Mr. White, Mr. Grey and Mr. Black VIII

It’s been quite a while since there’s been a post in this series, hasn’t it? I apologize for the delay! This post will continue the discussion we left off in the last post, and pick up on the same page.

Of course, what Mr. Black is doing appears very reasonable to himself. “Surely,” he says, if questioned at all on the subject, “a rational man must have a systematic coherence in his experience. Therefore he cannot accept as true anything that is not in accord with the law of noncontradiction. So long as you leave your God in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ in the realm of the indeterminate, you may worship him by yourself alone. But as soon as you claim that your God has revealed himself in creation, in providence, or in your Scripture, so soon I shall put that revelation to the test by the principle of rational coherence.

And by that test none of your doctrines are acceptable. All of them are contradictory. No rational man can accept any of them. If your God is eternal, then he falls outside my experience and lives in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ of the unknowable. But if he is to have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world. I must understand your God throughout if I am to speak intelligently of any relationship that he sustains to my world, and to myself. Your idea that God is both eternal and unchangeable and yet sustains such relationships in the world as are involved in your doctrine of creation and providence, is flatly contradictory.”

“For me to accept your God,” continues Mr. Black, ‘you must do to him what Karl Barth has done to him, namely, strip him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable him to turn into the opposite of himself. With that sort of God I have a principle of unity that brings all my experience into harmony. And that God is wholly within the universe. If you offer me such a God and offer him as the simplest hypothesis with which I may, as a goal, seek to order my experience as it comes to me from the womb of chance, then the law of noncontradiction will be satisfied. As a rational man I can settle for nothing less.”

All this amounts to saying that Mr. Black, the lover of a chance philosophy, the indeterminist, is at the same time a out-and-out determinist or fatalist. It is to say that Mr. Black, the irrationalist, who said that nobody can know what is in the “Beyond,” is at the same time a flaming rationalist.[1] For him only that can be which – so he thinks – he can exhaustively determine by logic must be. He may at first grant that anything may exist, but when he says this he at the same time says in effect that nothing can exist and have meaning for man but that which man can exhaustively know. Therefore, for Mr. Black, the God of Christianity cannot exist. For him the doctrine of creation cannot be true. There could be no revelation of God to man through nature and history. There can be no such thing as the resurrection of Christ.

Strangely enough, when Mr. Black thus says that God cannot exist and that the resurrection of Christ cannot be a fact, and when he also says that God may very well exist and that the resurrection of Christ may very well be a fact, he is not inconsistent with himself. For he must, to be true to his method, contradict himself in every statement that he makes about any fact whatsoever. If he does not, then he would deny either his philosophy of chance or his philosophy of fate. According to him, every fact that he meets has in it the two ingredients: that of chance and that of fate, that of the wholly unknown and that of the wholly known. Thus man makes the tools of thought, which the Creator has given him in order therewith to think God’s thoughts after him on a created level, into the means by which he makes sure that God cannot exist, and therefore certainly cannot reveal himself.

When Mr. White meets Mr. Black he will make this issue plain. He will tell Mr. Black that his methodology cannot make any fact or group of facts intelligible to himself. Hear him as he speaks to the unbeliever: “On your basis, Mr. Black, no fact can be identified by distinguishing it from any other fact. For all facts would be changing into their opposites all the time.[2] All would be gobble-de-gook. At the same time, nothing could change at all; all would be one block of ice. [3] Hath God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?[4] He clearly has. I know you cannot see this even though it is perfectly clear. I know you have taken out your own eyes. Hence your inability to see is at the same time unwillingness to see. Pray God for forgiveness and repent.”

But what will be the approach of the conservative, Mr. Grey, on this question of logic? He will do the same sort of thing that we saw him do with respect to the question of facts. Mr. Grey will again try to please Mr. Black by saying that, of course, he will justify his appeal to the authority of the Bible by showing that the very idea of such an appeal, as well as the content of the Bible, is fully in accord with the demands of logic.

