then went to sleep theologically. This is a slanderous charge in my estimation.

    Historically, Christian thinkers have encountered puzzles like the above and came to some cognitive rest and said: "You know what, I don't understand it. It appears to contradict but I can't seem to resolve it. God knows what we're all missing but I can't figure it out."

    Now I will grant that Clark might have figured out how to harmonize the two without any paradox left. Maybe he really did fix some Biblical premises or some inferences along the way that led to two conclusions that no longer were in tension.

    But maybe he didn't... :eek:

    Why didn't he attack the problem from the other direction and fix the Biblical premises or repair some inferences to weaken God's sovereignty as others have done (open theism)? The ultimate goal of real theology is achieved by moving the conclusions together to resolve the paradox in either case. Paradox, remember, must be resolved at all costs or we're lazy, I keep being told.

    Why must he assume that the premises or inferences used by historic Reformed orthodoxy that held them in paradox were faulty at all? The only reason I can discern is that, a priori, they must be faulty if they only leave a paradox.

    Do you see what I'm getting at? Clarkians accuse Van Tillians of "arrogance" in ascribing that there are apparent contradictions that cannot be resolved. There may be more merit to that issue that I need to consider and I am willing to do so. Nevertheless, there is a serious danger that Clarkians, in their unwillingness to accept any apparent contradictions, will keep tweaking premises or inferences until they achieve their goal. Change the premises or inferences of human responsiblity or Divine Sovereignty and you get to the same place. In resolving the paradox, however, you may well have departed from Scripture in your method.

    The rule seems to be "resolve paradox at all cost". Some criticize Van Til for accepting paradox and asking "Where does the Scripture say we have to accept paradox?" I would like those same people to answer the question: "Where does the Scripture ever promise that there won't ever be some paradox (confusion perhaps) that our created minds can't resolve even using logic?" When God claims that His ways are higher than our ways, this seems to indicate we ought not be surprised that will occur.

    What is unacceptable to some Clarkians, it seems, is cognitive rest that God might be witholding the premises they need to achieve their pre-commited goal. If Van Tillians are "lazy" then perhaps Clarkians are dangerously busy unravelling secrets that God has purposefully not left for us to unravel.

    With respect to arrogance, is it not equally arrogant to assume that all Reformed theology prior to the 1940's could neither get their premises correct nor reason properly from them to come to Clark's conclusions? Until the Reformed Camp at large accepts his conclusions, I would be careful about who is calling whom arrogant.

    Finally, with respect to paradox and one of many biblical bases for it: in Romans 9, Paul acknowledges a point at which men are going to logically deduce something from what he's saying. His answer is basically "How dare you infer such a thing about your Creator." What he doesn't do is spell out how the two resolve. If ever there was a case to demonstrate the "Paradox is evil" rule of thumb it is in this passage. Paul doesn't seem too bothered to not satisfy that urge.

    [Edited on 5-23-2006 by SemperFideles]
  2. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    If the conclusions fit the form of two contradictory propositions, then either my understanding of one (or more) of statements of Scripture is false, or my reasoning is faulty. But since your scenario specifies "right use of reason" then I must assume my understanding of one of the meaning of Scripture is false. (By definition of contradiction, one premise must be true and the other must be false).

    Now if you mean by "appear" to contradict - that it seems like both conclusion can not be true at the same time, this is rather vague. And I would not say they contradict, because they may be contrary instead. But either way, I apparently have not really worked out the meaning of the conclusions because I'm not sure they should be classified as contradictory. I.e., it sounds like my thinking has been a tad lazy at this point.

    The problem is usually in the premises to start with. The inferences and the conclusions are clear. The deductive conclusions follow "necessarily" from the premises. So all things considered, it's a problem of incorrect premises in most cases.

    I don't see a problem. If they lead to necessary contradictions, then one or the other premise must be false and the other true. That's by the definition of contradiction. But if you go by the WCF, it is notable for it's lack of contradictions. There may be some questionable points, but otherwise, it's a rejection of the contradictions produced by earlier heresies and false doctrines.

