Baggins Protests

For those who haven’t read it, you can find Lane Keister’s response to my previous blog post “Speaking Nonsense” here.

Last things first.  Keister ends his response with this bit of pettiness: “Since Gerety is banned from this blog, he will need to latestrespond on his own blog.”

Does such a small man really deserve a response?  Probably not.  And, for the record, Kesiter gave me the left-foot-of-fellowship for defending justification by belief alone against those like Alan Strange, Ron DiGiacomo, Reed DePace and others on his blog who openly denied this foundational doctrine of the Christian faith.  For these men there are people who can be properly classified as “faithless believers” which is impossible.  When confronted with the logical impossibility of their position Strange and others appealed to “mystery.” At that time Keister complained:

I wonder sometimes if your faith is in reason and logic too much. In your reaction to Van Til, for instance, you reject any and all kinds of mystery in the Christian faith, as if our minds were as capable of understanding everything as God’s own mind. Is there any limit at all to what human reason and logic can attain? Is there a Creator/creature distinction? I’m not sure there is in your thinking. This makes you so sure of your positions that you look down on people who differ from you in almost any way. There is almost no charity at all when you differ from someone. It is what Scott Clark calls the quest for illegitimate religious certainty.

It is important to keep in mind that for these men the Scriptures teach any number of antinomies and insoluble paradoxes to which all men must bow.  This is the modern definition of Reformed piety.  This is also what these men mean by “mystery” and it is the belief that the Scriptures themselves defy logical harmonization at the bar of human reason.  So, naturally, when Keister says “reason cannot prove the trustworthiness of Scripture” I read it from the epistemological framework he is coming from.  Further, in the context of the Berkof quote claiming that the natural man can see only contradictions when he comes to God’s Word, Keister expands this by insisting, “Even the regenerate person still has sin clinging to his reason. How could any untrustworthy instrument prove perfection to be correct?”  Needless to say, I’m hard pressed to see what else I should have concluded other than man, regenerate or otherwise, is incapable of discovering the logical consent of Scripture.

So I’ll ask again, if one was to posit a contradictory Bible, even if only to the human existent, would it still be trustworthy?  Keister has nowhere addressed this question, and, besides, there is no evidence that he or the others at his blog believe Scripture is their axiom.

For example Reed DePace, who is a PCA TE and one of the moderators at Keister’s blog, argued:

We begin with God. We don’t presume God exists because the Bible is true. We presume the Bible is true because God exists.

God and not the Scriptures is their axiom, either that or DePace does not know what the word “axiom” means. DePace then goes into a discussion about circular reasoning completely oblivious to the fact that he has just begged the question. There can be no knowledge of God and we could know nothing about Him apart from His own self-revelation in Scripture.

DePace then says something that is quite good:

This is why the ministry of the gospel is never “positively” proving anything about God. Instead it is declaring what is true, and leaving the issue of proof up to the subjective work of the Spirit of truth.

However, what both Keister and DePace fail to grasp is that if the Scriptures in Berkof’s words “would therefore contradict itself,” we would in Clark’s words “know that some of it would be false.” Consequently, if Keister is correct we could have absolutely no trust that what Scriptures communicates to us about God is true.

This is one of the main reasons the gulf between Clark and Van Til can never be bridged.

Van Til taught that all Scripture is contradictory and to think in submission to Scripture is to think “analogically” which means, at least in Van Til speak, to accept and embrace contradictions in an act of Reformed contrition.  This is the heart of modern ersatz-“Reformed” piety.  Claiming these imagined contradictions of Scripture are only “apparent” and are instead “paradoxes” that are somehow resolved in the mind of God is also begging the question. Again, while these men present themselves as humble servants they are really spitting in the face of God as they belittle and attack the perfection, the logical perfection, of His inerrant Word.

Also, consider Berkof’s remarks again particularly in light of WCF 1:5

The Word of God presupposes the darkness and error of the natural man, and would therefore contradict itself, if it submitted itself to the judgment of that man.

The Confession says nothing of the sort. It states that there are many things that can move us to recognize that the Scriptures “doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God,” not least of which is the logical “consent of all the parts.” There is nothing in the Confession that even hints that Scripture presents itself either to the regenerate or unregenerate man as contradictory. The only caveat the Confession gives is that all these evidences, on their own, are never enough to produce a belief in Scripture as the Word of God. That requires “the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.” Therefore, I see no reason why an unregenerate man couldn’t agree that the teachings of Scriptures logically “consent” and yet not believe them to be the Word of God. Perhaps the biblical authors were just good storytellers.

The real problem, the real sin, is that there are very few Presbyterian or Reformed pastors today who actually believe, much less teach, that for man at least, there is a “consent of all the parts” in Scripture.

That is why the “therefore” doesn’t follow in Berkof, but Keister extends even Berkof’s dubious conclusion to the regenerate man as well, so in that sense he may be taking Berkof out of context. Also, let me be clear, and to quote Clark again; “the law of contradiction cannot be sinful. Quite the contrary, it is our violations of the law of contradiction that are sinful.” Is that a position Lane shares? Not in my experience in dealing with the man. When push came to shove, and when faced with a seeming contradiction in Scripture, he opts for “mystery” every time and rejects even simple solutions to problems that the Vantillians call “paradoxes.” Keister seems to be saying that the Word of God can violate the laws of logic and still be God’s Word, but I hardly see how that would follow.