“You are quite right in holding that nothing meaningful can be said without presupposing the validity of the law of noncontradiction,” says Mr. Grey.[5] “‘The conservative ardently defends a system of authority.’[6] But ‘without reason to canvass the evidence of a given authority, how can one segregate a right authority from a wrong one? … Without systematic consistency to aid us, it appears that all we can do is draw straws, count noses, flip coins to choose an authority. Once we do apply the law of contradiction, we are no longer appealing to ipse dixit authority,[7] but to coherent truth.’[8] ‘The Scriptures tell us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). This can be done only by applying the canons of truth. God cannot lie. His authority, therefore, and coherent truth are coincident at every point. Truth, not blind authority, saves us from being blind followers of the blind.’[9] “‘Bring on your revelations!'” continues Mr. Grey. “‘Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent.’[10] ‘Any theology which rejects Aristotle’s fourth book of the Metaphysics[11] is big with the elements of its own destruction.’[12] ‘If Paul were teaching that the crucified Christ were objectively foolish, in the sense that he cannot be rationally categorized, then he would have pointed to the insane and the demented as incarnations of truth.'”[13] [14]

Remember, what Mr. Black finds very reasonable to himself is this:

Nobody knows — nevertheless your hypothesis is certainly wrong and mine is certainly right! Nobody knows whether God exists, but God certainly does not exist and Chance certainly does exist. When Mr. Black thus virtually makes his universal negative assertion, saying in effect that God cannot possibly exist and that Christianity cannot possibly be true, he must surely be standing on something very solid. Is it on solid rock that he stands? No, he stands on water! He stands on his own “experience.” But this experience, by his own assumption, rests again on Chance. Thus standing on Chance, he swings the “logician’s postulate” and modestly asserts what cannot be in the “Beyond,” of which he said before that nothing can be said.

This is the last paragraph we addressed in the preceding section. At the beginning of that section, Mr. Black asks “But how can anyone know anything about the ‘Beyond’? – and Mr. Grey’s response is that “if you want absolute certainty, such as one gets in geometry, Christianity does not offer it. We offer you only ‘rational probability.’”. In the following discussion, Van Til notes:

He is so anxious to have the unbeliever accept the possibility of God’s existence and the fact of the resurrection of Christ that, if necessary, he will exchange his own philosophy of the facts for that of the unbeliever. Anxious to be genuinely “empirical” like the unbeliever, he will throw all the facts of Christianity into the bottomless pit of Chance. Or, rather, he will throw all these facts at the unbeliever, and the unbeliever throws them over his back into the bottomless pit of Chance.

Of course, this is the last thing that such men as Wilbur Smith, Edward J. Carnell, and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., want to do. But in failing to challenge the philosophy of Chance that underlies the unbeliever’s notion of “fact,” they are in effect accepting it.

He continues, and offers what Mr. White, the Reformed apologist, would do in response.

In the very act of presenting the resurrection of Christ or in the very act of presenting any other fact of historic Christianity, Mr. White would be presenting it as authoritatively interpreted in the Bible. He would argue that unless Mr. Black is willing to set the facts of history in the framework of the meaning authoritatively ascribed to them in the Bible, he will make “gobble-de-gook” of history.

If history were what Mr. Black assumes that it is, then anything might happen, and then nobody would know what may happen. No one thing would then be more likely to happen than any other thing. David Hume, the great skeptic, has effectively argued that, if you allow any room for Chance in your thought, then you no longer have the right to speak of probabilities. Whirl would then be king. No hypothesis would then have any more relevance to facts than any other hypothesis. Did God raise Christ from the dead? Perchance he did. Did Jupiter do it? Perchance he did. What is Truth? Nobody knows. Such would be the picture of the universe if Mr. Black were right.

These points are crucial to keep in mind in the discussion we will now address.

Of course, what Mr. Black is doing appears very reasonable to himself. “Surely,” he says, if questioned at all on the subject, “a rational man must have a systematic coherence in his experience. Therefore he cannot accept as true anything that is not in accord with the law of noncontradiction. So long as you leave your God in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ in the realm of the indeterminate, you may worship him by yourself alone. But as soon as you claim that your God has revealed himself in creation, in providence, or in your Scripture, so soon I shall put that revelation to the test by the principle of rational coherence.

You will usually find the unbeliever quite convinced that what he engages in is the very epitome of reason. It is eminently logical, impeccably argued, and altogether coherent. If you don’t believe me, just ask them! Unfortunately, their own conception of their argumentation and reason is fatally flawed. First, it is flawed by their sinful nature. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and exchange the glory of God for a lesser – a created “glory”, so-called. He indeed asserts that man must have a systematic coherence – but then he asserts a coherence that is itself incoherent with his stated position! Recall the previous discussion – Mr. Black is at once asserting the beyond cannot be known – but then making supposedly knowledgeable statements about this same beyond. He asserts on the one hand that chance is determinative – but on the other hand that reason is determinative. The two, put together, are incoherent. Notice also the insistence that God be left “in the realm of the beyond” – this is the sort of assumed naturalism that so infects western culture in the wake of the enlightenment. Then, there is the claim that man must be the judge of God. Any challenge to assumed naturalism is only properly answered naturalistically, you see? They are all too obviously arguing in terms of their presuppositional commitments – but at the same time they insist we ignore those we possess, and argue in terms of their own, or they are assumed to be invalid a priori.

