Van Til and paradox

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Puritan Sailor, May 22, 2006.

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  1. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    Ok. I have been reading more and more on this debate, and from the discussion/reading, I am gaining a better understanding of VT's position. I still do not agree with it, but understand it better.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    VT's claim that scripture (even all scripture) is necessarily paradoxical because of the finite number of propositions revealed. In order for a non-paradoxical situation, one must have a grasp of all of God's truths and how they relate to each other. Man does not have this, so when he approaches scripture, and starts deducing doctrines from it, eventually he will run into a paradox that he cannot resolve from logic, not because his logic is faulty, but because he lacks the revealed premises to resolve the paradox. God is omniscient, so he does not lack these premises, and therefore to him, nothing is paradoxical.

    Before I continue the discussion, I would like to know if I have this pegged.
  2. crhoades

    crhoades Puritan Board Graduate

    Can be found here
  3. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    Thanks! :handshake:
  4. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    I'm on several lists and trying to do a lot of work. i didn't see your email, but I don't get the impression that if I spent 3 hours typing out an answer that it would change your mind. Am I correct?

    You seem pretty convinced that G. Clark is correct and the CVT was wrong. Am I correct?

    Have you read my essay in the (I guess harder to find than I thought) Strimple festschrift?

    The Strimple festschrift is here.

    Sorry that I gave the wrong url for the company website earlier.

    Is P&R Publishing really that obscure/hard to find?

  5. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    The blatant disrespect for elders in the Church in this thread needs to stop, along with the name-calling. It is making me sick. :2cents:

    I'm not an avid/hardcore CVT *or* GHC defender/promoter. I think they both have problems, philosophically and theologically. I just study philosophy and claim to be a Christian, one who has spent some time in the last few years studying theology; I'm no expert.

    At the end of the day, on this issue, it seems clear "to me" that CVT was closer to the truth than GHC, mainly because of the reasons Paul has shared with us so far.

    There is no conceivable way we can know things the same way God does, nor can we understand ALL of what he has to say. God is God and we are not... it really is that simple. Even in glory, this distinction will remain the same.

    We will always fall short of the glory of God, and we will always discover that his ways are far and above our own, and his thoughts are unsearchable.
  6. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    No disrespect intended, but I'm very busy too and arguably have less time right now to devote to this than even you. Yes, I think Clark is "right" and VT "wrong" on the notion of biblical paradox. OTOH, I am willing to consider that Clark may be wrong too. I'm willing to consider that Scriptures do not provide a logically deductive system, that the propositions of Scripture do not cohere, and that God's special revelation is insufficient and does not supply the necessary and additional propositions needed to resolve any number of seeming contradictions that arise from our study of God's Word. However, Clark aside, demonstrating this position is a pretty tall order even for a phil prof and, at least my reading of the Confession, flies in the face of the Reformed religion. But then again, perhaps the Confession has erred as well.

    I don't know when I'll get to your book recommendation, but I confess I find this passing the buck frustrating. I've read Van Til, but Van Tilians told me that I need to read Frame to really understand him. I've read Frame, but another group of Van Tilians told me I have to read Bahnsen. So I've read Bahnsen, now evidently I need to read Strimple in order to find clear answers to my objections. Consequently, you can't blame me for getting the impression that answers to such obvious objections to Van Til's theory is extremely elusive if not just smoke and mirrors.
  7. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    Just a correction here Sean. Mr. Clark asked you to read HIS article in the Strimple complilation. He is saying that he has already addressed this issue at length, and to consult his mind on the subject already in print.
  8. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Further, Sean, you should be grateful that Dr. Clark gives you consideration for your concern after heaping insults at him. You're acting like a child.
  9. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Frankly, I think Van Til is pretty straightforward - once one gets on to his vocabulary. I don't think he needs to be explained, if one is willing to put in the time.

    That said, I think CVT's value is that he re-stated the traditional position, if in more or less idealist vocabulary that is now dated and not always very helpful.