Now Keister has responded insisting:

I would simply say this: go back to the original post and see if I was saying that we can’t prove the Scriptures to be correct. I was NOT saying that we do not apprehend the Scriptures by use of our reason, fallen though it is (the Holy Spirit is required for us to understand the Scriptures: this is God’s answer to correcting fallen human reason). There is a big difference between apprehending (Gerety’s word is “discover”) God’s word by use of reason (which I think is essential), versus proving God’s Word is true by the use of reason (which I believe is impossible).

Let it also here be said unequivocally that I believe that all logic and infallible reason belong to God, and there is not one single contradiction in all of Scripture. Indeed, God, through Scripture, has given us the very source of logical and rational thinking.

I’m not sure what Keister means by “apprehending” the Scriptures by “use of our reason” as the question for him is this: Do the teachings of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation logically cohere to the mind of man or are we confronted in Scripture with what Scott Clark calls in his defense of Van Til’s twisted view of the Creator/creature distinction, “the mystery of paradox”?

He can’t have it both ways.

So, while I would agree that we cannot prove the truth of Scripture, for in one sense that would require that the truth of Scripture be deduced from something more basic which is impossible, the implication of his comments is that God’s Word would “contradict itself” if it were submitted the judgment of even the regenerate man.  Now, if that’s not what he meant, he certainly hasn’t done a good job of amending that perception in his repose to me.

In addition, what does it mean that we cannot “prove Scriptures to be correct”?  Does this mean we cannot demonstrate that the Scriptures, properly understood, present to the mind of man a logically consistent system of doctrines?   I hope not, but it’s hard to say.  Vantillian and Reformed Theological Seminary professor James Anderson said that the Christian in order to remain orthodox must “appeal to mystery in defense of their own paradoxical teachings” and that this is “a small price to pay” when considering difficult doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation.

On the plus side, the last paragraph is very good, but so much of what Keister has to say seems to undermine the good things he says.  Besides, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that God “has given us the very source of logical and rational thinking” by virtue of creating us in His image?  After all, John said that Christ, the Logos or Logic of God, is that light that “lighteth every man” and not just the regenerate.

Keister continues:

The problem here is that Gerety equates my statement of the limited, derivative nature of our reason (which requires an external starting point precisely in order to be valid!) with irrationality.

That doesn’t follow either.  Are unbelievers incapable of making valid arguments?  Certainly unbelievers cannot account for logic apart from the external starting point of Scripture, but that doesn’t seem to be what he’s saying.

What Keister claims he is saying is this:

The only thing I was saying in the post (and what Berkhof was saying, as well!) is that Scripture is our starting point, and that we cannot prove a starting point, any more than we can build a foundation under another foundation. The proof is in the pudding, shall we say, and the pudding is one hundred percent logical, when God and Scripture are our starting points.

If that’s all Keister was trying to say then I have to wonder how he could arrive at that from Berkof who said that the Word of God would contradict itself if “submitted to the judgment of man,” admittedly natural man. The more important question is (besides the question of how many starting points does Keister really have as he now claims to have two), are the Scriptures “one hundred percent logical” to God or man?  Whereas I would say both since God gave us his holy and inerrant revelation so that we might understand, not to mention the Holy Spirit who is promised to lead us into “all truth,” Vantillians like Keister have always maintained the former to the exclusion of the latter particularly when it came to sticky questions like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the so-called “Free Offer,” God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and on and on.  If Keister really believes that the Scriptures are “one hundred percent logical” and that they present to the mind of man a logical consent of all, and not just some, of the parts, is he willing to repudiate and denounce his friend Scott Clark who said:

Our faith is full of mystery of paradoxes to wit, the holy Trinity, the two natures and one person of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility (who has flattened out that one but the anti-predestinarians?), the free offer, the true presence of Christ in the Supper, and means of grace (the Spirit operates through the foolishness of Gospel preaching) and that’s the short list.

If Keister is willing to repudiate and denounce Scott Clark and thereby publicly confirm his commitment to the proposition that the Scriptures are “one hundred percent logical,” I would be more than happy to admit that I may have misunderstood him.  I will even allow him to post on my blog.

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29 Comments on “Baggins Protests”

  1. greenbaggins Says:

    I’m not going another round with you, Sean, on my blog. You can’t seem to take “no contradictions in the Bible” at face value. Instead, you lump me in with a distortion of Van Til’s teaching. I believe there are no contradictions in the Bible. Period. I believe that there are things in it I do not understand. Those things are not irrational, nor contradictory. But they are God’s thoughts, which are higher than mine. So, in my mind, a mystery is not a contradiction. It’s just something that is so densely logical that my puny human brain cannot wrap itself around it. If Van Til meant “contradiction” by the term “mystery,” then I part ways with him. I am not convinced he did.

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    I’m not going another round with you, Sean, on my blog.

    That’s OK Lane. You are always welcome here. I have no image to maintain and I’m generally happy to discuss things with you or anyone else. 🙂

    You can’t seem to take “no contradictions in the Bible” at face value.

    And why should I Lane? Van Til said the same thing. For God there are no contradictions. For us not so much.

    Shall I provide a list of citations for you like when he said: “While we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory, we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory.”

    Do you embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory? When two teachings of Scripture appear to contradict do you say with John Frame that “a paradox remains for us, though by faith we are confident that there is no paradox for God”?

