Objectivity and Subjectivity

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People are often surprised—sometimes to the point of disbelief—when they are told that the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity was not a significant concern prior to the Enlightenment. Yet it is so. Granted that generalizations pose risks, from the ancient world until the beginning of modernity the majority of people assumed that they somehow participated in what we would now call the construction of reality. They assumed that the world as they perceived it was an appearance, and that the appearance represented some conjunction of reality and the perceiver.

Consider a rainbow. A rainbow can be seen. It can be described. If one knows the distances of objects on the horizon, it can even be measured. Its colors can be distinguished and their intensity gauged. Yet, as anyone who has tried to find the end of a rainbow knows, it is not “out there.” It exists in a world of appearance, but not in some world detached from and purely external to the perceiver.

Premoderns thought that all appearances were like the rainbow. The entire perceived world, whether seen or heard or touched or tasted or smelled, was always and everywhere shaped by the perceiving mind. Consequently, the distinction between the perceiver and the thing perceived was not absolute.

By this, they did not suppose that no world existed externally to and independently of their awareness. They were quite sure that it did. What they lacked, however, was a direct means of encountering that external reality. The enterprise of philosophy arose (at least in part) because of the desire to find ways of working past perceptions to a knowledge of things as they really were.

That approach to reality (it is called a “metaphysical dream”) began to disintegrate in the late Middle Ages, and it was finally rejected with the beginning of modernity in the Enlightenment. No one was more influential in its rejection than René Descartes. He thought himself capable of positing a distinction between the perceiver and the perceived, or, more correctly, between that which thinks and that which is thought about. The former (the perceiver or that which thinks) is the subject. The latter (that which is perceived or thought about) is the object. For a thing to be objective, it must exist independently of conscious awareness or perception.

The goal of modernity was to ground knowledge in external (objective) reality rather than in the internal (subjective) perceptions of the individual. For this goal to be accomplished, individual subjectivity had to be removed through the rigorous application of method. To the extent that a belief was supported only subjectively (i.e., by individual perception, intuition, judgment, or preference), it could no longer qualify as knowledge.

Consequently, the ideal of objectivity became abstraction, detachment, impartiality, and disinterestedness. The objective person was understood to be dispassionate and interested only in facts, not in perceptions or judgments. Examination of the facts (which are external and objective) would lead to the formulation of truth (which would also be external and objective).

The difference between premoderns and moderns was not over the existence of a reality independent of their perceptions. With some exceptions (Bishop Berkeley, for example), all agreed upon the existence of objective reality—i.e., a reality that existed outside the mind of the perceiver. The question was whether this independent reality could be known in an abstract, detached way. The problem for moderns was to find a method that would eliminate personal perspective in the apprehension of the world. Their goal was not simply to recognize an objective reality, but to invent an objective way of describing and knowing it.

In their quest for objectivity, moderns began to narrow the scope of the knowable. While different approaches were tried (e.g., rationalism and empiricism), moderns eventually came to rely upon empirical observation and quantification as virtually their sole means of gaining knowledge about the world. They developed a complete empirical method involving the measurement of empirical phenomena, the positing of hypotheses regarding the causal connections between these phenomena, and the testing of these hypotheses through experiments that were (in principle) indefinitely repeatable. This method they called “science.”

As a methodological principle, the scientific method forbade its practitioners to consider any explanation of phenomena that relied upon “occult” (hidden or non-empirical) causes. Such causes included not only the paranormal, but also categories like soul and God. Once the empirical method was thought to be the only sure route to knowledge, science was transformed into scientism or positivism. The only plausible explanations had to be found within the web of natural cause and effect. Aesthetic judgments were reduced to expressions of prejudice, and then moral judgments were reduced to mere assertions of preference.

Against a rigorous scientism and naturalism, however, three alternatives flourished. One was Romanticism. The Romantics insisted that feelings are also a way of knowing. Noting that science could offer no justification of intuited realities such as beauty, thinkers like Coleridge and Wordsworth labored to develop a critical method that would vindicate the reality of the aesthetic without reducing aesthetic judgments to exercises in objectivity. While Romanticism (especially Continental Romanticism) moved in some very bad directions, its core commitment coincided with the insights of many classically Christian thinkers.

The second alternative to the modernist fascination with objectivity was provided by Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant recognized the distinction between the world of things-in-themselves and the world of appearances. Not unlike premoderns, he suggested that the mind of the knower contributes something to the thing that is known—indeed, for Kant, that contribution is essential to its knowability. In effect, Kant initiated a delayed implosion of the notion of an abstract, detached knower. His work, published while modernity was still in its adolescence, began the process of dismantling the myth of objectivity. One finds few pure Kantians today, but one is also hard pressed to find contemporary thinkers who do not agree with his central insight: the mind of the knower contributes something to the thing that is known. Authors such as Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have done much to show that even the empirical (scientific) method rests upon and is penetrated by a web of non-objective commitments.

The third alternative to modernist objectivity was Christianity. From its earliest days, Christian theology had evidenced an anti-objectivist strain. This strain can be glimpsed in Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm, Luther, and, to a surprising degree, in Calvin. It was summed up nicely in Pascal’s jibe at the Enlightenment: the heart has reasons that reason knows not of. This line of thinkers insisted that the most important things, especially God Himself, could not be subjected to abstract and detached inspection. Among more modern Christians, this perspective may be best represented by C. S. Lewis (who also represents the better versions of Romanticism).

The point of the foregoing is not to banish objectivity. If a reality exists separately from the perceiving mind (and it does), then the subject-object distinction must be upheld. If what is “out there” is really real, then there is an object, and knowledge of it can meaningfully be called objective.

If, however, any of the three alternatives to modernism is correct (and I think that they all are, at least in their critique), then humans do not have abstract, independent access to that reality. Our knowledge of reality is always filtered through the apparatus of sensation, perception, reflection, and cognition. The world that is “out there” is not identical to the map of the world that we construct “in here” in our minds. In the process of constructing it, our role as subject invariably introduces personal, non-objective elements that cannot be entirely filtered out. Nor should they be. Without them we would know far less than we do. We might even know nothing at all.

The quest for objectivity does not need to be rejected, but it does need to be chastened and a vital interest in the subjective needs to be reclaimed. Under the best of circumstances, our knowledge is always infused with and supported by a host of personal commitments. We never know anything in a purely objective way. Furthermore, some things can rightly be known only personally or subjectively. Among these are the most important things.

Amazement At The Incarnation Of God
William Drummond (1585-1649)

To spread the azure Canopie of Heaven,
And make it twinkle with those spangs of Gold,
To stay this weightie masse of Earth so even,
That it should all, and nought should it up-hold;
To give strange motions to the Planets seven,
Or Jove to make so meeke, or Mars so bold,
To temper what is moist, drie, hote, and cold,
Of all their Jarres that sweete accords are given:
LORD, to thy Wisedome nought is, nor thy Might;
But that thou shouldst (thy Glorie laid aside)
Come meanlie in mortalitie to bide,
And die for those deserv’d eternall plight,
A wonder is so farre above our wit, That Angels stand amaz’d to muse on it.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 35 Comments

Paul Henebury's picture

Sorry, but all I read here is a bunch of assertions without any attempt at justification. I know of no philosophical work which would agree with this history. It certainly does not clarify the confusion created by the previous post. Not to mention it fails to address the theological questions posed by Aaron and myself. Dr Bauder knows the real extended world exists, but he does not know what it exists as. This opens up large holes in his epistemology. How much of what we know is actually correspondent to reality as God made it? If the mind is contributing to our creating of "reality", what is the extent of its input? That is to say, how much access do we have to the objective world (cf. Psa. 19; Rom. 1:18ff.) and how do we know we have that access? What does this do to General Revelation as usually understood from these texts?