And by that test none of your doctrines are acceptable. All of them are contradictory. No rational man can accept any of them. If your God is eternal, then he falls outside my experience and lives in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ of the unknowable. But if he is to have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world. I must understand your God throughout if I am to speak intelligently of any relationship that he sustains to my world, and to myself. Your idea that God is both eternal and unchangeable and yet sustains such relationships in the world as are involved in your doctrine of creation and providence, is flatly contradictory.”

Note the extremely confident language here. This is actually quite typical of unbelieving objections. Where on the one hand they will be quite cautious in what is asserted, for some reason that caution is thrown to the wind when making pronouncements concerning God. There are several claims in succession here, all linked to each other. First, there is the claim that none of our doctrines are “acceptable.” Per the context, this is speaking of acceptability in terms of “rational coherence”. They are considered to be “irrational”, or “incoherent.” They are, he continues, “contradictory” – another common claim by unbelievers. Often made, but sadly, rarely is there even an attempt to demonstrate how this is so. When such an attempt is made, it becomes rather obvious why such attempts are rarely attempted. They typically rely on misunderstandings or common erroneous assumptions concerning Christian belief – or on equivocation on what is meant by terms shared nominally by both groups, but mean something entirely different contextually. He says “no rational man can accept them” – why? Is it made clear? His followup is that if God is to “have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world” – but why? There is no argument made, at all, for why this should be considered true! Notice one additional thing – he says that he must “understand your God throughout” – but then flatly rejects, on his own standards, “your idea”. Why, however? He doesn’t say. This is what often occurs – they will make a flat denial, but fail to make any argument as to why this is, or should be the case. Note, in addition, the dictatorial nature of the conversation henceforth.

“For me to accept your God,” continues Mr. Black, ‘you must do to him what Karl Barth has done to him, namely, strip him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable him to turn into the opposite of himself. With that sort of God I have a principle of unity that brings all my experience into harmony. And that God is wholly within the universe. If you offer me such a God and offer him as the simplest hypothesis with which I may, as a goal, seek to order my experience as it comes to me from the womb of chance, then the law of noncontradiction will be satisfied. As a rational man I can settle for nothing less.”

Note how Mr. Black lays out his demands for the unbeliever. To him, this is a necessity for rational conversation – but it is these very things that are in dispute! He has failed to make any argument which necessitates the acceptance of any of these demands, yet he makes them, nonetheless. You must, he says, turn God into the opposite of himself. Why must we? I think a clue is offered in the next sentence. “God is wholly within the world.” This is the only “god” a naturalist will or can accept – but this begs the question from the outset, doesn’t it? He knows very well that Christianity teaches nothing of the sort. God must be at his mercy, and be in the Dock, for the natural man to treat with Him. We must, it seems, succumb to naturalism, or be deemed by naturalists, a priori, as “irrational.”

All this amounts to saying that Mr. Black, the lover of a chance philosophy, the indeterminist, is at the same time a out-and-out determinist or fatalist. It is to say that Mr. Black, the irrationalist, who said that nobody can know what is in the “Beyond,” is at the same time a flaming rationalist. For him only that can be which – so he thinks – he can exhaustively determine by logic must be. He may at first grant that anything may exist, but when he says this he at the same time says in effect that nothing can exist and have meaning for man but that which man can exhaustively know. Therefore, for Mr. Black, the God of Christianity cannot exist. For him the doctrine of creation cannot be true. There could be no revelation of God to man through nature and history. There can be no such thing as the resurrection of Christ.

This section is an explanation of a common theme of Van Til’s – the rationalist/irrationalist dialectic. On the one hand, he’s saying that no one can know. On the other hand, he’s saying that what can be known, must be known exhaustively. Thus, he both refutes himself and excludes the God of Christianity a priori. He also, by this same standard, excludes all knowledge a priori. He knows nothing exhaustively, and can know nothing exhaustively. At the same time, he is saying we should – and espousing an anti-knowledge, anti-meaning philosophy of indeterminism.

