Monday, October 31, 2011

Various Essays

I've placed 2nd in the 2011 Trinity Foundation essay contest. It covers material related to Gordon Clark's Wheaton Lectures. You can read the essay here.

Those who are interested in similar papers can read: my '09 essay on Clark's book God's Hammer, for which I placed 3rd, here; my entry into last year's contest on Religion, Reason, and Revelation here; a research paper I submitted to one of my philosophy professors here, with my responses to his criticisms of it here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Clark's Lectures 2... kind of

A half a year ago, I began a series in which I transcribed some points from Clark's audio lectures available here. I dropped that in part because I realized that what else I had been copying was already available in print. That realization was a little annoying.

However, the audio of what I had been transcribing was so excellent that I purchased the book itself, Clark's Language and Theology. The last chapter in the book can be listened to here (part 1) and here (part 2). The rest of the book I consider to be a well-written supplement to the course in logical positivism and pragmatism I took last semester, notes on which I've posted elsewhere on this blog.

Instead of typing points made from Clark's audio lectures, I have here decided to post both some particular points Clark made in the first 130 pages of Language and Theology which were of interest to me and, where I found it necessary for my benefit, some summaries and reminders in brackets:


Page 18: “The answer to this, so it seems to the present writer, is that every class is a member of itself. Were this not so, logic would be impossible. In fact, Russell himelf says so. The symbolic logic he desires to substitute for ordinary language depends on the axiom, a < a. All the a’s area’s. One is included in one, and zero is included in zero. Anything else, as Parmenides said, “completely destroys the possibility of argumentation.””

[The law of identity requires that even individuals are classes. Whether or not classes can be subordinated is a matter of distinguishing, if possible, between the essential and accidental or particular attributes of a given subject. The class of “Socrates,” for example, can be subordinated under the class of “Men,” though not vice versa. Apply this idea to 1) the "Third Man" argument against Platonism and 2) the fact that knowledge is propositional.]

The Adequacy of “Ordinary” Language

Page 19: “It is much easier to write a short line of symbols instead of two or three lines of English. But the philosophic point is that not only can the equation be expressed in English, but that without ordinary English the equation could never have been understood. Plus, exponent, multiplication, equality has to begin in ordinary language. And even today a small amount of English appears here and there to indicate what some part of a formula means.”

[To understand a mathematical formula, for example, one must understand that meaning to which the symbols in the formula refer by “ordinary language.”]

Internal Relations

Pages 19-20: “Now, first the brief intellectual history at the beginning noted that Russell early renounced Hegelianism and became an empiricist. This change started with an attack on Bradley’s, and Hegel’s, theory of internal relations and the substitution of an atomic theory of external relations. The former, holding that everything is implicated in everything, results is an absolute monism. The definition of cat for example, is part of the definition of dog, and also of Betelgeuse. For Russell relations are external to the objects related. These relations, though it seems strange to say so, are grasped by immediate sense perception. This seems strange because it is hard to see what color above and to the left of are, or to hear what noises uncle and is greater than give off. However, such are the atoms of Russell’s world.

In conformity with this, propositions are true in isolation. A proposition is true if it corresponds to an atomic fact or a combination of them. “The car is in the garage” is true if we see a car, a garage, and an in. Thus, language consists of words, each of which designates a sensory individual.

To be fair to Russell, one must acknowledge that he later modified such an absurdity. He came to doubt the reality of is and the, if not in. These nonrealities he then explained as the logical positivists did later, as parts of a logical framework without objective referents. This framework became his symbolic logic.”

Page 21: “If there were no sense of sight, there would be no sense of hearing. If there were nothing hard, there would be nothing soft. If there were no animals, there could be no plants. The reason is that each of these terms expresses a distinction from its opposites. Sight is a form of nonhearing. Were they the same, we might have the term sensation, but we would not have two terms of different meaning. The terms “plant” and “animal” would not apply to different objects, if there were no different objects. There might be “living beings,” but no plants and animals. Similarly, there would be no living beings, if there were no nonliving beings. This should be sufficient to dispose of logical atomism.”

Page 27: “The great absolute idealist held that the simplest object implicitly contains the universe. If it were different in any way, every other thing in the universe would be different. It would be a completely different universe.”

[The thesis-antithesis distinction means that any and every concept will entail knowledge of what a subject is not as well as what it is. Applying this to the true objects of knowledge – propositions – implies the necessity of an eternally omniscient source of knowledge, i.e. the argument from the contingency of knowledge. Further apply this to the coherency of philosophical systems.]

