Friday, July 29, 2011

VFT Book Review: Evidence for God

William Dembski and Michael Licona have co-authored a book supposedly giving 50 reasons/ evidences for God, and by 'God' they mean God not some generic 'god'. I have reviewed this book, and the review is now available on the Valiant for Truth blog here.

An excerpt:

Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona, consists of 50 short essays written by various philosophers, scientists and theologians, all arguing for God in general and the Christian God in particular. The 50 essays are split into four sections: Section one deals with the question of philosophy, section two with the question of science, section three with the question of Jesus and section four with the question of the Bible. Perceived objections to God and the Christian faith in these four areas are dealt with accordingly, with the intention of proving the existence of God and the truth of the Christian faith.

The thrust of the book stems clearly from a classical and evidentialist perspective on apologetics. Classical philosophical arguments for the existence of God are given in the first section including the Cosmological Argument (Chapter 1), the Moral Argument (Chapter 2), interaction with the presence of suffering (Chapter 5) and responses to the argument from evil (Chapter 6). Anticipating the next section on science, chapter 4 attempts to repudiate the philosophy/worldview of naturalism as being insufficient to explain the origin of a complex universe (p. 29), and of being unable to prove itself as being true (p. 30).


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Analytic and synthetic thought, Deductivism and the philosophy of Gordon Clark

Two methods can be applied in both the discovery and the presentation of knowledge: either one proceeds from the causes to the effects, or else one begins with the end and from there traces back to the causes. The first option, from cause to effect, Zabrella [an Aristotelian] called the way of composition or synthesis. The second option, from the end back to its causes or the means to that end, he called the way of resolution or analysis... The analytical method proceeds inductively. It does not begin with what comes first, but with the effect or outcome.

The contemplative sciences, such as philosophy, are rather concerned with knowledge itself. Here one reasons from cause to effect, and the synthetic or composite method that follows a deductive process is used. The movement is from universal (universalia) to particulars (particularia).

These two methods can be illustrated by comparing them with the building of a house. With an analytical method, one first considers the building itself in general; the point of departure is the whole. From there each element is considered, brick by brick, in order finally to arrive at the foundation. The synthetic method, on the other hand, implies that one first consider the foundation. Then all the other parts follow until one has an impression of the entire building.

— Willem J. Van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 95-6

There is a small but growing interest in Reformed Scholasticism among the Reformed circles. This is of course a good thing since it is at that time that the fruits of Reformed theology were thriving.

It can be seen from Van Asselt's excellent book that Reformed Scholasticism borrowed greatly in form and method from Aristotelianism, yet without deriving its content from Aristotle. All of this is understandable. However, does the familiarity with Aristotelian categories blind those who are familiar with Reformed Scholasticism to ideas that do not depend on those categories?

Let us consider the philosophy of Gordon Clark. Vantillians have [falsely] accused Clark of many theological crimes — from being a [Cartesian] Rationalist, to denying the Creature/ Creator distinction, to believe that Man can become like God in knowledge etc. Of course, such attacks are totally baseless and only show the ignorance of Vantillians who read almost everything including the Reformers according to Vantillian lenses. In many cases, their idolatrous and un-Christian behavior deserve sharp rebuke as they persistently slander Clark and some Clarkians. (I am not denying however that some Clarkians turn into the caricatures their opponents paint of them.)

Nevertheless, it may be the case that some people unwittingly read Clark through the lens of Aristotle, and because of that they are confused over Clark's philosophy. It is with this in mind that I would like to address some of the basic Aristotelian categories that are used in Reformed Scholasticism.

According to Van Asselt's discussion of Reformed Scholasticism above, what is considered "analytic" is done inductively, reasoning from effect to cause. What is considered "synthetic" on the other hand is done deductively, reasoning from cause to effect. "Analytic" has to do with particulars, while "synthetic" has to do with universals, since after all reasoning from the foundation onwards should imply one universal foundation for everything (with the exception of postmodern thought) and then different structures (particulars) are build upon the same foundation.

Clarkian philosophy however ruins the entire Aristotelian landscape. According to Clark, the first axiom or presupposition of all thinking is revelation [Gordon H. Clark, An Introduction to Christian Philosophy. In The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Vol. 4 (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2004), 298]. In fact, as Clark said, "the notion that God can be known only through revelation seems to be essential to the very concept of God" (Clark, 299). With this one thought, Clark claims for revelation in Scripture to be both the foundation AND the house, and that house is most certainly particular. According to Aristotle, any focus on the foundation must be synthetic and universal, and focus on the house must be analytic and particular. Clark's philosophy dashes Aristotelian categories by making the particular the universal standard of judgment. All other systems, which in Aristotle's category would be deemed as other houses build upon the same type of foundation, are in Clark's system houses build in mid-air without true foundations.