Strangely enough, when Mr. Black thus says that God cannot exist and that the resurrection of Christ cannot be a fact, and when he also says that God may very well exist and that the resurrection of Christ may very well be a fact, he is not inconsistent with himself. For he must, to be true to his method, contradict himself in every statement that he makes about any fact whatsoever. If he does not, then he would deny either his philosophy of chance or his philosophy of fate. According to him, every fact that he meets has in it the two ingredients: that of chance and that of fate, that of the wholly unknown and that of the wholly known. Thus man makes the tools of thought, which the Creator has given him in order therewith to think God’s thoughts after him on a created level, into the means by which he makes sure that God cannot exist, and therefore certainly cannot reveal himself.

This is a very important section to understand. There are often people who make the same sorts of claims. It must be understood what is being said here, in order to refute them properly. Notice – Van Til is saying that Mr. Black is consistently inconsistent. He is also saying that he must be consistently inconsistent. This, of course, is both incoherent and fatal. It ruins the very idea of both consistency and inconsistency – but the reasons the unbeliever does so are quite obvious. He is suppressing the truth. To do so, he must hold two diametrically opposed ideas in tension to each other concerning each and every fact in creation. This grants him what he imagines is a “systematic coherence” – but in reality, it is systematically incoherent – as we would expect from someone in opposition to the revealed Word on each and every point. Such a man must reduce God’s revelation to the level of creation, and must consider everything about him to be naturalistic – or else his incoherent tension dissipates.

When Mr. White meets Mr. Black he will make this issue plain. He will tell Mr. Black that his methodology cannot make any fact or group of facts intelligible to himself. Hear him as he speaks to the unbeliever: “On your basis, Mr. Black, no fact can be identified by distinguishing it from any other fact. For all facts would be changing into their opposites all the time.[15] All would be gobble-de-gook. At the same time, nothing could change at all; all would be one block of ice. [16] Hath God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?[17] He clearly has. I know you cannot see this even though it is perfectly clear. I know you have taken out your own eyes. Hence your inability to see is at the same time unwillingness to see. Pray God for forgiveness and repent.”

Notice here that Van Til is explaining the actual methodology, as well as engaging in it. When so many say that Van Til never did explain what to do, this is one place they need to go to find just that. It simply isn’t true. Most of the critiques that say so really don’t understand what the method is, and therefore don’t recognize it in use. Here, VT is both giving the argument and the explanation, so we should be very careful to follow here. There are certain things he is assuming his readers will understand – from both classical philosophy and theology – and we will attempt to explain those elements – but it’s rather interesting where he goes with it.

First, Mr. White makes the issue plain. He addresses the root issue with Mr. Black’s commentary. Namely, that his own worldview doesn’t provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Nothing can mean anything, or in relation to anything else, if what he says is true. Note the editor’s commentary in the footnote provided. If chance is ultimate, change is essential to any given subject of consideration, and there is no fixed notion of any subject to be had. Then, as Van Til continues, all would be gobbledy-gook – nonsense. On the other hand, if determinism is ultimate, no change is possible, and all things are static. Change of any sort is impossible, and all is rationalistically fixed in place – as if it were an unbroken block of ice. The trancendental in view is that neither pole of the dialectic is true. Facts are both identifiable, and the objects themselves undergo change. If we were to put that into an argument, we would say this, perhaps. The identification of facts presupposes Christianity; Facts are identified; Therefore, Christianity. This is one example. We could be more precise. Identification of facts in a changeable world presupposes Christianity; Facts are identified, despite mutability; Therefore Christianity. Those are two examples. However, it cannot be said that an argument hasn’t been made here. Just because Van Til didn’t write the preceding doesn’t mean an argument was not advanced. Most arguments from history were not written as such, you’ll find. Then note what is further said, to conclude Mr. White’s comments. He cites Scripture. He mentions the applicability of the passage cited to the situation at hand. He attests to the Scriptural truths seen clearly – and explains them. Mr. Black’s blindness is both inability and unwillingness to see. This is classical Reformed theology in expression. He also presents the sole alternative to his present condition – repentance and faith. This is the Covenantal apologist’s method, and the Reformed doctrine of evangelism clearly shown in practice. This should be both instructive and compelling to us, as Reformed believers.

In contrast, we have the approach of the evidentialist, Mr. Grey.

But what will be the approach of the conservative, Mr. Grey, on this question of logic? He will do the same sort of thing that we saw him do with respect to the question of facts. Mr. Grey will again try to please Mr. Black by saying that, of course, he will justify his appeal to the authority of the Bible by showing that the very idea of such an appeal, as well as the content of the Bible, is fully in accord with the demands of logic.

Remember Mr. Grey’s approach in respect to the question of facts. “[H]e will exchange his own philosophy of the facts for that of the unbeliever.” Instead of starting from his own foundation, he will exchange it for that of the unbeliever, and concede it all to him from the outset.