    I think that what folk need to read is Franciscus Junius and Amandus Polanus! I suppose most don't read 17th century Reformed theology in Latin. That's why I wrote the essay for the Strimple Festschrift. I tried to save folks time (like 10-15 years of study!) by doing the work for them. To demand that I reproduce it all here for your convenience is unreasonable.

    I really don't think I'm passing the buck. I'm trying to redirect the entire discussion. Trading barbs and quotes about G. Clark and CVT seems pretty fruitless since that's been going on since the 1940's and there's been no progress. In the essay I try to explain why there's been no progress and why, on the current terms of the debate, there can be no progress. I argue that the Clarkians and Hoeksema and Gerstner, having rejected a fundamental Reformed distinction on rationalist grounds, cannot agree with CVT without a revolution in their theology.

    I contend that there is a well-established method of doing Reformed theology, in which context we need to understand the Clark/Van Til debate. That context is the distinction between theologia archtetypa et ectypa.

    I don't doubt for a minute (nor did CVT) that Scripture is coherent, on its own terms, that it contains and teaches propositions to which all Christians must submit.

    What is in question is whether the same relation obtaines between every propositionand whether creatures have the same understanding of every proposition and their internal relations as God does.

    I think I have contributed to leading this thread astray. We were supposed to appeal to and use primary sources.

    Sorry about that.


  10. CDM

    CDM Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks, Paul. Now, what is Clark's difference with this? I'm sure it has been posted before but I am a beginner with the nuances of this debate.

    I'd really appreciate it, thanks.
  11. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    "œWhen then the apparently contradictory appears, as it always must when man seeks to know the relation of God to himself, there will be no denial either of election or of human responsibility in the name of the law of contradiction" (IST 257).

    It's things this that Van Til says that I find amazing:

    First - it's nonsense: "God is" is all the relationship that God has to himself - man does not seek the relationship of God to himself.

    Second, to say the apparently contradictory *must* appear in seeking anything about God is an unbiblical premise.

    And third, there is no need to deny either the doctrine of election or human responsibility in the "name of the law of contradiction" because *there is not contradiction!

    This kind of confused thinking is why some of Van Til's positions are incoherent. Now if Van Til thinks these two doctrines do not "really" contradict, then he should say so. But he does not say that. He implies that we would have to reject one of them if we were to apply the the law of contradiction to them. But if he can not reconcile these two doctrines, then he can not believe they are both true.

    However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, let's say he can not show they form a real contradiction. He did say it's only "apparent". But if it's not a "real" contradiction - then the law of contradiction is NOT AN ISSUE here. So why does he imply that the law of contradiction has the authority to declare one of them false.

    So is there an apparent contradiction here, or a real one. If real, he has does not believe both doctrines are true. If apparent, then the law of contradiction is not an issue.
  12. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    "Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradiction in all our knowledge." (Van Til)

    Not only does the conclusion not follow - but it is what follows is false.
  13. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    If Van Til did not reject logic (and I'm say he did not), but asserted that human knowledge *must* find contradiction - then he has undermined man's ability to know anything. Man will never be able to detect errors in his thinking because he assumes that some of his knowledge - that "appears" contradictory - is not "really" contradictory. So when we find "apparent" contradictions - we fall back on the idea that "oh well, Van Til said this would happen, and there's nothing to be done about it". The idea that the only way to avoid contradiction is to have exhaustive knowledge - is an error. It's wrong. Logically it's wrong - and so Van Til is incoherent at that point.
  14. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Nice. I like how people jump all over Shawn, then let you walk.

    P.S. My clue (and that's all I need to demonstrate the incoherence in Van Til) were the quotes of Van Til you provided. I think that counts as a "primary source".