    Do you agree with James Anderson and that in order to remain orthodox the Christian must “appeal to mystery in defense of their own paradoxical teachings”?

    Instead, you lump me in with a distortion of Van Til’s teaching.

    How have I distorted Van Til’s teachings?


  3. Dear Sean:

    1. I appreciate and admire your tenacity in your continuing criticisms of the Van Tilians. : – )

    2. Lane Keister wrote: ” I believe there are no contradictions in the Bible. Period. I believe that there are things in it I do not understand. Those things are not irrational, nor contradictory. But they are God’s thoughts, which are higher than mine. So, in my mind, a mystery is not a contradiction. It’s just something that is so densely logical that my puny human brain cannot wrap itself around it.”

    This is good.

    But in this sense, the term “mystery” is relative to a particular human mind.

    What is a mystery to one human person may not a mystery to another.

    And if scholarship progress, what is a mystery to one generation may not be a mystery to another.

    Except for certain results in the formal sciences, it is not clear where the logical boundary for “mysteries” lies.

    When is it proper to call a person proud, conceited or impious for not bowing before “mysteries”?

    And when is it not proper to do so?

    Is there such a thing as false humility or false piety for bowing down to “mysteries”?

    3. Lane Keister wrote: “If Van Til meant “contradiction” by the term “mystery,” then I part ways with him. I am not convinced he did.”

    Instead of “contradiction”, maybe a better Van Tilian term is “apparent contradiction”?

    Since Cornelius Van Til embraces apparent contradictions, Van Tilians may be found on both sides of a dilemma, three sides of trilemma and so on.

    I have been wishing some Van Tilians will tell us how to distinguish between “an apparent contradiction” and “a real contradiction”.

    Doing so will be an advance for the Van Tilian School of Theology and Philosophy.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  4. Steve M Says:

    ” I believe there are no contradictions in the Bible. Period.”

    GB, do you believe that Scripture contains what cannot by human beings be distinguished from contradictions?

  5. Matt Anderson Says:

    Sean, if might ask, what reason did the Green Baggins people give for banning you?

  6. James Says:

    Sean wrote,
    “Claiming these imagined contradictions of Scripture are only “apparent” and are instead “paradoxes” that are somehow resolved in the mind of God is also begging the question. ”

    ahh nice. Actually this problem is quite interesting and amusing:
    by what does Van Til, or anyone who espouses that Scriptures are a mass of unresolveable apparent contradictions, or paradoxes, or mysteries, or so logically dense that puny human brains cannot wrap their little mitts around it, believe, among other things,

    that these unresolveable contradictions are resolved in God’s Mind? or that there are no real logical contradictions in Scriptures? or that Scripture is not irrational? or that God is logical?

    it’s quite obvious that these beliefs cannot come from Scripture since these beliefs are not unresolveable apparent contradictions too dense to wrap our brains around.

    ironically those beliefs can only come from one place for these lost souls: poor old unaided human reason imposing what remnants of sanity it can on a less than omnipotent god who is only able to babble at them in an unresolveable mass of irrationality.

    in proclaiming themselves to be lovers of mystery they have fallen prey to the rationalism they dread.


  7. Dear Sean and James:

    Another angle of phrasing the same point you are making:

    I am glad that Lane Keister believes “there are no contradictions in the Bible. Period.”

    But from a theoretical (or theological or philosophical) point of view, his believe that there are no contradictions in the Bible is ad hoc.

    Without criteria to distinguish “apparent contradictions” from “real contradictions”, what Van Tilians claim are “apparent contradictions” may well be “real contradictions” and vice versa.

    As such, the labelling of something as either “apparent contradictions” or “real contradictions” is ad hoc.

    This is not a satisfactory theoretical (or theological or philosophical) state and the problem is internal to the Van Tilian School of Theology and Philosophy.

    I am glad that Sean and others keep reminding the Van Tilians of their internal problems.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  8. Sean Gerety Says:

    in proclaiming themselves to be lovers of mystery they have fallen prey to the rationalism they dread.

    Ouch!

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    Without criteria to distinguish “apparent contradictions” from “real contradictions”, what Van Tilians claim are “apparent contradictions” may well be “real contradictions” and vice versa.

    As such, the labelling of something as either “apparent contradictions” or “real contradictions” is ad hoc.

    Exactly right. Notice too Keister refuses to distance himself even an inch from the irrationalism of his buddy Scott Clark and he can’t even seem to repudiate the anti-Christian drivel coming from RTS prof James Anderson. Also, too be clear, and I’m sure you know this as well as I do, there is no method for telling the apparent contradiction from the “real” one.

    For Frame this is where magic “faith” comes in. We are just to believe there are no contradictions for God and that his revelation to us coheres in his mind even if he has left us in dark as to how.

    OTOH for Anderson we are left with apparent contradictions because God has failed to reveal to us the missing premises that would allow us to harmonize the paradoxes that arise in our understanding of Scripture. Again, how does Anderson know that God has hidden from us these missing premises and that more revelation will allow us to harmonize that which now seems to defy logic? Magic faith, that’s how.

    This is EXACTLY why I refuse to accept Keister’s claim that there are no contradictions in the Bible at face value. Why should I? I’ve been around this block before with men like him. Also, and to be perfectly clear, until Keister repudiates men likes of Scott Clark he remains outside of the Reformed camp.

