Question re: Van Tillian presuppostionalism and contradictions

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Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
From my understanding of the Van Tillian approach to presuppositionalism, the unbeliever is to be shown the "impossibility of the contrary," that is, that every worldview except the Reformed Christian one leads to absurdity and contradictions. How does this square with the Van Tillian understanding of "apparent contradictions" in scripture? What I mean is, how can one's apologetic method be to show the absurdity, irrationality, and self-contradictory nature of another worldview while simultaneously embracing irreconcilable contradictions? Is this not self-defeating? It seems like the initial response would be "of course, the contradictions aren't real contradictions; they merely appear to be so." So why isn't the unbeliever allowed to turn this right back around on us and say "I know my worldview looks absurd, illogical, and self-contradictory, but it only appears that way"?

NB: I'm not attacking Van Tillian presuppositionalism. This is all just a little new to me and I'm trying to learn. :book2:
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
David:

If your goal is to show the arbitrariness or absurdity of someone else's views, and you manage to do that, then what you've done is to show them the arbitrariness or aburdity of their view. That's all. That doesn't mean that you yourself don't hold arbitrary or absurd views. Of course you do. If you can do that to others, in love, then it is only right that you hope that others will do that for you.

This has nothing to do with Van Til's position about "apparent contradictions" in that way, as if you can put the one up against the other.
 

Cheshire Cat

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not all people who go under the label of ‘Van Tilian Presuppositonalism’ hold to the “impossibility of the contrary” claim. Van Til and Bahnsen did, but Frame doesn’t.

What I mean is, how can one's apologetic method be to show the absurdity, irrationality, and self-contradictory nature of another worldview while simultaneously embracing irreconcilable contradictions?
Its not that we accept “irreconcilable contradictions”. Its that we accept that there are things in the bible that are, like you said, Apparently contradictory.

James Anderson I believe answers with a response from reformed epistemology: Amazon.com: Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status (Paternoster Theological Monographs): Books: James Anderson,David Fergusson

Its on my reading list for this summer.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Its not that we accept “irreconcilable contradictions”. Its that we accept that there are things in the bible that are, like you said, Apparently contradictory.

Okay, but why can't the unbeliever also believe in things "apparently contradictory"?
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
David:

If your goal is to show the arbitrariness or absurdity of someone else's views, and you manage to do that, then what you've done is to show them the arbitrariness or aburdity of their view. That's all. That doesn't mean that you yourself don't hold arbitrary or absurd views. Of course you do. If you can do that to others, in love, then it is only right that you hope that others will do that for you.

This has nothing to do with Van Til's position about "apparent contradictions" in that way, as if you can put the one up against the other.

I was following you until the last sentence. Why doesn't it have to do with Van Til's position on apparent contradictions? What good does it do to show the absurdity of everyone else's worldviews if we ourselves also embrace an "apparently" absurd (in this case, I mean "illogical" or "irrational," by "absurd") worldview?
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I was following you until the last sentence. Why doesn't it have to do with Van Til's position on apparent contradictions? What good does it do to show the absurdity of everyone else's worldviews if we ourselves also embrace an "apparently" absurd (in this case, I mean "illogical" or "irrational," by "absurd") worldview?

David:

First, I was answering according to the earlier Van Til, with which I can agree to quite an extent. I was not answering according to the later Van Til, with whom I cannot agree as much.

As to your response, if you don't understand the last paragraph, then you didn't follow what I said in the first paragraph. Can you name me one person who can't be shown that he is illogical or irrational in some way? And yet he may still be one of those people chosen to convey the truth to people. We're all in the same boat when it comes to absurdities, were it not for the grace of God. To show someone their need to change their mind does not mean that we can have everything reasoned out. Nor does it mean that we do have all things reasoned out. There still are things that we can't explain.

In other words, our ability to show others' that their views lead to absurdity is not hampered by the fact that some things are, to us, seemingly contradictory.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
the key is "seemingly" vs "absolutely" contrary...

I understand that we would call the unbeliever's contradictions absolute and our own apparent, but what makes this intellectually honest? Why cannot the unbeliever just say "my contradictions are apparent and yours are absolute"?
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Well, that's what your job as an apologist is, to show him that difference. You have to take him beyond his own and your own presuppositions, to the objective truth of things. In doing so you will be showing him how he abuses reason in rationalizing his views. So you can't be guilty of the same thing, of course. It's not a contest between personal presuppositions. That's what the earlier Van Til was concerned about.

JD, you're right. These things seem to be contradictory to us. Too often we're putting the finite against the infinite, and instead of seeing how the former fits into the latter, we make contradistinctions, and call them contradictions. Of course they're not. We just don't understand, that's all.