Logic and Conventionalism

Page 48: “But when when Ayer says that there is no absolute standard of rationality, his words go beyond the positive laws of science; they include the law of contradiction, for this law has traditionally been considered to be the basic test of rationality. Ayer, of course, insists that present logic is a convention that may well be replaced in the future. But if I believed now that next year, or next century, inconsistency and self-contradiction would be rational, it would have a tremendously destructive bearing on my belief that these laws are rational now.”

[Denying an absolute standard of rationality leads to self-contradiction.]

Christianity and Dualism

Page 74: “Christianity reunites the resurrected body with the soul in the eschatological future, indicating also that the soul enjoys the presence of God in the interim.”

[The mind is separable from the physical body, as is the case during, for example, the period of time between death and the resurrection.]


Page 91: “Scholastic nominalism, he asserts, is inconsistent because it still retained the reality of individuals. Neo-nominalism abolishes all substantives: All is flux and names distort reality. If universals are unreal, individuals are too, for the mere naming of a thing is a minimal universal. Neo-nominalism therefore has no things, but only “events.” But this makes nonsense of (1) perceptual meanings; (2) value meanings; and (3) descriptions; then (4) because it makes nonsense of metaphysics, it makes nonsense of all empirical meaning, for the former conditions the latter…”

[Nominalism is opposed to realism. Universals and individuals are both “real” because they are propositions in God’s mind or thoughts; “reality” is propositional truth).]

Theories of Truth

Page 91: “Sometimes Urban is not only perceptive, but witty as well. The several theories of truth, he says – correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic – cannot be shown to correspond to truth. Coherence coheres with nothing. And the pragmatic theory does not work. Therefore the neo-positivists conclude that the meaning of truth is a meaningless question, for if meaning is always reference to a sensory object, truth can have no meaning because it refers to no object: The truth of the criteria is truth only of interpretation.”

[A theory of truth must be as consistent with its own principle as that which is said to follow from it.]

Knowledge as Propositional

Pages 97-98: “A noun all by itself is neither true nor false. Knowledge (and is not knowledge the possession of a truth?) always comes in propositions. Otherwise language could not express a truth. Therefore the intellect does not grasp individual material things. It is also impossible to know mental “things,” if there are such. Is the concept of two an individual thing? Whether or not, the concept of two, all by itself, is unknowable. “One plus one equals two” can be known, and we assert it as a truth; but the number two, alone, like the oak tree, is neither true nor false. The content of knowledge is always propositional. This view allows the intellect to do something else besides drawing conclusions. It can know the premises as well as conclusions. Call it simplex intuitus, or contemplation, or understanding, it is different from drawing an implication. Axioms can never be conclusions. But all truth comes in propositions. One can somewhat anticipate how this view of truth can apply to a theory of language.”

[A proposition is either true or false. Knowledge of the truth of a proposition is to know its contradictory is false. A propositions is true if it is one of God’s thoughts.]

Meaning and Symbols

Page 89: “It is implausible because without the “intuition” of an object, there would be no stimulus to expression. Why or how could anyone invent a word, other than a nonsense syllable, if he had nothing to express? The meaning must come first and its symbol second.”

Page 123: “Moreover, before a man constructs a symbol, he must have something in mind to symbolize.”

[Symbolism presupposes meaning.]

Pages 102-103: “The letters d-o-g and the letters H-u-n-d and the letters c-h-i-e-n are all adequate to represent a certain type of animal. Symbols are always adequate, just because they are symbols. It seems useless to question the adequacy of theological language. If theological thought can be defended, the language will take care of itself. A person may indeed think of cat or God at the wrong time; and he may say chien when he means chat, but this is no defect in language as such. Therefore if one has an idea of the shapeless number that solves the question x2+1=0, any symbol will do.”

[Symbols are arbitrary tags of thoughts.]

Miscellaneous Problems with Empiricism

Pages 20-21: “Uneducated people talk about the five senses, and touch is one of the five. But Aristotle knew that what we call touch is three different senses. He explained the common misapprehension on the ground that the skin is not the sense organ, but a medium that serves three different organs underneath. Now, if the air, continues Aristotle, were a part of the body, enveloping the face as the skin does the fingers, we would suppose that smell, taste, hearing, and sight are all one. Even as it is, though Aristotle does not mention it, we cannot be sure that sight is a single sense. Maybe there are as many senses as there are rods and cones in the retina. The difficulty here is in identifying an atomic sense.”

