Sunday, November 28, 2010

Answer to Paul Manata on COVETS

[continued from here, here and here]

Paul M, whom I have just realized is Paul Manata, has replied to my critique of Van Til's one person view of the Trinity, which he has dubbed COrnelius Van til’s Enigmatic Trinitarian Statement, or COVETS. They can be seen here, here and here.

I would like to make a couple of points here, then close up (hopefully) the discussion. First of all, I very much appreciate the interaction with Paul. We can disagree strongly even, but to take each other's arguments seriously and interact with them is a virtue that few people have. As I may have said somewhere, I respect people who hold to their beliefs and are willing to stand for them and defend them. Those who retreat into the darkness and snipe are cowards who are unwilling to stand for their beliefs.

With that, let us look into the response proper.

Manata is clearly more well-read than me on this topic, and I concede that fact. That does not mean that he is right, but it certainly mean that I need to read up more on the subject. And if one thinks that such an attitude is wrong, one needs to learn what are the implications of the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.

Van Til's contradiction

Manata consistently insists that the burden of proof is on me to prove that Van Til's formula is a contradiction. My reply has been that it is impossible to prove something is a contradiction if the statement makes no sense. I have in mind Van Til's statement that God is both three persons and one person. If Van Til and Paul and any Van Tillians out there cannot explicate the senses, the statement of it that being true due to each proposition predicated according to different senses is meaningless. And if the predication according to different senses is meaningless, then by default the one person three persons view is a formal contradiction.

Now, there are attributes of God that are almost impossible to explain, which is why we use the negation to tell others what God is not. So God is incomprehensible, God is infinite etc. Similarly, in order to explicate the different senses, language may fail to describe the senses. Even then, through the use of negation such may be done. So it is not the case that language cannot explain what are the different senses. Contra Manata, no one is asking for "what the terms meant in sufficient detail," and thus we can comprehend God fully. We are not asking Van Tillians to "fully solve and explicate the mysterious doctrine of the trinity [sic]." We are merely asking for enough explication to differentiate the different senses instead of mere ipse dixit and appeal to paradox.

Manata attempts an analogy to show why formal contradictions are fine. He wrote:

For example, suppose a wise father tells his young daughter that he say a young female patient today who had x-y chromosome pair. The daughter, relying on the wise testimony of her father holds both propositions on the testimony of her father, recognizing she is not as wise as him but if he says so it must be so. Now, in fact the propositions do not contradict if the father, say, means the first one genotypically and the second one phenotypically.

This analogy however fails. Note that the contradiction posited by Manata states is between the proposition "female" and "ha[ving] x-y chromosome pair." It is not a formal contradiction in and by itself. The contradiction occurs only with the addition of another premise, namely: "Those having XY chromosome pair are males." But this premise is wrong! Not all XY chromosome pair possessing individuals are males, a fact that geneticists know. For example, just a simple mutation that make all cells non-responsive to testosterone would render XY individuals females. Sox9 repressed XY individuals are similarly phenotypically females, while SOX9 over expression in XX individuals causes female-to-male sex reversal.

Using this analogy, a formal contradiction analogous to Van Til's error would be saying something like "female" and "male" as predicated of the same subject. Assuming a world without hermaphrodites, this would be a formal contradiction of the first degree. If such were to be said, explanation would be necessary. Manata's analogy thus fails to establish his point.

An Analogy

Manata pointed out that my counter-analogy of saying that "Jesus is always the uncreated Son of God form [sic] eternity and is also at the same time a created being" is actually possible. Upon reading again, it is indeed so. So I propose another analogy along the same lines: "Jesus has two natures and one nature at the same time". We'll see if this will pass as orthodox if we insist that they are spoken of in two different senses, which we will not tell of course.

The relation of the orthodox formula and the one person view

Manata maintains that the one person view for Van Til is a logical implication from the orthodox view. That is a matter of interpretation. One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens. I will just leave it as that and ask the reader to decide whether it is proper to assume Van Til's orthodoxy and rationality on this point of the doctrine of the Trinity in interpreting the evidence, or vice versa.

The issue of "paradox"

As Manata has said which I agreed, paradox are apparent contradictions. Therefore, they must be shownto be apparent and not real contradictions. Through the use of negations which I have discussed above, it is possible to prove that real paraoxes are real paradoxes not antinomies. For example, that Christ is fully God and fully Man is not an antinomy because we deny that God and Man are necessarily exclusive categories. True, God is not Man and Man is not God, but we have an example of one who is both God and Man so the Chalcedonian formula is not a contradiction.

The issue of "person"

Manata claimed that there is no Confessional definition of the word "person". While technically true, the same could be said that there is no Confessional definition of the word "created" or "begotten" too. [Gordon] Clark made the same critique and my reply would be the same: What did the word personna (in Latin) and προσωπον (in Greek) meant in their historical context of the first five centuries of the Church? I am sure that would be an excellent topic to look into. Nevertheless, the point I was making is that the word means something historically, and that definition is what is used in the Creeds and Confessions.

The issue of numerical identity

Manata posts some quotes claiming that they support the idea of numerical identity. However, the texts by themselves merely state a numerical identity of essence/substance. If that is all Manata has to go by, one wonders how Manata can transit from numerical identity of essence to numerical oneness of person in the Trinity. To say that God the Father is God in one essence says nothing about persons.