    Yes, Lane Kesiter is un-Reformed and I don’t care how many puffed up bloviating blowhards with MDiv’s or PhD’s proclaim that Van Til and not Clark make up the Reformed mainstream. The fact is WCF 1:5 asserts what every one of these men deny and that the Scriptures present to the mind of men and at the bar of mere human reason, the logical consent of all the parts. And, this is one of the central evidences that the Scriptures are the Word of God.

    And, just for a little context, since Keister thinks he’s clever by pretending to be “merely” defending Clark’s presuppositionalism by positing “the axiom of Scripture,” if Kesiter and his Vantillian cohorts were correct about their view of Scripture then Scripture would not be Clark’s axiom. Frankly, I hardly doubt Clark would have been a Christian at all. Unlike these men he had too much integrity. Further, if these men were correct then Clark’s entire apologetic method would be destroyed as he would have nothing to offer the unbeliever in response. I hardly think Clark would think an appeal to mystery in defense of the Christian’s “own paradoxical teachings” would be a satisfactory response to a dark and dying world.


  10. Dear Sean:

    1. A little off-topic but permit me two observations on James Anderson [Paradox in Christian Theology (2007)].

    The first point at issue is what ought to be the goal of theory: truth or rationality.

    My main disagreement with Anderson is with his goal: the goal should be truth and not rationality.

    Let “p” be a proposition and “T” be a theory.

    In theory development, our goal should be for the truth of p or T, not whether it is rational to believe that p or T.

    2. A main point of Anderson’s is that it can be rational to believe in theological paradoxes.

    I agree.

    The reason is because it can be rational to be believe in falsehood.

    What is rational for a person to believe depends on what else that person belief.

    If a person believe that the earth is flat, then it is rational for him to belief that he may fall off the edge of the earth.

    Rationality depends on background beliefs.

    Thus, given the appropriate background beliefs, it is possible for a person:

    (a) To rationally believe a truth to be true.

    (b) To rationally believe a truth to be false.

    (c) To rationally believe a falsehood to be true.

    (d) To rationally believe a falsehood to be false.

    Since it can be rational to belief both truth and falsehood given the appropriate background beliefs, this render rationality uninteresting as a goal in theory development.

    3. The goal of theory should be truth.

    I take a “theology” to be a theory whose domain of inquiry is (or includes) the Bible.

    To “theologize” is theorize about (or relating to) the Bible.

    A “theologian” is a theoretician about (or relating to) the Bible.

    The goal of our theology should be true propositions about (or relating to) the Bible.

    Truth or falsehood does not depends on background beliefs.

    Confronted with truth of falsehood, we adjust our background beliefs to suit them.

    4. [Paradox in Christian Theology (2007)] is James Anderson PhD Thesis and it is a notable development in the Van Tilian School of Theology and Philosophy.

    Anderson patterned his thesis after Alvin Plantinga’s [Warranted Christian Belief (2000)] and uses Plantinga to alleviate a pressure point in Cornelius Van Til’s philosophy.

    A caveat: I like to specifically exempt Alvin Plantinga from the above criticism.

    In [Warranted Christian Belief (2000)], Plantinga discusses a lot about whether it is rational to believe the Christian Faith.

    Plantinga does so because of the context of discussion: some non-believers charges that Christians are irrational in their beliefs and Plantinga refutes the charge by arguing it is rational for Christian to do so.

    The context is polemical — to refute the charge of irrationality.

    In his other academic writings, the goal of Plantinga is truth.

    5. The second point is that believing theological paradoxes can be rationally dangerous.

    For a person who trained his mind to believe in theological paradox will eventually not be able to tell truth from falsehood.

    This is because he can believe both that which is “apparently true” and that which is “apparently false”.

    Believe enough of these paradoxes and one cannot tell the “actually true” from the “actually false”.

    One function of the Law of Non-contradiction is to act as a control for our rationality in distinguishing truth from falsehood.

    The contradictory of a truth must be false.

    The contradictory of a falsehood must be true.

    Jettison the Law of Non-Contradiction and logic and one cannot tell truth from falsehood.

    Some Van Tilians are playing with fire when they disparage logic.

    6. As a piece of scholarship, I am glad that Anderson tried out the his ideas in [Paradox in Christian Theology (2007)].

    As a development within the Van Tilian School of Theology and Philosophy, I believe it is a dead end for the two reasons given above.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    For a person who trained his mind to believe in theological paradox will eventually not be able to tell truth from falsehood.

    Reymond makes basically the same point in his systematic theology.

    Nice post.

  12. Stephen Welch Says:

    Sean, I went back and read the section from Reymond’s Systematic Theology on paradox and found it very helpful. He clearly departed from Van Til on this point. I do not believe that a mystery is the same as a so-called paradox. When the Scriptures use the idea of mystery it is not the same as a paradox. The liberal theologians at the beginning of the last century believed that the Bible was filled with contradictions, but Van Til came along with a so-called apparent contradiction. Van Til’s solution is not much different and will lead to a denial of the authority of Scripture.

  13. Stephen Welch Says:

    Thanks, Benjamin Wong for your helpful post. Truth is always rational and falsehood is irrational, because sin is irrational. If one has the mind of Christ and has been regenerated by the Spirit truth will always be rational. The more I read Van Til the more committed I am to Gordon Clark. This idea of paradox in theology is absolutely absurd. You are right, it will eventually lead to falsehood.

