Friday, October 10, 2008

The self-defeating position of those who deny the ability of language to convey truths perfectly

Over in the comments section at my post linking to my friend Mike Ratliff's post on there being only two religions in the World, a guy who calls himself Antithesis has attempted to promote the view of the imperfection of language to convey truth perfectly, in service to his neo-orthodox anthopo-theo-logy. Of course, the fact that he uses language to convey his point of view, and assume that his propositions are able to convey his thoughts perfectly, makes his position utterly self-defeating.

For if language is not perfectly able to convey the truth, then how much imperfection may there be in propositions made by anyone? Who or what determines how much imperfection can exist before there is a breakdown in communication between two people such that communication is impossible? And if communication may not be possible, then why bother trying at all, since you would have no certainty that the person you are talking to would be able to understand you at all? Of course, it may be objected that in general, communication is possible and in fact happens often between people, but such is an empirical observation which is of no comfort at all to the "language is unable to communicate truth perfectly" crowd. If p refers to the ability of language to communicate perfectly, and q refers to the actual empirical fact of language being largely able to communicate truth perfectly, then the propositions "If p, then q" is most definitely true. Therefore, the empirical fact of everyday language usage is congruent with the theory of the perfect communicative property of language, while the converse is not, as we shall see in the next paragraph.

It may be very tempting to state "If ~p, therefore ~q" but that is a logical fallacy. Rather, what can be seen is that the denial of p makes one skeptical about the possibility of q. Since language is not deemed to be able to communicate truths perfectly, therefore there can be no certainty whatsoever that people are able to communicate truths perfectly. For Antithesis and the neo-orthodox who think like him, the fact of q should disturb them, for either their theory is wrong, or that most people are deluded and wrong when they exude so much confidence that the many sentences they make in their entire lives could be understood at least most of the time.

An objection may be made that we must take into account the noetic effects of sin, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with the ability of language to communicate truths perfectly or not. This is unless one thinks that language is a thoroughly human invention instead of being first and foremost a gift of God at Creation and one which is not super-intended by God (ie to have a anthropocentric view of language instead of a theocentric view). Language however is first and foremost from God who is the foremost communicator to Man His creation. That God super-intends the development of language such that sin does not touch language (a non-moral instrument) but rather the moral ability of the moral creature to discover truth from language can be seen in the narrative of Scripture in which the ability of words to communicate truths perfectly was assumed throughout by God and all the people in both testaments, including the pagans. In fact, in a classic passage on the judgment of God upon His people for their sin, God said:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed (Is. 6:9-10)

In verse 10, God states that His judgment removes the people's ability to discern the Truth, but if that ability is present, they would thus be able to know the Truth and repent of their error. Furthermore, in Rom. 1:18-32, the whole idea present is that Man are darkened in their understanding (Rom. 1:21) and that caused them to sin even more. Therefore, the noetic effects of sin affects the sinner's ability to discern the truth, NOT upon the ability of the instrument, language, to convey truth perfectly.

This neo-orthodox position suffers also from a blatant contradiction of the doctrine of Scripture, more specifically the doctrine of the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture which I have proven to be biblical in a previous article . For if VPI is true, which it is, then the very words of Scripture must be inspired (Verbal Inspiration). However, if language cannot convey truth perfectly, then that would mean that the very words of Scripture is irrelevant; only the sense of them is important. It is inconceivable to think of each word of Scripture being at the same time inspired and yet at the same time not relevant to knowing the Truth. The two properties necessarily conflict and contradict each other because inspired words MUST be individually relevant and not irrelevant, and irrelevant words cannot be individually important, much less inspired. And so therefore, the attack on the ability of language to convey truth perfectly actually results in an attack on the Inspiration of Scripture.

It may be seen that Antithesis does not truly know or understand logic at all. There is a marked difference between sentences and propositions which he does not even seem to be aware of, which I have learned early on in my logic module class. Using the same words or phases does not necessarily mean that the same thing is being talked about and therefore would lead to different propositions. A cursory look at the known logical fallacies would show that the logical fallacy of equivocation (using one word to express two different things in different instances) and amphiboly (using one phrase or sentence to mean two different propositions) is built upon the fact that using the same word or sentence even does not mean that they are the same proposition. For otherwise how can they be called logical fallacies at all? Antithesis has here tripped himself up and shown himself to be totally ignorant of logic as seen in the following exchange:

Daniel: 3)You should go and be a lawyer; words seem to be mere putty to you. Question: In your opinion, is there ONE meaning for any particular sentence made by anyone?

Antithesis: Let’s consider the sentence, “Great!” in different contexts.

A boy got his exam results, and it is an A. He said, “Great!”

A boy got his trousers torn by his school bullies. He said, “Great!”

Do those two sentences - “Great!” - mean the same thing? But according to you, they both mean the same thing. One meaning, right?

First of all, Antithesis totally misunderstand the question that I was asking, which was about a particular statement; a single statement, NOT two similar statements used in two different contexts. His example however is flawed, for the two exclamations of "Great!" are not the same proposition. In language, it is typical to let the context feel in the meaning for you instead of stating a proper statement containing all the necessary information that is implicit within the context. For these two examples, the propositions made by these two boys are actually, after filling in information from the contexts:

1st boy: Great = I am happy to have accomplish this feat (of scoring an A)

2nd boy: Great = A terrible thing has happened to me (trousers torn by school bullies) (and I am being sarcastic about it)

This failure to distinguish between sentences/phrases and propositions is a very fundamental error in logical argumentation — one which is covered in basic logic class within the first few weeks, and therefore it should not be made by those who have studied logic in any degree whatsoever.

