Monday, May 28, 2018

Rhetorical criticism

Recently, Steve Matthews wrote a series of articles on his time at Knox Seminary (link), a follow-up to his 2008 book, "Imagining a Vain Thing." The subject of his book is a controversy surrounding then professor Warren Gage. I've recently been reading through Warren Gage's works which I find, on the whole, to be quite insightful. I can see some of the points Matthews makes in his criticisms here and elsewhere (link), but I also think he is, for whatever reason, harsh in his conclusions. Mainly, while Matthews does not believe that Gage is a Christian, from what I have read, Gage consistently aims to defend Reformed soteriology.

What I do want to do in this post is note a potentially useful apologetic method when arguing about textual variants and canonicity. Gage refers to this method as "rhetorical criticism." Rhetorical criticism involves considering structural or thematic issues within a text when attempting to argue for or against given variants. In this post, I'll just be dealing with the former. It is for this reason I bring up the aforementioned criticisms by Matthews. Consider one of Matthews' remarks:
...even if Gage were to establish his case for the existence of chiastic structure in John and Revelation and for intertextuality between these two books, precisely no logically valid doctrinal conclusions could be drawn from it. One can imagine and intuit anything he wants from a literary pattern. If Gage claims to divine a particular meaning from the use of chiastic structure in the Biblical text, a thousand others can draw a thousand different conclusions, and all of them will be just as legitimate as those intuited by Gage. For that reason, literary patterns do not and cannot furnish us with knowledge... nothing valid can be inferred from literary patterns... (link)
Maybe Matthews did not intend his statements to be read this way, but if he did, a blanket statement to the effect that a structure or order embedded in a book or books isn't meaningful or useful strikes me as narrow-minded. It's also quite interesting when compared with statements made by other TrinityFoundation authors about the meaningfulness or usefulness of logical principles being embedded throughout Scripture. Although it's possible Matthews would not agree with these authors, I doubt it, especially given that Matthews seems to contradict himself when he later writes, "chiastic structure is simply a technique ancient authors used to organize their material." I could be wrong about what Matthews is getting at in his article and book, but is that not an inference he thinks would be valid?

In any case, at the very least, surely Christians ought to at least be able to appreciate the beauty in a design or pattern. Noting a particular example of a pattern and being a bit awe-struck isn't an inappropriate reaction. Frankly, the patterns Gage recognizes have the potential to be just as convicting as, say, Clark's ability to reduce non-Christian views to absurdity. Both are plausible in their intention to provide a gracious occasion for belief in redemptive, revealed truths.

Structural order in particular has the plausible effect of drawing one's attention in a certain way. For instance, when I see the chiastic structure inherent in the Flood narrative (link), my attention is drawn to the truth that God remembered Noah and the creatures in the ark. That's the pivot point of the specified structure. Is that an invalid inference? No. There is a structure. The structure "ascends" to a certain point and, upon reaching that point, it correspondingly "descends." Is this to say that the pivot point is any more true than the bookends of it? Of course not. That was never in question. But a literary as well as logical structure underlies the narrative.

Yet another consideration is that a belief needn't be validly derived in order to be useful - indeed, to even be known, as in the case of foundational or externally justified beliefs. Anyone who agrees with Clark's philosophy of science can at least agree with the first half of the above. If I think a baseball is flying towards my face, I'm not going to take my time to reason out whether or not I should duck or block it with my glove. I'm going to do one or the other! I didn't need to carefully lay out a number of premises in order for my quickly formed belief that "I really, really would prefer to duck or block this baseball to avoid being hit in the face" to be highly useful towards a self-preserving course of action.

Now, keeping these and preliminary points in my post on textual criticism in mind (link), let's turn to consideration of how rhetorical criticism in the form of a biblical text's structure might be able to provide a Christian apologist with an alternative avenue by which he can argue for or against certain textual variants. A case study can be found in Gage's book, "A Literary Guide to the Life of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts," in which Gage argues that the "longer" ending of Mark is canonically authentic.

To begin, I don't see anything in Mark 16:9-20 which is logically incoherent with the rest of the canon of special divine revelation. So it passes the " logical coherence test," if you can call it that (since there is no live possibility of divine revelation actually failing any rigid "test" like that). Yet there seemingly are no preconditions for knowledge given in Mark 16:9-20 which are not given elsewhere, so from an apologetic standpoint, both positions are defensible in that respect.

Next, Gage defines what he calls "deltaforms" throughout Mark. Basically, these are pivot points in Mark around which a truth is exemplified or expounded in different contexts roughly equidistant from the pivot point. It's very complex and very beautiful. I will give a short example to clarify what he means:

Mark 1:24 I (the demon) know who You are, the Holy One of God!
Mark 8:27 He asked His disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?"
Mark 14:61 Again the high priest asked Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"

The pivot point is the middle verse, both other verses being 288 verses away from it. The bookends both inform or relate to the pivot point. Another example:

Mark 1:10-11 And immediately as He came up out of the water, the heavens were rent, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'
Mark 9:7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’
Mark 15:37-39 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and gave up the spirit. And the veil of the temple was rent in two from top to bottom. And the centurion … said, ‘Truly this Man was the Son of God’

Approximately 320 verses from the pivot point (Mark 9:7), in which the Father's voice expresses that Christ is His Son, we find bookends. These bookends express the same truth, a truth also expressed by voices which speak that Jesus is the Son whose baptism rent heaven and whose baptism-crucifixion rent the temple veil.

The structural argument for the "longer" ending of Mark, then, is that their are pivot verses or deltaforms which extend to this longer ending. We can suspect that there is such a pivot or deltaform when we see textual echoes. Mark 16:17-18 echoes Mark 6:13-14. Mark 11:15 lies roughly between those verses:

Mark 6:13-14 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick and healing them. And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known
Mark 11:15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to cast out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and seats of those who were selling doves
Mark 16:17-18 [I]n My name they will cast out demons … they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover

Demons are cast out and the sick are healed by Jesus' name in both the front and back side bookend passages. Gage notes that in driving out the moneychangers at the pivot point, Jesus also "performed a sort of exorcism on the temple." He further notes that Mark 11:15 can function as a pivot point for other "bookend" passages in Mark, like 6:12 and 16:20, 10:17-18 and 12:32, and a dozen or so others.

Gage finishes his structural discussion by observing "23 separate deltaform structures that include correspondences extending into the longer Markan ending." In other words, sections in the longer ending of Mark are at least 23 times anchored to earlier bookend passages by means of a pivot point, as in the above examples. In fact, some of these sections in the longer ending are found to be "back" side bookends for more than one pivot point in Mark, meaning that these sections are anchored to multiple earlier, "front" side bookend passages, depending upon which pivot point one wishes to consider.

Now, given this information, I can anticipate a few replies. Matthews or others could argue that while a logical structure must necessarily be embedded in the text of Scripture in order for it to qualify as divine revelation, an ordered structure of a different variety - chiastic, deltaformic, etc. - is not. Therefore, an argument might be given that Scripture does not explicitly identify any such order of the latter variety, so they cannot be known.

But I believe would miss the point. Yes, for all we know, God could have revealed Himself in any number of ways. But this would equally apply to the actual content of divine revelation as well as its structure. To be saved, to know anything, it is not necessary that I know Jesus wept and was deeply moved by Lazarus' death. Yet because this contingent truth has been revealed, I can know it. Likewise, while an ordered structure of a text may not be necessary for me to be saved or know anything, if there is a structure, I can know it. Contingent divine revelation is just as knowable as necessary divine revelation; anything being divinely revealed is sufficient for us to know it.