  14. Sean Gerety Says:

    Van Til’s solution is not much different and will lead to a denial of the authority of Scripture.

    Thanks Stephen. My point exactly. And, you’re right, Reymond’s critique of CVT’s view of Scripture is devastating.


  15. Dear Stephen:

    Thank you. : – )

    The post regarding James Anderson is quite condensed and assumed some familiarity with his ideas.

    Anderson believes that it can be rational to belief in theological paradoxes and I agree.

    The reason being that it can be rational, under the appropriate background beliefs, to belief in falsehood.

    The rejoinder is that our goal should be for true beliefs and not just rational beliefs.

    Let’s say the theological paradox is a dilemma, the question of interest is not whether one can rationally belief either or both horns of the dilemma.

    The question of interest is whether either or both horns of the dilemma is true.

    Truth and falsehood simpliciter are independent of background beliefs.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  16. James Says:

    Ben, you wrote,
    “Anderson believes that it can be rational to belief in theological paradoxes and I agree.”

    Hmmm…I do not think it is ever rational to believe:

    P1: A is both B and not B.

    And that just is the form that Van Tilians (VT) cast their paradoxes.

    Further, given that we cannot ever specify the alleged equivocation in the VT paradox (allegedly of the meaning of the B term) – I think Sean is on to something important when he says,

    “This explains why one of the hallmarks of Vantilian Newspeak is the distinction (without a discernible difference) between “apparent” and “real” contradictions in Scripture. – See more at: http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=208#sthash.GpeNihR0.dpuf

    What we actually have here is an application of the Identity of Indiscernibles – if there is no discernible difference in the meanings of the terms in the paradox then they are identical. And a Van Tilian is determined that there is no discernible difference (If there was a discernible difference there’d be no “unresolved paradox”). Hence the terms/meanings are identical and thus P1 is a violation of LNC and hence irrational to believe. And it is false to boot.

    So let’s work thru this a little more…
    A VT would reply that P1 (no discernible difference) is rational for *us* to believe since there is a discernible difference in the meanings that only God knows of. But I don’t see how that makes it rational for *us* to believe P1 (no discernible difference): it also turns out that God himself does not believe P1 since he knows the difference (He’s obviously not believing P1) – and further, it’s irrational for God to believe P1 (no discernible difference) as well. So, why would an omniscient rational omnipotent God communicate what he knows is irrational all around (and false to boot) and then expect us to believe it when not even he believes it?

    If the “Christian” God was rational, P1 (no discernible difference) would not be a communication from such. But it is according to the VT. Or maybe not? The alternative is this: perhaps the VT understands what I just said and will say that God is not asking us to believe P1 (since the VT claims to know *that* there is a discernible difference even if not *what* that difference is). What then is God asking us to believe? No one knows. So God has communicated exactly nothing.

    So, either God has communicated what he knows is irrational all around (and false to boot), or he has, in effect, told us nothing.

    James

    PS -as for knowing that there is a discernible difference without knowing what that difference is, a little quote is in order:
    “We do not first note two things to be two, and then note, perhaps with surprise, that they are at some point dissimilar; it is because they observably differ in some respect — in quality, in location, in time — that we call them two. We never ascribe twoness or otherness in the absence of any perceived distinction at all…For otherness is based on dissimilarity, not dissimilarity on a logically prior otherness.” – Brand Blanshard
    Granted we are talking about P1 and we do not wish to ascribe a violation of LNC to God – but is it really correct to hide P1 behind the claim God is rational while we impose *that* there’s a difference where we obviously don’t perceive one, nay, can never perceive one, when in fact we ought be rejecting an obviously irrational and false doctrine?

    Thanks for your patience


  17. Dear James:
    Thank you for the remarks. : – )

    1. The issue at stake is rationality of beliefs and not truth of propositions.

    I subscribe to the Law of Non-Contradiction: Not (p and not p).

    I think the important question is truth of propositions and not rationality of beliefs.

    Rationality of beliefs are of much less importance in scholarly discussions; its importance is mostly in apologetic — in response to charges that Christians are irrational in their beliefs in God.

    2. What is rational for a person to believe critically depends on his background beliefs — what else he believes.

    Let p: The earth is flat.

    Let q: I might fall off the edge of the earth.

    If a person believes that p, then it can be rational for him to believe that q.

    Both p and q are false.

    Yet it can be rational for a person to believe q on the basis of p.

    3. Truth and falsity do not depend on background beliefs.

    Truth and falsity depends on God’s Eternal Decree:

    A proposition is true because God from eternity has determined that proposition be true.

    A proposition is false because God from eternity has determined that proposition be false.

    God is omniscient because God has determined that truth-value of all propositions.

    One principle God uses to organize what He determines to be true of false is the Law of Non-Contradiction.

    Another principle God uses to organize what He determines to be true or false is the consequence relation between propositions.

    True propositions are coherent and systematic because God uses, among others, these two principles to organize the propositions He has determined to be true.

    As Gordon Clark puts it so beautifully: Logic is the way God thinks.

    4. God is omniscience and knows all truths, therefore God’s background beliefs is the set of all truths.

    God knows all truths because God has determined all truths.

    Truth is invariant against background beliefs because God’s Eternal decree are immutable.

