Question re: Van Tillian presuppostionalism and contradictions

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Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
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

So the Bible is full of equivocations?

It amounts to the same thing - Van Til says we are to embrace what appears (to us) to be contradictory. This amounts to Aquinas's implicit faith. It asks for belief in what we don't understand.

If VT merely meant that God is three in a different sense that God is one, he could have said so. But then there would be no "apparent" contradiction. But he said that there was an apparent contradiction.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
Here is a link to an article by Van Tillian James Anderson called: In Defense of Mystery, which is a defense of rationality of embracing apparent contradictions concerning the Trinity -

http://www.proginosko.com/docs/InDefenceOfMystery.pdf

I think the same idea can be apply to anywhere one believes an biblical apparent contradiction exists.

CT

This is a quote from the end of the paper.
My proposal, by way of comparison, has the following virtues: it can accommodate all the relevant biblical data; it avoids violating any of the classical laws of logic; it explains how Trinitarian beliefs can be warranted despite the appearance of contradiction; it allows for the definition and exclusion of anti-Trinitarian heresies such as Sabellianism and Arianism; and it fits neatly with the traditional Christian doctrines of analogy and divine incomprehensibility. I suggest therefore that it is to be preferred.


Now I haven't looked at his solution, but what strikes be is his claim that "it avoids violating any of the classical laws of logic" and yet it there remains the "appearance of contradiction". This is a contradiction. There is no "appearance" of a contradiction if there is no violation of the classical laws of logic. So either there is an apparent violation of the laws of logic and an apparent contradiction, or there is no apparent violation of the laws of logic and no apparent contradiction.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I don't have time or inclination to debate this point, but Witsius' Exercitations are available on Google Books for those who can read Latin. From p. 457ff. one will find Exercitatio XVII., De Usu et Abusu Rationis circa Mysteria Fidei [of the use and abuse of reason concerning mysteries of faith]. Below I provide a summation of Witsius' argument, and show that he comes to the conclusion (which is the orthodox reformed conclusion), that the mysteries of the faith are above reason but never contrary to right reason. It is in fact a Lutheran tenet to maintain that articles of faith might be received even when they are contrary to reason (see Turretin's Institutes, topic 1, question 9).

In section 10, Witsius maintains, along with all reformed theologians, that reason, although corrupted, is still reason, and man is unable to know or judge anything except by use of it. He states, "si Divinae res, si mysteria religionis cognoscenda sint, non aliter id fieri potest nisi per rationem" (p. 462). Translation: "if divine things, if the mysteries of religion may be known, it can be no other way than by reason." He goes on to show that faith itself, considered as assent, is an operation of reason; and goes so far as to call him an irrational being who denies this fact.

Witsius turns his attention in section 11 to self-evident truths, or the axioms of reason, of which, he says, "neque possit homo a se impetrare ut assentiatur contrario" (ibid.). Translation: "nor is man able by himself to procure his assent to the contrary."

After speaking of the force of reason to deduce from these axiomatic principles certain inferences which he calls the dictates of "right reason" (sect. 12); and showing that God is the author of reason and uses it to teach men, so that the dictates of reason may be called "the dictates of God" (sect. 13); and after conceding that reason is subordinate to Scripture so far as the articles of faith are concerned (sect. 14), Witsius maintains in section 15 that self-evident truths or the dicates of reason cannot be violated. Truth cannot be contrary to truth, and neither can God be contrary to Himself. This he applies specifically to the supernatural revelation God makes of Himself: "consequens est, nunquam Deum supernaturali revelatione aliquid homini patefacere, quod repugnet veritatibus per se notis, sive rectae rationis dictamini" (p. 463). Translation: "it follows, God never discloses anything by supernatural revelation to man which is repugnant to truths well known by themselves, or the dictates of right reason." He then concludes with this norma or rule: "ut nihil recipiatur tanquam a Deo revelatum, quod principiis natura cognitis revera contrarium sit" (ibid.). Translation: "that nothing is received as a revelation from God which may be contrary to the principles really known by nature."

For Witsius, therefore, the doctrines of Christianity are received as a supernatural revelation from God, and therefore may be above reason, that is, beyond the ability of reason to discover; but they are never contrary to right reason. Man is never required to believe what is naturally repugnant.

In relation to the last sentence of the fore-mentioned summation, the Westminster Confession of Faith alludes to this "norma" in its statement about liberty of conscience. The requiring of an implicit faith and an absolute and blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience, AND REASON ALSO (19:2). We are required to keep the faith with a good conscience, and it is destructive of a good conscience to require a man to embrace articles of faith which rationally conflict with one another.