It seems to me this viewpoint (again there are no scriptural supports) leads inevitably into skepticism. For one thing, it is wide open to Hume's criticisms of induction.

"Knowledge" involves warranted true belief. How is this attainable? And how can we be certain of anything? (i.e. is anything we know not subject to falsification?). And where are we left in our preaching and teaching?

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Brad Kelly's picture

Quote:
I know of no philosophical work which would agree with this history.

That is not really a helpful statement. Or, at least, it is not executed in a constructive manner.

1) Just because you know of no work does not mean it does not exist.

2) More importantly, what historical outlines are presented by historical works you know of. It seems to me this information would further the discussion. What use is it to simply say, "I have never heard that before, you are wrong."; without also providing what you have heard that leads you to your conclusion?

Paul Henebury's picture

Brad, you have missed the point. I am not the author of the article. I merely said that I was not aware of this historical picture from my reading of philosophy. I am not obliged to write out a history myself in order to say what I have said. Certainly, if you wish to inform me otherwise then do so.

Besides, why would you focus on perhaps the most incidental line in my comment? There are bigger issues at stake. I tried to identify some of them. May I suggest you take a little of your own advice and say something of substance, pro or con, instead of falsely representing my views (I did not say ", "I have never heard that before, you are wrong." That is your fabrication!)

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Brad Kelly's picture

As someone interested in the subject I was only trying to get more help from you. I am sorry I did not communicate my intentions clearly enough. But do you really think "iron sharpens iron" by simply telling someone they are wrong without providing any counter arguments? Or is the point of this forum simply to register our disagreements with everyone?

I do not have a horse in this race, other than being interested in the subject. I have read through Bavinck's Prolegomena; Buswell's A Christian View of Being and Knowing; Weaver's Ideas have Consequences; through parts of Blarimes' A Christian Mind; along with some relevant Eliot; and hope to get in to Van Til's A Christian Theory of Knowledge. I was just hoping you might be able to provide a more substantive counter-argument than what you did. But you are right. It was not your essay. Forgive me.

Grace and Peace

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This installment helps me a great deal. The distinctions Kevin is making here are not easy to see clearly. Why they matter is even harder to see. But given our culture's current obsession with "science" (and simultaneous loathing of science: witness the popularity of the Harry Potter saga, ghost stories of one sort or another, etc.) they do indeed matter.

The parts that helped me most...

KB wrote:
The difference between premoderns and moderns was not over the existence of a reality independent of their perceptions. With some exceptions (Bishop Berkeley, for example), all agreed upon the existence of objective reality—i.e., a reality that existed outside the mind of the perceiver. The question was whether this independent reality could be known in an abstract, detached way. The problem for moderns was to find a method that would eliminate personal perspective in the apprehension of the world. Their goal was not simply to recognize an objective reality, but to invent an objective way of describing and knowing it.

The debate is not about the nature of reality, but about our apprehension of it. Most of us do not distinguish between "reality" and "truth." But I think I'm safe in saying that Kevin does. If I understand him right, "truth" has to do with what we know. I'm not fond of using the word that way. It's not clear to me how distinguishing "truth" from "reality" is useful.

KB wrote:
Not unlike premoderns, he [Kant ] suggested that the mind of the knower contributes something to the thing that is known—indeed, for Kant, that contribution is essential to its knowability.

This is an interesting idea. I wonder if there is biblical support for it. I don't think the rainbow illustration works entirely. Granted, it's entirely possible that no two people perceive colors exactly the same way. But assuming there is some objective reality behind the rainbow (and Genesis 9 would require us to believe there is), what are observers contributing to it? I think they only contribute to their own perceptions. The reality is unaltered.

KB wrote:
The point of the foregoing is not to banish objectivity. If a reality exists separately from the perceiving mind (and it does), then the subject-object distinction must be upheld. If what is “out there” is really real, then there is an object, and knowledge of it can meaningfully be called objective.

The trick in our times is to strongly maintain the subject-object distinction without worshiping science as the only way of knowing... and yet avoid going to the opposite extreme of rejecting science as a way of knowing.

KB wrote:
The world that is “out there” is not identical to the map of the world that we construct “in here” in our minds.
Emphasis added to "identical to." I'm persuaded this is true, though based mostly on experience since I haven't read the philosophy and weighed the arguments.

Speaking of arguments, the essay doesn't offer alot in the persuasive argument department. Part of the argument seems to go like this:
- Premodern thinking is better than modern thinking
- Premoderns believed we only know things subjectively
- Therefore we only know things subjectively

(Edit: it might be better to take the argument as an inductive one... something like "Most of premodern thought is superior to most of modern thought.... premoderns believed we only know things subjectively... Therefore it's likely that we only know things subjectively)

Paul H. seems to have trouble with the second premise and wonders if Kevin's reading of history is accurate.
I'm not in a position to know if either the first or second premise (or both) is true, though they both seem likely.

Charlie's picture

Really, Paul, no philosophical work that says things along the same lines as Bauder? I don't have access to my library right now, but here are some works off the top of my head that I think would fit the bill.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame

Passage to Modernity and Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture by Louis Dupre

The One, the Three, and the Many by Colin Gunton

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

The Beauty of the Infinite by David Bentley Hart

The Fall of Interpretation and Introducing Radical Orthodoxy by James K A Smith

The Theological Origins of Modernity by Michael Gillespie

Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy by Michael Polanyi

Following in Polanyi's wake, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Scientific Theology, vols. 1-3, by Alister McGrath

A Survey of Christian Epistemology and A Christian Theory of Knowledge by Cornelius Van Til

"Right reason" and the Princeton mind : an unorthodox proposal by Paul Kjoss Helseth

Dozens of works by Etienne Gilson

The first few chapters of The Christian Faith by Michael Horton; also, his essay "Covenant and Participation" in the also relevant book Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition

Many of the works of John Milbank, including Theology and Social Theory, Radical Orthodoxy, and Truth in Aquinas

Stuff by Herman Dooyeweerd, but I don't remember which book.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Aaron,
Just a couple of notes in passing. It’s all I have time for.

First, most of us actually do distinguish truth from reality when we are doing the work of the mind. As these terms are principally used, reality is neither true nor false—it simply is. Truth is a function of propositions when they correspond to the state of things as things actually are. Granted, there is a secondary and popular use of “true” in the sense of “actual,” but this is not the use that governs epistemological discourse. Incidentally, there is one very specialized sense in which I think that “Truth” (with a capital T) and reality become synonymous, but that use would require explanation and stipulative definition.

Second, the point of the rainbow analogy is not to deny that an objective reality exists behind the rainbow. Whatever that reality is, however, it is not what we perceive when we see a rainbow. We are not seeing water droplets and refraction. We are seeing a rainbow. There is a reality behind the rainbow that is more objective, but we must access it in other ways. Incidentally, I think that we can and should speak of appearances as realities, but we must never treat them as if they were truly objective or as if they were ultimate.