    In contrast:

    (a) Human beings are finite creatures and their background beliefs are finite.

    (b) Human beings are depraved and their background beliefs are tainted with some falsehoods.

    (c) Human beings are depraved and their deductions are sometimes fallacious.

    Given that:

    (a) What is rational for a human to believe depends on his background beliefs.

    (b) A human’s background beliefs are finite and are tainted with falsehoods.

    (c) A human can be fallacious in evaluating a proposition against his background beliefs.

    (d) Therefore, it can be rational for a human to belief in falsehood.

    5. Given the Law of Non-Contradiction, it could *not* have been true that:

    P1: A is both B and not B.

    Can it ever be *rational* for a person to believe:

    P1: A is both B and not B?

    It depends.

    It depends on whether “A is B” and “A is not B” is determined by the background beliefs of that person.

    Let’s call the set of background beliefs of a human at a point in time C.

    A proposition p is determined by the background beliefs C if:

    (a) C implies p;

    (b) The human is able to infer that C implies p.

    If a proposition p is not determined by C, we say p is under-determined by C.

    I submit that it can (not *must*) be rational for a person with background beliefs C to believe:

    P1: A is both B and not B

    if:

    (a) “A is B” is under-determined by C; and

    (b) “A is not B” is also under-determined by C.

    It goes without saying that a human’s beliefs and background beliefs are subject to change and revisions.

    6. An example.

    In the television series “The Big Bang Theory”, there is an episode in which Sheldon Cooper is arguing with Leslie Winkle about String Theory versus Quantum Loop Gravity Theory, and Leonard Hofstadter is caught in between.

    Can Leonard rationally believe in both String Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity Theory?
    Given the current state of physics, maybe he can.

    There is nothing irrational about Leonard believing in both.

    This is assuming that both String Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity Theory are under-determined by the current state of physics.

    7. It is for the above reasons and more that I do not believe “rationality” is a good question to ask in evaluating a proposition or theory: Is it rational to believe a proposition p or a theory T?

    I think James Anderson is off-track in importing Alvin Plantinga’s works in rationality of belief into Cornelius Van Til’s theory of theological paradoxes.

    The question to ask is whether the proposition p or theory T is true.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  18. James Says:

    Hi Ben –

    Thanks for the reply,
    To be honest I was not taking you to task, only looking for a productive way to address the issue. However, I think rationality is very important. And I was speaking of specifically the rationality of
    believing

    P1: A is both (p and not p).

    Now, as a violation of LNC, P1 is always both false and irrational – background beliefs (if there are such) do not ever make P1 rational to believe. P1 is a defeater of those (actually a reductio ad absurdum of them I think is the terminology).

    Anyway, and physics aside, is it rational to believe that

    P2: God is both one person and three persons?

    According to what you say above yes it could be (oddly Van Til agrees whereas Clark/Robbins deny).

    Ok. In order for P2 to be rational ther’d have to be a discernible difference in the meanings of the terms in question – or else you’d have a real contradiction on hand – so what is that difference?
    A VT cannot specify *what* the difference is (on pains of not being a VT anymore), but some VT assure us *that* there is a difference.
    Ok. P2 is allegedly a communication of information for my belief from God who allegedly is rational. So, if P2 is (ultimately?) rational, as you seem (and some VT do) defend above, then please explain to me what rational information for my belief the rational God is trying to communicate by P2?

    Thanks


  19. Dear James:

    I believe your previous post have some very good criticisms and I was not unhappy in any way in addressing it. : – )

    1. The reason why my responses to your post is not direct is because although:

    “Anderson believes that it can be rational to belief in theological paradoxes and I agree.”

    I do not agree with James Anderson on Van Tilian grounds.

    My reasons are different.

    2. Two caveats about my previous reply.

    Firstly, rationality of belief is *always* conditioned on background beliefs.

    Let: p be a proposition.

    Let: X be a human person.

    Let: C be the set of background beliefs of X at a point in time.

    Rationality of believe is in schematic form:

    X is rational in believing p on C.

    In everyday discussion, we usually do not specify C.

    But in explicit discussion about rationality we have to specify C.

    Secondly, my previous example is not a good one.

    On second thoughts, String Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity Theory are contrary but not contradictory.

    3. One reason why rationality is always conditioned on background beliefs is because the *meaning* of the terms in p is fixed or determined by background beliefs C for the person X.

    Truth is not determined by background beliefs but meanings are.

    For any proposition p, whenever there is a change in the relevant background beliefs then there is a possible change in the meaning of the terms in p.

    When the meanings of the terms in p change, p change into another proposition.

    We are not talking about the same proposition anymore.

    Proposition is a bearer of both truth and meaning.

    4. I agree with you that it is absurd to believe a contradiction to be true.

    Thus, it is absurd and irrational to believe:

    (p and not p).

    You asked: “Is it rational to believe that:

    P2: God is both one person and three persons?”

    My answer would be no too.

    Notice that the truth of P2 does not depend on background beliefs but the meaning of the term “person” in P2 does.

    We usually specify the meaning of a term by giving a definition.

    In defining a term, we fixed its meaning and hold it constant for discussion and argumentation.

    And we use background beliefs when we define the terms of a proposition.

    So in P2, it is assume that the term “person” has the same meaning in its two occurrences.