At this point I could cut and paste numerous quotations from the Puritans to show that British reformed theologians maintained the same principle as the continental theologians, but I will forbear. Only I will provide an extended section from William Bates' Harmony of the Divine Attributes, where he exposes the unreasonableness of unbelief. I believe if he is taken seriously, it will be "self-evident" that no man can truly (i.e., believingly) receive an article of faith which requires him to maintain it in seeming contradiction with what he knows is true and right and good. Blessings!

It is true, no article of faith is really repugnant to reason; for God is the author of natural as well as of supernatural light, and he cannot contradict himself: they are emanations from him, and though different, yet not destructive of each other. But we must distinguish between those things that are above reason and incomprehensible, and things that are against reason and utterly inconceivable. Some things are above reason, in regard of their transcendent excellency or distance from us. The divine essence, the eternal decrees, the hypostatical union, are such high and glorious objects that it is an impossible enterprise to comprehend them: the intellectual eye is dazzled with their overpowering light; we can have but an imperfect knowledge of them. And there is no just cause of wonder that supernatural revelation should speak incomprehensible things of God; for he is a singular and admirable Being, infinitely above the ordinary course of nature. The maxims of philosophy are not to be extended to him. We must adore what we cannot fully understand. But those things are against reason and utterly inconceivable, that involve a contradiction, and have a natural repugnancy to our understandings, which cannot conceive any thing that is formally impossible: and there is no such doctrine in the Christian religion.

We must distinguish between reason corrupted, and right reason. Since the fall, the clearness of the human understanding is lost, and the light that remains is eclipsed by the interposition of sensual lusts. The carnal mind cannot out of ignorance, and will not from pride and other malignant habits, receive things spiritual. And from hence arise many suspicions and doubts concerning supernatural verities, the shadows of darkened reason and of dying faith. If any divine mystery seems incredible, it is from the corruption of our reason not from reason itself; from its darkness, not its light. And as reason is obliged to correct the errors of sense, when it is deceived either by some vicious quality in the organ, or by the distance of the object, or by the falseness of the medium that corrupts the image in conveying it; so it is the office of faith to reform the judgment of reason, when, either from its own weakness, or the height of things spiritual, it is mistaken about them. For this end supernatural revelation was given, not to extinguish reason, but to redress it, and enrich it with the discovery of heavenly things.

Faith is called wisdom and knowledge: it doth not quench the vigour of the faculty wherein it is seated, but elevates it, and gives it a spiritual perception of those things that are most distant from its commerce. It doth not lead us through a mist to the inheritance of the saints in light. Faith is a rational light; for,

(1.) It arises from the consideration of those arguments which convince the mind that the scripture is a divine revelation. “I know,” saith the apostle, “whom I have believed,” 2 Tim. 1:12; and we are commanded always to be ready to give an account of the hope that is in us, 1 Peter 3:15. Those that owe their Christianity merely to the felicity of their birth, without a sight of that transcendent excellency in our religion which evidences that it came from heaven, are not true believers. He that absolves an innocent person for favour, without considering sufficient proofs offered, though his sentence is just, is an unjust judge; and the eye that is clouded with a suffusion, so that all things appear yellow to it, when it judges things to be yellow that are so, yet is erroneous, because its judgment proceeds not from the quality of the object, but from the jaundice that discolours the organs: so those who believe the doctrine of the gospel upon the account of its civil establishment in their country, are not right believers, because they assent to the word of truth upon a false principle. It is not judgment, but chance, that inclines them to embrace it. The Turks are zealous votaries of Mahomet, upon the same reason as they are disciples of Christ.

(2.) Faith makes use of reason to consider what doctrines are revealed in the scripture, and to deduce those consequences which have a clear connection with supernatural principles. Thus reason is an excellent instrument to distinguish those things which are of a divine original, from what is spurious and counterfeit; for sometimes that is pretended to be a mystery of religion, which is only the fruit of fancy; and that is defended by the sacred respect of faith that reason ought not to violate, which is but a groundless imagination; so that we remain in an error, by the sole apprehension of falling into one, as those that die for fear of death. The Bereans are commended for their searching the scriptures, whether the doctrines they heard were consentaneous to them, Acts 17:11. But it is a necessary duty, that reason, how stiff soever, should fully comply with God, where it appears reasonable that he hath spoken.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Rev Winzer,

I'm not trying to defend Van Til on his statements about apparent contradictions.

I think sometime language is used that probably confuses the issue. I would not prefer to use terminology such as "apparent contradiction" and I don't really ever think, in my mind, that I'm holding together any contradiction in my faith.

I do, however, hold my questions at times where an unbeliever would not fear to tread.

When I think of the classic answer to the nature of God's sovereignty over Creation and who He permits calamity to fall upon, I think of the answer that God gives to Job: Who is it that darkens my counsel?

I also think of this: shall the thing created say to the Creator: "Why have you made me thus?"

Thus, for me, there are certain things that I do not understand as far as the counsel of the Almighty. At the points that He tells me His counsel is hidden, I would say it is reasonable to place my hand over my mouth and not speculate.