Third, it makes no difference to my presentation whether or not premodern thinking is better than modern thinking. In this particular essay, I am simply tracing the waxing and waning of an idea (objectivity). Perhaps the premodern evaluation was better, or perhaps it was worse. What is clear is that it was not the same. Abstract objectivity was the invention of modernity, and it has now been abandoned as unattainable. You will be hard pressed to find any thinkers of any persuasion arguing for the desirability or possibility of an abstract and impersonal objectivity today. This kind of fascination with objectivity was an intellectual hiccup, albeit a powerful one. It is now gone, and I for one am relieved that it is over.

Caleb S's picture

I have personally enjoyed reading the last two segments. Dr. Bauder simply has not elaborated upon the Christian epistemology yet, and it would probably be wise to exercise a little patience before going into hyper-critical mode. Don't people remember Bauder's distinctions from previous articles? "Reality is out there". "Reality is up there". Though I do not remember it coming from him I would suspect his view of postmodernism as being "Reality is in there."

I'm editing this to add that I had no idea that Dr. Bauder would be responding at relatively the same time, as the post just before this one.

adgarland's picture

I tend to agree with Paul that this history of philosophy is pretty thin and not exactly the standard line in most contemporary philosophy departments. Indeed:

Quote:
the mind of the knower contributes something to the thing that is known
was something that, so far as I can tell, everyone before Kant believed in some form or another. Kant's contribution was to show what things the mind had to know in order to know anything at all. (I'm not going to get into a discussion of Kant's philosophy here. Suffice it to say that his work is dense and complex enough to admit lots of interpretations.)

If we follow Dr. Bauder's description of the "moderns," I think we'd find that only a very few thinkers actually argued for this kind of rigorous scientism. Most of them lived in the early 20th century, and their project pretty well fell apart by the 1950s (and not because of Kuhn). The "modernist" position described here sounds more like positivism.

This history of philosophy comes up often in evangelical works (e.g. Charlie's list), and I'm not quite sure why. I don't think it's wrong, per se, but I also don't think it's detailed enough to evaluate fairly.

"To know the best of what has been thought and said in the world" -- Matthew Arnold

Paul Henebury's picture

First Brad: Your apology is accepted and your gracious reply makes me wish MY tone were milder! I think if you read my first comment you will see that I put some important questions which arise from Bauder's line of thinking. I do not have time to write a counter article, and I'm not sure what good it would do anyway. Take this assertion as an example:

...from the ancient world until the beginning of modernity the majority of people assumed that they somehow participated in what we would now call the construction of reality. They assumed that the world as they perceived it was an appearance, and that the appearance represented some conjunction of reality and the perceiver.

Where does he get this from? You will not find it counternanced by the men you are reading. (A fine list btw. Buswell though, is a rampant empiricist. Bavinck, Van Til ground the subject-object relation in God and His revelation - which is the only way it can be arrived at! Blamires intersects these men but complements them well).

Charlie: Throwing bibliography at me (and a jumbled one at that) does not answer anything. These works, while mostly agreeing with the chronology of Bauder, would not paint that history in his terms. E.g. the quotation above! History is not just chronology.

But please, let's not allow a small sentence to overwhelm the more important issues here. From a biblical point of view, objectivity is revelational and (in large part) accessible. It is not the same as empiricism. But it is the sum of the properties with which God has invested it. and as it is revelatory (Psa. 19:1-4) it must be responded to rightly by those who "think god's thoughts after Him."

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Caleb S's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

But please, let's not allow a small sentence to overwhelm the more important issues here. From a biblical point of view, objectivity is revelational and (in large part) accessible. It is not the same as empiricism. But it is the sum of the properties with which God has invested it. and as it is revelatory (Psa. 19:1-4) it must be responded to rightly by those who "think god's thoughts after Him."

Objectivity is revelational, and this is why I mentioned that it seemed some have forgotten Bauder's previous articles where he speaks of truth being "up there" (revelational epistemology) as opposed to "out there" (modernism). There is also an article (purely from memory at this point) where he used an illustration of a person trying to drive through a snow covered town without any directions. One can try and arrive at the "map" by trial and error (inductive method), or one can simply look to "revelation" and then find his way about. What you consider the "more important issue here" has already been covered by Bauder's previous articles; and perhaps, it may be covered once again in this series.

Caleb S's picture

I took a little time and looked back into what Dr. Bauder had previously written, and I believe that he was addressing a lot of these issues in his series on the "Importance of the Imagination." Specifically, this link has the "car in a snowstorm" illustration that I referred to.

http://sharperiron.org/article/importance-of-imagination-part-3

Charlie's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Charlie: Throwing bibliography at me (and a jumbled one at that) does not answer anything. These works, while mostly agreeing with the chronology of Bauder, would not paint that history in his terms. E.g. the quotation above! History is not just chronology.

But please, let's not allow a small sentence to overwhelm the more important issues here. From a biblical point of view, objectivity is revelational and (in large part) accessible. It is not the same as empiricism. But it is the sum of the properties with which God has invested it. and as it is revelatory (Psa. 19:1-4) it must be responded to rightly by those who "think god's thoughts after Him."

I posted those works, in admittedly jumbled fashion, because I do think that they support at least some of Dr. Bauder's claims. But, it's not always clear what Bauder is claiming, and so far, it's not at all clear to me what you are claiming. For example, I'm not sure that I've ever read the sentence "objectivity is revelational" in a philosophical work.

So, here are some things that I'm claiming and that I think (most of) the works above support.

1. Premodern Christian epistemology, especially in the Augustinian strain, was seriously concerned with the role and state of the knowing subject.

2. The primary significance of Descartes was the subject-object bifurcation, an attempt to discard the individual subject in favor of wholly objective "method." Descartes was doing this consciously, and his supporters and critics alike recognized what he was doing. One of the results of embracing Descartes is limiting what counts as "truth" and "reality" to what can be ascertained through method.

3. British empiricism disagreed with Descartes as to method, but not on the notion of objectivity.

4. Logical or empirical positivism throughout the 20th century maintained much of this notion of objectivity, but has since undergone various postmodern permutations.

5. Neo-Kantians and Hegelians of various sorts have attacked the Cartesian notion of objectivity.

6. Neo-Thomists and Augustinians (Milbank, Pickstock, James Smith) would generally agree with Bauder's notions and history.

7. There are myriad postmodern critiques of modernist objectivity that would largely agree with Bauder's history but disagree sharply with his proposals.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Paul Henebury's picture

Thank you Caleb.

I shall read the article you link to asap. In another article back when, Dr Bauder wrote of his belief that God is "wholly other" and that there is no univocal relation between God's thoughts and our thoughts. The one would make God totally incomprehensible (thus, the Bible would not be a clear and true revelation); the other would mean that whatever we said about God (or reality) would not coincide with God's thoughts. It would be impossible to think God's thoughts after Him.

I have not read anyone yet actually attempt to bring these last two articles in line with a "revelational epistemology" (a Van Tillian term referring to our knowledge being a re-interpretation of God's knowledge. As far as possible this is univocal in nature, yet, of course, not exhaustive). Thus Bauder's version of "revelational epistemology" is not Van Til's.