    Not at all. We also admit when we just don't know. The key difference is, we don't accept both of two contradictory propositions. We also don't "tweak" premises without warrant. But a contradiction is a warrant that one of two premises are false, and the other true. A logical contradiction is a strong statement. It is not simply that something appears to conflict with something else, but that one statement is in fact true and the other is in fact false. Nothing in between, not sort of true and sort of false, not seems kinda sort of conflicting - but if one is true, it makes the other false.

    Clark's solution was to remove the human presumptions. In fact in that case Clark showed that the "paradox" only existed for those that went beyond Scripture. The paradox is created by asserting a premise that is not in Scripture. The solution, eliminate the nonbiblical presumption, and the paradox is gone.

    Sure there will be confusion, some things we can not resolve. But we can not accept any contradictions. Because it's a fact that two contradictory premises can not be resolved with additional premises.

    This is a confusion many have that do not understand the basics of logic. We don't say that sentences in the bible are contradictions, or the prose contradict. Only propositions contradict. And propositions are the meaning of the sentences. Until you can correctly determine the proposition that is the correct meaning of a sentence or statement, you can not determine if it leads to a contradiction. And nothing added to two contradictory propositions will make them non-contradictory.

    Additional information will help us correct our understanding of the meaning, to come up with the correct proposition. If we have determined a contradiction is involved, we know the some premise we think is correct, is actually false. So we come up with *new* propositions by adding new information. The original propositions are still a contradiction. You don't get rid of the contradiction really, you get rid of the false premise.

    This reveals another misunderstanding about logic and it's use with Scripture. We can not find anything that God has hidden from us using logic. But everything that we can deduce from Scripture, is simply the logical consequence of what Scripture says. It's already revealed. If you can deduce something by good and necessary consequences from Scripture, then you are merely discovering what God has revealed to us.

    I think the WCF shows that they did get their premises straight. Calvinism itself is systematic and non-contradictory. That goes back long before Clark.

    I don't see this. Paul is constantly correcting false conclusions and inferences. He's whole method of writing is syllogistic. Look at all the verses that start with "for" and "so". Paul usually gives his conclusions, and then gives the premises they are inferred from.

    All that we need to know can be found in Scripture, or can be deduced by good and necessary consequences from Scripture. The propositions that are the meaning of the verses can never contradict. Nor can anything that they infer contradict. What they infer is revealed as much as what they say at face value.


    Additional comments about the logical nature of contraditions:

    It is basic to logic that given any set of premise that are contradictory or contrary (at face value or by consequence of good reason), no added premises will change that fact. Being contradictory is a state of being. Once the contradiction is determined to be the case, that can not be undone.

    On the other hand, given a set of logically coherent (non-contradictory and non-contrary) premises, one may determine them to be contradictory or contrary by adding additional premises. Basically, one does this by adding premises that induce the incoherence that was not present (making the system irrational by their addition). Or the premises added link originally unconnected premises in a contrary or contradictory manner. (So prior to adding the premises, the logical connection was unknown, and the additional information shows them to be incoherent.)

    The point is, you can not "un-contradict" contradictory premises by adding additional premises, but you can reveal contradictions by adding premises.

    Logically, it makes more sense to speak of apparent "non-contradictions" because you can reveal contradictions that are not apparent by adding information to your system.

    [Edited on 5-23-2006 by Civbert]
  3. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    All you did was confirm exactly what I just said: A Clarkian cannot accept that God might be witholding information to give us the ability to resolve the issue.

    Let's just change the scenario then. Clark changed the premises because he was convinced that the historic Reformed premises of human freedom contradicted the Reformed premises of God's sovereignty.

    1. He could have just as well changed the premises for God's sovereignty to meet the conditions of the logical rule that we cannot accept any apparent contradiction in premises. Goal acheived!