I sometimes wonder if the need for "apparent contradiction" is because some want a license not for clear and necessary deduction but for speculation itself. What would have been reasonable (stopping where God's revelation does) becomes irrational.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thus, for me, there are certain things that I do not understand as far as the counsel of the Almighty. At the points that He tells me His counsel is hidden, I would say it is reasonable to place my hand over my mouth and not speculate.

I sometimes wonder if the need for "apparent contradiction" is because some want a license not for clear and necessary deduction but for speculation itself. What would have been reasonable (stopping where God's revelation does) becomes irrational.

Rich, That shows a great deal of mature insight. The problem I have with "apparent contradiction" is that it is usually brought into the discussion at a point of speculation, where *inferences* are being drawn from the Word of God. Now "good and necessary" deductions are valid; but to make a deduction which requires reason, and then to appeal against reason to "apparent contradiction" is unreasonable; whereas refusal to speculate is, as you wisely say, very reasonable.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
If you are asking if the Bible uses the same term in different ways in different places, then yes.

CT

That's not the meaning of equivocation. The same word can be used in different ways at different times and places, even by the same author, without any equivocation. An equivocation is a error of reason when a person uses the same term with different senses but as if it had the same sense in an argument to draw a conclusion.

When Paul says we are not saved by our works and James says we are saved by our works, the terms are not being used in the same sense. Where Paul is speaking of our justification before God by faith alone in Christ, James is saying saying that genuine faith is demonstrated by good works in true Christians. While the terms being used are the same, this is not an equivocation because they occur in separate arguments. What's more two different authors and two different times are involved. Thus, the James vs. Paul is in no reasonable/logical sense an equivocation or "apparent contradiction".
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Gentlemen,

Consider the Trinity in light of the Hypostatic Union. You have one being made up of three persons. In addition to this, one of these persons is said to be fully God and fully man. This whole convoluted (do not take 'convoluted' in a prejorative sense) situation appears to be inconsistent. Now, I do not believe it is inconsistent because I think it is what Scripture teaches and I think whatever Scripture teaches will be consistent even if I cannot see it. I agree that my understanding is lacking, but it may be the case that because of my finitude I will never be able to understand some things such as the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity - especially taken together. In this sense, I can say that I am embracing an apparent contradiction. I do not believe it is an actual contradiction. But, I cannot adequately explain the situation so as to make things explicitly consistent. My guess is that everyone on this board is in the same situation as I am. In the end, we accept the Trinty and the Hypostatic Union with all the difficulties it presents our minds because we believe it to be taught by Scripture.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
Hello Gentlemen,

Consider the Trinity in light of the Hypostatic Union. You have one being made up of three persons. In addition to this, one of these persons is said to be fully God and fully man. This whole convoluted (do not take 'convoluted' in a prejorative sense) situation appears to be inconsistent. Now, I do not believe it is inconsistent because I think it is what Scripture teaches and I think whatever Scripture teaches will be consistent even if I cannot see it. I agree that my understanding is lacking, but it may be the case that because of my finitude I will never be able to understand some things such as the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity - especially taken together. In this sense, I can say that I am embracing an apparent contradiction. I do not believe it is an actual contradiction. But, I cannot adequately explain the situation so as to make things explicitly consistent. My guess is that everyone on this board is in the same situation as I am. In the end, we accept the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union with all the difficulties it presents our minds because we believe it to be taught by Scripture.

Sincerely,

Brian

Brian,

I can see that these doctrines are difficult, but what is the "apparent" contradiction in them. Nothing you said involves a contradiction (apparent or otherwise).
You have one being made up of three persons. In addition to this, one of these persons is said to be fully God and fully man.

It seems to me you have actually avoided the appearance of any contradiction.

The Trinity: God is one in essence, and three in persons.
Hypostatic Union: Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

Now I haven't joined these two statements into a single argument because they are not using the same terms in the same sense. I did not say simply that "Jesus is God", but more specifically that "Jesus is fully God". To me this means that Jesus is one person of the Trinity. He is also (according to the doctrine of the Trinity) one in essence with the Godhead.

Contradictions may occur if we incorrectly define some of the terms used in the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union. The apparent contradictions may occur when we speculate beyond what Scripture clearly reveals.

We may not know for certain what the exact relationship is between the Trinity and Hypostatic Union, but we can say for certain that if we define the terms of the Trinity and Hypostatic Union in such a way as they cause a contradiction, then we are wrong. And we are not to embrace these contradictions. Rather, we should allow that our knowledge and understanding has it's limits, and we reject any thing that violates our reasoning. We may not fully understand the inter-workings of these doctrines, but neither can we put our faith into something that violates or reason because God does not contradict himself.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Anthony,

I can see that these doctrines are difficult, but what is the "apparent" contradiction in them. Nothing you said involves a contradiction (apparent or otherwise).

