Wednesday, June 5, 2013

David P. Hoover on Van Tilian Analogical Knowledge

David P. Hoover was the evidentialist who debated Gordon Clark in 1983 (link). He also wrote an article one year after that debate, doing a much better job of critiquing Clark’s views than in that debate (link). Perhaps that is because he is in general a better writer than speaker - for he is a good writer - or perhaps that is because after the debate he better acquainted himself with Clark’s works. Regardless, some of it pinpoints sore spots - especially those which concern metaphysics - other parts, not so much. I don’t consider it to be fatal to Scripturalism, for whatever that’s worth.

While I may interact with his article on Clark some other time - which would probably be more entertaining for the reader than the unprecedented number of posts on Van Til[ians] these past few weeks, which I do not anticipate will continue hereafter - I wanted to provide a link to an online critique he wrote of Van Til’s apologetic (link). It’s a bit informal for my taste - especially after pg. 45 - but as a former Van Tilian, it is instructive to see what he believed to be the problem areas in Van Til’s philosophy. This includes his comparison of Van Til to Kant (pgs. 56, 104-105), his confirmation of my suspicions in my previous post that analogical knowledge is grounded on an acceptance of the doctrine of internal relations (pgs. 13-14, 72), and, particularly, the doctrine of “analogical knowledge,” i.e. the doctrine that the content of God’s knowledge and the content of man’s “knowledge” neither qualitatively nor univocally coincide at any point. 

Naturally, as Hoover is an evidentialist, I don’t agree with everything he writes, but so far as his internal critique of Van Til is concerned, I’ve categorized the following arguments against analogical knowledge which I found to be persuasive. Analogical knowledge:

1. Has Self-Referential Problems

Since Van Til insists that reasoning analogically is a necessary condition of knowing truly, it must be possible to tell, at least on some occasions, whether one has reasoned analogically. Yet according to Van Til, the ability to specify criteria would cancel the need to invoke analogicity in the first place. And why is that? Because to specify criteria entails a univocal access to at least some knowledge as God knows it in order to see whether one’s own noetic holdings are indeed analogous of God’s noetic holdings. That means we would have to have access above the ceiling in order judiciously to apply the analogy concept to our own thinking. But by the very nature of the case there can’t be any human peeking above the ceiling, for above the ceiling (as I am using this metaphor) there is only knowledge as God knows it. The very idea of human access to the latter is an ontological impossibility on Van Til’s reckoning, and things don’t get more impossible than that! So Van Til has put the Christian in the impossible position of having to “reflect” God's knowledge while being systematically cut off from it. (pg. 16)

So on Van Til's own logic, either (1) knowledge is impossible because no human belief can be analogically validated, or (2) “analogicity” itself, contrary to Van Til’s idea that he is somehow doing epistemology, is a speculative metaphysical concept which (somehow) merely characterizes human knowledge by contrast to divine knowledge. I say “speculative” because the only way Van Til could know (and hence not speculate) that there is “no identity of content” between divine and human minds is by peeking above the ceiling in order to confirm that this is so-and by his own principles creatures can’t do that.

Well, I think (2) is the case: Van Til’s theory is a speculative metaphysics of knowledge and has precious little to do with practical epistemological matters. That is to say, Van Til gives us no help at all with specifying applicable conditions by which to certify knowledge, and it is only if knowledge can be identified in total independence of Van Til’s metaphysical doctrine, that that doctrine can have even dubious application to the ultimate character of the knowledge thus (independently) identified. To repeat, Van Til provides not a clue about how we acquire ordinary knowledge, and how to separate ordinary knowledge from ignorance. Bottom line: Van Til’s “theory of knowledge” is not a theory of how we may come to know things by examining data and evidence, but is instead a metaphysics of the contrast he alleges between the mind of God and the mind of man. (pgs. 17-18)

…in the complete absence of univocal criteria there is the problem of commencing an infinite regress of analogical evaluations. Evaluation itself insofar as it is presuppositionally proper in its rationality, must be analogical, so only analogical evaluation is competent to assess the strength or merit of a putatively analogical argument. But how does one tell whether the assessment itself bears a sufficiently strong analogy to God’s thought? Answer: that would take another analogical assessment of the immediately previous assessment-and so on forever; and fourth, there simply is no ana-logic and hence no structural means to assess outcomes of reasoning which “reflect” (i.e., are analogical of) divinely held truth. (pg. 51)

2. Renders Apologetics a Pointless Enterprise

Criteria are marks or discernible characteristics by which we can test our knowledge. An inherently indiscernible criterion is self-contradictory-no criterion at all. Analogicity, needless to say, is an inherently indiscernible property, and a Van Tillian analogy is an inherently indiscernible relation. Hence Van Til’s analogy doctrine is incurably speculative and systematically unavailable to do any work in epistemology or apologetics. (pg. 20)

Here is how to construct your own haven. Choose a deity. (Linus has chosen the Great Pumpkin.) Declare that your deity is creator of all things and enjoys absolutivity with respect to knowledge because of his supreme level of existence. Then draw the implication that all human knowing is at best analogical of the deity’s knowing so that there is no identity of meaning between anything in the deity’s mind and anything in a human mind. Stop. At this point, analogicity is fundamentally criterial for whether or not anyone knows “truly.”