  15. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    Yet just another reminder to keep this conversation about the topic. I have some thoughts I want to post, so please EVERYONE keep it civil so I don't have to lock this one down. :)
  16. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    ""œWe have repeatedly asserted that the facts of the universe are what they are because they express together the system of truth revealed in the Bible. What is meant by the idea of truth as found in Scripture does not, as noted, mean a logically penetrable system. " (Van Til)

    What are the "facts of the universe"? If this is "scientific" knowledge then he's already in error. If it's not scientific/empirical knowledge, then what is it? Whatever they are, I don't see how the "express the truth as found in Scripture. But worst of all, is the idea that the truth found in Scripture is not "logically penetrable". A system that is not logical is, by definition, irrational. And if we can not even begin to understand the logic of Scripture (we can not logically penetrate it) then there is a intellectual disjunction between man and God.
  17. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate


    I need your help. I know you have done this before, but I am asking you to do it again...for my sake. Please give me an example of any syllogism (preferably not from scripture) that where you leave out one of the premises, the syllogism is a paradox.

    I know that I've seen a practical example of this somewhere either on this thread, but I can't seem to find it.
  18. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Maybe if you quoted me instead of substituting propositions like "that" for my post, it would be clear what you are talking about. I've only pointed out the inconsistencies of Van Til's positions. I've been charitable to Van Til, as is clear in what I wrote, but you keep missing that. So, I've give VT more than an ounce - but it doesn't save his system.

    As for degrees and position, that's another fallacy. Take Peter Singer for instance. He has a PhD and teaches at a prestigious college, but he is still an idiot and fool.

    So while I don't think Van Til was an idiot, I think his system has some critical faults. He's no Einstein, but then who is.
  19. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I guess what I wanted to know is if Van Til believed there were contradictions as alleged. I've heard this allegation but haven't seen it myself in his writings. So I'm looking for primary sources. It seems alot of people say "Van Til says this" but never quote him. So I'm looking for what Van Til actually said. And then we can discuss if he's right or not. :)
  20. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    So for Van Til, is paradox the same thing as mystery?

    For instance, human responsibility and divine sovereignty to me do not seem contradictory. I certainly cannot reconcile them. But logically I don't see it as a contradiction. If I were to say God is soveriegn, man is sovereign; then we have a contradiction. But God is soveriegn and man is responsible isn't contradictory. This is just one example. I'm trying to work through the definitions here.

    So is Van Til just using "paradox" as a philisophical label for "mystery"?
  21. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Only apparent contradictions - or counter intuitive but logically disjunctive propositions that seem to be related but not - so they are not contradictions except we can not resolve them even though they do not need any resolution because they are disjuntive. Hmmm.. Makes you a bit dizzy.


    Does Van Til himself define "apparent contradictions". My source is not primary.
  22. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    I have an example:
    Honestly, I think the confusion of reading Van Til is taking portions of what Paul quoted above and taking them singly rather than comprehensively. You also have to understand the sense in which he is saying things and how philosophy has, through the years, related the ability to know anything comprehensively. I appreciate Van Til's language because it affirms that we can know facts, and know Truth, and know that they all fully relate and cohere not because we can determine how all facts and information cohere but because God knows how they do. The Creator understands comprehensively and completely coherently, we intersect those facts and know parts of the whole and know was is true in a limited sense but, again, we know and fellowship with Him who creates, upholds, knows, and purposes all things.

    Parsing Van Til when he's using the best language he knows how in many different perspectives to break down the distinction between God and man's knowledge, Christian and pagan philosophy, is not fruitful. It will serve the aim of the impatient to say: "See he believes in contradiction..." but it is petulant and unfair to what he's trying to say.

    If one has a systematic notion of how the facts and the whole relate then critique the nuanced difference between the relation of the one and the many but don't engage in silly asciptions that Van Til believes in contradiction.
  23. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Listen, I haven't landed one way or the other on GC, CVT, Classical, etc. And this is completely apart from that controversy. Its more like :2cents:

    But I would say this -

    If my Calvinism "seems" to contradict, then its useless. If I can't explain what I believe without "seeming" contradictory to the person I am talking to, then my explanations are worthless. They may, for a time, appease some if I "sell it", but really, if Packer is going to sell me on antinomies and paradoxes, I'd rather use "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" for a door stop than "seemingly" theological reflection. Its like a pastor who is preaching something he doesn't get from the pulpit and confuses the listener. If HE doesn't get it, and he is trying to get it OUT of his head, then he is not even preaching - he is "philosophizing".

