Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Christianity, Verification and Falsifiability

[Greg Bahsen in criticizing Gordon Clark's alleged rationalism] The regulative demands of logic provide an atmosphere that envelops both Creator and creature. Hence if God should wish to speak to man, His revelation should be testable by the fourth book of Aristotle's metaphysics. He should be able to pass the test honorably. As Clark sees it, the sinner is not furthering his hostility against God and His Word by calling His revelation into question and subjecting it to the criterion of logic, but rather has the right and obligation to scrutinize any claim to revelation. (p. 151)

The very notion of proving God's existence is inherently misguided; God alone is adequate to witness to Himself. All of man's interpretive and discursive reasoning must be self-consciously subordinated to God and the authoritative direction of His Word. If the truth of God's Word were Clark's absolute presupposition, he would not consider it needing verification, or God's existence needing proof. (p. 154)

We are led to believe that Christianity would be undermine if certain proofs could be verifiably formulated. However, Clark should have maintained that Christianity salvages logic, not vice versa. (p. 150)

[Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (ed. Joel McDurmon; Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2008, 2011)]

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:12-19)

In Greg Bahnsen's posthumously published book, Bahnsen attempts to critique Gordon Clark's epistemology. In the process, Bahnsen showed an appalling ignorance of logic, misrepresentation of Clark's epistemology, and a misunderstanding of how Scripture argues.

One main critique Bahnsen has is that Clark promotes the fact that one can verify the claims of Christianity. According to Bahnsen, by making Christianity verifiable by logic, Clark places logic above revelation and thus is a rationalist. Scripture is no more the ultimate authority in Clark's system but reason is. But has Bahnsen even begin to understand Clark's epistemology, and even the basic concepts of logic?

The problem that Bahnsen has is that he fails to differentiate between verification and falsification. Verification means that one proves that something is right. If done via deduction, the form of the argument is some form of modus ponens. Applied to Christianity, verification would give an argument of such a form:

If X, then Christianity is true


Therefore, Christianity is true

Falsification however follows the form of modus tollen. Applied to Christianity, falsification would give an argument of the form:

If Christianity is true, then X

~X (?)

Therefore Christianity is false

The process of verification would make Christianity dependent upon truths discovered via either the empirical or rational methods or both. In other words, the process of verification would certainly make Scripture not the final authority. If Clark was indeed promoting verification, then certainly Bahnsen's critique would be valid.

The problem comes when we see that Clark is actually promoting falsification not verification. We can see this even from a quote used by Bahnsen to argue to the contrary. Clark is quoted as saying:

If the Biblical doctrine are self-consistent, they have actually met the only legitimate test of reason. This test of logic is precisely the requirement that a set of propositions be meaningful, whether spoken by God or man.

[Gordon Clark," Special Divine Revelation as Rational," Revelation and the Bible (1959, 37). As cited in Bahnsen, 151)]

We note here that Clark is arguing for the logical coherency within a system. Clark's argument can be described as follows:

P1: If [belief system A] were true, then propositions X, Y, and Z

P2: If X were true, then ~Z

IC1: Therefore, if [belief system A] were true, then propositions ~Z

[Consequentia Mirabilis!]

C: Belief system A is false

In form, such a reductio ad absurdum follows the similar form of modus tollens. In other words, even from the quote cited by Bahnsen, we can see that Clark is actually advocating for falsification and not verification.

In falsification, one can make Scripture one's final authority. In fact, unless Scripture is totally disconnected with the real world, Scripture must be falsifiable. Scripture in fact gives us a perfectly clear falsifiable criterion for Christianity in 1 Cor. 15: 12-19. The complex argument there can be boiled down to the argument that if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then Christianity is false and so on. The logical argument of this passage of Scripture therefore is as follows:

If Christianity is true, then Jesus rose from the dead

[Jesus did not raise from the dead]?

Therefore, if [Jesus did not raise from the dead], Christianity is false

The problem with evidentialism is that they argue based upon verification principles. Thus, they argue as follows:

If Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true

Jesus rose from the dead

Christianity is true

Such an argument makes something other than God's revelation the ultimate authority, and is in fact false since the first premise is not necessarily true.