This criterion, however, is inherently the abolition of all criteria. When in place, it is complete license to run religiously and spiritually amuck, for not only is substantive content noncoincident, principles governing logical coherence (the law of contradiction, for example) are as well. That is because (1) the deity is the only true knower, (2) humans are absolutely dependent on the deity's knowledge for their analogical knowledge, and (3) the logic of analogicity necessitates, first and foremost, the radical severance of cognitive linkage between divine and human minds. In effect, analogicity is Van Til’s metaphysical guarantee that there cannot be a semantic bridge between divine and human minds. I hasten to add that once the logic of analogicity is in place, no amount of pious language can be thrown at the resulting problem to alleviate it of the catastrophic consequence we have seen. (pgs. 28-29)

3. Licenses Paradox

And what of the Great Pumpkin? Since we are forever cut off from criteria to apply the analogicity concept to this or that claim, Linus can easily help himself to it without fear of later refutation. Linus, like Van Til, knows what he knows, and what he knows he knows analogically! Or to put it another way, Linus’s “special knowledge,” like Van Til's, enjoys an utterly inscrutable “resemblance relation” to the deity’s knowledge. And since this relation is inscrutable, hence not cognitively penetrable by way of criteria, there is simply no way to test it - no way, that is, either to confirm it or disconfirm it. Indeed, no refutation could count without itself being blessed with inscrutable analogicity! In a manner of speaking, to “analogize” your position is thereby to “immunize” it from criticism. Thus (once one's system is analogized) data can never interfere with cherished beliefs, whether you're a Christian theist, a Pumpkinologist, or an Elvis worshipper. Bliss! (pg. 29)

It might be thought, however, that Van Til’s rule to show “the impossibility of the contrary” might be used decisively against The Great Pumpkin. In logic, this is simply the procedure of reducing one's opponent’s position to absurdity by assuming the truth of its major premises and deriving a contradiction thereby.

There is a decisive objection to this that Linus can make, however: it is analogicity in Van Til’s scheme that secures the Christian’s position, not the strict logical coherence of Christianity s doctrines or an infallible construal of evidences. Indeed, he concedes that Christianity fares poorly when it comes to assessing, by standard logic, the Trinity or the coherence of the aseity doctrine with God’s having created anything. “So much the worse for standard logic,” is Van Til’s reply, “the analogical condition of being in the truth is what (argumentatively) secures the Christian position. Logical laws themselves are relativized to God’s epistemic absolutivily.” But that response is equally available to Linus in behalf of the Pumpkin. Analogically apprehended mysteries are exempt from straight logical critique (univocal critique, Van Til would say). Van Til’s line has always been that ‘contradictions’ at the core of the Christian faith are proper ‘mysteries’ while ‘contradictions’ at the core of opposing systems are conclusive evidence of their impossibility and falsehood. That is a darkish saying indeed. (pgs. 51-52)

4. Precludes Divine Omniscience and Communicability

…suppose that the “no identity-no coincidence” doctrine were true: in that case an omniscient God cannot entertain in his mind whatever the disciples did understand by his utterance! That is because the “no identity-no coincidence” doctrine is symmetrical. Regarding the prospect of communication, we must hold Van Til to his words: for both God and man “no identity” is no identity and “no coincidence” is no coincidence. So not only can't the disciples univocally entertain any of God's meaning; God can't univocally entertain any of the disciples’ meaning!

Van Til’s doctrine thus effectively renders divine-to-human as well as human-to-divine communication impossible so far as sameness of content meaning is concerned. And to boot (and ever so ironically), Van Til’s doctrine of analogy implies that an omniscient God is ignorant of the disciples’ precise understanding of him. (pgs. 22-23)

5. Restricts Divine Omnipotence

…there seems to be an ultimate irony in Van Til’s analogy doctrine, for that very doctrine places a rather catastrophic limitation on what an “omnipotent” God can bring about with regard to communication between himself and his creatures. To use a grammatical construction from Paul [Rom. 3:4], it is as though Van Til were saying, “Let God be incomprehensible and every man hopelessly ignorant!” Paul's actual comment, of course, is, “Let God be true and every man a liar!” Lying, unlike irremediable ignorance, allows some discernment of the truth which one is lying about. Paul's point, as I understand it, is that even if all men remained in unbelief through their own deception and self-deception, the truth of God and its epistemic availability would remain unaffected. If, however, God had created all men with an epistemic endowment that is semantically blind to divine revelation (blind, thus, merely because of human creaturehood!), then while God's truth would remain unaffected, it would be radically unavailable to man. And to provide emphasis, that is because if the ontological situation is as Van Til describes it, the Creator is powerless to create a being with whom he can communicate “in the same voice.” (pgs. 27-28)

6. Begs and Leaves Unanswered Questions Regarding the Incarnation

As applied to Jesus, I think the analogy doctrine implies a strictly bifurcated mind (within the thought processes of the historical Jesus) in which there would have to be two radically incommensurable ways of structuring knowledge (one divine and the other human) neither of which can fathom the other.