    5. Our dispute with the Van Tilians on the absurdity in believing contradictions is a dispute in principle.

    Appling the Law of Non-Contradiction to propositions and arguments assume that the meanings of the terms in the propositions are fixed.

    The meanings of the terms in propositions are fixed by giving definitions.

    Definitions are given by using background information.

    Many have noticed that besides disparaging logic, the writings of Van Til are lacking in definitions.

    The lack of definitions and the disparagement of logic are of the same package and they reinforce each other.

    6. You wrote: “In order for P2 to be rational ther’d have to be a discernible difference in the meanings of the terms in question – or else you’d have a real contradiction on hand – so what is that difference?”

    As a matter of applying the Law of Non-Contradiction, we need only to assume that the meaning of a term is uniform throughout.

    If the meaning of a term is not uniform throughout, there is equivocation and we have committed a fallacy.

    In many discussions, especially in preliminary explorations, we might not be able to define the key terms.

    But it might be useful and fruitful to continue the discussions nevertheless.

    At the exploration stage of a discussion, one usually is cautious with any proposals or claims.

    7. Let’s try another example.

    P3: The Goldbach’s Conjecture: “Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.” (“Goldbach’s conjecture”, Wikipedia.)

    Assume C to be the current state of mathematical knowledge.

    It can be rational for a person X to believe P3 on background beliefs C.

    It can also be rational for the same person X to believe (not P3) on the same background beliefs C.

    But it cannot be rational for the person X to believe (P3 and not P3) on background beliefs C.

    The claim is that one can believe both P3 and (not P3) individually, but not conjunctively.

    (In case someone has not notice, I have revise my opinion on this issue.)

    (There is something wrong if Leonard believe in both String Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity Theory conjunctively.)

    The Law of Non-Contradiction sets a limit to rationality.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  20. James Says:

    Ben
    question: would it not be the case that the person who believed both P3 and (not P3) individually (on background beliefs C) would obtain a rationality defeater if the person realized that the beliefs were contradictory and could not both be true?


  21. Dear James:

    1. Your question: “Would it not be the case that the person who believed both P3 and (not P3) individually (on background beliefs C) would obtain a rationality defeater if the person realized that the beliefs were contradictory and could not both be true?”

    The short answer is: I don’t know.

    But let me explain why that is so.

    P3 (the Goldbach’s Conjecture) is a truth or propositional claim about certain mathematical structure so that if it is true then it is necessarily true, and if it is false then it is necessarily false.

    We can use deductive logic to reason about P3 or any truth claims.

    But our topic is rationality of beliefs and not truth of propositions.

    There are two key words in “rationality of belief”: “rationality” and “belief”.

    Reasoning about each of “rationality” and “belief” requires rules of its own.

    I further understand our topic is about “rationality” and not “belief”.

    Defeasible reasoning with its rebutting defeaters, undercutting defeaters, and no reason defeaters applies to mental states such as belief.

    But does defeasible reasoning applies to rationality?

    I have my doubts.

    I ask this in seriousness and not in jest: What is a rationality defeater?

    A defeater can defeat a belief but can a defeater defeat rationality?

    Is there a logic that governs reasoning about rationality?

    2. Consider the following scenario:

    Let: X be a human person.

    Let: C be the current state of mathematical knowledge.

    Let: P3 be the Goldbach’s Conjecture: Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.

    X is thinking about P3.

    X realizes that P3 and (not P3) are contradictory.

    X is in two minds about P3.

    X believes P3 at time t.

    X believes (not P3) at time t+1.

    X believes P3 at time t+2.

    X believes (not P3) at time t+3.

    X believes P3 at time t+4.

    X believes (not P3) at time t+5.

    C is constant between t and t+5 inclusive.

    Are X’s beliefs rational?

    Are X’s beliefs rational if the time are 1 minute apart?

    Are X’s beliefs rational if the time are 1 month apart?

    3. Consider another scenario:

    X is thinking about P3.

    X realizes that P3 and (not P3) are contradictory.

    X is in two minds about P3.

    X believes P3 at time t with less than certainty.

    X also believes (not P3) at time t with less than certainty.

    But X believes not (P3 and not P3) at time t with certainty.

    Are X’s beliefs rational?

    4. Our understanding about rationality and the logic that governs reasoning about rationality are meager.

    I still think our focus should be on truth of propositions rather than rationality of beliefs.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  22. James Says:

    Ben,
    Thanks,
    – I am not very good at this myself – but

    I would think that if
    X realizes/believes that P3 and (not P3) are contradictory and hence cannot both be true would certainly constitute a defeater for the rationality of holding them both to be true.
    Maybe he doesn’t know which of either is true (and hence oscillate) – but he believes that both cannot be. It’s also at this point that he may start questioning C as well – perhaps the problem is C afterall?


  23. Dear James:

    1. You wrote: “I would think that if X realizes/believes that P3 and (not P3) are contradictory and hence cannot both be true would certainly constitute a defeater for the rationality of holding them both to be true.”

    For easy reference let’s label the second scenario from my previous post “Scenario 2”.

    In Scenario 2:

    X believes P3 at time t with less than certainty.

    X also believes (not P3) at time t with less than certainty.

    But X believes not (P3 and not P3) at time t with certainty.

    James, I would very much like to know your intuition whether X’s beliefs are rational on C in Scenario 2.

