Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Van Tilian Essay on Reymond and Clark

A friend of mine looking at online apologetics courses brought to my attention this paper by a student, and I'm going to comment on the remarks he makes on Clark's epistemology:

In chapter four of his systematic theology, “The Fact of Divine Revelation”, Reymond makes clear that he holds to the epistemology put forth by Gordon Clark in the twentieth century.

Chapter 4 in the second edition of Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (NSTotCF) is The Nature of Biblical Truth, not The Fact of Divine Revelation. Clark isn't mentioned in the latter chapter at all, so I think he just missed that. As will be seen momentarily, however, it appears that the author did not read Reymond's book very closely.

Also, I would note that Reymond sympathized with Clark, but he certainly wasn't completely “Clarkian.” See, for example, pgs. 66-74 in his book The Justification of Knowledge. If Reymond held to Clark's view, Clark would have had no reason to respond to him in Language and Theology as well as Clark Speaks from the Grave.'s knowledge is totally dependent upon God's and is consequently qualitatively different from God's... This statement makes clear what Van Til means by the qualitative difference between God's knowledge and man's. Van Til simply means that we can never know anything originally as God does because he alone is omniscient.

How does man's epistemic dependency imply his knowledge is qualitatively different from God's? Of course we can't know anything "as" God does, but this is not a difference in content of knowledge but in the mode in which one knows. Our knowledge is derivative and dependent. God's knowledge is intuitive and independent. This isn't the question. The question is whether the content of what man knows differs from the content of what God knows.

While we may not be able to know comprehensively what a "cow" is - as that would indeed require knowledge of it's relations to everything else and, hence, omniscience - it does not follow that what we do know about a cow (i.e. what He who is omniscient has revealed about such) is qualitatively different from God's knowledge. Yet that is what Van Til contended: "we dare not maintain that [God's] knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point... [the knowledge of the creature] can never be identified with the knowledge which the infinite and absolute Creator possesses of the same proposition" (cf. pg. 5, column 3 here). I discuss all of these points more fully in this post, the primary points being as follows:

God is omniscient. What we know, then, must be what God knows. Self-defeating skepticism... is the alternative.

...God can univocally communicate His eternal thoughts to man by divine illumination pertaining to what He has revealed in His word. This is the method by which a man comes to univocally know both the truth of propositions and, hence, the infima species of the subjects of propositions by which one subject is individuated from another. The issue then simply becomes a comparison of the extent of our knowledge [about a subject] to God's, and no Clarkian thinks he is omniscient.

...the point is that one doesn't need to know the biblical meaning “in the context of all other propositions” in order to know what God knows. It is sufficient to know the infima species of the biblical subject “Jesus,” i.e. a minimal, finite number of propositions which would individuate “Jesus of Nazareth” from “Jesus of Strauss” et. al. Omniscience is not required. In fact, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for a Scripturalist, the “context of propositions” in which the biblical meaning of the statement “Jesus is Lord” is properly understood is found in the very context of Scripture.


We might say that Van Til understood that truths must be logically related because they are revealed, where for Clark and Reymond we can acknowledge that something is revealed only if we can see its logical relationship.

I disagree with the implicit assertion that Clark and Reymond subordinate divine revelation to one's perceptions of what is logical. For instance:

If it be suggested that angels also have rational knowledge, they too must have been created in God's image and therefore must have been created in God's image and therefore man is not the only image of God. This is plausible since the Psalms say that man was created a little lower than the angels. But it does not militate against man's being the image of God. And further, while the Bible distinctly asserts the image in man, it does not make this assertion of angels. The creation of angels is left in obscurity, and so we too must leave it there. (Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, pg. 15)

So long as there is a possible answer to an objection, there is no problem. The problem Clarkians have with Van Tilian appeals to paradoxes is that they are often made when there is no such possible answer to a logical objection, e.g. analogical knowledge leads to skepticism. This appears especially ridiculous when Van Tilians cite Scripture to chastise their opponents, as if the opponents cannot retort that because they only know Scripture analogically, then on their own grounds Van Tilians must admit the possibility that in the broader context of what can be known, truth could be compatible with what their opponents believe.

...consider the three friends of Job. When one reads the book of Job and notices the chain of reasoning that these men employed, it becomes apparent that they, on a practical level, believed that logic was a sufficient tool to explain the revelation of God. In this sense Job's friends were proto-Clarkian in their epistemology. A syllogistic summary of their argument might look like this:

  • God judges sin, not righteousness.
  • God is judging you, Job.
  • Therefore, you must have sinned.
Here we have a logically sound piece of argument, and yet how flawed was the conclusion!

Firstly, the argument in question is valid, not sound. And frankly, this sort of accusation evidences ineptitude. "God is judging you, Job" was never divinely revealed explicitly nor implicitly - "by good and necessary consequence," a phrase in the WCF with which Clarkians heartily agree - so no consistent Clarkian would assent to it.