We don't have to understand everything in order to understand some things.
 

panta dokimazete

Panting Donkey Machete
John is correct - also - we shouldn't follow the path of the atheist and bump up against the limits of revealed knowledge, then assume since we can find apparent contradictions for one piece of the puzzle, the entire worldview is flawed. We know that there are things we may not understand and limits to human knowledge, since now we see in a mirror dimly. The atheist does not start from this presupposition, they believe everything can be discerned through evidence of the senses, logic and the scientific method, thus their tolerance for antinomy is limited - our is not so limited, because we trust in a greater knowledge than ourselves for ultimate resolution\revelation.
 
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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
David,

As I see it, the difference in the "contradictions" is also categorical.

The atheist posits a belief system that says X but then lives as Y. Hume even acknowledged that his skepticism was unlivable and he had to live a life completely contrary to his stated worldview.

It is one thing to have a coherent worldview in which the creature acknowledges the unrevealed nature of the Creator, it is another thing to have a completely incoherent worldview in which you state that truth does not exist but then you live as if it does.

In my worldview, the incomprehensible is accounted for in God's hidden knowledge. That is quite different than the atheist who lives and acts as if there is a God (in fact knows it) but then denies that Truth with an inane philosophy that he can't even live out.

Let's also say that, in the end, this answer is not acceptable to the atheist and he says: "Well, in the end, we both have elements we can't explain. I prefer my version of truth."

Guess what? I don't really care.

As I witnessed to a young woman recently, I don't change the declaration of the historical fact that Christ's death and resurrection or that He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead simply because His enemies don't like the facts of history. I frankly think we make too much of objections and worry too much about the argument that will finally convince the fool that he really is what God says about Him. If he sees that then he'll be on his knees because your declaration of the Gospel would have been attended by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
the key is "seemingly" vs "absolutely" contradictory...

But it worse than that. In Van Til's view, the "apparently contradictory" is irreconcilable to the "human" mind. To the mind of man, the "apparent" contradiction is just as strong as the "absolute" contradiction since neither is reconcilable as far as we are concerned.

I think this is one point (apparent verse real contradiction) in Van Til's system that should be abandoned.

And one should keep in mind the definition of a contradiction. A contradiction is found where the truth of one proposition makes another proposition false. If A and B are a contradiction, then if A is true, then B is false, or if A is false, then B is true. The implication of this is that when one finds two contradictory propositions, then to believe both are true is irrational - for it is not possible for both to be true. So one can not rationally believe contradictory propositions.

It is also important to note that one can not resolve contradictory propositions by adding additional propositions. If A & B is a contradiction, then no additional propositions can change that. It is not rational to say we can resolve A and B by adding additional propositions.

One must determine that either A or B is true, and the other is false. There is no middle state. You can not say (A & B) is false, but possible (A & B) & C, is true. So whether real or apparent, we can not excuse believing contradictory propositions with the excuse that our knowledge is limited, because no additional knowledge can resolve a contradiction. Rather, additional knowledge will only go towards helping us decided which of the contradictory propositions is true. In the mean time, it is still irrational to believe both A and B are true.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
From my understanding of the Van Tillian approach to presuppositionalism, the unbeliever is to be shown the "impossibility of the contrary," that is, that every worldview except the Reformed Christian one leads to absurdity and contradictions. How does this square with the Van Tillian understanding of "apparent contradictions" in scripture?

It doesn't square. Rather, it would show that Christianity is irrational too. I think Van Til's "apparent contradictions" is a point where VT's system is flawed. He never should have used the phrase "apparent contradictions". Rather, he should have said there are simply parts of the Bible we may not rightly understand. When he went so far as to say we must "embrace" these apparent contradictions, rather then trying to determine which of the two contradictory propositions is false, he pushed the Christian worldview into being irrational.

The rational Christian view is that when we perceive an apparent contradiction, we either try to determine which is true and reject the other, or we admit we don't know which is correct. We certainly don't embrace both as true because "apparently" they can not both be true, and we, being created as rational being's being made in God's image, can not believe both are true at the same time.

Also, if we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, we know that both A and B can not be Scripture, because God certainly does not contradict himself. We may not know enough to determine which is Scripture, but certainly not both. God is neither irrational or absurd, and neither is His Word.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Gentlemen,

I actually had a conversation with John Frame over this issue of "apparent contradiction." David, your concerns are right on. The Van Tillian position of apparent contradiction is simply this:

1. There are some things taught in Scripture that appear to be contradictory.
2. Although, in our own finitude or in our current epistemic state we may not be able to or ever be able to resolve such apparent contradictions, we believe that ultimately there is no contradiction.
3. As such, our own rationality is subject to God.