[The ambiguity of sensation means that it is possible man may possess more or less than the five commonly attributed to him. Furthermore, a man may not possess certain sensations others possess, and given that this could be true for all men in relation to, say, animals, the precision of what “sensation(s)” man does possess is questionable.]

Pages 28-31: “The standard forms of empiricism, surely Wittgenstein’s, depend on a theory of images; and they usually add an Aristotelian process of abstraction in order to get concepts…

Since this pictorial view is inherent in all empiricism, excepting only Berkeleyan subjective idealism and pyrrhonian skepticism, it deserves the most careful consideration. Important as the theme is in philosophy, there is nothing more important for religious theories of language and knowledge, for it underlies the possibility of any and every theological sentence.

Other minor criticisms may surface on later pages, but here two fundamental objections demand attention: one has to do with the idea of picture, and a second with the idea of representation or correspondence. This second point, the “correspondence theory of knowledge,” faces the insuperable objection that it disallows any knowledge of reality at all. Whatever reality may be, whether individuals like trees and rocks, or Platonic Ideas, or whatever, this theory provides us only with pictures of them. The object of knowledge is therefore a representation and not the reality itself. Since the mind contains only the picture and never the “thing,” there is no possibility of knowing whether or not the representation is similar to the object or not. To recognize a similarity between two things, they must be compared, and hence both must be in the mind. But if the reality is in the mind, the picture with its similarity is useless. If the reality is not in the mind, the picture, so far as we know, is a picture of nothing. There is hardly any objection to empiricism more fundamental than this one…

The other point, previously mentioned, has to do with the idea of images and their special arrangements…

At best it is an induction from questions asked of and answers received from a large sample of “ordinary uneducated persons.” This is an induction; and the validity of induction is an indispensable element in scientific positivism. But induction, unless it be complete induction which is never the case in science, is always invalid…

But second, and conclusively, induction, if it proves anything, proves the falsity of the empirical principle.”

[1. Correspondence: Given that one cannot completely penetrate a physical object due to his limited perspective, what he senses can only correspond to or represent the object, which, if such is how the propositions one believes about a subject are allegedly justified, leads to skepticism. 2. Pictures: Not everyone possesses visual images, and the subjectivity of sensation leads to relativism.]

Page 41: “Now, finally, a note on protocol sentences and their ostensive sources. The beginning of meaning lies in pointing with the finger at a visible object. Only after pointing can language come into play. But if we can point at a cat or dog or tree, how can the meaning of in, for, quickly,greater be seen with the eyes? Not to mention the square root of minus one?”

[Protocol sentences are the empirically fundamental and ostensively justified propositions whose subjects refer to sensations. Since not all subjects are physical, however, sensation cannot be the sole means of knowledge.]

Page 103: “Bushnell seems to oscillate between language and the thought it symbolizes, for he explains that logic – not the choice of symbols – developed from grammar and grammar came from physical relations in nature.

This is a basic and fatal flaw in all empiricism. Even Aristotle failed to give Aristotelian logic an acceptable basis. The reason is that the laws of logic are universal. The syllogism Barbara is always, everywhere, and without exception valid. But experience is never universal. One may observe a thousand black crows, but this is of no value in supporting the proposition, All crows are black. The next crow may be an albino. Hence physical relations in nature, if indeed they could produce grammar, would still never arrive at any principle of logic, mathematics, or theology.”

[Abstracting universal laws from experience is question-begging.]


Pages 113-114: “In the recent past several writers have said that the purpose of the Bible is to present salvation in Christ. But since Kings and Chronicles do not clearly do so, these books are not the Word of God. No doubt most of John’s Gospel is the Word of God, but very little of Chronicles. It is right here that the pointed question must be put. What criterion is used to distinguish religious literature from non-religious? What criterion is used to determine that the purpose of the Bible precludes historical books from being the Word of God? Most of the authors who make these distinctions offer no criterion at all. If they did, a Moslem or Hindu would reply, “that may be your idea of religion, but it is not mine”; and a Christian would reply, “that is your notion of what is excluded from salvation in Christ, but it is not mine.”

There is indeed a way for these people to avoid logical difficulties, paradoxes, and analogy. To quote one of them: “It is possible to lead a religious life without discussing it or verbalizing very much about it.” If a persons never says anything, he obviously does not flounder in fallacious implications. No one can refute him, for he says nothing to refute. What one can truly say of him, however, is that he is not a Christian, for Christ commanded his followers to make disciples, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Christians must “verbalize” (to use contemporary gobbledygook).”