This post, and its forerunner does not anchor objectivity to revelation, but confines it to the human subject. It also assigns a sort of 'pre-Kantianism' to the ancients (but without documentation), whereby they held that the mind actively constructs aspects of reality.

Thus, ...from the ancient world until the beginning of modernity the majority of people assumed that they somehow participated in what we would now call the construction of reality. They assumed that the world as they perceived it was an appearance, and that the appearance represented some conjunction of reality and the perceiver.

Noone has yet shown the proof of this, let alone the compatibility between this statement and the Biblical Worldview. This view puts a further distance (along with the two listed above) between the subject and the object. In both recent articles the explanation of objectivity and reality has been immanentistic. This is not what one would expect from someone holding to "revelational epistemology" as usually understood.

If Aaron doesn't mind me quoting him:

The debate is not about the nature of reality, but about our apprehension of it. Most of us do not distinguish between "reality" and "truth." But I think I'm safe in saying that Kevin does. If I understand him right, "truth" has to do with what we know. I'm not fond of using the word that way. It's not clear to me how distinguishing "truth" from "reality" is useful.

Quite! And I would like to see it defended biblically.

Btw, I am grateful that you recognize what is meant by my phrase "objectivity is revelational." I had written somewhat on this in my comments on the previous article.

Regards,

Paul H.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

mbruffey's picture

I happened to pick up a volume at a booksale the other day: The World View of Physics, by C. F. v. Weizsäcker, U. Chicago Press, 1951. I find readings of this kind useful for obtaining perspective upon and for analyzing what Kevin is trying to say.

The volume is relevant because I find in it one "real, live," mid-century, continental response to the death of objectivity. For instance, after detailing the physical aspects of a "favorite" Icelandic calcite crystal for nearly three full pages, Weizsäcker suddenly notes, "When I took the crystal out of its drawer, I thought at first not of any of the properties we have enumerated, but of something quite different, also belonging to it: its personal relation to me. A teacher whom I liked brought it back to me from a trip to Iceland. . . . Who says that these subjective realities are less important for a person who wants to make [for ] himself a true picture of the world?" (16-17).

Whatever on this earth would cause a scientist to pursue such a question? Hmmm . . . .

Mark

Charlie's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

I shall read the article you link to asap. In another article back when, Dr Bauder wrote of his belief that God is "wholly other" and that there is no univocal relation between God's thoughts and our thoughts. The one would make God totally incomprehensible (thus, the Bible would not be a clear and true revelation); the other would mean that whatever we said about God (or reality) would not coincide with God's thoughts. It would be impossible to think God's thoughts after Him.

I have not read anyone yet actually attempt to bring these last two articles in line with a "revelational epistemology" (a Van Tillian term referring to our knowledge being a re-interpretation of God's knowledge. As far as possible this is univocal in nature, yet, of course, not exhaustive). Thus Bauder's version of "revelational epistemology" is not Van Til's.

Christian epistemology from the beginning has focused on analogy, something between equivocity and univocity. We have understood God to have archetypal knowledge and ourselves to have ectypal knowledge. This comes to the fore in the Arian crisis, which largely turned on questions of univocity. The pro-Nicenes relied heavily on apophatic theology and analogy against the univocalist Eunomian Arians. Relevant bibliography: Arius: Heresy and Tradition by Rowan Williams, Christianity and Classical Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God by R. P. C. Hanson, Nicaea and its Legacy by Lewis Ayres. Also, just about all the Trinitarian writings of Augustine and the Cappadocian Fathers will explicitly deny univocity.

Thomistic philosophy follows this line of analogical thinking. The first few questions of Summa Theologiae make this explicit. (Thomas in some places actually calls our predications about God "equivocal," but his qualifications bring him into line with what would now be turned analogical.) He is challenged, however, by Duns Scotus, who insists that univocity is necessary for meaning. The Protestant Reformers, however, especially the post-Reformation codifiers of Reformed theology, take up analogical predication against univocity. The archetypal/ectypal distinction grounds the theological task. See the relevant portions of Richard Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics for the most extensive survey to date. Francis Turretin explicitly denies univocity in his Institutes, as does Bavinck in Reformed Dogmatics. I don't have the background to declare dogmatically about Lutheranism, but I have been told by others that they largely take the same line as the Reformed.

In the twentieth century, Cornelius van Til holds up the archetypal/ectypal distinction and its commitment to analogical predication against Gordon Clark, who along with his student Carl Henry, argues for univocity. John Frame has since defended Van Til's position. Recently, R. Scott Clark in Recovering the Reformed Confession has argued that the archetypal/ectypal distinction is the key to Reformed theology. Michael Horton's Covenant and Eschatology and his recent The Christian Faith argue against univocity as well.

Also in the 20th century, neo-Thomists such as Etienne Gilson took up Thomas' metaphysics and argued for equivocity (analogy). In Britain, Radical Orthodoxy (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, et al) has revived Augustinian epistemology and explicitly denied univocity. The Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has written against univocity as well.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

mbruffey's picture

Dr. Henebury holds strongly to univocity in theological expression; Dr. Bauder appears to hold to some version of the analogical approach. Both are well-worn theological positions. (We won't get into equivocity here.) This is probably "old hat" for some of you, but I have been mulling over these views for some time, so I will try to articulate very very briefly my own position. I think about these kinds of things in the shower, week-after-week--I mean night-after-night . . . .

The advantage of univocity lies in its function as a kind of stake-in-the-ground for the retention of objectivity. Univocists are well-aware of this, and will defend that stake to the last breath. Univocity, however, requires that both God and man are "beings" bounded together within at least one sphere--whatever name you want to give that sphere ("being," "conceptual universe," whatever--pick your own poison). Univocity only works if both are subject to the same sphere of language. At this point in my own theological development, I have concluded that defense of univocity carries a huge theological premium, which I am unwilling to pay.

The analogical view immediately (and most uncomfortably for the recalcitrant modern) thrusts one into the realm of subjectivity. What we understand of "love" is, for instance, barely an echo or a remote shadow of that love which is expressed between the persons of the Trinity and known only to them. Forever there have been and forever there will be secrets known together only by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though man himself be imago Dei. If God is essentially different than man, then the love of God is also essentially different than the love of man. It's not just "more of the same stuff." We're not talking quantitatively. The love of God is not contingent, for instance, while even true Christian love is contingent, "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost." Love is located in God. Only a lesser instantiation of it appears in his creatures. The image is not the archetype. On the basis of theology proper, the strength of this view outweighs its weaknesses, so I find it more attractive. Man is and will forever be an interpreting creature, never, through all eternity comprehending the love of God in all its dimensions.

And now, will the real lover please stand up . . . ?

mbruffey's picture

Well, Charlie, you outdid me by a span or two! (I began composing mine before yours appeared, presumably.) Richly done. Bravo!

Paul Henebury's picture

Charlie,

You need to read Van Til (or Frame) and recognize that when he speaks of "reasoning by analogy" he does not mean what Aquinas taught (the position you outline). But I should have been clearer. By analogous reasoning Van Til has in mind derivative reasoning. This reasoning has a univocal element within it; and it is important. The command "Be ye holy for I Am holy" is univocal for instance. The similarity of our thoughts/language to God's are in the nature of its communicative character. The difference is in the way and quality of knowing.
I should note hear that Van Til equated univocal with autonomous, which is not what I meant by it.