In this context, the author takes the opportunity to reference the so-called "presumptions" of Clark and Reymond, which is ironic because no corresponding example is provided. No instance is given of Clark or Reymond actually making unnecessary inferences; rather, they are injudiciously and presumptuously lumped in with Job's accusers. Instead, the author continues to pontificate as to what Reymond would have replied to a divine command to kill his son, as though he thinks there is no possible answer to the objection that such would have contradicted Genesis 9:5-6. On the one hand, if there is a possible answer, why wouldn't the author be charitable enough to allow that Reymond could appeal to it? On the other hand, if there is no possible answer, then that shows just how meaningful is his claim that he is not advocating irrationality.

I suspect it is the former, as the author is elsewhere uncharitable towards Reymond by either dismissing Reymond's arguments or imputing false positions to him. For example:

It is important to remember that we are not advocating “irrationality” as Reymond implies must be the case.

What Reymond actually says is devastating to any notion of "paradox" in which no possible answer can be provided to an objection:

...once one asserts that a truth may legitimately assume the form of an irreconcilable contradiction, he has given up all possibility of ever detecting a real falsehood. (NSTotCF, pg. 106)

The author doesn't address this, which must be remembered when he later chides Reymond for remarking that the giving up of this possibility leads to "the death of all rational faith," which is quite true. Continuing, the author writes:

Reymond avers that it is merely the “erring exegete” who understands the facts of revelation in such a way that they are apparent contradictories though reconciled to the mind of God.

No, what Reymond actually says on pg. 108 is:

Certainly it is possible for an erring exegete so to interpret two statements of Scripture that he thinks that they teach contradictory propositions. But either he has misinterpreted one statement (maybe both), or he has attempted to relate two statements that were never intended to be related to one another.

Reymond doesn't mention apparent contradictions at all, let alone that such could be reconciled in the mind of God. Continuing:

Reymond, in marked contrast to this position, insists that the facts of revelation must not only come as the self-attesting correspondents of God's knowledge, free of all true contradiction, but must be reconcilable “before the bar of human reason.”

Nowhere on the page the author cites (NSTofCF, pg. 109) does Reymond say such a thing. Continuing:

Reymond, not content to “take all the factors of Scripture and bind them together into systematic relations with one another as far as we can”...

Reymond never says this. The author assumes Reymond disagrees with this statement because it was made in the context of a quotation of Van Til with which Reymond disagreed. Actually, Reymond only expressed disagreement with the idea that "the Bible will often (always, according to Van Til) set forth its truth in irreconcilable terms..."

The author essentially makes the following mistake: suppose I say "Clark was smart and Van Til was smart," and suppose the author disagreed with that statement. I could assume that if he disagrees with one part of the statement he disagrees with all of it, but that would be rather "presumptuous," wouldn't it? I could assume he thinks neither Clark nor Van Til were smart, but actually, he may have thought Van Til was smart though Clark was dumb. Now, I really shouldn't have to explain this, because it's pretty obvious. But it does illustrate that one should always check the source material to see if an author is honestly and faithfully portraying its views.

I might add that even if Reymond was "not content" with this, it would mean he disagrees with Clarkian epistemology. So what was the author's point?

Other examples of sloppy reading could be cited, but I think the one's mentioned are sufficient to the purpose.

In the last section of his paper, he mentions that:

Historically, the expository case for a Clarkian epistemology has been largely made from a certain translation of the Johannine logos...

Now, in all of the posts I've written defending Scripturalism, I've mentioned that verse a grand total of once, and that only in conjunction with John 14:6, which I assume the author would agree asserts that Christ is the truth. I got the impression that his haggling over Clark's rendering of John 1:1 - and honestly, it doesn't take a Greek scholar to see that he logic is a legitimate rendering of logos - is minutiae meant to obscure the real arguments for Scripturalism. For this reason, I was a bit amused when the author said:

Perhaps aware of these difficulties, Reymond does not emphasize Clark's understanding of the Johannine logos in his argument for a Clarkian epistemology.

Or, perhaps aware of its relative insignificance, Reymond focused on those aspects of Clark's understanding which are more fundamental to Clarkian epistemology.

The author then goes in to another tangent, i.e. whether Paul's gospel was derived from one or multiple revelations. It's really bizarre. Of course, examples of "logical extension" can be found in Scripture. Jesus accused the Sadducees for failing to draw out the implication that God is a God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:23-33). And the author himself makes logical extensions when speaking about the Trinity, a word not found in Scripture. So I don't see what the fuss is about.

The author does get one thing right:

At the heart of Reymond‟s epistemology is a denial of the Creator/creature distinction in the realm of knowledge.

Well done, Reymond.

1 comment:

Max said...

Jesus to his disciples:

"... I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does, but I have called you friends... FOR ALL THINGS THAT I HAVE HEARD OF MY FATHER, I HAVE MADE KNOWN TO YOU." (John 15:15)

The disciples' knowledge coincided with the Father's knowledge. End of debate! lol!