The other reply I can anticipate is that one could argue that just because an ordered structure can appear to extend to the longer ending of Mark, such does not prove that the longer ending of Mark is divinely revealed. While true, this would also miss the point. As I mentioned in a post on textual criticism (link):
...while I think the goal of the textual critic shouldn't be to collect texts, compare and contrast them, and use that as an evidentiary basis to infer or reason to what has been specially divinely revealed, there certainly would be use in disposing ourselves and others to a causal process which tracks truth about what has been specially divinely revealed and codified in physical media - in this case, texts. So one function of textual criticism could lie in its capability to cause externalist knowledge of special divine revelation. In any case, there is certainly some apologetic role textual criticism may play within one's worldview, so long as it is remembered that apologetics is subservient to and in fact derives from one's epistemology.
True, rhetorical criticism cannot prove something has been divinely revealed. Then again, nothing can prove that, so such a criticism is fundamentally flawed and fails to acknowledge the practical means and purpose of apologetics.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Textual Criticism and Presuppositionalism

There's been an interesting dialogue between James White and Robert Truelove going on about textual criticism and presuppositionalism. One of my best friends goes to the latter's church. A few weeks ago, my friend mentioned that in a recent post on textual criticism (link), I unwittingly agreed with his and his pastor's position on the subject. After listening to both White and Truelove (here and here), he may be right. I would at least agree with many of the epistemological arguments he brings up which I don't think White addressed sufficiently.

For instance, I could be wrong, but it seems as though White thinks that our epistemic justification for our belief in the content of Scripture is inferential. That is, we're epistemically justified if we correctly reason to the correct content. Correct reasoning involves providing various textual evidences for a particular assertion. That's how we get to the knowledge of what the apostles said.

In that case, though, what justification we have for our beliefs about particular passages, especially those which have been differently codified in different manuscripts (textual variation) - which are questions White continually presses - would ultimately seem, on this view, to be probabilistic at best. After all, we may have more manuscripts and historical awareness than did previous generations, but our generations after us may have more than we do. What they will have may "correctly" overturn - on whatever White's own criteria is (he doesn't specify it) by which we can most correctly reason to a knowledge of divine revelation - what we now "correctly" currently think. What we now think to be the "best" manuscripts or evidence for a particular choice among textual variants may change.

I think this is why Truelove doesn't believe White is being a consistent presuppositionalist. Clark, Van Til, Bahnsen, etc. think that our epistemic justification for a belief in a self-authenticating, divine revelation is infallible. White seemed to take offense at the idea he wasn't a presuppositionalist, but I didn't hear him actually answer the method by which he himself weighs textual evidence - is the method one of his own making amounting to something like a cumulative case epistemology, one which he would purport to be supported by Scripture, our epistemological foundation... or something else? Perhaps he has answered this in one of his books or other videos, but it would have been helpful to someone like me to hear what that answer is.

And this is why I think both seem to be talking past one another. Truelove wants to press White into specifying how he knows what divine revelation is given what would seem to be prima facie evidentialism by White, not a presuppositional epistemology. White wants to press Truelove into specifying what divine revelation is, given Truelove's presuppositionalism.

I think Truelove hesitates to answer White's question because he doesn't want to give the impression that he thinks textual criticism is the ground for his epistemic justification in believing specific content, even though textual criticism could indeed have, say, an apologetic role in the life of a Christian. I don't really know why White hesitates to answer Truelove's question except other than that it hits the mark. While I'm not sure I would agree with what else he says, I agree with Truelove to this extent, if I've understood him correctly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Republican Party in Light of a Trump Presidency

I didn't vote for Trump. I have family and friends who did, all of whom I tried to dissuade.

I do have a slimmer of hope that whatever it was - power, attention, legacy, ego, or even interest - that pushed him to run for office will push him to want to stay in office for four more years, which would seemingly require him to actually do something on behalf of his constituency in this first term: things pertaining to court nominations, social conservativism, health care, the economy, and/or foreign and domestic relations.

With a Republican majority, he'll have no excuses not to. If he can't work with them, he'll be looking at facing the political pendulum - a re-energized Democratic party in a pluralistic society trending left - with a deflated base in 2020. If he can and does work with them, I don't lose hope for an electable, conservative candidate in the future. Pence could be an example of how a segue back to that could occur. This would presuppose Trump exceeds most people's expectations.

I also think Trump has the benefit of a something like a blank slate. The expectations of him are the lowest of any President in recent memory. Further, if he wants to run in 2020, even if Democrats nominate a candidate without Hillary's baggage - they won't have to look far, perhaps a Latino woman - his baggage could be overlooked [by the Republican party, not necessarily by me] if he does well enough and also says something like being President changed him, that he regrets the comments he made in the past, etc. He seems to know just the rights words to convince just the right audience. In this society and given his target audience, it really might be as simple as that. Well, at least his acceptance speech was Presidential, not that I hold my breath he can resist being the person he has consistently exposed himself to be.

Of course, all of this short-term hope is predicated on the idea that he will even care enough to attempt to run for a second term, that he would do so on a conservative platform, and that he will be successful in terms of representing Republican values, and so forth. Sadly, Trump can't and likely won't be blamed for failing to represent his constituency in ways which he now could. In particular, I have in mind social conservativism, which is really where I think Republicans have forfeited any chance of change for the next decade or so. Because so many people justified a Trump vote as a Hillary block, Trump can simply be content to leave things here as they are. Fat chance he will look to revise abortion or marriage laws any time soon, in which case we are very likely stuck for the 8 years at least. This is the real problem I had with Trump all along. And the worst of it is, Republicans can't blame him for not changing anything, because that's what they, as a majority, clearly wanted.

Instead, Trump will face an uphill battle unifying the country as the most divisive candidate I've seen in my short lifetime. Perhaps he will surround himself with people qualified to balance or reverse the trend of our national budget - he's supposed to be a businessman, after all - and inform him regarding foreign diplomacy. Slightly more likely, I think, is that court nominations and healthcare might swing back toward the right, but who really knows what he'll do. I do have something of a hard time believing he will completely abandon the country to play golf and produce reality TV shows, as I think he likes proving doubters wrong.

But even if that's true, he's in a position where those doubters whom he represents now includes the whole of the country. With that in mind, I can easily imagine that he might take a leftist turn in some respects. For the same reason I told people I wouldn't be surprised if he won, I now say I won't be surprised by anything he does or doesn't do. His unpredictability is undeniably a strength in some sense - it could work in his favor regarding foreign relations, for example - but in the end, it is only a strength for him. Coupling that with his moral character is precisely why I think it is unfortunately more likely than not that Republicans who voted for him were taken for short-sighted, gambling fools.

[For full disclosure, I voted for Gary Johnson, although I considered Darrell Castle or abstaining. If Johnson had been electable in the first place, I would have judged him by different criteria. But I learned quite a bit in this electoral cycle. Knowing what I know now, I likely would have opted for either Castle, a write-in, or abstaining.

My motivation for voting for Johnson was a combination of 1) a desire to register the maximum amount of recognizable protest against a two-party system which could produce such an awful pair of electable candidates, and 2) the slight hope that Johnson would hit the 5% of the popular vote necessary for the Libertarian Party to be eligible to receive federal funding in 2020 - although as the Libertarian Party, I don't know that it would make much sense for them to accept that. On the other hand, that might have made for a compelling argument for inclusion in future debate coverage and more public exposure.

In any case, Johnson only got around 3%, and given the high public discontent regarding Hillary and Trump, I really can't see a path for a legitimate third-party to emerge in America's political climate. In the future, I would need to see pre-election polls in which a third-party candidate greatly exceeded those from this cycle (which, if I'm not mistaken, fluctuated around 5% for Johnson) in addition to equally awful Democrat and Republican nominees as Trump and Hillary to be tempted to again think it practical to vote for someone whose ideals don't mirror my own to a more significant degree than did Johnson's.]

Monday, November 7, 2016

Michael Butler on Gordon Clark

I was recently linked to Michael Butler's audio critique of Gordon Clark (link) and, at the request of the friend who had originally linked it to me, am reviewing it.

1. I agree with Butler that "logos" does not mean "logic" in John 1:1. At the same time and as I've noted elsewhere, while one can argue that the bad translation is a point of exegetical principle, that's only fine so far as it goes. In this case, for example, it doesn't go very far unless you disagree with a view of divine simplicity on which the divine attribute"s" are strictly identical. I do, but I wonder if Butler does as well. If not, then their actual theology might agree here after all, given that Butler later states God is logical.

2. Clark was not a rationalist. Butler cites the Clark-Van Til controversy, specifically the debate about whether the object of our knowledge must be the same as the object of God's knowledge at least at one point. Clark says yes, as otherwise men would necessarily be skeptics or God would necessarily not be omniscient - in my mind, a clear, simple argument.