I have purposefully avoided defining my terms because once I begin to do so then the trouble starts. In other words, I have purposefully left things vague to avoid trouble. If you look at how the Council of Chalcedon carefully spoke regarding the Hypostic Union, they did not get too specific. In fact, someone once said that if you go beyond the formulation, then pick your heresey. Essentially, they were saying that if you tried to clarify the doctrine beyond what was said in their statement, then you end up contradicting some other doctrine.

It seems to me you have actually avoided the appearance of any contradiction.

The Trinity: God is one in essence, and three in persons.
Hypostatic Union: Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

Now I haven't joined these two statements into a single argument because they are not using the same terms in the same sense. I did not say simply that "Jesus is God", but more specifically that "Jesus is fully God". To me this means that Jesus is one person of the Trinity. He is also (according to the doctrine of the Trinity) one in essence with the Godhead.

Please define your terms explicitly. What do 'God,' 'essence,' and 'person' mean in the sentence "God is one in essence, and three in persons"? What does 'Jesus' 'God' and 'man' mean in the sentence "Jesus is both fully God and fully man"? What does the adjective 'fully' mean? What does 'Godhead' mean?

Contradictions may occur if we incorrectly define some of the terms used in the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union. The apparent contradictions may occur when we speculate beyond what Scripture clearly reveals.

This is a good point. The trouble we encounter is that speculation is desired because the terms end up being underdefined. With these underdefined terms it may be the case that we are not able to go any further and still avoid a contradiction. This is an apparent contradiction. Theologians referred to this as mystery.

We may not know for certain what the exact relationship is between the Trinity and Hypostatic Union, but we can say for certain that if we define the terms of the Trinity and Hypostatic Union in such a way as they cause a contradiction, then we are wrong.

Anthony, we need to be precise here. There is a difference between my perception of a contradiction and there actually being a contradiction. Something may appear to be contradictory to me, and may actully not be contradictory. This happens all of the time in our experience. However, normally we are able to resolve these apparent contradictions with more information. So, apparent contradictions are not necessarily real contradictions. I am suggesting that in some cases we may never be able to resolve such apparent contradictions and that nevertheless they are not real contradictions.

Rather, we should allow that our knowledge and understanding has it's limits, and we reject any thing that violates our reasoning.

Here is the heart of the matter. Is our reasoning the final arbiter when confronted by things that may be beyond us? Or, do we acknowledge the limitations of even our own reasoning and embrace apparent contradiction on the basis of the one asking us to embrace it? In other words, if God said to you A and B are true, yet in your understanding B entailed ~A, would you humble your intellect to God's word? If so, then you agree with Van Til on this point. If not, then you place your own reasoning above God's word. Of this whole post (and thread), this last point is the key.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Here is the heart of the matter. Is our reasoning the final arbiter when confronted by things that may be beyond us? Or, do we acknowledge the limitations of even our own reasoning and embrace apparent contradiction on the basis of the one asking us to embrace it? In other words, if God said to you A and B are true, yet in your understanding B entailed ~A, would you humble your intellect to God's word? If so, then you agree with Van Til on this point. If not, then you place your own reasoning above God's word. Of this whole post (and thread), this last point is the key.

Sincerely,

Brian

But what if, for person X, B does not entail ~A? I made mention of this earlier. Gordon Clark was labeled as a rationalist by the Van Tillians for proposing a logical solution to the problem of God's sovereignty and human responsibility. What you're saying about humbling ourselves before God's Word makes perfect sense as long as we live in a world in which everyone agrees that A and B lead to an "apparent contradiction." But what if it isn't a contradiction for someone? Why is the limit of Van Til's ability to reconcile something the final arbiter of what is and isn't possible to be reconciled? Why is the limit of Van Til's intellectual capacity the rule against which we will measure someone and call them either a humble individual who "just accepts God's Word" (if they accept the "apparent contradictions" popularly accepted) or an arrogant rationalist?
 

Cheshire Cat

Puritan Board Sophomore
Then person X should be able to explain how B does not entail ~A to other people. I highly doubt that the majority of people who find certain doctrines paradoxical just don’t “see” and “get” what person X does. Of course anybody can say some doctrine isn’t paradoxical to them, but it is an entirely different matter to demonstrate that is the case.

Gordon Clark was labeled as a rationalist by the Van Tillians for proposing a logical solution to the problem of God's sovereignty and human responsibility.

Source? I’m willing to bet this isn’t what Van Tilians argue. Even Van Tilians argue for logical solutions to the problem of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Paul Manata-–a Van Tilian--was one of the most knowledgable members of this board when it comes to the compatibilist/libertarian debate. Of course there is much more to the problem than that debate, but it is part of answering the problem.