Christianity therefore must be a falsifiable religion. Clark is perfectly consistent in stating that Scripture is the final authority and also claiming that Scripture could be tested for its consistency.

Bahnsen's critique simultaneously reveals the problem with the Van Tillian approach. If one claims that one must subordinate logic to revelation epistemology (as opposed to ontologically), then one is saying that Christianity is non-falsifiable. For revelation to be primary epistemologically means that Scripture is beyond all means of testing. In other words, Van Tillians such as Bahnsen are logically committed to saying that even if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is still true, since after all we cannot elevate "facts" above Scripture. This sort of fideism makes Christianity no different from all other mystery religions that are disconnected from this world. Of course, Van Tillians are not consistent with their professed epistemology, and still believe the teaching of 1 Cor. 15:12-19.

Bahnsen's critique of Clark at this main point is totally without any basis at all. Bahnsen misrepresents Clark, ignores the arguments of Scripture in 1 Cor. 15:12-19, and fails his logic. Christianity is a rational (not rationalistic) religion, and it can be be subject to tests for disproval but never proved.


Charlie J. Ray said...

I am not sure that you're getting Clark's argument correct. Clark gives a thorough critique of rationalism, empiricism, existentialism and secular philosophy in general--which proves he was not a rationalist. Also, Clark does not ultimately say that Scripture can be either verified OR falsified. Rather Clark's argument is that Scripture is the starting point for ALL knowledge whether it be special revelation or general revelation. AND since revelation is in words and language can only be understood via logic and logical propositions THEN the axiom is true that Scripture IS the Word of God or the very words of God in the form of plenary, verbal inspiration. Without logic the Bible would be incomprehensible gibberish. Hence, the Scriptures are NOT an analogy of God's revelation in any sense whatsoever. Rather Scripture is univocally the inerrant, verbally inspired Word of God in propositional form. This is why Horton and all other Van Tillians are ultimately more in league with the existentialist theology of the neo-orthodox theologians than with Calvin or any of the Protestant Reformers.

Horton even goes so far as to say that he disagrees with Luther's Bondage of the Will by citing an obscure quote from Turretin! See The Christian Faith, page 359, footnote 24.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Scripture needs nothing other than the presupposition that it is God's Word. That's Clark's starting point for epistemology, not logic in and of itself. His second assumption is that God operates via logic and rational language: Jesus IS the Logos, or "logic" in personal form.

Daniel C said...


to critique rationalism, empiricism etc does not necessarily preclude one from being a rationlist of some sort. This is not to say that Clark is one - he isn't - but to say that things are not so clear cut.

You are in error to say that Clark does not say that Scripture can be falsified. Clark gave the criterion of logical consistency as a defeater for Christianity.

And stop harping on the univocity issue. You have no idea what you are talking about! I have read Van Til and while I disagree, I can see what he is trying to say. You however probably didn't.

If I don't raise up the issue in a post, it is totally off topic to write it. You have a problem with Dr. Horton, go raise it up with him yourself. One more time you mention Horton in a post where I am not discussing his views and I will delete that particular comment!

This is your last warning.

Joel Tay said...

Charlie, I think you are missing Daniel's point here. Clark did start from scripture (divine revelation) rather than logic, but he also said (correctly) that a first principle can be falsified if it is shown to be inconsistent.

As for the Van Tillians leaning close to the Neo-orthodox theologians... that is true, but I don't see how that says anything about what Daniel has posted here.

wakawakwaka said...

is it me or are presupptional arguments almost only used by Calvinists? is there like a connection between the two, would it be inconsistent if lets say an Arminian or a Roman Catholic tried to use an argument brought fourth by Clark or Van till?

Daniel C said...

Arminians and RCs wouldn't use presuppositional arguments. To them it sounds dumb

wakawakwaka said...

is it because according to a calvinistic perspective the RC and Arminians put human reason above God's reason by saying people can "choose" God ,so then to be consistant their apologetic must be the same?

Daniel C said...

No, because they generally do not deal with the inductive problems inherent in their apologetics methodology