Butler gives the typically stale Van Tilian objection that Clark denies the Creator-creature distinction. But Clark affirms God alone knows all things and God's knowledge alone self-originating rather than derivative (link). So for Clark, there is obviously a Creator-creature distinction, and we needn't even go into other distinctions like divine timelessness vs. human temporality, immutability vs. mutability, impassibility vs. passibility, etc. - all of which Clark also affirmed and further demonstrate he accepts a Creator-creature distinction. Butler's "critique" and the fact it is used to pin Clark as a rationalist - he really is accusing Clark of pantheism, not rationalism - is, to put it charitably, awful reasoning.

Butler says God's thinking is creative: God's thoughts about something makes that something what it is. In these kinds of conversations, I think Christians need to keep in mind a distinction between the mind of God and the will of God. I think it's imprecise to say that God's knowledge is itself creative. Rather, I would say some of God's thoughts are contingent on His will, like His knowledge of creation. God creates some truths; it doesn't at all follow that God's knowledge of said truths must be different "in kind" than our knowledge of them.

But let's leave that aside for now. The real issue is, what would Butler say about God's self-knowledge? Does God's knowledge of Himself make Himself who and what He is? Does God create Himself? Of course not. So why can't our knowledge of God be univocal with His self-knowledge, though limited in extent in respect to God's knowledge of Himself?

Butler returns to the Clark-Van Til debate about analogical knowledge later in the lecture. I believe it is during a Q&A. He misstates the charge of skepticism by representing it as a charge that the way God knows something is different than the way we know something. Rather, the charge is that because the object of knowledge is different for God and men, men must be skeptics. In the very words of the original complainants in their case against Clark:
Another possible objection to the foregoing might take the form that he does not draw a qualitative distinction between the knowledge of God and the knowledge possible for men since he freely recognizes a fundamental difference between the mode of God's knowledge and that of man's knowledge. God's knowledge is intuitive while man's is discursive (Cf. 18:5f., 18ff.). Man is dependent upon God for his knowledge. We gladly concede this point, and have reckoned with it in what has been said above. However, this admission does not affect the whole point at issue here since the doctrine of the mode of the divine knowledge is not a part of the doctrine of the imcomprehensibility of his knowledge. The latter is concerned only with the contents of the divine knowledge. Dr. Clark distinguishes between the knowledge of God and of man so far as mode of knowledge is concerned, but it is a tragic fact that his dialectic has led him to obliterate the qualitative distinction between the contents of the divine mind and the knowledge which is possible to the creature, and thus to impinge in a most serious fashion upon the transcendence of the divine knowledge which is expressed by the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. (link)
The original complaint against Clark had nothing to do with the way God knows: eternally, intuitively, and self-sufficiently. Rather, it had to do with the "content," "object[s]," or "item[s]" of knowledge.

Butler says that in a way, the object of God's knowledge is the object of ours - in both cases, the referent is the same. God knows a rose, and we know a rose - but God creates that rose, whereas our relationship to the rose is passive or receptive. This is anachronistic, missing the point. The debate between Van Til and Clark was not about the alleged referents of or correspondents to knowledge, it was about propositions:
The far-reaching point of Dr. Clark's starting point, as observed under 1 above, is evident when we note that Dr. Clark hold's that man's knowledge of any proposition, if it is really knowledge, is identical with God's knowledge of the same proposition. If knowledge is a matter of propositions divorced from the knowing subject, that is, of self-contained, independent statements, a proposition would have to have to same meaning for man as for God. And since Dr. Clark holds that no limitation may be placed upon God's power to reveal propositions one at a time to men, there is no single item of knowledge in God's mind which may not be shared by the human mind.

That the above statement is a fair representation of Dr. Clark's reasoning is abundantly borne out by the record. See 2:22ff.; 18:23f.; 20:22ff.; 28:14-17ff.; 32:25-33:4; 50:11-21; 51:3-7. These include the following statements: “God can reveal any particular proposition to man, and if God can make sons of Abraham out of stones on the roadway, he can make even a stupid person understand a proposition” (2:22ff.). “. . . if we don't know the object that God knows, then we are in absolute ignorance” (28:16f.). In answer to the question, “You would say then, that all that is revealed in the Scripture is capable of being comprehended by the mind of man?”, Dr. Clark answered, “Oh yes, that is what it is given to us for, to understand it” (20:22ff.).

It would seem here that Dr. Clark is seeking to work out a theory of knowledge which, over against agnosticism and skepticism, will assure man of actual and certain knowledge. By appealing to the power of God reveal knowledge, and by resolving knowledge into detached items, he argues that man may be assured of true knowledge since his knowledge corresponds wholly with the divine knowledge of the same propositions.

While we appreciate the effort to arrive at certainty with reference to man's knowledge of God, in our judgment this is done at too great a cost. It is done at the sacrifice of the transcendence of God's knowledge. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are past finding out. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God. If we are not to bring the divine knowledge of his thoughts and ways down to human knowledge, or our human knowledge up to his divine knowledge, we dare not maintain that his knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point. Our knowledge of any proposition must always remain the knowledge of the creature. As true knowledge, that knowledge must be analogical to the knowledge which God possesses, but it can never be identified with the knowledge which the infinite and absolute Creator possesses of the same proposition.
This is what implication Van Til and his cohorts ascribed to Clark and themselves believe is a "sacrifice" of "divine transcendence." This is the context in which they deny that God's "knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any point." Butler needs to spell out his position in the context of the true debate between Clark and Van Til, not a red herring - there is no mention of "roses" in the original complaint filed or Clark's answer to it.

Simply put, if the referent of knowledge is included in the "contents" of knowledge, then Van Til et al. would have denied that the referent of God's knowledge and man's is the same. If the referent of knowledge is not included in the "contents" of knowledge, then that is not what the debate was about.

3. I would have been interested to hear why Butler would choose music as the "highest form of art." Personally, insofar as anything can legitimately be described as artistic, I don't understand what it means to say that one form can be higher than another. On Clark's view, the purpose of art is "expression" which is "rational and intellectual" (link). Even if we accept this, one can well enough express himself rationally and intellectually through music as he can through literature, the latter of which Clark takes to be the highest form of art. In both cases, what one means to express can be encoded in the physical media he uses. Maybe God alone is able to interpret this expression - it would be irrelevant to the point.

4. At 9:14, Butler states that the Van Tilian apologist "goes into the Christian worldview, shows it provides the necessary preconditions of human experience, and therefore is true." This doesn't follow unless non-Christian worldviews cannot do the same. So Butler then says, "Deny the Christian worldview, show that that isn't possible, and you've established the Christian worldview."

Now, my friend who asked me to review this video should also remember that I've said on numerous occasions that it has been my experience that Van Tilian apologists more often than not try to use the transcendental argument in order to prove Christianity, and that the transcendental arguments they use do not begin with the self-authenticity of Scripture but rather attempt to isolate some feature unique to the Christian worldview to show why it must be true. "Deny the Christian worldview, show that that isn't possible, and you've established the Christian worldview" is clear example of that. No matter how Butler attempts to "show that that isn't possible," he's not beginning with the self-authenticity of Scripture. Rather, he explicitly says to deny Christian worldview in order to somehow show, through transcendental reasoning, it cannot really be denied. This is what I'm objecting to when I take issue with Van Tilian apologetics here, for instance.