Also, can you quote Gordon Clark and give his answer to the sovereignty/moral responsibility problem. I apologize if I come off bad in this post, because that is not my intent. I do really want to have Clarks answer to this problem summed up, as I have not seen it yet in other threads. Thanks, ~Caleb
 
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ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
But what if, for person X, B does not entail ~A? I made mention of this earlier. Gordon Clark was labeled as a rationalist by the Van Tillians for proposing a logical solution to the problem of God's sovereignty and human responsibility.

I pretty much doubt that account because no Van Tillian that I know of think that the problem is a logical problem. Or put another way, the problem/issue is not against logic.

What you're saying about humbling ourselves before God's Word makes perfect sense as long as we live in a world in which everyone agrees that A and B lead to an "apparent contradiction." But what if it isn't a contradiction for someone? Why is the limit of Van Til's ability to reconcile something the final arbiter of what is and isn't possible to be reconciled? Why is the limit of Van Til's intellectual capacity the rule against which we will measure someone and call them either a humble individual who "just accepts God's Word" (if they accept the "apparent contradictions" popularly accepted) or an arrogant rationalist?

Who said anything about Van Til by himself? It is not like everyone was solving a certain problem then Van Til said, I just can't see it, and then everyone just started saying it was unsolvable. Mystery and Apparent contradiction etc. has been accepted for a long period of time in the church.

Next, lets say someone was able to "solve" a certain paradox, that before everyone else could not solve? What would have been gained? Until you solve every last one, you really have not gained that much.

CT
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Source? I’m willing to bet this isn’t what Van Tilians argue. Even Van Tilians argue for logical solutions to the problem of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

Here is the quote, taken from http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=220:
Here then is a situation which is inadequately described as amazing. There is a problem which has baffled the greatest theologians in history. Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased to be a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism. It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism. To be sure, he is not a rationalist in the sense that he substitutes human reasoning for divine revelation as such. But, to say nothing of his finding the solution of the problem of the relation to each other of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the teaching of pagan philosophers who were totally ignorant of the teaching of Holy Writ on either of these subjects, it is clear that Dr. Clark regards Scripture from the viewpoint of a system which to the mind of man must be harmonious in all its parts. The inevitable outcome is rationalism in the interpretation of Scripture. And that too is rationalism. Although Dr. Clark does not claim actually to possess at the present moment the solution of every scriptural paradox, yet his rationalism leaves room at best for only a temporary subjection of human reason to the divine Word....

Also, can you quote Gordon Clark and give his answer to the sovereignty/moral responsibility problem. I apologize if I come off bad in this post, because that is not my intent. I do really want to have Clarks answer to this problem summed up, as I have not seen it yet in other threads. Thanks, ~Caleb

Determinism and Responsibility

There are some books which touch on the subject here.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Who said anything about Van Til by himself? It is not like everyone was solving a certain problem then Van Til said, I just can't see it, and then everyone just started saying it was unsolvable. Mystery and Apparent contradiction etc. has been accepted for a long period of time in the church.

Next, lets say someone was able to "solve" a certain paradox, that before everyone else could not solve? What would have been gained? Until you solve every last one, you really have not gained that much.

CT

What is the standard to say which quandaries (in the bible) are the ones we should spend our time trying to solve and which are "beyond us"? There is a huge difference in saying "we don't have an answer yet" and saying "an answer is not possible and anyone who tries to produce one is in grave error."

I suppose that one would say that if we can't solve every paradox now then we just need to wait, since the development of theology in general also didn't happen overnight. But telling everyone to just believe what they don't understand would slow the process down, don't you think? We have many less minds working diligently than we could.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I sometimes wonder if the need for "apparent contradiction" is because some want a license not for clear and necessary deduction but for speculation itself. What would have been reasonable (stopping where God's revelation does) becomes irrational.

:eureka: Ha!! After reading Clark's Thales to Dewey, listening to Frame's lecture series on philosophy, and tackling Derrida (in French, by the way, what a job), this is exactly what I've been thinking these last three weeks. I've just been looking for the best way to express it.

The funny thing I've seen after reading Clark, Frame, Van Til, and even some secular modern writers on philosophy, is that they all seem to agree on one thing: the quest for philosophical certainty outside of the Word of God is really a quest for self-autonomy. As Clark pointed out, every secular system has failed. I am coming to understand that this formerly dirty secret is something postmodernism is now starting to expose. Mayhaps God will use the general despair of relativism to turn his people back.

Thanks Rich, for the insight.
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
In other words, if God said to you A and B are true, yet in your understanding B entailed ~A, would you humble your intellect to God's word?
If my understanding is that A and B entail a contradiction, then to believe them implicitly would be to impugn God as the author of a contradiction. For my understanding of A and B to entail a contradiction, I must believe that only one can be true, and the other must be false. That is what it means for A and B to appear entail a contradiction.