According to Clark's philosophy, we can say that Christianity is discovered analytically in terms of human experience, but it is synthetic in terms of epistemic discourse. It is a particular philosophy which claims universality by denying all other philosophies and religions epistemic reality. Along this same line, we can say that Christianity is experienced inductively while rationally discussed deductively. This should be helpful in for us in seeing and appreciating the differences between the Heidelberg Catechism (inductive-analytic) and the Westminster Standards (deductive-synthetic).

Many have alleged that Clark held that reason in Man is untouched by sin, or that it could still sufficiently reach God in and of itself. As we have said, these accusers either have not read Gordon Clark, or have read his books with Vantillian lenses. Here is what Clark says about reason:

... The important question is not whether or not the Bible is true, but whether or not all knowledge is deducible by reason, i.e. by logic alone.

Now, the history of philosophy ... have convincingly answer in the negative.


.. reason without faith not only provides no religion, it supports no knowledge of any kind. ...

(Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation. In Clark, Works, 143)

Any discussion of man's mind and powers, to be at all Biblical, must take into account the effects of sin. Calvin, Hodge, and Machen were keenly aware of this. ...

[Quoting Machen with approval] ... So our reason is certainly insufficient to tell us about God, unless he reveals himself; but it is capable (or he would be capable if it were not clouded by sin) of receiving revelation when once it is given.

(Clark, Religion. In Works 179)

As we can see, Clark does teach that the mind is very much affected by sin. What Clark teaches on reason is that in the event that our minds are able to reason properly (due to regeneration etc), it is perfectly capable of receiving the revelation of God. Just because Clark teaches that we share the principle of reason with unbelievers in common does not imply at all that unbelievers' minds are capable of utilizing the principles of rational thinking when it comes to addressing the things of God.

In conclusion, while certainly we must keep in mind the use of Aristotelian categories in Reformed scholastic thought, which is not all bad either, we should not try to pigeon-hole other philosophies and theologies into these same Aristotelian categories. Attempting to do so with Clark's philosophy is probably the error that lead to the slanderous accusations against Clark by the Vantillians. Clark's philosophy while dated is still pertinent today, and it is my opinion that a combination of Reformed Scholasticism and Clarkian thought could very well solve most of the problems we face in philosophical thought.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Patristic Hermeneutics in relation to the issue of creation

One argument that I have heard against the position of "literal days of creation" is that the Literal-day view utilizes "Enlightenment hermeneutics." According to what I have read, evidently the Ancient and Medieval Church were not interested in reading Genesis as "literal narrative." Rather, they were interested in using Genesis as a polemic against the non-narrative pagan myths especially those in Platonism and Gnosticism. While certainly they will concede that the Ancient and Medieval Church believed in the historicity of Genesis, they will contend that the view that Genesis was to be interpreted as literal narrative comes from the Enlightenment.

In this post, I would just look at the issue from a hermeneutical perspective. The other allegations are so vacuous as to be laughable. It is from the Enlightenment that we get theories such as the Local Flood and the view that the Genesis stories especially in chapters 1 to 11 are myths. Since these rather conservative folks embrace a non-literal view of the Creation days and some of them embrace a local flood model (both theories promoted by the Enlightenment), it is more likely that their views come from the Enlightenment than those of their opponents.

Nevertheless, from the hermeneutical standpoint, what can we say of the allegations? Did the "literal narrative" hermeneutics really originate during the Enlightenment? To this, let us look at the example of Origen, probably the most reviled allegorist in the Ancient Church. Surely if anyone would disavow a "literal narrative" of Genesis, it should be him, rather than the "more literal" Chrysostom of the Antiochene school.

Here are excerpts from Origen's homilies on Genesis:

(1) … According to the letter God calls both the light day and the darkness night. But let us see according to the spiritual meaning …

(11) “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind, four-footed creatures and creeping creatures and beasts of the earth according to its kind.’ And so it was done. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind and all the creeping creatures of the earth according to their kind. And God saw that they were good.”

There is certainly no question about the literal meaning. For they are clearly said to have been created by God, whether animals or or four-footed creatures or beasts or serpents upon the earth. But it is not unprofitable to relate these words to those which we explained above in a spiritual sense.

(17) … The historical meaning, at least, of this sentence indicates clearly that originally God permitted the use of foods from vegetation, that is, vegetables and fruits of trees. But the opportunity of eating flesh is given to men later when a covenant was made with Noah after the flood. The reason for this, of course, will be explained more appropriately in their own places.

But allegorically the vegetation of the earth and its fruit which is granted to man for food can be understood of the bodily affections.