5. Butler says Clark is a coherentist. That is false. Clark is a foundationalist. For example:
Logically the infallibility of the Bible is not a theorem to be deduced from some prior axiom. The infallibility of the Bible is the axiom from which several doctrines are themselves deduced as theorems. Every religion and every philosophy must be based on some first principle. And since a first principle is first, it cannot be “proved” or “demonstrated” on the basis of anything prior. As the catechism question, quoted above, says, “The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify Him.” (What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1985, pg. 18)
Clark did argue that a true worldview must be coherent, but that's not what it means to be a coherentist. A coherentist believes epistemic justification is circular. Clark believed epistemic justification bottoms out in self-authenticating axioms or first principles:
This disjunct faces two replies. First, it assumes that a first principle cannot be self-authenticating. Yet every first principle must be. The first principle of Logical Positivism is that a sentence has no meaning unless it can be verified (in principle at least) by sensory experience. Yet no sensory experience can ever verify this principle. Anyone who wishes to adopt it must regard it as self-authenticating. So it is with all first principles. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pgs. 46-47)
So when Butler says Clark intends to establish the truth of Christianity by arguing that it is coherent whereas all non-Christian views are not, he's conflating Clark's apologetic with his epistemology. He argues that Clark hasn't and can't internally critique the infinitude of non-Christian views, so Clark can't establish the truth of Christianity. But for Clark, although it is a useful apologetic tool in that it shows Christianity satisfies a necessary precondition for the possibility of knowledge, coherency alone cannot establish the truth of Christianity. Clark always rejected that it could:
The substantive point needing discussion is whether the law of contradiction is the one and only test of truth. 
Ideally or for God this seems to be the case. Since there is nothing independent of God, he does not conform truth to an alleged reality beyond truth and beyond him. Since there is no possibility of “vertical” (to use Carnell’s terminology) coherence, the “horizontal” test, or, better the horizontal characteristic of logical consistency seems the only possible one. 
Weaver correctly notes that I do not claim for human beings the ability to apply this test universally. In this sense it is a “negative” or, better, an incomplete test. For this reason it must be supplemented some way or other... 
Undoubtedly I hold that truth is a consistent system of propositions. Most people would be willing to admit that two truths cannot be contradictories; and I would like to add that the complex of all truths cannot be a mere aggregate of unrelated assertions. Since God is rational, I do not see how any item of his knowledge can be unrelated to the rest. Weaver makes no comment on this fundamental characteristic of divine truth. 
Rather, he questions whether this characteristic is of practical value, and whether it must be supplemented in some way. It is most strange that Weaver here says, “I must agree with Carnell,” as if he had convicted me of disagreeing with Carnell by providing no supplementation whatever. Now, I may disagree with the last named gentleman on many points, but since it is abundantly clear that I “supplement” consistency by an appeal to the Scripture for the determination of particular truths, it is most strange that Weaver ignores my supplementation. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pgs. 287, 290)
Butler later says Clark contends that all non-Christian systems are incoherent. He then says Clark can't know that because he hasn't tested all of them. I'm sure Butler will be much surprised to learn Clark would agree that he hasn't tested all of them, that there might be one which he could not discover to be inconsistent, and that there might even be one which isn't inconsistent (which would be very strange if Clark actually thought coherence alone established truth or is the only consideration when examining worldviews, on which see point 7 below):
I do not deny a that secular philosophies often attain a degree of consistency. Bertrand Russell was certainly consistent in deducing despair from his cold, dead, purposeless world. But Bertrand Russell is a very poor example if one wishes to mention a fully consistent secular philosopher. He has contradicted himself more often than Ayer and Wittgenstein. Even beyond this, I admit that there might be a secular system so carefully constructed that I could not discover the inconsistency. This in no way proves that error is consistent or that truth is inconsistent. How could my limitations imply that consistency is not the test of truth? And, I may add, my critic has not shown, nor even tried to show, that a given secular system is completely consistent. (Clark and His Critics, pg. 291) 
So far as one may surmise, it may be possible for a non-Christian system to be free from contradictory pairs. Spinoza made a determined attempt, but seems not to have succeeded. Euclidena, Riemanian, and Lobachevskian geometries are each alone free from contradiction. The reason is that they are geometries and nothing else. But a comprehensive non-Christian philosophy, such as Kant’s or Hegel’s, without internal contradictions, would be hard to find. Remember the quip: Without the Ding-an-sich one cannot get into the Kantian system, and with it one cannot stay in. If the God of the Bible is Truth, one can at least expect that somewhere a non-Christian system will run into difficulties. It is worth one’s while to search for them. For example, Logical Positivism with its denial of all non-observational propositions is based on the non-observational proposition that all truth is observational. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 387)
Once again, Clark's apologetic argument - that no non-Christian systems have been shown to be consistent or coherent - while practical and useful, is not the basis for his knowledge that the Christian system alone is consistent or coherent:
But if there is a revelation, there can be no criterion for it. God cannot swear by a greater; therefore he has sworn by himself. One cannot ask one’s own experience to judge God and determine whether God tells the truth or not. Consider Abraham. How could Abraham be sure that God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac? Maybe this suggestion was of the devil; maybe it was a queer auto-suggestion. There is no higher answer to this question than God himself. The final criterion is merely God’s statement. It cannot be tested by any superior truth. (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?, 1990, pg. 113)
6. Butler says that in order for Clark to establish the coherence of Christianity, he basically must show that each allegedly specially revealed proposition is coherent with every other. Now, this as much applies to Butler as to Clark, if Butler indeed wishes to establish the coherence of Christianity. So I don't really see how this is an objection.

But let's say Clark or anyone else who has read all of Scripture concluded it was internally consistent. Apologetics is a practical business. Is Butler really suggesting it is more practical to write thousands or millions of pages and take decades of time to write everything out - things that even the simple-minded can see - than it would be to simply ask unbelievers where they think there is a contradiction and go from there?

Or given Clark's axiom is the infallibility of the Bible, why can't Clark simply deduce the coherence of Scripture from that? Indeed, Butler says he knows the Bible is coherent because it tells us that. But then, I can only suspect Butler's objection stems from his confusion about how Clark thinks we know Christianity is true and how he argues for Christianity. In short, he conflates Clark's epistemology with his apologetics. Not all knowledge is the result of argumentation, whereas how to properly argue should be taken from our axiom[s].

I might add that Butler never bothers to cite where Clark says pure coherence or logic is how we establish the truth of Christianity. In fact, throughout the process of burning various straw men, Butler never quotes Clark at all. Why? I wouldn't be surprised is if the answer is that he's only bothered to read about Clark through critical secondary sources like Bahnsen.

7. Butler says that Clark didn't care about how rich or how many implications a system has, only whether a system is logically consistent. That's false:
…if one system can provide plausible solutions to many problems while another leaves too many questions unanswered, if one system tends less to skepticism and gives more meaning to life, if one worldview is consistent while others are self-contradictory, who can deny us, since we must choose, the right to choose the more promising first principle? (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pg. 34) 
While consistency is one of the basic reasons for adopting a world-view, from a more proximate standpoint the world-view must function as a practical postulate...
When now the theist speaks of theism as a practical postulate, he is not indulging in any “as-if” philosophy. He means that God exists and that one should conduct his daily life by that belief. It is called a postulate because it is an indemonstrable first principle and not a theorem derived from more ultimate premises. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 42-43)
Clark does chastise people for lamenting that his epistemology does not allow them to know as many things as they should like to know, but that is quite a separate point. Personally, I have written numerous posts which outline what various questions Clark would say a worldview must be able to answer, posts on the means by and source from which we acquire knowledge, posts on logic, language, revelation from an omniscient person, etc.

8. Butler says he can know his date of birth. But surely, the nature of his justification for "knowing" that would be either fallible or externalist. He mentions testimonial evidence, but would he not admit that his parents could have lied to him? He mentions the general reliability of the senses in enabling us to track truth. But this sort of knowledge is not the sort of knowledge Clark is interested in defending. Clark is only interested in knowledge which is both infallibly justified and deducible from a self-authenticating axiom, which he believes to be Scripture (thus, I would argue in contrast to many emerging Scripturalists - for example, see here and here - justification for Clark is internalist in character). I do think the knowledge Butler describes has its place, and I will say I would give it more prominence in apologetics than Clark would (and should) have.

9. Butler argued that for him to be consistent, Clark must either collapse mathematics into logic or admit we don't know anything about mathematics. This is a false dichotomy. Clark believed math could be deduced from the Bible:
Scripture does indeed teach a bit of arithmetic. Numbers, additions, and subtractions occur: After Judas hanged himself, there remained eleven disciples. Multiplication occurs and there are divisions by five, seven, and ten. If, now, mathematics can be logically developed out of its principles, then mathematics can “by good and necessary consequence” be deduced from Scripture. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 146)
10. Butler argues that personal salvation is not revealed in Scripture. I think Clark, consistently acknowledging the difficulty of the subject, both denies and affirms self-knowledge in various places (link). Personally, I defend it (link) and believe it to be as necessary to Clark's epistemology as logic or language. All of the points Butler makes, I address in that post, including that I needn't know my name to have self-knowledge, that the meaning of "I" can be gathered from Scripture, that there are various books of Scripture addressed to the elect in general, and that one must know he is a believer if he is to know Scripture comprises the extent of God's special revelation. There is no incompatibility between self-knowledge with the idea a certain kind of knowledge (i.e. infallibilistic, internalistic) must be divinely revealed, explicitly or implicitly. There is incompatibility between the impossibility of self-knowledge and the concrete revelation of Scripture, which just is the axiom by which we can know anything in an infallibilistic, internalistic sense. Therefore, self-knowledge is legitimate.