So it is impossible for me to believe both A and B are true if I also believe they entail a contradiction at the same time. I can not believe both A and ~A at the same time and the same sense without a violation of my conscience. This is not a matter of choice. I can not will myself to believe something I also believe entails a contradiction. So even if I acknowledge my understanding is limited and faulty, I still am unable to embrace apparent contradictions.

Think about this. If something "appears" to you to be a contradiction - you are saying, that as far as you understand, they can not both be true. To believe implicitly what you believe is a contradiction is not simple irrational, it's impossible. It is immediately self defeating. It is to say I can believe in round squares when I also say I believe that round squares are a contradiction.

Now I understand what Van Til is trying to say, that we can not always comprehend God. But this does not make it is necessary that God's word appears to be self contradictory to us. This is poor reasoning on Van Til's part.

First: if (B implies ~A), then ~(A & B). In other words, by definition A & B can not be God's Word because nothing in God's word is false. I can not separate A and B from what I think A and B mean. To assert A is to assert what I understand is A, and ditto with B.

Second: Let P = (p1 + p2 + p3 + p4...) be propositions of God's Word and are all true. Then no any combination of (p1, p2, p3, p4, ...) will cause a contradiction. Now let us say it is inevitable that I believe q1 is a member of P, but I am wrong. Maybe I'm thinking q1 is the same as p1. Regardless if q1 is true or false, it is not necessary that q1 imply ~P, a contradiction. I can have a false belief about what is a a member of P and it is not necessary that it entail a contradiction of P. Nothing demands the q1 -> ~P.

Van Til believed that due to the limitations of man's ability to understand God's Word, (the "creature Creator distinction) that it is necessary that God's Word seem contradictory to man. But the very fact that God has not revealed the totality of truth in his Word that means that we can hold false beliefs without contradicting Gods' Word. It is only if all truth revealed through God's word either explicit or by implication, would any false belief necessarily entail a contradiction of God's Word. But God has kept some truths hidden from us.

You also wrote:
The trouble we encounter is that speculation is desired because the terms end up being underdefined. With these underdefined terms it may be the case that we are not able to go any further and still avoid a contradiction.
I disagree. It is not necessarily the case that further speculation of the meaning of the terms will lead to a contradiction. In fact, I think it is important for us to go further so as to make sure we are not making any assumptions which lead to contradictions. You see, one can only say that there is an apparent contradiction if one has consciously speculated some definition of the terms that lead to contradictions. If the doctrines of the Trinity and Hypostatic Union are truly implied by Scripture, then we can speculate regarding the definitions of the terms involved without necessarily coming to a contradiction. In fact, by doing this, we can eliminate possible definitions which are clearly not correct. We still may not know for certain what the perfectly correct definitions are, but we can a least determine which ones can not possibly be true at the same time. This is why we are to reason through the Word with prayer. We are to understand the Word as best we can, trusting in the Holy Spirit to guide us to truth. If we don't reason out the meaning of Scripture, then we will never grow spiritually in the knowledge of Christ.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
As a side note, all of the admonitions in the scripture to acquire understanding, the elevation of the value of true knowledge and wisdom, and the rejoicing of men like David (Ps 119 et al.) in the understanding found in God's word would seem misplaced. The hidden thoughts of God and the "mystery" of his (secret) will and his ways (providence) are often areas in which scripture requires silence on our behalf but where is God's revealed word ever spoken of in such a way? The revealed things are for us and our children. Those that are not revealed are not for us to know. Truths such as the Trinity and sovereignty/responsibility are revealed truths in scripture. They are descriptive, qualitative concepts which aren't the same as asking, like Job, "why is this happening to me?" God has not revealed to Job or to anyone else why providence looks the way it does. He has however, revealed things like I previously mentioned. So why should we act as if it's impossible to understand them, seeing that they are revealed?
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
The problem is that you have no standard to say which quandaries are the ones we should spend our time trying to solve and which are "beyond us." There is a huge difference in saying "we don't have an answer yet" and saying "an answer is not possible and anyone who tries to produce one is in grave error."

And likewise you have no standard by which to say X is solvable and that Y is not. So one big question is what do I lose by not solving a solvable but difficult paradox? What is at stake? There is always a finite amount of time to spend on any issue. So why would I spend a great deal of time on a problem that may not have a solution.

On top of all this, the Bible does not every give anyone any indication that all mysteries can be solved, and it is Reformed orthodoxy that mystery is essential to Theology.

I suppose that one would say that if we can't solve every paradox now then we just need to wait, since the development of theology in general also didn't happen overnight. But telling everyone to just believe what they don't understand would slow the process down, don't you think? We have many less minds working diligently than we could.

To be fair concerning the development of theology, there have been very few if any paradoxes solved. What has been done is the Biblical data has been clearly put together into a system. An interesting side effect is that as the picture becomes clearer, the mystery comes into better focus, or put another way, our limits become much more clearly defined.