(Origen, Genesis Homily 1. Taken from The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation– Origen-Homilies on Genesis and Exodus)

As it can be seen, while Origen preached on and extolled the allegorical sense (no surprise), Origen did not discount the literal and historical sense of the Genesis Creation, but rather counts them as true realities which are however uninteresting. This is of course not to say that Origen is definitely orthodox in his view on creation, as he can be clearly in this homily (even without reading his book on creation) to believe in an eternal creation. However, Origen clearly thought that the literal or historical meaning of the Genesis text was true.

Of the Medieval Church, the fact of the matters is that they used the Quadriga as a hermeneutical tool. Certainly, there was more attention paid to the other three levels of meaning (the allegorical, anagogical, tropological), but the literal meaning was by no means discounted, especially since the text we are discussing has an obvious narrative layout.

It is therefore certainly most untrue that attention to the "literal narrative" is a legacy from the Enlightenment. Rather, such an hermeneutic can be already seen from the time of the early Church, and only gain prominence in the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Modernist and Postmodernist eras, as the truthfulness of the narrative events depicted in the Scripture come under attack. One can always quibble over the proportion of time and energy spent on the issue, but certainly if the attack is focused on that area, that is where our time and effort should be focused on too.

Literal Creation and Mainstream Science

The dismissal of the legitimacy of "Creation Science" occurs not only in the scientific community where positivism reigns supreme, but it also extends to a significant number of Reformed schools and seminaries. Ironically, many of those in such institutions arguing against literal creation and the legitimacy of "creation science" are neither scientists themselves nor do they have any advanced learning or work experience in the scientific field, never mind scientific research.

In a recent feedback to Creation Ministries International, Dr. Carl Wieland addresses the issue of the acceptance (or rather non-acceptance) of literal creation by mainstream scientists. As Dr. Wieland has said, it is not the case that there are no accredited scientists who believe in literal creation. It is however the case that these scientists do not publish in mainstream journals articles from a creationist viewpoint. As Wieland said:

Furthermore, a scientist can be ‘highly respected’ in a particular field, but the minute he starts to publish his conclusions supporting 6-day creation, he loses the respect of his peers, even though nothing has changed. This happened to Robert Gentry, a world authority on radiohalos, who was able to publish his findings in Science and Nature, but when it started becoming obvious that the conclusions were intended to support young-earth, that door slammed shut. He even lost his job at Oakridge National Laboratory. This is not some persecution complex, this is such a clear reality that creationists have been forced to set up their own journals for peer review. But then the argument will be that this is not ‘mainstream’ peer-review. See the Catch-22?

Another argument that is often used is that when such scientists voice an opinion on creation, they are publishing outside of their field. Or else it will be said that the work for which they received acclaim and respect had nothing to do with 6-day creation (ignoring the fact that the work for which most of the ‘mainstream’ scientists obtained respect almost always can be shown to have nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of either evolution or 6-day creation).


Let me however give you two current examples of scientists who are highly respected in their fields, and who are 6-day creationists. In the US, for instance, there is Dr John Baumgardner, who has spoken several times for CMI. He is a geophysicist who is widely regarded as having developed the world’s leading supercomputer model on plate tectonics, an area in which he is an expert. In the UK, Dr Andy McIntosh is a full Professor at the University of Leeds (Thermodynamics). In Australia, Dr Don Batten works for CMI, and before working for us, made research breakthroughs in the field of plant biology. So, back then he was ‘respected’ by mainstream science, now he would be shunned—yet his scientific expertise has not changed.


It is sad to see when professors and teachers in conservative schools and seminaries denigrate literal creation and "creation science." Granted, creation science is not perfect and is sure to contain unknown errors in their theories, but then all science functions in the same way.

It would certainly be very helpful if these evidently non-scientifically trained scholars at least refrain from speaking about things they know little if anything about. One can only hope however that those against the idea of having preachers in lab coats will also not in the process be a preacher in lab coat pontificating about the merits or demerits of creation science, as if they have the technical knowledge to made a judgment on the issue. Furthermore, if they are indeed functioning as real scholars and not as preachers in lab coats, they would give creation scientists as much respect as they give mainstream scientists, and creation science as much respect as mainstream evolutionary science.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Homosexuality and the slippery slope

Well, it seems that now the polygamists, or at least one of them, are trying to get people to accept their lifestyles, using similar arguments the homofascists have been using for years to force people to accept their immorality. After all, as the homofascists have been arguing for years, who gave the court the right to interfere with one's private business in one's bedroom?

Kody Brown and his four wives - the stars of the reality TV show "Sister Wives" - will soon be the subjects of another real-life drama, this one at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Browns plan to challenge the state's anti-bigamy statute Wednesday, when attorney Jonathan Turley files a complaint on behalf of the family's fight for the rights of "plural families."


Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said on his website that he and the Browns aren't calling for the "recognition of polygamous marriage."

"We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs," he said


"This action seeks to protect one of the defining principles of this country, what Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the right to be left alone.' In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values - even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state," Turley said.

One case that could figure as important in the case is the Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003, when the majority of the Supreme Court struck down laws banning consensual sex between same-sex couples. That case involved two consenting adults who didn't seek recognition of their relationship, were not involved in any crimes and whose behavior was private, Turley said.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Polanyi and Personal Knowledge: A brief analysis

... I think we may distinguish between the personal in us, which actively enters into our commitments, and our subjective states, in which we merely endures our feelings. This distinction establishes the conception of the personal, which is neither subjective nor objective. In so far as the personal submits to requirements acknowledged by itself as independent of itself, it is not subjective; but in so far as it is an action guided by individual passions, it is not objective either. It transcends the disjunction between subjective and objective.

— Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958, 1962), 300

Post-critical philosopher Michael Polanyi in his book on personal knowledge seeks to come up with a philosophical system that solves the problems present in modern philosophy since Kant. In the discussion of personal knowledge, as can see from the quote above, Polanyi states that personal knowledge is neither subjective nor objective, but instead occupies a category of its own. However, is that truly the case?

One thing which we can see from Polanyi's book is his progressive reasoning from the psychological processes involved in articulation, knowing and persuasion. The primary thrust of Polanyi's philosophy therefore is an argument from the psychological and physical processes involved in knowing, knowledge acquisition and communication/ persuasion. It is in this light that we can come to know what Polanyi means by "personal knowledge."

According to Polanyi, knowing is neither subjective nor objective, but personal. As proof, Polanyi states that it is not subjective because the knowing process submits to "requirements acknowledged by itself as independent of itself." The question we have to ask therefore is: Why does the presence of this psychologizing necessarily make it not subjective? Certainly, it is a problem for the justification of persuasion, but an expressivist (one anti-realist counterpart to subjectivism) view of knowledge and morality can easily explain the psychological process involved. Someone can think that there is a standard independent of himself without there actually being a real standard independent of itself.

Polanyi's argument therefore on it not being subjective therefore is not valid. But we do agree that an expressivist view is not viable either because it does not properly account for the act of persuasion (the Moral Problem).

Next, we would look at Polanyi's denial of it being objective in nature. According to Polanyi, it is not objective because it is "guided by individual passions." Here, we can see clearly the main error in Polanyi's thought on personal knowledge. What exactly is objectivity? Objectivity refers to the value of something being true regardless of persons. In other words, objectivity has respect to the thing believed, not the person believing it. The only way for Polanyi to think that guidance of individual passions necessitates the denial of the objectivity of things believed is to postulate an anti-realist ontology whereby things are not truly real. In this scheme, everything is real only to the extent it is personally appropriated.

We can see therefore that the denial of the objective-subjective dichotomy is predicated on the denial of ontologically objective reality — the denial that there is anything outside of the knower; extra nos. For if we admit of ontological objective reality, then Polanyi's system will collapse into anti-absolutist objectivist epistemology, as psychology given an ontologically real word is merely descriptive not explanatory.

The Christian however must admit that there is something outside of us, namely God. God is the one who determines the world (ontology) and determines meaning (epistemology). Since God is extra nos, there is objective reality in the world that does not depend on us perceiving it to be so. And objective reality implies that our knowledge is similarly objective, with psychology being merely descriptive never explanatory. Our "personal knowing" do not determine the world and its meaning. Instead, God is the one who determines meaning and He reveals that to us. Articulation, knowledge and knowledge acquisition, and persuasion are done (however imperfectly) because truth is real and objective, based upon the standards of God revealed to us.

Therefore, we who are Christians are to reject Polanyi's idea of personal knowledge as being anthropocentric, of committing the "is-ought" fallacy (by turning psychology from being descriptive to explanatory) and of seriously begging the question (assuming empiricism and then use inductive arguments which are always fallacious). Polanyi's philosophy is therefore logically fallacious and unbiblical, and Christians therefore ought to avoid it.

[See review of Esther Meek's book Longing to Know here.]

Monday, July 04, 2011

James White: Woe to those who call Evil, Good

Dr. James White has posted a good sermon from the book of Isaiah reflecting on the collapse of American culture.

Horton, Chandler and Keller on the Church in Culture

The Gospel Coalition recently ran a video discussion where Mike Horton, Matt Chandler and Tim Keller discussed the relation of Church and Culture. It is indeed an interesting discussion on the topic which we should listen to.