[One's choice of criterion for canonicity must be examined for internal consistency, as a philosophical system stands or falls on the merits (or lack thereof) of its own axiom(s).]

Analogical and Univocal or Literal Truth

Page 88: “Unless the analogy is based on a literal and univocal similarity, there could be no analogy at all.”

Page 99: “The second example is that of some “Protestant controversialists” who have trouble with the epistle to the Hebrews. They argue that Christ relinquished his office of priest because after his ascension he sat down on the right hand of the heavenly majesty. Priests stand; kings are seated. No one can be both seated and standing at the same time. Therefore Hebrews is inconsistent because it describes him as sitting and also argues as a priest. Mascall, to defend the consistency of the epistle, argues that analogies are not to be taken literally. Analogies literally understood may conflict, but yet convey consistent meanings. To some extent this is true, if analogies convey enough meaning. But would it not be better to end this puzzle before it begins? Sometimes priests sit down and sometimes kings stand in their chariots as they ride into battle.”

Page 100: “If the doctrine of the atonement were clearly known, a preacher might use a pleasing analogy or illustration that might attract his congregation and help fix the meaning in their minds. But suppose none of them has the least literal notion of what doctrine X means. This might not be the case with some well instructed congregations, but it was certainly true on many foreign mission fields in the ninth or nineteenth century. Now, then, says the missionary, I want to explain to you doctrine X. None of them had even heard the word X before. So the missionary says, X is like the dawning of the morning. One of his audience thinks, X an event that happens approximately every twenty-four hours. Another in the audience thinks, X is something reddish-orange. A third guesses that X is a work of art, though not necessarily reddish-orange. A fourth supposes that X is a method of locating east. But since none of them has any knowledge of the literal meaning of X, they have no way of determining in what respects X is like the dawn and in what respects it is not. Analogies require but do not furnish information.”

Page 106: “Bushnell and Gilkey apparently use the term vaguely to denote any kind of similarity. These men do not seem to consider that the statement of similarity must be literal, not analogical; and that without the literal basis no analogy is possible.”

Page 127: “Of course there are figures of speech, metaphors, anthropomorphisms, and the like. But these would be meaningless if there were no literal statements to give them meaning. For example, II Chronicles 16:9, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth,” is ludicrously ridiculous if taken literally: little eyeballs rolling over the dusty ground. But unless the statement, God is omniscient, is literal, the figure has nothing to signify.”

[Analogies presuppose univocal knowledge, literal truth.]

Mysteries and Understandability

Pages 129-130: “But mysteries are not necessarily impossible or even difficult to understand. In the New Testament mystery does not refer to something we call mysterious in English. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:51 states a mystery: it may be hard for some people to believe, but there is no difficulty in understanding it.

Then, too, it is false to say that “the kingdom of heaven cannot be brought down to earth for our inspection.” Christ did just that. Also the kingdom remains with us, and we inspect it daily.

But once more, if “the comparison is no more than a comparison,” or, better, if it is as much as a comparison, the particular truth illustrated by the comparison must be understandable, for otherwise the parable’s language would not reveal the truth to us.”

[Scriptural mysteries can be known. That is, in fact, the purpose of their having been revealed.]

God and Language

Pages v-vi: “The Bible, written in human language, has a great deal to say about language. God speaks and the world appears. God creates a man who speaks and listens to him. God created many languages at the Tower of Babel. God speaks through his prophets; he puts his words in their mouths. God the Son himself speaks, in person, and in Aramaic, apparently. He causes the apostles and prophets to write down his own words. One implication of all this is that not only is language completely adequate and, properly used, meaningful, but its origin is God himself. One of the primary purposes of language is to discuss theology, and any philosophy that attempts to drive a wedge between language and theology is false. Human language is a totally adequate tool to express truth, including divine truth.” (Robbins)

Page 125: “Then second, the idea that if God speaks in words, he is somehow “bound” by an alien force, it a thoroughgoing misrepresentation. The words themselves are mere signs or symbols. They designate ideas or truths. If God cannot use symbols to express his truth, he is indeed bound and limited. A God who cannot speak is not omnipotent. In fact in such a case God would be more limited than man, for a man can speak.”