    2. How did he know he had enough information to even form premises from Scripture? Perhaps there are additional premises that needed to be added by God that He didn't have. In which case, he should just walk away and say "I don't know. I can't believe anything about human responsibility because right now the information I have doesn't allow me to understand it apart from it apparently contradicting God's Sovereignty."

    Who decides when the premises have been witheld and when the premises need to keep being tweaked until they don't contradict?

    That's right: MAN.

    Also, it's one thing to say that Scripture is going to provide us with proper inferences and that the conclusions are going to follow ruthlessly but it is quite another, with our darkened human hearts and the fact that we are prone to "read into things", to ensure that our inferences really are always Scriptural. It's a delicate balancing act between inference and deduction, biblical theology and systematics. It's not quite as cut and dry as just saying it.

    [Edited on 5-24-2006 by SemperFideles]
  4. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate


    It is not so much the lack of God giving the ability to people (after all, we know that God is the one who enlightens the eyes to see), but I cannot accept that God would reveal himself in paradoxes that in and of themselves, cannot be resolved. This is problematic, and has serious implicaitions regarding the clarity of scripture.

    1Co 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion

    Sure, it is a careful science to engage in systematic theology, but then again, that is why it is called the Queen of the Sceinces. But the other side must also be exposed.

    Who is responsible for revealing himself in terms that are contradictory to man? God.

    God reveals himself, and he does it perfectly. In my understanding, this would include leaving out paradoxes that cannot be resolved using human logic.

    But you see this is exactly where I see it the opposite. Instead of blaming our fallen use of reasoning (with regards to paradoxes), it seems that Van Tillians blame the revelation or the logic itself (i.e. human logic vs. God's logic)! How can we be said to have the "mind of Christ" when he sees scripture logically, and we do not? Surely this cannot be attributed to a creator/creature distinction when we are said to be made in the image of God, and part of that image is reason!
  5. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate


    It has nothing to do with "man-centered arrogance", for I fully realize that I cannot resolve everything. But this is not due to the logic I use, (i.e. human logic), it is due to my sin. But you place the paradox, not in the sinful use of logic, but in the nature of the logic itself. According to you, the same logic that man is endowed with, the same logic that is part of the image of God in man, cannot resolve the clear teaching of scriptural doctrines without (to man) contradicting one another. This is unacceptable. The way I see it, if this is the case, either 1) scripture is not doing it's job or 2) the logic God gave man isn't doing it's job.
  6. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate


    Give me a break. I am trying to draw out logical conclusions of your thought. If you want me to do so in a general way like you (i.e. "likem [sic] the Clarkians think once their sin nature is thrown off then they'll be gods, intellectually") then I can ablige, but I think that people can follow the thought. :p

    We will not be omniscient, but we will be perfectly logical! Is this ok in your theology?

    Agreed. But this is where Clarkians and VT's agree, so obviously the discussion is not about these "paradoxes." I can qualify each and every time I mention "paradox" that I mean paradoxes that ONLY God can resolve, but I fear my sentences would run on quite to far, but if this is what you prefer, I can attempt to do so.

    Ok. Then give me an example of this kind of paradox. All of the examples you have given my (quote provided upon request) you have admitted to resolving yourself, so those won't work. What paradox are you talking about here?

    Yeah, I know. I'm a rationalist, and you're an irrationalist. It's been said before.
  7. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    You have not answered all of the questions.

    I'm not interested in resolving paradoxes that you admit man can resolve. I want a paradox that ONLY God can resolve. You claim they exist, but can you give me an example?
  8. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Talk about taking Scripture out of context in 1 you guys really infer from that passage your position that God would never reveal Himself in a way that we might not be able to fully resolve?

    By the way, you guys confirmed what I thought: You will not, a priori accept any Paradox.

    So, from that standard, you rule out that God has withheld information and every place where an apparent contradiction occurs it is up to man's reason to fix the premises until the paradox is resolved.