This is, however, an area where is it also useful to note that Scripture also warrants extra-biblical means of knowing. Now, what "knowledge" means in those contexts and how we can come to know are questions of exegesis, and it is possible to "know" something in more than one sense. The word "know" can bear more than one meaning. These are points Scripturalists ought to acknowledge. Clark's views can be developed more consistently than he was able to do himself, not to disparage his attempts by any means. So there is room for growth and discussion. But a partisan critique is more likely to hurt than help, so I am by no means crediting Butler either.

11. Butler attacks Clark's thoroughgoing occasionalism. He argues that Scripture is known only via sensation, so Clark, who rejects that sensation as a means of knowledge, must resort to a Platonic view on which any knowledge of special divine revelation is merely a recollection of sorts. There are a few different issues at play here. While I agree with Butler that Clark held to occasionalism (link, cf. link) - and wrongly so - I don't see how this implies that Clark should logically have agreed with Platonic "reminiscence," as Clark himself states:
But though there may be Ideas of some sort, when Plato leaves mathematics for politics the plausibility of reminiscence vanishes. The slave boy was easily able to remember the square on the diagonal, but neither the Athenians nor the Syracusans could remember justice, not even with the lengthy stimulus of the Republic. 
Justice, of course, is a matter of ethics and politics; and more will be said about ethics later. But the definition of man as a two-legged animal without feathers is another case where reminiscence did not work too well. The difficulty is that, after one grants the existence of suprasensible Ideas, sensation stimulates different notions in different people. Whether the subject is justice or piety or the planetary spheres, Plato had to reply on procedures of ethics and science that cannot be completed. 
The failure of Platonism to descend from Heaven to Earth, or, if you wish, to ascend from Earth to heaven, leaves the theory ineffective. Man before birth may have been omniscient, but here below the Platonic cave in which man is a prisoner actually has no opening. Platonism therefore cannot be accepted as the solution to our problem. (Clark and His Critics, 2009, pg. 30)
Instead, I think Clark identified his view with Malebranche and certain Islamic philosophers who thought that the knowledge of men is immediately or directly caused by God, perhaps on the occasion of sensation - that is, while we experience sensation during this causal process, it's only incidental to the causal process:
The Logos is the rational light that lights every man. Since man was created in the image of God, he has an innate idea of God. It is not necessary, indeed it is not possible, for a blank mind to abstract a concept of God from sensory experience or to lift sensory language by its bootstraps to a spiritual level. The theories of Empiricism, of Aristotle, of Aquinas, of Locke, are to be rejected. 
The positing of innate ideas or a priori equipment does not entail the absurdity of infants’ discoursing learnedly on God and logic. To all appearances their minds are blank, but the blankness is similar to that of a paper with a message written in invisible ink. When the heat of experience is applied, the message becomes visible. Whatever else be added, the important words refer to non-sensuous realities. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 203)
In other words, for Clark, experience, which can involve sensation, is the occasion or incidental history upon which God can illuminate our minds regarding truth. I argue against thoroughgoing occasionalism elsewhere on my blog, and most Scripturalists, in my experience - whether consistently or inconsistently - affirm secondary causes in epistemology. I happen to be on the side which suggests that such a position is inconsistent with Clark.

If we wish to simply consider the defensibility of our beliefs, I think that the causes of our beliefs aren't relevant except insofar as our beliefs are defensible only if we must admit they were caused in a certain way. Must we admit, then, that they were caused through either sensory or non-sensory means? I haven't seen a Scriptural reason to think so, so I would say no.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Textual Criticism Revisited

Textual criticism is a stumbling block to believers and unbelievers alike. I briefly wrote about the issue some years ago (link). In light of developments to my epistemological views - positive developments, I hope - I wish to update that post. I do not mean to disparage the work of textual critics, so if readers will take the time to read the whole post, hopefully that becomes evident.

Textual variants presuppose texts. If one thinks the way in which people know, in an internalist and infallibilist sense, what is and is not the content of special divine revelation is through textual criticism - through identifying textual variants and selecting which of them is "authentic" to the "original" text - he is not beginning with special revelation, he is coming to a conclusion about it. Of course, a conclusion is only as good as its premises, which leads to consideration of one's ultimate or foundational premises. Are they capable of yielding a satisfying philosophy? 


I've argued elsewhere on this blog and so will not now attempt to reproduce why I think special divine revelation - the extant extent of which is concretely codified in the Scriptures - is the premise with which one must begin in order to intentionally defend his beliefs with full assurance. This is not to say that my arguments are reasons for this foundational belief, but as Gordon Clark put it, by the systems they produce, axioms must be judged. If an axiom doesn't produce a sufficiently coherent system, can't account for certain worldview necessities, isn't sufficiently explanatory - however you want to phrase it - the axiom itself fails to give us knowledge of the infallibilist and internalist variety. Of course, one may object that we need any such knowledge, which is itself another discussion, one about needs. One can also be mistaken in his judgment, and the "tests" - for the present lack of a better term - do not imply that the falsifiability of an axiom is a live possibility. Yet there is practical use for these tests, and apologetists ought to be in the business of being practical whenever possible.

If, then, a man can't infallibly or with full assurance defend how he knows anything - including the idea that there are texts or textual variants in codifications of special 
divine revelation - apart from ultimately presupposing a special revelation, then I don't see that textual criticism presents an epistemic problem. Textual variants only pose an epistemic problem if one assumes that in order to identify, recognize, know, or, in particular, defend special divine revelation, one must infer the content of it from a group of texts which sometimes do not conform. In that case, you're attempting to reason to what special divine revelation, not reason from what special divine revelation is. I still agree with these aspects of my post from a few years ago.

However, I also think this is a subject for which the externalism-internalism distinction is relevant, and that requires an update to my former position of occasionalism (link). What we know are propositions. Externalism is the theory that we can, to varying degrees and depending on the justificatory factors involved, know or be epistemically justified in our beliefs due to something to which we don't have cognitive or reflective access - say, a causal process. We can think about or reflect on a causal process, but we can't re-experience it, whereas we can periodically access or experience the same beliefs. A causal process might be considered able to epistemically justify us because that process in general produces true beliefs in the mind of the person who undergoes it. The causal process tracks truth, whether we are aware of it or not.

That kind of "epistemic justification" allows for the possibility of our knowing what are generally considered "common sense" beliefs. I'm typing on my computer, you're reading a blog post, etc. The causal process by which we know these propositions is usually physical media. But the chain of causes which produce a belief need not be evidentiary reasons for my belief. For example, while God is the ultimate cause of all things, not all people's beliefs will be reasoned from or evidenced by a belief they may have - or, more pertinent to this example, may lack - about God. Similarly, while I may have a sense experience which causes a belief in divine revelation, I needn't infer my belief in divine revelation from a belief about my senses. So if, after a causal process consisting of the examination of textual variants, you believe something to have been divinely revealed, that doesn't require you to epistemically ground your belief regarding the content of divine revelation on a belief about that causal process. Again, I would argue a belief about that or any causal process is itself infallibly defensible only by ultimately appealing to special divine revelation.

That doesn't mean the causal process is irrelevant to your belief. If we have a belief that certain causal processes track truth better than others, it makes sense to position ourselves and those around us to more often experience the better kinds of causal process. If I want you to know about the Grand Canyon, I may talk to you about it or show you a picture of it, but I wouldn't shut your eyes or close your ears while I did those things. I think sense experiences often cause true beliefs. If I want you to know a truth, and if I believe there is a kind of experience which may be useful in producing a true belief, I'll do what I can to help you experience that.