Last but not least, Antithesis shows us in the end that he does not understand basic logical argumentation at all; thus being the 'perfect' illustration for our case that God has indeed in punishment blinded the eyes of those who do not believe (Is. 6:9-10). Over at Joel's blog on a totally unrelated subject, Antithesis has commented, and I have posted one of my replies over here

Antithesis seems to have so much time in his hands to attempt to communicate his "truths". Of course, since language cannot perfectly convey truth, who exactly knows what he is actually saying? Maybe when he says "it does speak a lot concerning your reasoning ability", we should interpret it 'literally' as a compliment instead, as in "your reasoning ability" = subject, "it does speak" = verb, "a lot" = quantity, therefore we should interpret this phrase as Antithesis is praising Joel's great intellectual ability! Of course, since this whole thing is a silly discussion anyway, perhaps the adjective "silly" is meant to describe his tirades on my blog in wasting my time responding to his silly questions?

Applying the great Antithesis' neo-orthodox philosophy of language to his own writings truly has been so much fun. [Michel] Foucault would be proud...

To which Antithesis replied with this post which completely misses the point that the comment is an exercise in reductio ad absurdum.

In conclusion, it can be seen that the inability of language to convey truths is impractical and inconsistent with the praxis of those promoting it and it also undermines and contradicts the doctrine of Verbal Plenary Inspiration. Those who try to defend this self-defeating position are affirming the position in practice while denying it in theory — a sure recipe for disaster for them. Also, it would be a good idea for us to brush up on our logic so that we can spot all the many logical fallacies the Neo-Orthodox (and their cousins the Liberals and Emergents of which this is relevant too) commit over and over again especially in the field of epistemology.

P.S.: This would be my first and only serious post against the person who calls himself Antithesis. If not for the fact that this issue is an important issue, I would not have bothered to refute someone who is so full of himself and who refuses to submit himself to the authority of Scripture, but instead places himself and his reason (and probably "scholarship" too) in judgment over the Word of God.



Joel Tay said...

The logical inconsistency within Neo-orthodoxy is one reason why I believe that a course in Logic is fundamental to any theological college's curriculum.

Antithesis said...


Please don't make me laugh.

My reply is here, dude.

Clueless? Know what is a critical text after all these posts?

PuritanReformed said...


I do not need to "run from anything". Anyone who know even a bit of logic will know you are just blowing smoke. Besides strawman, ad-hominem, non-sequitur etc, what else can you come up with?

With regards to the Critical Text, you obviously do not know what I was talking about. Even THE Critical Text published by WH and later by UBS etc do give the varient readings among the manuscripts, so your point is moot.

If you continue to misrepresent my position clearly even after being constantly refuted, there is nothing more to add to this conversation. May God have mercy upon you and save you from the gutter of irrationality you are in.

PuritanReformed said...

Just btw, if anyone really wants to know, I can do a sentence by sentence deconstruction of Antithesis' posts which shows the many logical fallacies he has committed in them.

Antithesis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PuritanReformed said...


you are in violation of rule number 1. Your nonsensical comment would be hereby deleted. If you want to continue attacking and misrepresenting me and ignoring the Truth, you can continue on your blog. Goodbye!

Tartanarmy said...

Daniel, I see you have crossed swords with Paul Manata! Don't worry, he really is one of us, even if he is a Van Tillian!

He probably found your blog because he daily "googles" Van Tillian and then goes about his duty from the results!

I like Paul, as he actually defends a robust Calvinism and he is reformed, but he gets a bit bitey and can come across as harsh and emotive at times, But God love him!

I think he likes Clark more than he would ever admit, and I think he is slowly shrinking away from some of Van Till.


PuritanReformed said...


I doubt he is Paul Manata. After all, he calls himself a Neo-Orthodox. Also, it seems quite unthinkable for someone to be a Calvinist yet behave in such an un-Christ-like and irrational manner, neverming the fact that he refuses to abide by the rules. Also, Antithesis has his own blogger profile which is not that of Paul.

Tartanarmy said...

Maybe you are right, but my gut instinct was that it is Paul, particularly by using the name "antithesis", which he is known for using...Anyway, I am probably wrong, but I do appreciate your efforts with whoever he is!


Joel Tay said...

Antithesis was not arguing from a Van Tillian view but from a Neo-orthodox position. Secondly, the language used is not consistent with Christian behaviour. Third, he is not very familiar with some of the modern Van Tillian writers when he said that modern apologists in the Van Tillian school do not use the argument from "impossibility of the contrary". (TAG argument)

Bahnsen himself uses it.

Doug Wilson is certainly carrying the Vantillian ball forward:

If you don't want to buy one of Wilson's books, his debate with
Hitchens is available gratis from Christianity Today here:

I'll save you the trouble, Wilson wins the debate.

It appears that this guy is not well verse with Van Til. So it does not sound like the person you are referring to.

Tartanarmy said...

You are right. This guy is definitely not Paul. Mistaken identity.

This guy is something else, and certainly does not appear to act like a Christian much less think like one.

So, this is where it all started?

Daniel, you have answered him very well. Your writing is very clear, logical and a pleasure to read.

Keep up the good work.


PuritanReformed said...