    In Scenario 2:

    (a) X holds both P3 and (not P3) to be true individually.

    (b) X does not hold P3 and (not P3) to be true conjunctively.

    My intuition is that:

    (a) Scenario 2 is psychology possible for some (but not all) people.

    (Some people have trained their minds to think in dialectic and are quite adept in believing all sorts of things.)

    (But I think Scenario 2 is psychological possible for even some non-dialectical thinkers.)

    (b) X’s belief’s in Scenario 2 is rational.

    When we appeal to intuition in a discussion, we are on shaky ground.

    So I do not see my intuition as necessarily the correct one.

    2. You wrote: “Maybe he doesn’t know which of either is true (and hence oscillate) – but he believes that both cannot be. It’s also at this point that he may start questioning C as well – perhaps the problem is C afterall?”

    In general, questioning C is a good place to start for diagnostic.

    But in this case, it is probably not.

    C is the current state of mathematical knowledge and presumably it is consist of almost all true propositions.

    The problem is not that there are falsehoods in C.

    The problems are:

    (a) There are not enough true propositions in C, and / or

    (b) We are not imaginatively enough to deduce the appropriate relations between propositions in C.

    But since C is the current state of mathematical knowledge, Scenario 2 can only conditioned rationality on C, not some future C’s.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin


  24. Errata:

    “psychology possible” and “psychological possible”

    should be:

    “psychologically possible”.

    Benjamin

  25. James Says:

    Ben

    Thanks
    I’m not sure my “scenario” is exactly like yours. In my scenario the belief is that P3 and notP3 are contradictory and thus cannot both be true (and cannot both be false of course). So, I still think as I do in my previous entry (defeater) even if C is as you say.
    Not able to determine which is true (thus not knowing what to believe), I myself would withhold belief in either for now – I would still believe firmly that both cannot be true (in current state).


  26. Dear James:

    1. In Scenario 2, P3 and (not P3) cannot both be true either.

    The fact that:

    (a) X believes P3 at time t with less than certainty, and

    (b) X also believes (not P3) at time t with less than certainty

    do not make P3 and (not P3) to be both true.

    X believing something to be true does not make it true.

    In this, I think we both agree.

    If it is true that X is rational in his beliefs in Scenario 2, then it is an indication that rationality is not a good question to ask in a lot of circumstances.

    Scenario 2 is another instance of where a person can be rational in believing falsehood.

    2. As I have indicated previously, our understanding about rationality and the logic that governs reasoning about rationality are meager.

    Our focus should be on truth of propositions rather than rationality of beliefs.

    I have enjoyed our conversations and thank you for them. : – )

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  27. James Says:

    Ben –
    Thank you too!

    I agree with you that someone could hold P3 and, separately -not seeing the connection between them perhaps? – not-P3, even at the same time with uncertainty – many people do hold inconsistencies and we agree that it would not be irrational in some circumstances – but I think it is certainly not a “healthy” situation to be in rationally speaking. But I think if the contradiction is brought to light (the connection) and is believed (especially with more certainty), then yes I think there’d be a defeater for the rationality of believing both. As I said I would refrain from believing either at that point. I just wouldn’t know what to believe about them (in current state).

    But even if you’re right about Scenario 2 – and getting back to my point – I don’t think VT can use that as an escape route: VT are not merely arguing for the rationality of scenario as you provide replete with weakness, uncertainty, and defeater-prone as I see it – none of which sounds “healthy” from a rational standpoint. They are arguing for rationality of believing with strength P1 / P2 and defending that rationality as being very healthy indeed.
    They have to – why? for starters, Van Til has already committed them to the notion that all Scriptures are paradoxes as P1/P2.

    Look at it this way: P1/P2 are false – why? They violate LNC (no matter what the background beliefs are). It’s irrational to believe a violation of LNC. This is an instance where it is not rational to believe falsehood. Certainly you must allow for the possibility that it can be irrational to believe falsehood – and does not this seem to be a likely case?

    talk later,
    Thanks to you!

  28. James Says:

    I would like to make a small aside and thus conclude:
    it will not do for the VT to claim the meaning of the term “person” in P2 is vague. Nor does it work to say that the vague meaning is an approximation to an ideal or that it’s somewhere in that semantic neighborhood. Gordon Clark has already shown the irrationality of vagueness in dealing with Poythress: “not only does three mean one, but created, begotten, God and angel are all a blur with a [roughly] fixed center that cannot be located.” Clark points out that that the problem with vagueness is that meanings blur such that one means three – this is not a case of having more than one meaning and sifting thru various distinct meanings. This is a case where the meaning is blurred to the point that it cannot be known that one does not mean three. And from such a blur (contradiction) everything follows – the semantic neighborhood is every meaning. The alleged approximation is thereby undermined and we have another instance of irrationality. One means three: an extreme case on the fringes of that blur that cannot be easily ruled out as long as one opts for vagueness.
    Of course one could reject vagueness for the ambiguity of not knowing which distinct meaning (if there are such) are referred to. But that just is my dilemma for Mystery again:

    Either God communicates what He knows is false, irrational and is something He himself does not believe to us for our belief, or He communicates something we know not what for our belief.

    How any of this can be called a rational attempt at communication -especially coming from an alleged rational omniscient omnipotent god who allegedly created us in His image precisely for the purpose of communication is indeed a “mystery”.

    Thanks,


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