Quote:
Since, then, the absolute self-consciousness of God is the final interpreter of all facts, man's knowledge is analogical of God's knowledge. Since all the finite facts exist by virtue of the interpretation of God, man's interpretation of the finite facts is ultimately dependent upon God's interpretation of facts. Man cannot, except to his own hurt, look at the facts without looking at God's interpretation of the facts. Man's knowledge of the facts is then a reinterpretation of God's interpretation. It is this that is meant by saying that man's knowledge is analogical of God's knowledge.
C. Van Til, ,A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 203-204.

I have avoided using the term analogy since I thought you would know (since you recommended the book) that Van Til used the term quite differently than classical theologians like Thomas. Now that there is a strong note of univocism in Van Til's epistemology is clear from the above quote, but note also this:

Quote:
If all our thoughts about the facts of the universe are in correspondence with God's ideas of these facts [requiring univocism ], there will naturally be coherence in our thinking because there is complete coherence in God's thinking...If there is to be true coherence in our knowledge there must be correspondence between our ideas of facts and God's ideas of these facts. Or rather we should say that our ideas must correspond to God's ideas.
Ibid, 3

Under the heading "Objectivity" he writes,

Quote:
For us...the primary question is not the out-thereness of the cow [i.e. Bauder's modern objectivity ]. What we are chiefly concerned about is that our idea of the cow shall correspond to God's idea of a cow. If it does not, our knowledge is false and may be called subjective
, Ibid, 4. (NB this ought to clear up your confusion about objectivity being revelational).

This is a long way from Dr Bauder's view (whatever it is). I said,

[quote]I shall read the article you link to asap. In another article back when, Dr Bauder wrote of his belief that God is "wholly other" and that there is no univocal relation between God's thoughts and our thoughts. The one would make God totally incomprehensible (thus, the Bible would not be a clear and true revelation); the other would mean that whatever we said about God (or reality) would not coincide with God's thoughts. It would be impossible to think God's thoughts after Him.

I have not read anyone yet actually attempt to bring these last two articles in line with a "revelational epistemology" (a Van Tillian term referring to our knowledge being a re-interpretation of God's knowledge. As far as possible this is univocal in nature, yet, of course, not exhaustive). Thus Bauder's version of "revelational epistemology" is not Van Til's.[quote]

Notice that I didn't say there was an exact correspondence qualitatively (as Clark). I said "as far as possible...yet not exhaustive" thinking that a person who recommended I read Van Til would know what was meant. Clark taught that the correspondence was exact (as per mbuffey's complaint above). I did not say that. I mean what Van Til means in the above quotes. The meaning is the same between the two knowers, although God knows everything exhaustively and comprehensively, while our knowledge is finite and partial. But to the extent our knowledge lines up with God's Word it can be called, nonetheless, certainly univocal.

You seem more interested in debating philosophy than theology. Can you now explain how we can know God's Word and God's world unless there exists some univocal element in revelation. As an aside, if there wasn't such a thing Mbuffey's last paragraph would make no sense.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

If I might add something more. In his A Christian Theory of Knowledge (278), Van Til writes:

Quote:
A Roman Catholic...might quote from Thomas to the effect "that nothing is predicated univocally of God and of other things." To this sort of objection we should say: "I reject the Thomistic doctrine of analogy. Analogical statements are true only in the figurative sense of the word. What we need are univocal statements about God. They are "literal." There are, to be sure, analogical statements about God in the Bible. But "there are also literal statements about God and his attributes, which are comprehensible even to our finite minds."...We therefore "hold Thomas' denial of the possibility of univocal statements about God to be wholly arbitrary and contrary to fact."

I cite this so those interested can readily see that it is well to discover what someone is saying before pouncing on what one thinks they are saying, without looking at the context of their remarks. Here Van Til distances himself from the classical view of analogy propounded by Thomas and his followers. He also clearly advocates a form of univocism when speaking of God. This is because of his "revelational epistemology" (thinking God's thoughts after Him), which requires it.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
First, most of us actually do distinguish truth from reality when we are doing the work of the mind. As these terms are principally used, reality is neither true nor false—it simply is. Truth is a function of propositions when they correspond to the state of things as things actually are.

Can't argue with that. I'll have to chew on this some to figure out where my discomfort with it is coming from.

Quote:
Second, the point of the rainbow analogy is not to deny that an objective reality exists behind the rainbow. Whatever that reality is, however, it is not what we perceive when we see a rainbow. We are not seeing water droplets and refraction. We are seeing a rainbow. There is a reality behind the rainbow that is more objective, but we must access it in other ways. Incidentally, I think that we can and should speak of appearances as realities, but we must never treat them as if they were truly objective or as if they were ultimate.

I think I see and agree with most of this. But "it is not what we perceive" is the part I'm choking on. I'm ready enough to grant that it that the rainbow is more than what we perceive, but I wouldn't say it is not what we perceive.
The difference between "rainbow" and "droplets refracting light" is interesting. I'm not sure what it truly proves. We're not conscious of the water droplets and the light effect, but it is what we're seeing. And "rainbow" is not a name for "something that does not involve droplets refracting light." It's our name for how we see the whole, but the whole doesn't deny the reality of the parts.

For those interested in an overlapping but different point of view, Jeff Brown is preparing a different take on Kant and the relationship between what we observe and what is ultimately real. Should post in a few days, but maybe next week.

For my part, idealists (if that's the right term) might say I'm reading my bias into Scripture but the Bible seems to assume that what we observe is real for all purposes that matter, though it also reveals that there is more reality than what we observe and our perceptions are subject to error. I don't think this is the same thing as saying that observation itself is the problem or that seeking an approximation of objectivity is a bad thing. But I really am swimming in waters mostly too deep for me here because I don't have quite enough background yet.
But I'm learning.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Paul,

Now, where to begin? Well, let me try to deal with some of your objections. Objection number one is that I have not documented my historical observations, nor have I offered exegetical proofs of my epistemological observations. Both of these criticisms are as irrelevant as they are correct. You have looked at two short essays of just over 1,000 words each. The first was an invitation to examine one’s own experience of reality. The second was a survey, dealing in what I admitted were generalities, of the rise and fall of an idea. Documenting the first essay was hardly appropriate, since it constituted an invitation to reflection. Documenting the second was not necessary, since it is the sort of material that you will find taught (in one way or another) in virtually every department of intellectual history. Charlie produced a reasonably varied list of sources from a variety of different perspectives. Each tells the story in a different way (just as I do), but each tells approximately the same story.

As for exegetical proofs—that would be a bit like appending Proverbs 3:20 to a meteorological forecast. This is not the time or the place. And I appear to have some pretty good precedent here. As Van Til himself admitted (particularly when criticized by Berkouwer) his writings frequently lacked exegetical support—even when he was writing in areas that required it.

As for Van Til, I don’t think that you can cite him against me. I have yet to find any significant point at which I disagree substantially with old Corny. I say this with some chagrin, because I really do not like Van Til as an author. He is pompous, uncharitable, often bellicose, and (worst of all) almost terminally dull. He offers descriptions of his opponents and their views that are—well, let’s just say that I would not base my opinion of other thinkers on Van Til’s evaluation of them. He invents his own usus loquendi and then uses his private categories to castigate people who do not express themselves in precisely his terms. He has no model in his history of theology whom he does not at some point condemn—even luminaries like Warfield and Kuyper come in for their lumps. One comes away from old Corny with the impression that nobody ever got it right until he came along. Pfiffle.