This question can be asked too: If our omnipotent God can become human-take on the same flesh as we ourselves who are saved by Jesus's sacrifice [“univocal” flesh, so to speak]-why can’t God also share some same level meaning within the constraints of the linguistic structures that he himself created? If, however, we accept Van Til’s doctrine of absolutely different levels of divine and human existence, then the very logic of this acceptance would seem to preclude that God could become a man. The question I raise is whether God can violate “the radically different ontological levels of divine and human existence” to literally take on our humanity on our level of existence. Given what Van Til has had to say about these levels, I don't see how he can escape this kind of difficulty regarding the Incarnation of Christ. It seems to me that both with respect to the cerebrally facilitated knowing of the earthly Jesus, and with respect to the Incarnation itself, Van Til’s speculations do not bode well for orthodox Christology. (pg. 30)

I think that Van Til’s notion of analogicity wreaks havoc, for example, with historic Christianity's doctrine of the Incarnation; for if he were consistent, there could be no overlap of meaning - no coincidence - between what Jesus had in his mind according to his human nature vis-à-vis what Jesus had in his mind according to his divine nature. If Jesus’s own cognitive nature was at all constrained by human cognitive architecture, there's a formidable problem here. (pg. 58)

As a cognitive agent Jesus is a single ‘integrated’ perceiver, believer, and knower, and this must be held as being logically consistent with Jesus being both divine and human. The problem is that these elements cannot logically coexist on Van Til’s ontological doctrine-his ‘theology of knowledge’ so to speak. That’s because, as we’ve already seen, there is an infinite, or shall we say ontologically unbridgeable, gap between divinely structured knowing and humanly structured knowing. In a nutshell, if persons individuate knowers, Jesus, on Van Til’s ontological doctrine, would have to be two persons, not one. That's the ancient Nestorian heresy, isn't it Charles?

And to come full circle, Schroeder, you weren't seeing the difficulty when you said, ‘He, Jesus, could know both analogically, because he’s a man, and univocally, because he’s God.’ Do you see the contradiction in that statement? When you say ‘he’ you can refer to only one knower. Van Til’s ontological principle absolutely forbids mixing, melding, or somehow homogenizing divine and human knowing. Or, if you like, it is fundamentally incoherent to say of an ontically unified knower that he knows an item of knowledge both analogically and univocally at one and the same time. So if the ‘he’ refers to a single and fully integrated epistemic agent (personhood requires this), then Van Til’s analogicity/univocity distinction cannot be applied to Jesus. (pgs. 59-60)


Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan!

It's been more than 7 months since my response to you last August. Sorry I left the conversation so abruptly. Anyhow, I briefly reviewed what we had talked about and remembered something that had puzzled me earlier. Not sure the best way to put it--it had to do with value you seem to place on Clark's desideratum of refuting skepticism. I understand why my former colleague was so invested that way--though I don't think he even came close to logical success.

In epistemology I see two kinds of quests: one positive, the other negative. The positive I see as simply a good theory of knowledge, theory that attempts to specify the necessary and sufficient conditions for (personal human) knowledge. The qualifiers within the parentheses are important to me.

The negative is a theory of epistemic limits ("theory of ignorance" might say it as well).

If you can find the time, you
might locate an early essay of mine on the website entitled, "Epistemic Bad Faith and Mere Knowledge". You can also buy an e-copy at Amazon for $0.99.

One main concern in that essay is whether finite human minds (persons) can "know that they know". I suppose the result of my query is what it means to say we are fallible knowers. But if you should read the essay, keep in mind that I am not a fallibilist in the sense of that designation as applied to the tradition of American Pragmatism. (It's funny but three of my profs at Temple U. were influential philosophers within that tradition.)

The "Epistemic Bad Faith" paper, I admit, needs to be rewritten. But I would stand by my analysis of the impossibility of knowing that one knows. That's a phrase much repeated by Francis Schaeffer, but I think it can be shown that first order knowing is the epistemic height for minds of our kind.

Need to run. Let me know what you think.

David Hoover

Ryan said...

Hello again,

Thanks for commenting. I was able to find your essay online and skim it quickly. I don't want to rush a response, but I think it's only fair to give you some [short] reading material of my own in return so you can anticipate some of my thoughts! On the subject of the necessity of infallibilistic knowledge, see this post (link). On the necessity of the possibility of self-knowledge, see here (link).

Also, if the option to converse over email is still available and your email is still, I think it would be better to switch to that mode of communication. If that's okay with you, I'll read your paper more closely and get back to you then and there.

Ryan said...

Or I could write a new post reviewing it, whichever you prefer.