Monday, September 05, 2011

A response to Van Tillian Warren Cruz: Logic, Rationality, and the Fall

Over on his blog, Van Tillian Warren Cruz has posted a recent post attempting to defend the Van Tillian notion of the ontological defect of the reason of Man caused by the Fall. Judging by its temporal proximity to my post critiquing Van Til on this topic, the post seems to be a response to mine. I guess that would most definitely merit a response from me.

As I have read Van Til, the major problem with Van Til is that he is not systematic. It can be clearly seen that Van Til is influenced by the Reformed scholars of his day like Bavinck and Kuyper. This however means only that he uses the terms they use and to some extent embrace what they teach. What is required however for apologetics and interaction with detractors is a sharp mind good at systematizing truths and making the proper distinctions, as well as humility to seek to understand the terms and position of your detractors. That is what makes Reformed Scholasticism the highest peak of Reformed theology so far. Sadly, all of these qualities are lacking in Van Til, and it shows here in this post by Cruz.

The main thrust of the argument by Cruz is that Turretin believes in the same position as Van Til. Van Til, per his hagiographical image, was a solid Reformed scholar merely restating the truths of Reformed theology and applying them to the realm of apologetics. Cruz first states the issue at hand and his belief that the Reformed view is that the effects of sin on reason is more than ethical. Cruz then quotes Turretin with the belief that Turretin's work confirms his Van Tillian position on the effects of sin.

The problem with Cruz's post though is that I as a Clarkian agree 100% with what Turretin wrote, yet I disagree with Cruz's and Van Til's distortion of Turretin's views. That is why I have said earlier that proper definitions of terms and humility to seek to understand the positions of detractors is necessary. It is no use like Van Til to merely state the Reformed view without further systematizing, clarifying and reformulating how the truths held by the Reformed tradition are to be applied to the present day and time. [Of course, Van Til did "build on" the Reformed tradition, if building a straw roof on top of a concrete building while rearranging the concrete pillars is considered "building upon it."]

It is possible to say that "reason" is not affected by the Fall as per Clark, and also hold that "reason" is affected by the Fall as per Turretin. The issue here as always has been definitions, definitions and definitions. What do we mean by the use of our terms? What does Turretin mean by the use of his term? Van Tillians it seems ignore this entire issue, and merely parrot the same objection again and again. Of course, it may well be the case that they have never heard a refutation of this canard, but I seriously doubt that to be the case.

What does Clark mean by "reason"? Does he mean by that the reasoning processes of Man? No. Clark is abundantly clear that the Image of God in Man is the mind and logic. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that is irrelevant for this topic. The main point here is that Clark defines "reason" in this area as the rules of reason, or logic.

We will digress here to a short course in basic logic. Let us start with the simple logical argument: "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is moral." What does logic assert as to this statement? Logic merely shows us whether this argument is valid or invalid (whether the consequence necessarily flows from the premises). It does not supply the premises for the argument, neither does it tell us whether the premises are true or false. Logic furthermore does not even tell us what arguments to evaluate. It is a mere tool. If one inputs true premises into the arguments, logic can tell us whether it is valid, and if it is valid, then the argument is sound. However, if one inputs false premises into the arguments, logic cannot disprove the argument if the structure of the argument is valid. Which is to say, "Rubbish in, rubbish out."

For example, let us look at this argument: "All unicorns are cats. I have seen a unicorn. Therefore I have seen a cat." Logic can only tell us that this argument is valid, but we all know that this argument is nonsensical because unicorns do not exist, unicorns are not cats, and we and everyone else have not seen a unicorn. In other words, the premises of this argument are false and the argument unsound despite the fact that it is valid in form.

Therefore, when Clark states that "reason" is unaffected by the fall ontologically but affected only ethically, it means that unregenerate men after the Fall still use the same logical apparatus as Adam and Eve did, and as regenerate believers still do. Adam and Eve believed in for example the principle of modus tollens as much as Aristotle the pagan did, as much as the Medieval theologian Aquinas did, as much as John Calvin did, and as we do so today. The problem with the unregenerate mind is not their logical apparatus is different, but the way in which they use it. The unregenerate mind is incapable of providing the proper premises for the right argument towards knowing God, and incapable of judging whether the premises of any such arguments to be truth or false correctly.

This brings us to Turretin's quote. When Turretin uses the word "reason," he means the entire reasoning process including the choosing of premises and the assessment of their truth value. Using this definition, Turretin rightly attacks blind reason and the Rationalism of the philosophers, and deny that "sound reason is its [the faith's] principle." In other words, if we talk about the reasoning process as a whole, then of course "reason" defined in this way is very much affected by the Fall. As Cruz kindly reminded us, the bifurcation between reason [understood as the reasoning process] and will is "undue and coerced."

As it can be seen, Clarkians stand in the Reformed tradition with Turretin. It is however Van Til who distorts the Reformed teaching by adding to it the ontological effects of reason in the Fall, something none of the Reformers and Reformed scholastics ever did. In fact, the Reformed scholastics embraced Aristotelianism to a very large extent in its form and vocabulary (though not so much content), so it would be indeed strange, even impossible if their minds which were shaped by Aristotelian categories would reject one of those categories.

As a last word, Van Tillians really need to stop reading Van Til into the writings of the Reformers and their successors. It is manifestly unscholarly and anachronistic, and those of us who DO read the works of the Reformed tradition are not impressed with the mangling of the primary sources in the service of an ideology based upon the veneration of one sinful man.


Anonymous said...

You have touched on and exposed the central error of Van Til; he attributes to ontology that which is rightly reserved for epistemology and visa versa.

Commenting on the well known illustration Van Til used for his students in order to picture his understanding of the Creator/creature distinction where he would draw a large circle above a smaller one connected by two vertical lines, Cal Beisner observers:

What are we supposed to think the two circles represent? Knowledge content (that is, truths known), or knowledge mode (that is, the processes by which truths are known)? If the latter, then an overlap of the circles would indeed seem to imply a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. But if the former, it would not, at least not in the judgment of Reformed theologians who don‟t subscribe to Van Til‟s idiosyncratic development of that distinction.

It is clear why overlap or intersection would deny the archetypal/ectypal (and hence the Creator/ creature) distinction if what the circles represent is ontology, but it is not clear that it would do so if what the circles represent is epistemology, for then it must be asked whether, in epistemology, they represent truths known or the process (mode, manner, way) by which truths are known. If the latter, then the overlap would indeed jeopardize the Creator/creature distinction, since only God knows all things by knowing Himself, and hence the assertion that the creature knows things by the same mode God does would imply that the creature is God. But if the former – if the circles represent truths known (the content, not the mode, of knowledge) – then the overlap would not jeopardize the distinction, and indeed the lack of overlap would imply precisely the skepticism [Gordon] Clark said Van Til‟s language implied, and that indeed some of Van Til‟s language at least colorably could be understood to imply (e.g., Van Til‟s denial that God‟s knowledge and man‟s “coincide at any single point”).

PuritanReformed said...


agreed. Just curious though, is the quote from Beisner in one of his books?