Yet, as I say, I cannot think of a point at which I am seriously in disagreement with him. The center of his system is the radical distinction between Creator and creature—precisely the point of saying that God is wholly other. God is creator, we are creature. God is infinite, we are limited. God is eternal, we are temporal (though immortal). Where I might go beyond Van Til is in applying the same kinds of discontinuities to the communicable attributes as to the incommunicable, for in His simplicity, all of His attributes are integrally related to His infinite and eternal being.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Van Til rightly argues for the analogical nature of human knowledge, especially against Gordon Clark, who argues for its univocity. But knowledge and language are linked—analogical knowledge entails analogical language, while univocal language entails univocal knowledge. At this point, however, Van Til managed to confuse himself and many of his more slavish followers by equivocating on the meaning of “analogical.” When he starts to talk about language, he appears to use “analogical” roughly as a synonym for “metaphorical,” while “univocal” means (to him) something like “literal” or “non-figurative.” It seems to me that he can denounce, and I can affirm, analogical language because we are not using the expression in the same sense.

Van Til’s greatest contribution is his recognition that ultimate reality does not exist at the level of brute facts, but of explanation. The ultimate system (reality) exists within God Himself. Of course, Van Til recognizes that actual events and objects (facts) do exist, and this is what delivers him from the charge of Idealism. Nevertheless, these events and objects are significant only within the absolute, self-contained system that God entertains within Himself.

For humans, the only way to know reality is to apprehend this system, and that requires disclosure from God Himself. In other words, reality is what it is because of what God thinks about it (God’s mind contributes to what is known). We know reality, not by perceiving events and objects directly, but by connecting them as God does (our mind contributes to what is known in a secondary and derivative sense as we appropriate revelation). Those who will not begin with God’s revelation perceive and think that they know a different reality (because their minds are contributing to what is perceived). I think that Van Til is on my side here.

Van Til’s insistence upon the sensus deitatis definitely fits into the category that I am calling “subjective.” On Van Til’s own principles, this sensus cannot be inferential—if it is, then it is not a presupposition, but a conclusion, and in that case something other that God Himself becomes ultimate. No, if Van Til’s principles are correct, then this sensus must be intuitive and irreducibly personal. At some level, all humans know God, not because they reason out His reality from natural revelation, but because they encounter His hand in the natural world and because they hear echoes of His voice in their own conscience. At some level they know His eternal power and theiotes. (Incidentally, this is another place at which Van Til sometimes seems to work against himself by writing as if the sensus were an inference, but I think it is possible—and charitable—to read him in a better way.)

Van Til lived and wrote at the tail-end of modernity, and a certain amount of its lingo seeps into his thought (as does the occasional argot of Idealism). If one can get past these vestiges, and if one can take account of Van Til’s own peculiarities of phraseology, and if one can endure the tedium of Van Til’s writings, and if one can ignore his occasional huffing and puffing, one finds in Van Til some genuinely useful ideas. I do not believe that I have said a word that would contradict them (though I would wish to supplement them).

I do not think that your real problem is with anything that I have said. I think that your real problem is with where you fear I might be going. Of course, you will object that I could solve that problem by simply announcing my destination in advance. But I don’t see the use of that. The pleasure of a symphony consists in hearing the symphony, not in being told what the composer is trying to do. Much the same is true of the expression of ideas. The announcement of one’s goals is too often a soporific for those who wish to be spared the hard work of thinking through them. So, if you don’t mind (and, frankly, even if you do), then I believe I’ll keep my own counsel regarding destinations.

Now I've written the equivalent of another complete essay. Since I am being paid to do other things, I do not believe that I can afford the time to continue a conversation over these matters--particularly a conversation that has such hostile overtones. So you may have the final word in this discussion.

Charlie's picture

I've been a bit skeptical of Bauder's articles (obviously not nearly as skeptical as some), so the last two posts surprised me. I have never seen anyone articulate my feelings on Van Til so minutely. I think Bauder may have read my mind, or have I been "thinking [Bauder's ] thoughts after him" this whole time without knowing it (grrr Van Til). At the end of the day, for all my dislike of Van Til, and it is immense, I agree with most of what I think he means.

Paul, thank you for the information. I appreciate it. I was not aware of just how far Van Til thought he was from Thomas on the point of analogy. I shall be sure to remember it.

Now, I must admit, even if it reveals some shallowness in me, that I was a bit piqued by your remark, "You seem more interested in debating philosophy than theology." Actually, I was not debating at all, since my intention was not to take sides overall and surely there were not enough clear propositions from anyone to serve for a debate.. My first post, #6, was a response to your comment that you didn't know of any philosophical work that would agree with Bauder's history. I posted a bibliography that I thought was representative. You then insulted my bibliography and said the works listed agreed only as to chronology and not to substance. So, my second post, #13, outlined some specific points that I thought those works defended. You never really acknowledged this or continued speaking about any of those points. My third post, #16, was an ultra-brief history of the concept of univocity in the context of Christian theological development. The point was to show that the doctrines of historic, catholic Christianity are based on an explicit rejection of univocity, at least in our speech about God.

The historic rejection of univocity is where I still stand. To affirm univocity is to place oneself in a theological ghetto. It's like an astronomer affirming geocentricity or a chemist experimenting with alchemy. It's an aberrant niche, not a viable option. I don't think the Nicene-Chalcedonian faith works in a univocal schema, and the mainstreams of both Catholic and orthodox Protestant thought corroborate that judgment. A univocal Christian epistemology is like a monophysite Christology; neither can be Christian because they operate on fundamentally different principles than those embraced by the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've heard it before but can't remember ... or never quite 'got it' : What is univocal/univocity (in "Philosophy for Dummies" terms)?

Paul Henebury's picture

I appear to have upset two good men by my comments. Charlie, I am very sorry if I piqued you over "insulting" your bibliography. I have to say I don't believe I did insult it; I just said your "throwing" it at me (I just meant it didn't address my main concern) did not help very much. One or two quotations showing that the premoderns (e.g. prior to the Enlightenment) really did conceive of their minds as contributing to the creation of "reality" in some proto-Kantian way was what I was looking for (not from you as much as from Kevin). As for my observation that you seemed more interested in "debating" ((I wish I hadn't said that. But I meant it in a conversational and not a pugnacious way. i see nothing wrong with the former and everything wrong with the latter), philosophy than theology; i meant simply that the concerns I expressed in #1 were allowed to be overwhelmed by one sentence of an incidental nature. It was my fault that I did not spend more time crafting it and conveying my meaning: my real focus there (as my citation of Bauder's article would note) was his assertion about premodern epistemology (which I shall not take time here to re-insert). Your response (#13?) was fine, but not pertinent to my concern since it wasn't addressed. But if you feel insulted, I apologize sincerely. I did not and do not intend such!

Kevin seems "piqued" that I have criticized his article. I shall address his replies later. But he has not answered the questions I posed in #1. That is important stuff.