I believe the above illustration provides a fair analogy of how I think we can regard at least one goal of textual criticism. There are textual variants among what copies of Scripture we have. Some do not affect the meaning of a passage. Some are evidently the result of mistranslation. Some are more significant in implication - the variants may affect the meaning of a passage, or they may exhibit disagreement with other texts about whether a passage is even canonical. Thus, while I think the goal of the textual critic shouldn't be to collect texts, compare and contrast them, and use that as an evidentiary basis to infer or reason to what has been specially divinely revealed, there certainly would be use in disposing ourselves and others to a causal process which tracks truth about what has been specially divinely revealed and codified in physical media - in this case, texts. So one function of textual criticism could lie in its capability to cause externalist knowledge of special divine revelation. In any case, there is certainly some apologetic role textual criticism may play within one's worldview, so long as it is remembered that apologetics is subservient to and in fact derives from one's epistemology (link).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gordon Clark's Systematic Theology

Doug Douma has been doing excellent work in his research on Gordon Clark for some time now. He has a book coming out early next year called, "The Presbyterian Philosopher, The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark" - I've looked at an early draft, and the bibliography alone will set the future standard for research into Clark. It's been endorsed by men who knew both Clark and Van Til. 

Doug has also personally researched and helped transcribe hundreds of previously unpublished material by Clark here. At one point, he was posting articles more quickly than I could read them. Further, he has lately received permission from Clark's family to publish what few chapters in what was planned to be systematic theology. A few such chapters - the Trinity, Doctrine of Man, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and Sanctification - have been published, but now chapters on Scripture, God, Creation, Salvation, and Eschatology are also available. 

Doug put a lot of work into all of this, and for that I, for one, am very grateful. Research on Clark has been something of a personal hobby of mine for a few years now, and it looks like there is a lot to keep me busy. Thanks, Doug!

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Meaning of Sola Scriptura

Suppose I’m a lawyer executing a will, and I have video evidence that the will I hold in my hand is the latest authorized will of the deceased. If I hold the will up in my hand and say to the descendents of the deceased that "this legal document alone is relevant to the dispensing of the property of my client," the descendents might ask me how I know that, but I don’t have to answer their question by looking in the will itself. Of course, that is one option. Perhaps there is a notarized note and date in the will, or perhaps the will itself explains who and how one can recognize it as such. But I can alternatively provide, say, video evidence for my knowledge-claim, assuming I have it. 

Suppose I’m a Christian preaching Scripture, and I have extra-biblical evidence that the Scripture I hold in my hand is the extant extent of divine revelation. If I hold Scripture up in my hand and say to Roman Catholics that "this document alone is the extant extent of divine revelation and, thus, our solely ultimate, authoritative rule of faith," Roman Catholics might ask me how I know that, but I don’t have to answer their question by looking in Scripture itself. Of course, that is one option. Perhaps there is a self-attesting claim in Scripture, or perhaps Scripture itself explains who and how one can recognize it as such. But I can alternatively provide extra-biblical evidence for my knowledge-claim, assuming I have it.

Moreover, this evidence needn't be infallible in order for it to serve a certain apologetic function. Videos can be fabricated and, say, historians - indeed, Christians - can differ, but we all must operate on assumptions in order to get anywhere in our lives. If we get to a point where we share assumptions with others, we have an easier time collectively following a train of reasoning to the same conclusion. So, for example, there can be value in historical theology, and not merely in the research of church historians (which can of course be useful), but also in the examination of the body of Christ itself.

Now, how we can identify theologically correct historians, believers, or human authorities prior to the identification of divine revelation - if such is possible - are appropriate questions that require an answer unless one is willing to admit we can know divine revelation apart from such external evidences, useful as they are. Elsewhere, I argue we can indeed identify Scripture apart from such evidences (link).

The main point of this post, however, is that Roman Catholics often do but should not conflate a metaphysical claim with an epistemological one. What something is and how we know what that something is are distinct questions. Sola scriptura is a metaphysical statement of what Scripture is - the extant extent of divine revelation and, thus, our solely ultimate, authoritative rule of faith - not an epistemological statement of how we know what Scripture is. Certainly, what Scripture metaphysically is may and does inform how we can know what it is, but I equally certainly don’t have to answer the question of how I know what Scripture is by looking through Scripture for a table of contents.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Resurrection of Christ and Our Justification

1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

As
 we approach Easter Sunday, I have been reviewing the nature of the atonement, particularly its nature and timing. I wrote a post along these lines several years ago (link), and while I agree with aspects of what I said there, I don't believe I did full justice to the relationship of Christ's resurrection to our atonement.

I said there that Christ's "sacrifice was completed, finished, and accepted by the Father upon His death." I don't believe that to be the case now. I believe Leviticus 16:17 has an antitype after all, that being the post-resurrection, post-ascension presentation of Himself in the holy place described by the author of Hebrews. There are a few reasons I think this.

Evidence that the presentation of Himself in the holy place as described by the author of Hebrews is post-resurrection and post-ascension is that it wasn't until Christ ascended after His resurrection that He sat at the Father's right hand (Mark 16:19, Acts 2:32-33, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Revelation 3:21, etc.).

Christ's sitting at His Father's right hand is an event taken up by the author of Hebrews in connection with Christ's sacrificial work. Hebrews 1:3 and 10:12 say that after Christ made purification for sin or offered His once for all sacrifice, He sat down at the right hand of the Father. This sitting down signified the completion of His sacrifice, suggesting He so sat immediately after making purification or sacrificing. That would imply everything Christ did up to that point - beginning from, at least, the point of His death, but probably His incarnation too (if we're considering His unblemished life as necessary for an acceptable sacrifice), up until His resurrection-ascension and appearance in the holy place - was typified in the sacrificial ritual mentioned in Leviticus 16.

Leviticus 16:17 mentions atonement is made in the holy place on the day of atonement, and Hebrews 13:11-12 - which includes the significance of the burning of the sacrificial carcasses on the day of atonement to Christ's death - also notes that the sprinkling of the slain animal's blood on the mercy seat in the innermost part of the tabernacle is sacrificial, further connecting this part of the typical ordeal to Christ's antitypical one. So while the death of Christ is integral to the atonement, that seemingly isn't the end of the story. Protestants already recognize that Christ's obedience in life was necessary for atonement, but there is a need to incorporate His resurrection-ascension in His atoning work.

Several passages in Scripture also mention the resurrection in the context of Christ's substitutionary work:

2 Corinthians 5:15 He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Romans 4:25
 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

The idea here isn't that Christ's resurrection was just a bonus, an unnecessary component of Christ's work in which we get to graciously participate because the Father decided to instantiate it rather than some other possibility. If Christ wasn't resurrected, our faith is in vain. His resurrection is part of what grounds the application of the redemptive benefits: spiritual rebirth, justification, etc. How, then?

One thing to note is that Christ's fulfillment of the day of atonement type doesn't strictly follow the temporal order of events that day, which makes sense, as Christ is both the sacrifice and He who offers the sacrifice. Hebrews 13:12 correlates Christ's death to the burning of the sacrificial carcasses. This happened after the blood of the animals was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the holy place. However, Christ's death happened before His appearance in the holy place, per Hebrews 9. So it's the essence of the type that matters, not the timing, if we are to associate Christ's resurrection-ascension with some part of the day of atonement ritual. 

Is there a part of the day of atonement ritual to which Christ's resurrection-ascension corresponds? I think so. I'm still working through it, but a natural fit seems to be the reemergence of the high priest from the holy place and/or his associates into the camp after both burning the remains of the sacrifices outside the camp (to which Christ's death explicitly corresponds) and a prototypical baptism-cleansing. 

How would this aspect of the atonement ritual connect with the resurrection-ascension? Because it is how [the people of God knew that] the sacrifice was acceptable to God, [that] the high priest rightly represented them, [that] their sins were indeed being atoned for, and [that] they could continue to depend on God's presence dwelling among them. Christ not only fulfills these same functions but, as a better mediator of a better covenant, goes beyond them to bring us to the most holy place of God's dwelling. The resurrection proved it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Republican Credibility and Strategy

I don't post much about politics. I prefer to read and write about things whose subject matter isn't in a seemingly constant state of flux. But this election cycle has been especially fascinating, and perhaps I'm old enough now that I am beginning to care about and have an interest in it, so I'll venture a few thoughts.

For those interested, Steve Hays wrote an excellent post which reflects my current views regarding how to pick a candidate here. I guess I would hope readers leave this post with the idea they should vote for a Republican who's not Trump. This goes for those leaning Democrat as well as Republicans.