    I'll stick with being perceived as lazy. Much less dangerous...

    [Edited on 5-24-2006 by SemperFideles]
  9. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    Well then we can get no further my friend. I am by far an expert of Van Til, but from what I can tell, his problem of paradox lies deep within the "unresolvable by man" paradox, due to the creator/creature distinction, the man's logic vs. God's logic distinction etc., etc. which more applies In my humble opinion to the paradox which you are not interested in discussing.
  10. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Read my comments on logic and contradictions in my first post. Clark and Van Til both rule out real contradictions, so an apparent contradiction is apparently not Scripture. Scripture does not contain any contradictions. And since additional premises can not correct contradictions, then limited knowledge is not the problem. The problem is incorrect understand of Scripture to start with.

    You don't like changing the premises. Good, I don't either. But if some premises I hold lead to a contradiction by correct reasoning, then I know one thing, that one of the premises must be false. Additional premises can not make all of them true. Additional premises can only help me know which premise is false.

    Now if I can not determine which premise is the false one, I still know that one of them must be false - because (as Van Til and Clark seem to agree) Scripture is not outside the realm of the law of non-contradiction. We can not get past that fact. Something is wrong, and no new information can make those premises all true. If X and Y contradict - all the information in the world will not make them non-contradictory. The only question is which one is false and which is true. And if and when we determine which is false - to embrace both X and Y is irrational - and God's Word if fully rational. We don't embrace non-scriptural proposition.
  11. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    It seems that if man can not resolve some paradoxes (do to limited knowledge - or man's sin) then man can never be certain he understands Scripture - since all Scripture is paradoxical to man - and only non-contradictory to God. Poor man must embrace the irrational paradoxes - trusting that God will square the circle for man, when man comes in to his glory.

    In the mean time, man will have to keep blind faith in paradoxes he does not understand and can not resolve.
  12. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I don't have a problem, per se, with this.

    The question is, are you willing to accept cognitive rest and, knowing that there is not a contradiction, but accepting that God may be witholding the information you need to fully form the premises are you willing to accept certain Truths as far as they go without resolving them?

    Even Chalcedon is formed in a somewhat paradoxical way. You can keep pushing on the premises of full humanity as liberal theology has or the premises of full divinity as rationalism has and wreck the Truth of the hypostatic union. We don't have enough information to "solve" the Paradox by simply forming the logical premises correctly.

    I just don't see some of you guys having any respect for some of these profound Truths that the Church, for centuries, have merely bounded what we know and warned us to " no further or you're likely to fall into heresy...."
  13. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    I saw were you avoided this 3 times. :lol:
  14. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Ha! Van Tillian analogy just makes things all that much fuzzier. And now you admit that according to Van Til's system, you can not be certain you understand Scripture. No wonder you embrace paradox. It's consistent with an inability to understand anything from Scripture at all. I admit it, Van Til is consistently irrational if this is true. Darn, just when I was thinking there was hope for Van Til! This conversation is Vantillian die-hards has been really helpful. I'm starting to see that Van Til was indeed irrational, despite is "rational" rhetoric. You keep going back to the irrational positions of Van Til and calling them gold. So be it. :tombstone:

    Somebody help me out here. Is there any saving Van Til's apologetics. Is it too tied up with paradox and analogy and "apparent" contradictions. I'm going to have to read Chris's post again, because it gave me hope. The Vantillians on board just make things sound pointless.

    Ahhh. I think I know what to do. Quite talking to Vantillians, and read Van Til. Let the man speak for himself. If I keep listening to his groupies, I'll never see what Van Til is good for. Even Frame was more rational.
  15. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    This is simply not true.

    My post from another thread:

  16. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    As long as they are not contradictory. I can not assert truth to all propositions of a contradiction. I'm willing to say that when there are "apparent" contradictions, something I understand is "apparently" false. I won't rest on that. Better to say something is not understood, then to say I believe what appears to be a contradiction, because that implies my faith is irrational. God does not require me to believe anything I understand to be contradictory or impossible. It's impossible to believe anything you have determined can not be true (no matter what other information you latter add.) Faith is not blind or irrational.