This is problematic for the Van Tillian apologetic method. He appeals to "apparent contradiction" upon an internal critique of his worldview. He will not allow such an appeal from the competing worldview. Now, the Van Tillian may argue that he has an ontological basis, i.e. God, upon which this appeal is rational. That is to say, he may say that within his worldview, where God's revelation is supreme even over our own rationality, "apparent contradictions" are allowed. However, the trouble with this is that the Van Tillian undermines his own hermeneutical basis for such an appeal. Consider the issue of justification in the writings of James relative to Paul. If one accepts the concept of "apparent contradictions," then one can argue that the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith and by works and this seeming contradiction is only apparent and not actual. There would be no basis to deny this position if one allows "apprent contradictions."

Final Thoughts: The idea that there can be apparent contradictions based on my limitations seems right to me. I do not believe that there are actual contradictions, but I do believe that it is possible there may be some things I cannot reconcile due to my limitiations. There may be some things I may never be able to reconcile. So, in this sense I think Van Til is correct.

Brian
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Final Thoughts: The idea that there can be apparent contradictions based on my limitations seems right to me. I do not believe that there are actual contradictions, but I do believe that it is possible there may be some things I cannot reconcile due to my limitiations. There may be some things I may never be able to reconcile. So, in this sense I think Van Til is correct.

Brian

Would you predicate those things which you are unable to reconcile as irreconcilable? If I am correct, Van Til went further than merely saying that certain things were irreconcilable due to his limitations and said that certain things were unable to be reconciled by anyone.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello David,

No, I would not do so. I believe all things are reconcilable by God. I believe this was Van Til's position as well. If you do not think so, I would be interested in seeing your references.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello David,

No, I would not do so. I believe all things are reconcilable by God. I believe this was Van Til's position as well. If you do not think so, I would be interested in seeing your references.

Sincerely,

Brian

Sorry, I supposed it to be understood that Van Til would see the concepts as being reconcilable by God, but not to any human. For example, it sounded like one of the objections raised against Clark's ordination was that he was a rationalist for proposing a solution to the quandary of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
It doesn't square. Rather, it would show that Christianity is irrational too. I think Van Til's "apparent contradictions" is a point where VT's system is flawed. He never should have used the phrase "apparent contradictions". Rather, he should have said there are simply parts of the Bible we may not rightly understand. When he went so far as to say we must "embrace" these apparent contradictions, rather then trying to determine which of the two contradictory propositions is false, he pushed the Christian worldview into being irrational.

Thanks for your input, Anthony. Did Van Til have any criteria to gauge which concepts were "apparently contradictory" other than his or others' inability to reconcile them? There are plenty of places in scripture which seem at the outset to contradict another place but can be reconciled. So who gets to decide when one is totally irreconcilable and must be embraced as an apparent contradiction?
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks for your input, Anthony. Did Van Til have any criteria to gauge which concepts were "apparently contradictory" other than his or others' inability to reconcile them? There are plenty of places in scripture which seem at the outset to contradict another place but can be reconciled. So who gets to decide when one is totally irreconcilable and must be embraced as an apparent contradiction?

It's the "embracing" part that causes problems. If two propositions "appear" to be contradictory, then it would be irrational for me to embrace them as both true, because I've already determined that one of the two is "apparently" false. It would be irrational of me to try to believe both, or consider them both as Scriptural truths. What is "apparent" is they can not both be Scripture, even if I don't know for certain which one is false.

I don't know how Van Til did this. He certainly reconciled the superficially apparent contradictions since he followed reformed doctrine. But he must have done this by rejecting some propositions that appeared at face-value to be Scripture but contradicted others that were more clearly Scripture.

The reconciliation of contradictions requires the rejection of one or more propositions and replacing them with other (maybe similar) propositions that do not cause an apparent contradiction. And sometimes we can say that the solution is a possible, but not essential, part of a Christian worldview. In other words, we acknowledge that in some places, God's Word does no give us a clear answer. And in those places, we allow for some flexibility because the answer is not essential. We don't demand that everyone embrace those ideas as certain truth. And we should never demand someone believe a contradiction (apparent or otherwise). What is essential knowledge for us is clearly and univocally given in God's Word, without any contradictions because Scripture contains no contradictions.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
BTW. I don't know how heavily VT pushed the "embracing of apparent contradictions" in his worldview. Maybe someone who has read more VT can help with this. Was the idea of "embracing apparent contradictions" an essential point for VT's worldview that he wrote of frequently? Or was it just a position found in a few instances in his writings.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
However, the trouble with this is that the Van Tillian undermines his own hermeneutical basis for such an appeal. Consider the issue of justification in the writings of James relative to Paul. If one accepts the concept of "apparent contradictions," then one can argue that the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith and by works and this seeming contradiction is only apparent and not actual. There would be no basis to deny this position if one allows "apprent contradictions."
Brian

Why would an apparent contradiction concerning the relationship between Paul and James be any more or less problematic than any apparent contradiction anywhere else?