As to your quick outline, I basically agree with it. There is, as you know, a difference between focusing on the subject and claimingall our objectivity is somewhat subjective - especially in the sense that the human mind is actively involved in the re-structuring and re-presentation of the extended world! And I quite like RO and have read Milbank and the books you recommended (btw, McGrath takes Milbank to task somewhat in his Scientific Theology). But their concern is more our participation in the "sacramental" world, and their viewing modernity/secularism as a heresy (cf. H. Blamires on this too); a viewpoint which resonates with me.

As to your annoyance at CVT, I will have to defer my answer for when I can address all the things you and Kevin have hurled in his direction (one or two of which I am in sympathy with). But my real concern here is over the accessibility of Divine revelation and predication. I am no advocate of a full-blown univocism (neither was Van Til), but I am sure that there is a strong univocal element (via adaptation to our limitations) in revelation and language. But more on that next time Smile

Please forgive me if I have upset you.

Your brother,

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

Kevin,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. You start off by saying,

Quote:
Objection number one is that I have not documented my historical observations

The “history” I was referring to was that which finds a “proto-kantianism” (the mind actively constructing reality) in the pre-moderns. You say:
Quote:
Granted that generalizations pose risks, from the ancient world until the beginning of modernity the majority of people assumed that they somehow participated in what we would now call the construction of reality. They assumed that the world as they perceived it was an appearance, and that the appearance represented some conjunction of reality and the perceiver.

It is that kind of assertion I was questioning. I am familiar with most of the writings Charlie recommended me, but I can’t recall coming across any assertion like the above. Please correct my ignorance and I shall be happy to retract my concern on that point. It was, as I have said, an incidental remark anyway.

You continue by saying I asked for exegetical support. No, I just was surprised that you would assert some things like this and not provide any scriptural clues for support.

You then turn to (or on) “old Corny” as you call him:

Quote:
I really do not like Van Til as an author. He is pompous, uncharitable, often bellicose, and (worst of all) almost terminally dull. He offers descriptions of his opponents and their views that are—well, let’s just say that I would not base my opinion of other thinkers on Van Til’s evaluation of them. He invents his own usus loquendi and then uses his private categories to castigate people who do not express themselves in precisely his terms. He has no model in his history of theology whom he does not at some point condemn—even luminaries like Warfield and Kuyper come in for their lumps. One comes away from old Corny with the impression that nobody ever got it right until he came along. Pfiffle.

I see. Not fond of Van Til then? I think this is excessively judgmental and a tad unkind. Perhaps you can provide one or two examples of his “castigation”? In all my reading of him he may indeed be unfair on occasions (a common affliction I fear). But he is always deeply respectful of Warfield and Kuyper. His responses to some pretty severe criticisms in Jerusalem and Athens hardly supports your contention. But this is all ad hominen and beside the point.

You still insist that God is wholly other. This comes from Rudolf Otto and Karl Barth and lays behind Barth’s view of Scripture. If God is wholly other then He is wholly incomprehensible (cf. #1). If that is so then our concepts do not coincide at all with those in the mind of God. To quote A. Plantinga (on Kant):

Quote:
If none of our concepts applies to God, we cannot so much as think or talk about God. We cannot form beliefs about God, because any belief we held about God would apply a concept to this one to whom our concepts do not apply.
- Introduction to Philosophy , Jack B. Rogers & Forrest Baird, 118.

This whole matter is addressed well in chapter 11 of John M. Frame, the Doctrine of God. That you still employ it and then speak of the mind as actively constructing our reality causes me a sharp intake of breath. Whence then predication about God and the creation? Perhaps you can allay these fears.

Along the same lines, you seem to claim that rainbows aren’t really there. No? The colors of a rainbow are “there” just as much as the colors on your shirt are there. They may be accidents – to use the scholastic verbiage – but they exist objectively. The rainbow was “put” there by God as a sign of the Noahic Covenant. It is revelatory therefore. What is often overlooked in these sorts of discussions is man’s position as God’s image-bearer and interpreter of God’s created order. For man to do this task God has to give him language which can accurately verbalize God’s wonders back to Him in worship; correct faculties of perception which perceive the creation as God made it to be perceived. When man sees a rainbow he sees it as God wants him to see it. A rainbow is not an illusion of our minds but something God has placed in the extended world which we see and which tells us of Him. From a biblical perspective, that is objective revelation and that is all there is.

We are not free as Christians to indulge ourselves in the speculations of immanentistic philosophies (to use Dooyeweerd’s term). Our descriptions of the world must comport with the new man (cf. Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 10:31). Because we don’t begin with man but with God the Revealer, our comprehension and description of the world differs from the worldly description. The worldly descriptions all suffer under the cosh of Hume’s critique of induction and causation. They eventually have to appeal to the pragmatic for verification. Kant saved science and ethics by subjectivizing it. We would be in the same boat were it not that God has spoken! I do not see this concern in your writing so far. You say, “let me finish” – and I shall. But from where you are starting I have real concerns that you won’t run us into a form of epistemological skepticism from which we have been delivered.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

(Like you, I had to make use of another post).

Psalm 19:1-4 is instructive here. In what way do the heavens “declare” God’s glory, or the daily cycle “pour forth speech”? How does natural revelation “display knowledge”? It would seem that they have a revelatory clarity which can be compared to speech. This is because God Himself has already provided men with the perceptual tools to receive and understand this revelation (hence Paul’s “without excuse” argument in Rom. 1:18-22). Verse 3 is most instructive: “There is no language or speech where their voice is not heard.” This verse sets up a connection between non-verbal revelation and human language, or expression of the data of that revelation. Man communicates with himself, his fellow man, and [normatively ] with his Creator about the world God has put him in. This means that our speech about the world is itself revelational! But in this world that revelation is obstructed and distorted by sin, so the Word of God (vv.7-11) is needed to correct the impediment. Through the joint contemplation of natural or general revelation (a la vv.4c-6), and verbal revelation, we see our proclivity to distort truth and live sinfully in God’s world (vv.12-13). Thus, the aim of the one who sees this is to line his thoughts up with God’s intentions for the revelation He surrounds us with and confronts us with (v.14).

Thus, we see here man as image-bearer and recipient of revelation (which is for him), responding correctly as a sinner (in the form of the psalmist) to revelation and regulating his wandering self to the purpose of the Creator.

Now, this is what he should do. Romans 1:18-32 is what it usually does do! But for all that, he is without excuse, because the revelation is clearly seen. Or is it? If the mind constructs reality and the subjective always intrudes upon the objective so that we hardly if ever perceive objective data, where does this leave our responsibility to respond to general revelation? If that revelation is being filtered and reconstituted through our cognitive processes, and these processes are automatic (not under our control), how can we be responsible for the subjectivized data which we perceive? Perhaps you will address this issue. Perhaps, but if I think I see a problem like this so early in the argument, should I not say something?

So my main concern is not with the history of philosophy but with the Biblical Worldview. That requires an epistemology which reflects man’s stature as God’s image-bearer and of the phenomenal world as his ‘base of operations.’

Kant agreed with Hume that no one ever had an experience of the relation of cause and effect. This relation was supplied by the mind via intuition. In Kant’s thinking the mind constructs reality; the reality of trees and animals and land and sea. These do not appear to us as they actually are, the mind re-presents them to us in its active role as interpreter of the sensations it receives from the “outside world," presenting us with "data" which is not actually outside of us. Now, one does not have to be held completely in the thrall of Kant to see that when the mind is allowed to actively construct reality and present it to the consciousness in a form which is discontinuous with the world as God made it. This brings into the foreground my questions in #1.