    Thankfully, there are no contradictions in Scripture, and almost all "apparent" ones can be solved with a little mental work to better understand what Scripture is saying.

    I stand by the WCF that says:
    So what ever I can deduce from Scripture by good and necessary consequence, is indeed part of God's revelation to man. I don't simply read it as face value, and except apparent contradictions, and neither did our fathers. The whole Westminster Confession, is nothing less than a systematic summary of Christian doctrine. It is not a word for word copy of passages, but the results of prayer, study, and systematic rational deduction - resolving all the critical "apparent" contradictions of Scripture, and embracing none.

    As long as you add no worldly premises, anything you deduce from Scriptural premises is true by definition. And I'd say that many of the so called "apparent" contradictions is due to the assumption of nonbiblical premises - like man having free will (autonomy).
  17. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    Let me just start off by saying I'm not even sure I'm a presuppositionalist. OK, now I'll dive in.

    "Some paradoxes canot [sic] be resolved because of missing premises or information."

    As Anthony has stated (correctly) before, a paradox cannot be resolved with additional premises. If I have reached p & ~p, it is because I equivocated on the definition of p, and I need to refine the premises I have.

    "Thus Job admits that there are things he cannot understand, things he cannot know."

    "If there is anything he cannot know or understand well then it's God who' irrational, not the Clarkian."

    Even if man had perfect understanding of the premises and used logic perfectly, there would still be true statements that cannot be reached. Godel 's incompleteness theorem demonstrates as much. Your conclusion that God must be irrational does not follow as you failed to take the fact of unreachable truths into consideration.
  18. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    "I already argued against Civberts claim."

    Sorry, I must have missed it.

    I never denied that additional information can resolve a paradox. What I denied was that adding additional premises resolves a paradox. If you have p & ~p you can add q, r, and s, but you are still stuck with p & ~p.

    "In regards to your second point, I was using hyperbole. But, I was saying that *the Clarkians* would *call* God irrational because He left them in a paradoxical situation. So, you failed to grasp my point."

    I failed to grasp your point because it was obscure. You accuse Clarkians of requiring every truth from God when it appears you meant to say that they require every paradox to be resolvable. I attempted to demonstrate that you missed an important distinction.
  19. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    I wish I had been as succinct. Now, maybe Van Til never means he has reaches p & ~p when he says something is an apparent contradiction. But then, if he has not reached the point, what is "apparent" about it be contradictory. This is what I find incoherent in Van Til.

    But to reiterate (and no amount of degrees will change this plain fact),
    no information can reconcile p & ~p.

    So if there is not appearance of p & ~p, then the law of contradiction is not an issue.

    Brian Bosse ( and ) pointed out to me the Gödel's Theorem only applies to number theory - but non-the-less, I agree. There are certainly truths that God has not revealed, explicitly, nor can they be reached by deduction. Even if man had a limitless capacity for knowledge, Scripture clearly says there are things are hidden from us.
  20. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    You are absolutely correct about Godel, Anthony. I wan't clear, but I merely meant to show that there exist formal systems that are incomplete.
  21. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    :cool: s'all right.

    I often misapply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - it still makes the point I want.
  22. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Ya want to explain what an "epistemic paradox" is? You've said it three or four times but you've never defined the term.

    And are you asserting a paradox is not an apparent contradiction? Or maybe an apparent contradiction can be in the form of R & ~S. Which does not seem to be an apparent contradiction. It seems to be unrelated to contradiction, or better, an apparent non-contradiction.

    As for counter intuitive, that's a matter of opinion. And it's not true that some things are always counter intuitive. That's a personal judgment.
  23. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    There's a good article on "logical paradox" here:

    Would the liars paradox be a epistemic paradox? If so, then epistemic paradoxes are a subset of logical paradoxes.
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