Barring indictment or some such intervention, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. In a true two-candidate race, she's nearly halfway to the delegates needed for the Democratic nomination and has momentum, more than doubling up Sanders' current delegate count.

Given that, a Democrat might as well vote for a non-Trump candidate, particularly if Hillary locks up the nomination sooner rather than later. For a typical Democrat, I imagine a Trump presidency is the worst-case scenario. Assuming Hillary will win the Democrat nomination, the primary goal of such voters should be to inhibit Trump, unless they think he has no chance against Hillary. Given Trump's surprising ascendancy and Hillary's tenuous political situation which Trump will certainly put on blast, I don't see why a Democrat voter can with reasonable confidence assume Trump couldn't win. Kasich or, to a lesser extent, Cruz or Rubio, would be much better alternatives. Kasich in Ohio or anywhere else he focuses his campaign would be a smart vote. More on this later.

Hillary is a candidate with typical experience who holds typical, modern, Democratic positions. Her weaknesses are also typical: instances of poor decision-making, policy flaws, and character flaws. The first two will be more pronounced in this cycle because she was the right hand to a sitting Democrat President who didn't deliver on expectations. Wolf Blitzer reported today that ~5 million Republicans vs. ~3 million Democrats have voted so far in the primaries. It isn't unusual for a voter base to become jaded into apathy due to current elected officials having performed below expectations.

However, it is for this reason the Republican party is in danger of losing credibility for the next decade or so. The presidency should really be theirs to lose. But the Republican race has been anything but typical, as the front-runner candidate, Trump, is neither Republican nor presidential.

Taking the last point first, he isn't presidential. For starters, he doesn't give any semblance of respect, at least not unless he's framed someone as having capitulated to him in some way - and that's less a matter of respect than it is condescension. It's less, "you're wrong, and here's why" and more, "you're 5'8," or "you're on the far end of the podium," or "you're down in the polls." Trump appeals to the less educated, to blue collar types who feel under-appreciated, and to the "keyboard warrior" mentalities.

Trump likely knows this and has simply loudmouthed his way to where he is because he hasn't had to back it up. That is, no other candidate has called him out, until recently, whether because they considered him a non-threat, believed a defensive reply on policy grounds sufficed, or overestimated the intelligence of voters. Even the media has been somewhat silent - probably for ratings' sake - although I think they are beginning to realize Trump has a better shot than he should.

Not only is Trump not presidential, he isn't even Republican: he has no political background, he's donated to and supported the social policies of Democrats at least as much as Republicans, if not more so, and there's no substance behind Trump's criticism of others. He has stock platitudes like "I will make America great again" - anyone can say that. What really matters should be whether one has an actual idea of how to achieve that.

As recently as the February 25th debate, Trump was exposed as having no awareness of, say, the healthcare system. It's one thing to say Obamacare sucks, it's another to provide an alternative to it. Invited by Rubio and the moderators to give a lengthy sketch of his proposed alternative - which is the equivalent of putting a baseball on a tee and telling the batter to swing whenever he's ready - he passed. He choked.

He also has little sense of foreign policy. For instance, he's repeatedly said he'll make Mexico help pay for a wall bordering our countries, and when the Mexican ex-president scoffed at this, he doubled down and said he'd make height of the wall even higher. Is this his sense of diplomacy? Relative to our national debt, a wall actually doesn't cost that much: "only" $10 billion or so. Why be so provocative?

This leads me to a brief summary of why Trump became the front-runner:
i) Trump is a celebrity. If Trump had no name-recognition, would anyone have cared he was running? No. It's for that reason he brought attention to early debates.
ii) No candidate really paid attention to him in the early rounds. Why should they? If you're a candidate in the early debates, spending time attacking the celebrity glory-hog makes you look like you're picking on the wimpy kid or doing work that is beneath you. Why be a bully when someone else will do your dirty work in eliminating him? Concentrate on the real competition, not the easy pickings.
iii) Why should any candidate think a non-politician has an idea of how politics works? Trump has no political background - but he's played this in his favor, as politicians have gotten a bad reputation in the last decade or so. And Trump has gotten away with this, partially because competing candidates haven't really challenged him regarding his knowledge-ability until recently. He built a head of steam, momentum which wasn't even acknowledged until several primaries passed. Now Trump can play his anti-establishment card further, with Carson virtually out and candidates swarming against him. Now he's able to better frame himself as standing up for the little guy, the candidate who is really just a concerned citizen, the dog who will bite back.
iv) Trump puts on a tough-guy persona: this is ironic since he comes from a wealthy family and has been given whatever he wanted. But it simultaneously plays into his egotism and preys on the unsuspecting, politically illiterate masses. Is a billionaire like Trump really altruistic, or does he have another agenda? What does his past suggest? Obviously the latter.
I don't expect to dissuade Trump voters in this post. In my experience, that's a time-waste. Trump supporters mostly try to emulate Trump: I'm tough, I won't budge, now here's an ad hominem for your trouble - e.g. you're a "lightweight," the "worst liar," etc., as if Trump is none of these things. The irrationality and intractability is predictable, if boring. Then there are the passive aggressive types who can't stand being put into this box yet have no reason for voting for Trump other than that "he's different." The response to each of these kinds of posturing should be one of laughter and mocking, per Rubio in the last debate ("That's all you got?"), not cringe-worthy whining, per Cruz ("Let me respond, he called me a liar!").

I'm just looking to present the reality of the predicament the Republican party has put itself in, and how I think they will or should try to get out of it.

As of now, Trump is about 7% off pace to get to the magic number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination. He'll have to make that difference up going forward. Considering that, going into Super Tuesday, there was a real concern a two person race was the only way to stop Trump, yesterday was, in an otherwise depressing sense, a positive. There's still some flexibility in strategy.

If the other candidates have the good of the Republican party in mind, a Trump nomination would be less of a threat. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately, depending on who the voters would otherwise vote for - since he's not a politician, Carson has no incentive to drop out until his money is gone. He's in it for the fame, and at the end of the day a possible trade-in for an endorsement or drop-out.

My hope is that Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio each understand when an appropriate time will be to coalesce behind a clear candidate, if necessary. It may not have to turn out that way, if things progress as they have. Either way, Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio should each understand that a Trump nomination makes them look incompetent.

Look at Christie. He's being virtually disowned by Republicans now. Hopefully, that is enough to warn Kasich off from cutting a deal with Trump. Losing a fight is one thing, losing a fight then backing the worst remaining contender is another.

Trump might offer Kasich a position to attempt to put himself in a better position to win Ohio, both in the primary and general election. He'd ideally grab some delegates and have a legitimate, somewhat likable politician backing him. I think Kasich supporters would probably go the route of Christie supporters and disown him, though. Trump may understand this and not make an attempt for Kasich's support. Trump's persona plays on a kind of elitism, an exclusive fraternity of enlightened individuals. If Trump makes offers and gets rejected, he's not so exclusive after all. Better to not make the offer. So I think Kasich doesn't go the way of Christie. Obviously, Cruz and Rubio won't.

So Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio need to prevent a Trump win at all costs. If they lose, they could say blame should really be on Trump voters or the other candidates for not coalescing at the "right time," but that would be a tough excuse to give to your more rational constituents as to why you couldn't beat a guy who was a birther laughingstock last cycle.

Voters advocating that this or that candidate need to drop out need to realize campaign strategies have to evolve given certain outcomes. Being the first one to say "I told you so" isn't what's really important here. I'll be the first to admit my surprise Trump did so well in these first primaries. But after New Hampshire, it was apparent he was a threat. You have to react to that. Cruz and Rubio were slow, but they've corrected, finally. Kasich will come around now, I think. Carson will remain irrelevant.

I expect Kasich to stay in the race until the Ohio primary, at least, since that's his home state. Again, Democrats would be smart, I think, to vote for Kasich here and anywhere else he focuses, as he has next to no chance of being nominated yet can hurt Trump's chances. Democrats are incensed a bigoted candidate like Trump could be the Republican nominee. Well, do something about it. Your candidate is set - Hillary, if no indictment, or Sanders otherwise - so actually try to make a difference.