CT
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
And likewise you have no standard by which to say X is solvable and that Y is not. So one big question is what do I lose by not solving a solvable but difficult paradox? What is at stake? There is always a finite amount of time to spend on any issue. So why would I spend a great deal of time on a problem that may not have a solution.

Well, in particular, to relate this particular discussion back to the OP, presuppositional apologetics is at stake. My question was how we can be intellectually honest by using a system of apologetics to point out inconsistencies and irrationality in other world views while embracing them in our own. It sounds self-defeating.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
As a side note, all of the admonitions in the scripture to acquire understanding, the elevation of the value of true knowledge and wisdom, and the rejoicing of men like David (Ps 119 et al.) in the understanding found in God's word would seem misplaced. The hidden thoughts of God and the "mystery" of his (secret) will and his ways (providence) are often areas in which scripture requires silence on our behalf but where is God's revealed word ever spoken of in such a way?

Where has anyone said when one runs into a paradox or mystery, then there is no understanding?

Also where does true knowledge etc exclude mystery?

Lastly, if you are going to all God to have secret will and counsel then how are you going to be able to demand that God reveals enough that there is no mystery.

The revealed things are for us and our children. Those that are not revealed are not for us to know. Truths such as the Trinity and sovereignty/responsibility are revealed truths in scripture. They are descriptive, qualitative concepts which aren't the same as asking, like Job, "why is this happening to me?" God has not revealed to Job or to anyone else why providence looks the way it does. He has however, revealed things like I previously mentioned. So why should we act as if it's impossible to understand them, seeing that they are revealed?

Who said one cannot understand the Trinity? God is one in some fashion and three in another. There is still a ton of mystery, but that does not exclude understanding.

CT
 

Civbert

Puritan Board Junior
On top of all this, the Bible does not every give anyone any indication that all mysteries can be solved, and it is Reformed orthodoxy that mystery is essential to Theology.
Actually, when Scripture uses the term mystery, it always speaks of what was hidden, but is now made known. Mystery in Scriptures are revealed knowledge. So you are correct: mystery, those things that were hidden in the past, but are now revealed in Christ, are essential to theology.



To be fair concerning the development of theology, there have been very few if any paradoxes solved. What has been done is the Biblical data has been clearly put together into a system. An interesting side effect is that as the picture becomes clearer, the mystery comes into better focus, or put another way, our limits become much more clearly defined.
What are these paradoxes? There must by many you can list.
 

Cheshire Cat

Puritan Board Sophomore
First, you write:
Gordon Clark was labeled as a rationalist by the Van Tillians for proposing a logical solution to the problem of God's sovereignty and human responsibility”

Then you back this claim up with this quote: “It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism.”

Your claim doesn’t follow from this quote. I pointed out before that even Van Tilians propose solutions to the problem of God's sovereignty and human responsibility. The point is that Clark seems to think he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason. I think by saying fully reconciled, the author of this source means that there is no mystery.

There is a huge difference in saying "we don't have an answer yet" and saying "an answer is not possible and anyone who tries to produce one is in grave error."
Nobody is claiming that "anyone who tries to produce one is in grave error".
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
Well, in particular, to relate this particular discussion back to the OP, presuppositional apologetics is at stake. My question was how we can be intellectually honest by using a system of apologetics to point out inconsistencies and irrationality in other world views while embracing them in our own. It sounds self-defeating.

First off, who said mystery was the same as inconsistencies and irrationality?

Secondly, the reformed position is that an essential component of Theology is mystery. One cannot then apologize for your Theology using different assumptions (for example, mystery and all it entails is not allowed).

So at the core of the dispute between Clark and Van Til is what is Reformed Theology.

To sum some thing up: Mystery is a part of life for Christian and non-Christian. The Christian can handle that because they realize their limits and know that they have a place to appeal, The infinite God of scripture and His revealed Word. A key point of unbelief is that one does not want to acknowledge that they are limited and finite, so they fight against the limits. You cannot maintain a God like stance and appeal to mystery.

CT
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Anthony,

If my understanding is that A and B entail a contradiction, then to believe them implicitly would be to impugn God as the author of a contradiction.

This does not necessarily follow. This is only the case if your own intellect is your highest authority. There is no issue if you submit your thinking to God’s word even though you cannot see how B does not entail ~A. I choose to believe A and B because God says A and B. I submit my intellect to this and assume that I am wrong to believe B entails ~A even though I do not understand how this is so. I do so on the basis that the all knowing, infallible Creator has revealed to me A and B. At this point I have not impugned God as the author of a contradiction. Rather, I have humbled myself by realizing my own limitations and submitting to someone who knows far more than me.

For my understanding of A and B to entail a contradiction, I must believe that only one can be true, and the other must be false. That is what it means for A and B to appear entail a contradiction.