    Scripturally, if one says that contradictions are wrong (and they are), then they cannot, at another turn (and that's usually right around the corner) say there are "apparent" contradictions. It would be better to say, "I just do not understand what the Bible is teaching on X because it is contradictory to me in my thinking at this point. I just don't get it. When I clear up that contradiction, I'll let you know my position." Now, to me, that would be honest.

    People are not worth listening to who don't really know what the answers are to the questions they are explaining.

    BTW - this is not directed against anyone here. I just saw that you all were having a bit of argumentation going on, and I thought I would chime in - I only have 80 or so years, if I'm lucky, here on earth. If someone wants to throw theological and Biblical things into the box of "mystery" or "contradiction" or "paradox" then I don't have time to listen to them. Its like a Gospel preacher getting up to the pulpit to say:, "This morning you need to know the truth! But on this subject, I'm going to tell you what seems to be truth, though it looks like the opposite of the truth becuase it is apparantly contradictory. It is not apparant to me what the truth actually is here, but I'm going to give it my best shot." (I've heard this too from the pulpit!)

    I need to know the truth, not apparently what might seem like it. :D

    Rich -

    I would never say the Tirnity or the hypostic union are "paradoxes" but rather "mysteries." I can live with a mystery - can't live with a paradox. And they are not the same.

    [Edited on 5-26-2006 by C. Matthew McMahon]
  24. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Excuse me Dr. McMahon, but if you have time to write all that then you have time for another installment of the Wild Boar Podcast... :D
  25. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Working on that now.... :lol:
  26. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    I have been thinking about that example myself Rich. I asked for a non-biblical example for a good reason though. What I am looking for is this:

    A syllogism of practical things (any will do) where when one premise is left out, the argument necessarily appears paradoxical. When the missing premise is then added, everything is A-OK. This is how I understand Van Til's understanding of paradoxes in scripture, but I want to see if such a creature actually exists before I would ever admit they are a possability in scripture.
  27. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    If I could create such a syllogism that was akin to the Creator-creature distinction then I would be God. That's the problem with examples in my estimation. I think Chalcedon is perfect example of something that some would say is paradoxical (and some have stated clearly they believe it is a contradiction based on pagan premises.)
  28. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    OK, but I still have to purchase another book by a Van Tilian just to find the answer to a couple of simple and obvious objections raised by Van Til's view of Scripture and epistemology. How about some guarantee that it will be money well spent? If I purchase the book and Dr. Clark has failed to at least to provide a rational method by which we can identify an "apparent" contradiction in Scripture from a real one, since both appear to the human mind as identical, do you think he should be willing to refund my money?

  29. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    :amen::amen: AND :amen:

    Without a doubt the single best post I've read on this thread. I simply couldn't agree more, nor could I have said it any better.
  30. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm not asking for the impossible. Surely we can come up with a simple syllogism of SOMETHING where it appears contradictory with a missing premise, but when added in, everything is great.

    My problem is that I have a hard time applying something to scripture that I don't know exists (from scripture or otherwise). Scripture doesn't say that this type of syllogism exists, and I can't find an example. Does that mean it doesn't exist? No. I have a gut feeling it can exist, but I don't want to operate off of a "feeling."

    For example, Paul Manata gave an example of a contradictory syllogism in the other thread on Paradox:

    Maybe we could try adding a premise to this to try and resolve the "paradox." Or a different example. I think the key is trying to find something where a fallacy appears in the 1st set of premises, but the additional premise qualifies the statement so that it is no longer a fallacy.

    Clear as mud?
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