After Ohio, if Kasich hasn't performed well, he might need to throw support behind Cruz or Rubio. I don't imagine Kasich voters being the sort to back Trump or petulantly sit this out. Maybe I'm wrong. Unfortunately, the more radically ideological Cruz voters might sit the election out if he drops - or worse, back Trump since he and Cruz have been friendly in the past, have identical immigration policies, etc. - so he might have to stay in for the duration of the primaries regardless of what happens.

The Ohio primary is the same day as Rubio's home state. I hear Rubio's not doing so well there in polls. Either way, March 15th is the next Republican checkpoint. It's hard to say what any non-Trump candidate should do until then except attack Trump in the right way: on social issues, on his lack of real, substantial policies and political knowledge, and on his flippant, unrepentant, immoral character.

They also need to campaign at states where they each have the most appeal. Take advantage of Trump's time constraints. Each primary from now on has a maximum of 5 states per primary. After this month, those are very widely spread out. If Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich opt to stay in to prevent Trump from the magic number of delegates, they ought to focus campaigning at different states and support one another. Also focus on states with high delegate counts. From what I understand, some of these states are winner take all. Hit Trump hard in the states where he has the most to gain, most to lose.

Is this playing nice? No. But when your opponent continuously throws dirt, you're going to get dirty one way or another. That's an unfortunate reality. Some people think this amounts to pragmatism. As I told a friend recently, there's a difference between pragmatism and being pragmatic. 

A vote for the candidate who has a realistic chance of winning and will fight to protect the lives of unborn babies is pragmatic. It's a choice for who you think will be successful, with the added consideration of what they should be succeed about. But it is not pragmatistic, where truth and morality would be measured in terms of success. Truth and morality are what they are apart from our choices. This is already anti-pragmatism. But one can look to succeed without being a pragmatist, particularly by choosing to cast one's vote in proportion to those who oppose truth and morality in the extreme. Even if the push-back is only incremental, that's all you can do.

Now, there are times to sit out voting for any nominees among Republicans or Democrats, I think - viz. when all candidates oppose truth and morality in the extreme - but that's beyond the scope of this post, especially as I don't think that point has been reached.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Divine Impassibility

I was recently asked if I had any thoughts on divine impassibility. I haven't studied the doctrine that much. Here is a quote from Clark on the subject:
Does the Bible indicate that God is subject to sudden, involuntary, non-intellectual upheavals in his usually calm state of mind? Well, hardly. The Westminster Confession, the best summary of the contents of the Bible, says that God is without parts or passions. Parts refers to bodily organs. Bodies have parts, minds do not. But God is also without passions. The word passion, in more modern terminology affection, is wider than the term emotion but includes the latter. A passion or affection is the result of being affected by some external force. A dog is affected by a whipping; a student is affected, sometimes, by the possibility of a good grade. There are modern psychology books written about “the affective consciousness.” But God is not affected by anything. Of, in another translation of the Greek term, God does not “suffer” anything. 
On the contrary, not only the Westminster Confession, but all or nearly all the historic creeds says that God is immutable. He does not change. Emotion, however, is a sudden, involuntary change. To have emotions would be inconsistent with God’s eternal state of blessedness. 
Now, someone may say that God loves and that love is an emotion. But with respect to love, two points must be made. First, God’s love is eternal, therefore not a sudden change, therefore not an emotion. Second, God commands us to love him. A command requires voluntary obedience. Therefore the love God commands is volitional, not emotional. Doubtless God commands the impossible. He commands us to keep his law perfectly. This we cannot do because of sin. The impossibility arises from us; it does not arise from any irrationality in the commands. God commands the impossible, but he does not command the absurd. (Gordon Clark, Today's Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?)
A few scattered thoughts:

1. Given that emotions are involuntary, I don't think emotions can be intrinsically sinful, although their presence in a particular context could serve as an indication of sin. Jesus was sinless yet, at times, angry, happy, and sad. If we suppose someone else was happy when Jesus would have been angry (with money changers) or sad (at Lazarus' death), or if we suppose someone else was angry or sad when Jesus was happy, then it would seem emotions are a kind of contextually indicative reflection of one's current state of sanctification. Either way, any argument for the impassibility of God couldn't proceed along these lines.

2. If a "passion or affection is the result of being affected by some external force," then God could not be necessarily be affected by anything external to the Trinity, for there is nothing external to the Trinity which was not created. So if divine passibility could be true, it would have to be a contingent property like divine creator-ship.

[I am assuming here that the relationships among the members of the Trinity are necessary, eternal, and, thus, not of the sort intended to be included by a doctrine of divine impassibility. The Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct, eternal generation and spiration are true, and so some might be tempted to say that the members of the Trinity "affect" one another, for example - whether in respect of person or merely personhood is a matter of dispute between eastern and western Trinitarian models - but I would assume that necessary condition for passibility is change, which obviously does not take place given that the Trinity and their relationships are eternal, at least apart from consideration of a contingent creation (i.e. the ontological vs. economic Trinity)].

3. I believe creation is contingent so as to avoid, roughly, the consequence that the Trinity depends on creation in the same sense the Father depends on the Son. However, I think that most proponents of divine impassibility do not think that the fact that we can affirm contingent truths about God like "God is our creator," "God is our savior," etc. would count as a mark against divine impassibility - they may not even count as a mark against divine immutability. At the very least, those contingencies are true in virtue of God's own initiative.

Furthermore, as a Calvinist, I believe God determines all things. God initiates and determines changes, so only in a proximate sense could I say that something external to God has affected Him (not that I would say that). It may affect Him, but only insofar as God had taken the initiative in determining to create something external to Him for that express purpose. So one question is whether God created with a purpose, in part, that His creation would affect Him - change Him, in some way. It may be that God did not create with this intention and so did not determine that creation would affect Him - obviously, this would be in favor of divine impassibility.

But suppose He did create and determine all things with that intention. Another question is, given that any alleged affectation would ultimately derive from God's own initiative and determination, whether that alleged affectation can really by ascribed to something external to God, or if it is really God who is changing Himself. The latter might be the more accurate expression of the state of affairs. This could constitute an argument for divine impassibility, but it would be controversial.

Suppose I intend and determine to hit myself with a hammer and that nothing could stop me from doing so. Was the hammer instrumental to the change in pain I feel? Yes. But the hammer can has no instrumentality apart from my will. So was it the hammer that really affected me, or was it my will, or was it both? If the first or last option, that cuts against divine impassibility. If the second, that works in its favor. An answer to this could depend on the semantics and technical nuances of a particular expression of divine impassability. I'm not sure.

Of course, this all assumes the speculative point about whether God intended that creation would lead to some kind of internal change or affectation in the first place. But to my mind, the Incarnation seems to correspond to the hammer illustration: who and what I am allows me to be able to assume a hammer in my hand by which I can hurt myself. Indeed, the Incarnation is even stronger than this analogy, for whereas I cannot in fact create a hammer, the assumption of a hammer is not an assumption of a nature or capacities, and other things can prevent me from hurting myself with it, the Son in fact initiated and infallibly determined His own Incarnation and assumption of a nature or capacities precisely so as to be hurt through the crucifixion. So the questions about whether I am being really affected by the hammer, if I am affecting myself, or both would have analogous correspondents to the situation of the Incarnation.

4. Direct arguments for divine impassibility could be made from other alleged divine attributes. Divine simplicity would entail divine impassibility. Given that there would be no real distinction between impassibility and simplicity, then it is trivially true that any argument for divine simplicity would be an argument for divine impassibility. I have numerous reasons for disagreeing with divine simplicity, however, so to the extent that I agree with divine impassibility, I wouldn't look here.

Another direct argument for divine impassibility is to argue for divine immutability. Divine impassibility may not require divine immutability per point 3 above, but if God doesn't change, then obviously nothing external to Him could be said to change Him. Ultimately, what grounds our belief in something about God ought to be divine revelation, but our support can be either explicit or implicit. I'm sure others are more aware of relevant biblical passages than I am.

Currently, I am sympathetic towards divine immutability and, to that extent, sympathetic towards divine impassibility as well. I am undecided, however. Obviously, an adherent of divine immutability must consider the relevancy of the Incarnation. Unless I were to encounter incontrovertible, unambiguous biblical support for a specific theory and expression of immutability or impassibility - I may have done so and just don't remember, or I may have and just think (correctly or not) that those texts are prima facie consistent with varying positions - I would need to develop my views on the Incarnation and a theory of time before I could answer decisively.