Yup. So, what would you do if God said A and B? Would tell God He was wrong? Or, would you assume that somehow you have made a mistake even though you may never understand how? The former makes your intellect your highest authority; the latter makes God the highest authority.

If something "appears" to you to be a contradiction - you are saying, that as far as you understand, they can not both be true. To believe implicitly what you believe is a contradiction is not simple irrational, it's impossible. It is immediately self defeating. It is to say I can believe in round squares when I also say I believe that round squares are a contradiction.

Anthony, I need you to read this whole next section before firing off a response. Let’s say that you hold to two different beliefs…

P: All Gods are immortal.
Q: Apollo is a God.

Then one day you see Apollo die. That is to say, you know hold another belief…

R: Apollo is dead.

At this point, you now hold a set of inconsistent beliefs. You must give at least one of them up to avoid becoming irrational. For the sake of discussion, you are convinced that R is true. Which belief do you give up: P or Q? The answer is going to be the one that you hold to a lesser degree. Let’s say that is Q. You now believe ~Q and you remain rational. However, the basis for giving up Q is simply your commitment to R and P. Now, let’s begin to tie this illustration to the topic at hand. You believe…

A: X --> ~Y.
B: God always tells the truth.

Then one day God tells you…

C: X ^ Y

Just like the illustration above, you are now holding to an inconsistent set of beliefs. Which belief do you give up? Well, for the sake of argument (as we did above), let’s assume we are convinced of C. What do we do now? I suggest the only rational thing to do is to give up the belief in A even if we do not understand how X does not imply ~Y. The rational basis to give up A is because we hold to our belief in B much stronger. But our giving up of A is not because we are able to reconcile the apparent contradiction, but rather because we trust God more that there is no contradiction even tough we cannot see it.

The above is the situation we are talking about. If you agree with what I have said above, then you agree with me and Van Til. If there is something I have said above that is wrong, then please directly quote the section that is in error and comment on it.

But this does not make it is necessary that God's word appears to be self contradictory to us. This is poor reasoning on Van Til's part.

I do not think Van Til said that it was necessarily the case that God’s word appears to be self contradictory to us. If so, please provide the direct reference. He did say that there are things in God’s word that appear contradictory, and I agree with him. You may not, but you have yet to bring the Trinity and Hypostatic Union together in a coherent manner that is not under-defined. It’s easy to avoid the appearance of contradiction if you leave things vague. For instance, if I under-define X so as not to end up with the conclusion X --> ~Y, then I can hold to and under-defined X and Y and say there is no contradiction. However, if I begin to get clear on what X entails, then I might get myself into trouble. This is akin to what the Council of Chalcedon did in terms of its definitions by way of negation.

Second: Let P = (p1 + p2 + p3 + p4...) be propositions of God's Word and are all true. Then no any combination of (p1, p2, p3, p4, ...) will cause a contradiction.

Because we are finite creatures there are things about God we cannot ever know. If the resolution of some contradiction requires something belonging to this unknowable set of knowledge, then we are not able to resolve the contradiction. However, the contradiction is only apparent, but not actual. In God’s mind, there is no inconsistency. Is this situation possible? It seems so. The consistency of the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity are likely examples of this.

It is not necessarily the case that further speculation of the meaning of the terms will lead to a contradiction.

Anthony, please read me more carefully. I never said this was necessarily the case. Here is what I said, “With these underdefined terms it may be the case that we are not able to go any further and still avoid a contradiction.” I refer you to the second to last answer above.

If the doctrines of the Trinity and Hypostatic Union are truly implied by Scripture, then we can speculate regarding the definitions of the terms involved without necessarily coming to a contradiction.

Sure we can. However, in this case it seems the only way not to end up with inconsistency is to under-define terms. If you disagree, then go ahead and start defining the terms I asked you to define in my last post.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Actually, when Scripture uses the term mystery, it always speaks of what was hidden, but is now made known. Mystery in Scriptures are revealed knowledge. So you are correct: mystery, those things that were hidden in the past, but are now revealed in Christ, are essential to theology.

And, Anthony, when the Bible uses the word knowledge it refers to more than justified true belief.

This is a great irony. I've been waiting for one of the Clarkians to jump on the use of the term mystery - which is, in fact, a criticism based on equivocation. CT was not using mystery in the sense that you are criticizing him of using.

Mystery can mean "hidden", "unknown", "not revealed" - whether the terms are used they are implied. The "Mystery" is certainly revealed but it does not mean that all hidden things that belong to the Lord are.

Why do you feel you have the right to restrict the use of words (mystery and knowledge). On the one hand, you restrict a believer in the use of an English Word in a way translators chose not but you take liberty on the other to reserve a definition of knowledge to yourself where the Scriptures use the word in ways beyond what you recognize. I will never be attracted to systems that must be so insistent to hold their center.
 
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