CT
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
BTW. I don't know how heavily VT pushed the "embracing of apparent contradictions" in his worldview. Maybe someone who has read more VT can help with this. Was the idea of "embracing apparent contradictions" an essential point for VT's worldview that he wrote of frequently? Or was it just a position found in a few instances in his writings.

It is an essential part. I think he learned a lot from Bavinck, who wrote what is considered by many the greatest book on the Doctrine of God ever. Bavinck starts out with the idea that an essential aspect of theology is mystery.

CT
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Everyone,

I think Van Til is correct at a very fundamental level. When he speaks of "apparent contradictions" I believe his main concern is to maintain that mankind's own rationality is subject to God. We are not autonomous even in our thinking. The idea is that because of who God is, it is proper and rational to trust what He says even if we are not able to reconcile what He says withj our own minds. We humble ourselves and say something to the effect, "Even though I am not able to reconcile this in my understanding, I accept it as true and consistent because God has revealed it." The fact that God has revelaed X to me provides rational justification to believe that X is true even if in my own mind it is apprently contradictory. This, however, is problematic. It is difficult to know where (or even how) to draw the line where it is appropriate to say X is only apparently contradictory rather than actually contradictory. If you do not draw this line, then irrationality rules the day, and we end up not being able to know anything.

CT said:
Why would an apparent contradiction concerning the relationship between Paul and James be any more or less problematic than any apparent contradiction anywhere else?

I just used this as an example of issues that can arise when you allow for apparent contradictions. If apparent contradictions are allowed, and an appropriate line is not drawn, then anything goes. In this type of senario one would be justified in embracing justification by works of the law by statung that it is only apprently contradictory. This is the rub for me. Because of who God is, I need to submit my mind to Him even if I do not understand. This seems right to me. It also creates problems in terms of understanding Scripture. We use the law of non-contradiction as a rule to help guide us to truth. The Trinity is a great example of this. The reason the Trinity is formulated the way it is (one in being - three in persons) is because this is the only way to make the Scripture teachings consistent. If you allow for apparent inconsistencies, then you undermine this vital hermeneutical principle. For me, this is a dilemma.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Greg

Puritan Board Sophomore
How does one tell the difference between an apparent contradiction and a real contradiction???

Besides the issue of Paul and James on justification as already mentioned, what are some of the other apparent contradictions that we have in Scripture? I've heard mention of these apparent contradictions before with regards to VTA, and was just curious to see specifically what they were.
 

Cheshire Cat

Puritan Board Sophomore
Besides the issue of Paul and James on justification as already mentioned, what are some of the other apparent contradictions that we have in Scripture? I've heard mention of these apparent contradictions before with regards to VTA, and was just curious to see specifically what they were.
Two examples are the trinity and the incarnation. As far as the trinity goes, I don't think saying one God in one sense and 3 persons in another takes care of the problem. There is still that mystery there that it is hard (to say the least) to wrap one's mind around. I have used that defense before, but I'm just trying to be intellectually honest.
 
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JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I hold it as a general rule for myself that when I see two truths that seem to me to be irreconcileable, then it is me and my reasoning that is the problem, not truth or God or revelation. So to admit of "apparent contradictions" poses no problem to revelation for me. It is a call to raise myself up above the things that hinder me from understanding: knowing, of course, the limitations, the things that I ought not to pry into.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
For me the terms contradiction and Scripture are a contradiction. So when I find an "apparent" contradiction when I read the Bible, this tells me that I am not understanding the God's Word. I will not embace both propositions because this implies that God's Word is self-contradictory and irrational. To assert A and B are both scriptural truth but they can not both be true is to say God's Word is irrational. Rather, I admit my understanding is wrong and I need to study and pray more. Whether I am able to determine which one is incorrect (or maybe both), I know that my understanding is wrong and I will not predecate them both as God's truth.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
For me the terms contradiction and Scripture are a contradiction. So when I find an "apparent" contradiction when I read the Bible, this tells me that I am not understanding the God's Word. I will not embace both propositions because this implies that God's Word is self-contradictory and irrational. To assert A and B are both scriptural truth but they can not both be true is to say God's Word is irrational. Rather, I admit my understanding is wrong and I need to study and pray more. Whether I am able to determine which one is incorrect (or maybe both), I know that my understanding is wrong and I will not predecate them both as God's truth.

When someone asserts an apparent contradiction they are not embracing simply A and ~A. They are embrace A1 and A2. Which simply means that there is a equivocation but we are not certain how to exactly spell it out.

For example when Van Til wrote that God is one person and three persons, he was not asserting that God is one person and three persons in exactly the same way both time the term person is used. What he was saying is that I cannot spell out how the terms differ in use, just that there is an equivocation.

CT
 
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