Pages 125-126: “The phraseology here is again propaganda, for the important question is not whether some people misread the Bible, but whether the words and sentences of the Bible are authoritative statements because they are true, because they are the words of God. It is obviously poor thinking to attack a theory of the inspiration and truth of the Scriptures on the ground that some people do not understand the words. Must one take a textbook on calculus as mythological, poetic, or parabolic and not literally true, because some high school students cannot understand it?”

Page 130: “Surely language, as God’s gift to Adam, has as its purpose, not only communication among men, but communication between man and God. God spoke words to Adam and Adam spoke words to God. Since this is the divine intention, words or language is adequate. To be sure, on occasion, even on frequent occasions, sinful man cannot find the right words to express his thought: but this is a defect of man, not an inadequacy of language. The Bible does not countenance a theory that originates language in pagan mythology with the result that divine truth is unintelligible.”

[The sufficiency, authority, and perspicuity of the adequate language of Scripture does not hinge on whether or not such is understood.]

Friday, October 7, 2011

Behind the Curve

Early yesterday, I left a comment on this article:

Here are some edited comments by one of our members posted in our private discussion group concerning the Calvinist claim that the Arminian view of faith makes faith a work created by man:

When they make that charge, they conflate the faith/works debate and the free-will/determinism debate into a single issue. This approach has textual problems, because when the Bible discussion faith-vs-works, it does so in a specific context that is not obviously related to predestination [cf. Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9]. It also has a logic problem, because from a Calvinist perspective, we have to wonder what was the point of the faith/works distinction in the first place. In other words, if we cannot boast in our faith because it is predestined by God, then we also cannot boast in our works because they are predestined by God. But the Bible specifically says that salvation is by faith rather than works, lest any man should boast. Paul's explanation is not very meaningful if free-will, not works, is what gives us a reason to boast.

Some Calvinists try to resolve the issue by saying that neither faith nor works has anything at all to do with our salvation. But that also strips Paul's words of their meaningfulness. Why emphasize faith if we are to regard it as such a small thing?

But a straightforward reading avoids these questions. If we just set aside the obsessive free-will/predestination focus, the text makes sense. God has not given us a way to earn forgiveness; instead, he just calls us to trust in what Christ has done for us. That trust is important, but by definition it means relying on God instead of ourselves. Thus, we do not boast.

Here's the rub (allegedly): it is a common Calvinist argument that Arminians, among others, cannot consistently believe in salvation by grace alone, for if grace is an insufficient (albeit necessary) condition for salvation, then by definition grace alone cannot lead to one's salvation. For faith to be contingent on the exercise of one's supposedly libertarian free will would, in effect, make faith a work, for the application of redemption would hinge on man's cooperation in salvation contrary to Jonah 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:10, etc.. I, a Calvinist, have indeed used some form of this argument (cf. my third cross-ex question here).

Rather than reply to this argument, the Arminian in the above article seeks to go on the offensive. Essentially, the author points out that from a Calvinist's perspective, both faith and good works are predestined, yet the Calvinist does not believe that faith can be a ground for boasting; therefore, why should the Calvinist believe good works are a ground for boasting? After all, both are predestined. On the other hand, if the Calvinist should reply that good works would not be a ground for boasting, this would suggest that Paul is worried about nothing when writes that salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast.

That writing a blog is useful can be demonstrated after reading articles such as the above. There are few things I find as satisfying as having anticipated an argument. For example, in the last year, I wrote one post distinguishing between faith and good works (link; cf. here) and another post explaining why [predestined] good works are indeed praiseworthy (link). Briefly:

Intentions refer to why or for what reason we will or choose.

A necessary precondition for discerning whether or not a work is good hinges on an understanding of one’s intentions (1 Corinthians 10:31). E.g. one may refuse to steal, but if he refuses for some selfish reason or, generally, any reason other than that such refusal is right obedience to God’s authoritative law which thereby shows right respect for God’s glory, such an intention connotes a work which is sinful rather than good.

Contrarily, one cannot “intend” to understand or assent to a proposition as true; he either does or does not. Both understanding and assent, then, do not hinge on the exercise of one’s own will...

There seems, therefore, to be at least one way in which saving faith differs from a good work: both may be caused by God's grace, but only works proceed from our [determined] purposes.

A work is intentional or purposive. A work is praiseworthy if it is good. A work is good if done in submission to God for His glory. However, works are not that by which one is saved - not efficiently, instrumentally, or meritoriously. It is true that faith is the instrumental cause of justification, but faith as not a work, the Arminian's article misses the mark and fails to provide a counter-argument to the Calvinist's allegation that they cannot believe in salvation by grace alone.