Singular predicates of God

Manata states that the proposition "God is one, period" doesn't necessitate the usage of singular predicates. He insists that such would require putting such predicates in "scare quotes". In his own words,

Second, my car is “one.” But my calling it “her” is an anthropomorphism and should be qualified with scare quotes. God refers to Moses as “I.”

Is Manata denying that God uses anthropomorphisms in describing Himself? Does God have male genitalia? Does God have wings, hands, or feathers? If God's revelation of Himself to us is done through anthropomorphisms, shouldn't we, according to Manata, bracket all qualifiers of God with scare quotes. So God is not He, He is "He" or maybe "It(?)". The "eyes" of the Lord, not the eyes of the Lord etc.

If the Bible does not see fit to circumscribe the obvious anthropomorphisms of God in scare quotes, why should we do so just because Manata claims that anthropomorphisms require them?

God as "He" or "They"

Is God a "He" or "They"? The orthodox answer is both. God is a "He" with regards to his one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons. I will repeat it again: God is a "He" with respects to His one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons. I do not see what is so hard to understand about this. Using "they" with regards to God does not mean an embrace of tritheism, because we are talking about personS then.

Personal versus person

In this, Manata errs again. Having a virtually single consciousness does not make one a person. Personal is not person. As a counter-example, can we call a person with split personality two persons? If not, why?

Van Til a heretic?

Apparently, Manata thinks that I call Van Til a heretic, even though I did not use the word to describe him. The question before us is this: Does irrationality condemns one to hell? No! Many Christians are not logically consistent in their beliefs, and even I cannot say that I have always been consistent within my own beliefs. John Wesley was one of the most irrational prominent Christians in history, with his belief in conditional security and justification by faith alone contradicting each other.

The fact of the matter is: I regard Van Til as an irrationalist at certain points. Irrationalism does not condemn one to hell, as if we are Gnostics who believe that knowledge is the way of salvation.

Next, with regards to the nature of error. Do all errors condemn one to hell? Most assuredly not. Does an error regarding the millennium for example condemn one to hell? No. The Gospel is the content for salvation and that alone.

Now, Van Til propagates an error regarding an important topic: the Trinity. However, there are error and then there are ERRORS. Van Til did not deny orthodoxy; what he did was to undermine it by coming up with a novel doctrine. Just because the implications of an error lead to heresy does not mean that that error itself per se condemns the proponent to hell. Again, the Gospel determines the content required for salvation. It is believing in errors regarding the Gospel that condemns, not believing in errors that have logical implications that deny the Gospel message that condemns.

Similarly, "not in line with the historic Christian faith" does not necessarily mean heresy. Evangelical Arminianism is not in line with the historic Christian faith, but that does not make John Wesley a heretic! There is a category called "heterodoxy", which Manata did not take into account.

Manata therefore errs in thinking that saying Van Til is in error means he is a heretic. Van Til is many things, but heretic he is not.


Maul P. said...

Hi Daniel


Daniel C said...


thanks for the response. Nevertheless, I do not think your response adds to what you haver previously said. You are persistent in making any reference to "he" into reference to one person, a position I consistently deny.

Maul P. said...

@ Daniel,

That's fine. I trust readers will come to a different conclusion. I did, of course, do what you requested in offering areas of disambiguation, and demonstrated, as all logicians would agree, that there was no formal fallacy. I also showed that, according to what you previously admitted, that you must think God is a person, per your definition of person. Thanks for the exchange, however.

Maul P. said...

I mean, "formal contradiction," not fallacy.

Maul P. said...

Oh, and I also demonstrated that you were wrong on the numerical identity point. I gues we'll both have to let readers make their own decisions. All the best at WSCAL, and say hi to Dr. Clark for me :-)

Daniel C said...


sure, it's a pleasure crossing swords with you.

Daniel C said...


Does Dr. Clark know you?

Maul P. said...


Yes, many of your profs do. I lived down the road from WSCAL for quite some time, and I was a member of New Life PCA in Escondido. I'm heading back over Christmas too, perhaps we can drink a beer across from His Place (if that place is even still open) :-)

Daniel C said...


I see. Yea, we can meet up over Christmas, though I must confess I still don't know the area that well yet.

Reformed Apologist said...

Is God a "He" or "They"? The orthodox answer is both. God is a "He" with regards to his one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons.

Equivocation. In your second sentence you're speaking of the ONE Trinity, hence HE.No prob there. When the THREE persons are in view, we may call them as a set THEY, but to call the ONE Triune-God from sentence 1 "THEY" is to imply tri-theisim. Context is everything.

Daniel C said...


where is the equivocation? I clearly claim that God is three in persons and one in essence.

Reformed Apologist said...

I'm glad I checked back! :)

Is God a "He" or "They"? The orthodox answer is both. God is a "He" with regards to his one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons.

Your statement in italics can be rewritten as such:

Is the one triune God a “He” or They”? The one triune God is a “He” with regard to his one essence and the one triune God is “they” regarding his three persons.

You were referring to the ONE triune God as “they”. “They” may only refer to set of individual persons who comprise the Godhead, but to equate “they” with the ONE trinity is confused. “They” can refer to multiple persons or, allowing for heresy, multiple trinities but not one Trinity. Certainly you don’t want to suggest that each person in the one Godhead is triune, but to refer to the Trinity as a “they” could even suggest that, which I know you don’t want to suggest.

Daniel C said...


I fail to see your point, Your ammended sentence looks identical in meaning to mine.