“You are quite right in holding that nothing meaningful can be said without presupposing the validity of the law of noncontradiction,” says Mr. Grey. “‘The conservative ardently defends a system of authority.’ But ‘without reason to canvass the evidence of a given authority, how can one segregate a right authority from a wrong one? … Without systematic consistency to aid us, it appears that all we can do is draw straws, count noses, flip coins to choose an authority. Once we do apply the law of contradiction, we are no longer appealing to ipse dixit authority, but to coherent truth.’ ‘The Scriptures tell us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). This can be done only by applying the canons of truth. God cannot lie. His authority, therefore, and coherent truth are coincident at every point. Truth, not blind authority, saves us from being blind followers of the blind.’

This may look impressive, superficially. What it actually does, however, is subject the Scriptures to man’s conception of what is “reasonable”, or “logical.” Remember, Mr. Black has just concluded by saying that what is revealed is inherently illogical. Does Mr. Grey imagine that Mr. Black will be impressed by an appeal to “brute” logic any more than he will be impressed by an appeal to “brute” facts? Mr. Black just used his own ipse dixit authority to demand that all other authority be subject to his own. What does Mr. Grey hope to accomplish by appealing to the same standard of “logic” that has just denounced revelation as contradictory, and assumes only naturalism? Further, it explicitly rejects the very revelation Grey hopes to have considered as “coincident” with coherent truth. It is doomed to impotence when presented in this fashion.

“‘Bring on your revelations!'” continues Mr. Grey. “‘Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent.’ ‘Any theology which rejects Aristotle’s fourth book of the Metaphysics is big with the elements of its own destruction.’ ‘If Paul were teaching that the crucified Christ were objectively foolish, in the sense that he cannot be rationally categorized, then he would have pointed to the insane and the demented as incarnations of truth.'”

Notice how Mr. Grey unknowingly subjects revelation in general, revelation in specific, to Aristotle, an unbelieving philosopher. Again, Mr. Black just finished assuming naturalism concerning any conception of “god” – and any conception of “logical”. To Mr. Black, any conception of anything whatsoever must be naturalistic to be considered logical, a priori. Mr. Grey, to pander to Mr. Black, sounds quite skeptical in his “bring on your revelations!” speech; but does he really believe that Scripture is subject to Aristotle’s fourth book of Metaphysics, or at least does not reject it in any fashion save superficial? He cites Paul as if Paul was approving of the wisdom of the world, not rejecting it. Paul, however, is showing that what the world considers wise is actually foolishness. The appropriate reaction to this is not to praise the world’s methodology, but to reject it.

We will continue this discussion in #9 of the series.

First | Previous | Next

  1. [1]
  2. [2]Editor’s footnote: If the notion of ultimate chance were true, then the identification of any fact at any time would be subject to essential change the moment it was identified, since the world would be chaotic at root. On this basis, facts simply could not be identified in any meaningful way. Given that facts are identified, the notion of ultimate chance is shown to be absurd; the Christian position is alone defensible.
  3. [3]This is the rationalist pole of the dialectic. “Nothing could change at all” because the “laws” that serve to identify a thing must themselves be universal and universally valid.
  4. [4]1 Corinthians 1:20
  5. [5]Author’s footnote 38: Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, 114
  6. [6]Author’s footnote 39: Ibid., 57
  7. [7]Author’s footnote 40: Ipse dixit authority is authority that has its foundation in the assertion itself; it is self-attestation
  8. [8]Author’s footnote 41: Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, 71
  9. [9]Author’s footnote 42: Ibid., 72
  10. [10]Author’s footnote 43: Ibid., 73
  11. [11]Author’s footnote 44: Aristotle’s fourth book of Metaphysics is the one in which he develops his understanding of logic.
  12. [12]Author’s footnote 45: Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, 178
  13. [13]Author’s footnote 46: Ibid., 77,78
  14. [14]Van Til, Defense of the Faith, (4th Ed), 328-331
  15. [15]Editor’s footnote: If the notion of ultimate chance were true, then the identification of any fact at any time would be subject to essential change the moment it was identified, since the world would be chaotic at root. On this basis, facts simply could not be identified in any meaningful way. Given that facts are identified, the notion of ultimate chance is shown to be absurd; the Christian position is alone defensible.
  16. [16]This is the rationalist pole of the dialectic. “Nothing could change at all” because the “laws” that serve to identify a thing must themselves be universal and universally valid.
  17. [17]1 Corinthians 1:20

Leave a Comment