I am not accusing you of being a fully-fledged neo-Kantian. I am concerned with what becomes of objectivity and Truth (they both are revelational) under these preconditions.

You think I think you ought to give me your conclusions now. Indeed, I never asked for them! But I see trouble looming from my reading of your pieces and surely you will not deny me the right to verbalize them? Is this not what this kind of forum is for?

Your replies have a surprisingly personal tone (especially the last two paragraphs), which I cannot understand. If I have said anything which offends you please state the offense, I shall ask your forgiveness, and we can move on. But I don’t see what offense can be taken other than the fact that I think you are in error and your articles are confusing. As per the latter, this is borne out by the fact that intelligent men (like Aaron & Charlie) have also noted their confusion. As per the former, I think we ought to be able to discuss our disagreements without it being taken as a personal attack by either side. We are grown men. We understand the need for humility, but we also understand we are writing at a venue called “Sharper Iron.”

There is more to say, but I too am busy and must leave it there for today.

God bless you and yours,

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

Kevin made several comments about Van Til which I did not get the time to comment on. I really don’t wish to defend CVT himself, since he is but a man and prone to the fallibility common to men. But since the discussion shows up more concerns I shall, at the risk of being a bore, respond this one last time. I shall keep things to a minimum.

Dr Bauder wrote:

Quote:
Yet, as I say, I cannot think of a point at which I am seriously in disagreement with him. The center of his system is the radical distinction between Creator and creature—precisely the point of saying that God is wholly other.

That is precisely not what CVT means by the Creator-creature distinction. And he would scrupulously avoid using such dangerous language as “wholly other” when speaking of God, since it does not sit comfortably within an evangelical view of God (viz. it is a ‘liberal’ term). The C-c relation is that God is incomprehensible as Lord over and apart from His creation. But creation is imbued with revelation of God the Creator. Thus, God is incomprehensible to the degree that He has restricted His revelation. But God is not wholly other. He is not inapprehensible. Van Til teaches that man is the analogue of God (to use G. Weaver’s language) as His image-bearer. This is brought out in the following quotation:

Quote:
The Creator-creature distinction also reminds Christians that in the arena of knowledge they do not have to be God or to aspire to be divine in their knowledge... Christians can be confident they have genuine knowledge – knowledge of God and knowledge concerning things around them.
– Vern S. Poythress, “Multiperspectivalism and the Reformed Faith,” in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame, 195.

Kevin writes,

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Van Til rightly argues for the analogical nature of human knowledge, especially against Gordon Clark, who argues for its univocity. But knowledge and language are linked—analogical knowledge entails analogical language, while univocal language entails univocal knowledge. At this point, however, Van Til managed to confuse himself and many of his more slavish followers by equivocating on the meaning of “analogical.”

He did not confuse himself, though he continues to confuse many who do not pay attention to his use of terms. Kevin sets up the classical view of analogy and tries to fit Van Til into it. Granted Van Til would have been better avoiding the word, but his meaning cannot be lost on the attentive reader. For Van Til God’s thought is original and comprehensive and man’s thought is derivative and limited (hence "analogous"). Man is a “re-knower” as CVT calls him. But this entails that man knows what God knows, content-wise, as far as his faculties allow. This is the univocal element in predication which gives us access to “literal” truth (although CVT certainly allowed figurative language a function).
Btw, “univocal” describes a “same-sense” relationship between words/knowers.
Those interested in a clear presentation of Van Til’s view of analogy would do well to read Gilbert Weaver’s essay in Jerusalem & Athens , or John Frame’s discussion in his Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought

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When he starts to talk about language, he appears to use “analogical” roughly as a synonym for “metaphorical,” while “univocal” means (to him) something like “literal” or “non-figurative.” It seems to me that he can denounce, and I can affirm, analogical language because we are not using the expression in the same sense.

CVT never equates analogical language to analogy of being (as Aquinas did). See the Poythress quote above and the writings by Weaver and Frame.

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For humans, the only way to know reality is to apprehend this system, and that requires disclosure from God Himself. In other words, reality is what it is because of what God thinks about it (God’s mind contributes to what is known). We know reality, not by perceiving events and objects directly, but by connecting them as God does (our mind contributes to what is known in a secondary and derivative sense as we appropriate revelation).

But we do have direct access to reality as God’s image-bearers. Even allowing for things like optical illusions, God’s revelation meets us in our experiences and is inescapably part of our experiences. God’s non-verbal and verbal revelation work together to deliver justified true belief. What you have described is akin to forms of Christian neo-Platonism, not Van Til’s thought.

Kevin:

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Those who will not begin with God’s revelation perceive and think that they know a different reality (because their minds are contributing to what is perceived).

Now this is confusing. He seems to mean in this place what Paul clearly teaches in Romans 1:18-22: that the imaginations of man’s sinful heart picture reality in a way which involves first the suppression of the truth. This is not what Kevin meant when he wrote about the pre-moderns and Kant. There he meant that the mind actively reconstructs reality as its characteristic function, before presenting the re-construction to the consciousness. And this is irrespective of whether sin is at large or not. In this case (which he appears to advocate in his article), one cannot “begin with God’s revelation” as it comes from Him, since the mind interposes itself upon the sense data and reconstructs what God has revealed in the world.

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I think that Van Til is on my side here.

Sadly, this is because Kevin is putting words in to Van Til’s mouth. He would have no truck with the idea that the mind contributes to what is perceived. See Greg L.Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis , 344-345.

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Van Til’s insistence upon the sensus deitatis definitely fits into the category that I am calling “subjective.” On Van Til’s own principles, this sensus cannot be inferential—if it is, then it is not a presupposition, but a conclusion, and in that case something other that God Himself becomes ultimate. No, if Van Til’s principles are correct, then this sensus must be intuitive and irreducibly personal. At some level, all humans know God, not because they reason out His reality from natural revelation, but because they encounter His hand in the natural world and because they hear echoes of His voice in their own conscience.

Right, they encounter God objectively! His revelation is inescapable. It is there. We react to it subjectively, but it is objectively there and objectively true as revelation.

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At some level they know His eternal power and theiotes. (Incidentally, this is another place at which Van Til sometimes seems to work against himself by writing as if the sensus were an inference, but I think it is possible—and charitable—to read him in a better way.)

Van Til teaches that even our reasoning process is itself revelational, so there is no contradiction here.

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one finds in Van Til some genuinely useful ideas. I do not believe that I have said a word that would contradict them (though I would wish to supplement them)
.

I am forced to respectfully disagree

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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I haven't really got anything to contribute at this point since I haven't got enough Van Til under my belt to know who is construing him correctly.
I'll note this though: one of the tough things for non-philosophers like me is that the really tough questions the thinkers wrestle with tend to involve wading into extremely difficult linguistic territory. That is, they deal with thoughts that are very hard to find words for that others will understand as intended.
(There's some irony there I suppose since since one of the big debates is what it means to intend and to have your intent understood!)

I've witnessed more than one debate on philosophical points where I could sware both sides were saying the same thing in different ways.

In any case, I hope Kevin and/or Charlie can be coaxed into replying another time or two here because I'm really interested now in where Van Til really sits in all this.

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