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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Van Til, Bahnsen, Logic and TAG


“To us the only thing of great significance in this connection is that it is often found to be more difficult to distinguish our method from the deductive method than from the inductive method. But the favorite charge against us is that we are still bound to the past and are therefore employing the deductive method. Our opponents are thoughtlessly identifying our method with the Greek method of deduction. For this reason it is necessary for us to make the difference between these two methods as clear as we can.” (Van Til, Survey of Christian Epistemology, 9.)
“To put it simply, in the case of ‘direct’ arguments (whether rational or empirical), the negation of one of their premises changes the truth or reliability of their conclusion. But this is not true of transcendental arguments, and that sets them off from the other kinds of proof or analysis. A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

“Years ago Van Til realized that opponents of presuppositionalism tend to think that there are only two kinds of reasoning: inductive and deductive. Deductive reasoning stands opposed to inductive. However, there is also transcendental reasoning, in which the preconditions for the intelligibility of what is experienced, asserted, or argued are posed or sought. It, too, stands opposed to a purely inductive approach to knowledge. Critics seem to think that, since presuppositionalism does not endorse pure inductivism, it must favor deductivism instead. This logical fallacy is known as false antithesis.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 176, n. 55.)

The above three quotes were recently forwarded to me for comment because these sentiments of Van Til and Bahnsen are often (sadly so) misconstrued as affirmation of their denying the place of deduction and induction in the realm of presuppositional apologetics. (Having the books, I have verified the accuracy of the quotes.)

The beauty of the transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) as a special kind of deductive argument is not in the reductio but in the transcendental challenge, which demonstrates that to argue against God one must first presuppose that which only Christianity affords. In other words, TAG is certainly a deductive argument, but it's a unique kind of deductive argument, not in its form per se but rather in what it seeks to demonstrate. Transcendental arguments are concerned with the preconditions of any fact of experience – what must be true in order for any fact of experience to be that which it is. Van Til was careful to note that “the Christian method uses neither the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense.” (Van Til, page 10 - emphasis mine.) Why the qualifier "as it is understood by the opponents of Christianity" if Van Til did not believe that TAG incorporated deduction? Why not just say that the Christian method does not use deduction, end of statement? The reason is, TAG has aspects of not just deduction but induction too, as Van Til states with no ambiguity. TAG has a distinctly inductive aspect to it because with TAG the Christian investigates what must be true in order for some experience to be intelligible. Such explorations are inductive in emphasis. Notwithstanding, the manner of the investigation is not open ended because the premises within TAG do not merely support the conclusion, they ensure it. That aspect is unique to deduction. Moreover, the conclusion from TAG is not a mere hypothesis, but rather a sound conclusion derived through a deductive process. Finally, TAG falls short of being fully inductive because there is no asserting the consequent with TAG, as there is with all scientific inference, the playground for induction.
Van Til goes on to critique what he qualified as “exclusively” deductive arguments and “purely” inductive arguments that do not presuppose God. It was the anti-Christian Greek method of logic that Van Til and Bahnsen opposed but not logical apologetics. In other words, they never opposed deduction and induction but rather qualified these disciplines in reference to strictly secular uses of reason and inference. Even a careless reading of Van Til and Bahnsen bears this out, but one must first read the authors and not just read about them. And reading the authors would require reading past page 9 in Van Til, at least up through page 10. (Many perceived problems regarding Gordon H. Clark would also vanish if one would only simply go to the original source, rather than choosing sides in a partisan manner.)

Bahnsen typically employed modus tollens (MT) in his formal argument, yet he distinguished his employment of TAG from garden variety deduction. Mike Butler (at one time Bahnsen’s assistant) to my knowledge, also, has never pitted transcendental arguments against deduction. Butler has written TAG out, which is indeed deductive in form "For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case." (Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, 91 The Standard Bearer.)
Van Til and Bahnsen fully appreciated that TAG is a deductive argument strictly speaking (lest they contradicted themselves in practice). However, their focus in this regard was on what distinguishes TAG from the usual kind of deductive (and inductive) arguments. The unique quality of TAG that sets it apart from all other standard deductive arguments is that with the latter we begin with some truths (or inferences) and reason to others - but that to which we reason is not presupposed as a necessary precondition for the intelligible experience of the original fact of experience. In other words, with standard deductive arguments we try to deduce from a fact, or series of facts, other facts; no more, no less. If it's Sunday I'm with a congregation of saints from 9:30-12 in the morning. If I’m not with a congregation of saints at 10:00 a.m., then it’s not Sunday. That it’s not Sunday can be a standard deduction, yet my being with the saints at a certain time does not make Sundays possible. Kant's genius was that TA's are concerned with what must be true in order for something else to be possible. God’s revelation makes intelligible experience possible, whereas my being with the saints at a particular time does not make Sunday between 9:30 and noon possible.

Clearly, Bahnsen applied deduction in his demonstration of TAG. Accordingly, he was either inconsistent with himself, or we should interpret his statements as meaning something other than TAG is not strictly speaking deductive. With little effort we can reconcile Bahnsen's practice of TAG with his description of it. TAG is not like any other deductive argument because it does not reason from fact to fact in the standard Greek sense but rather reasons from fact to the preconditions of fact, which is Kantian, yet when in the hands of a Christian a very powerful tool.

Ron

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39 comments:

Jeff said...

Thanks for these types of post, Ron. Very much appreciated.

Brad B said...

I echo Jeff, thanks. And thanks Jeff for referencing this site over at STR where I followed your suggestion to check out some related posts here to what was on over at STR's blog.

Brad B said...

Hi Ron, could you explain what you mean about Kant's scheme when you said this: "TAG is not like any other deductive argument because it does not reason from fact to fact in the standard, Greek sense but rather reasons from fact to the preconditions of fact, which is Kantian, yet when in the hands of a Christian a very powerful tool."

[I know little of Kant, but what I think I do know is that he's famous for building an insurmountable wall of separation between the noumenal and phenomenal realms in his day.]

Thanks, Brad B

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Thanks, Jeff and Brad.

Brad,

Kant appreciated the failure of empiricism, that brute particulars defy causal order and objective meaning. He also acknowledged that the mind was not a “blank slate”; that there were categories of thought. Accordingly, Kant tried synthesizing empiricism and rationalism, but in his effort he could not save science. For Kant, man’s mind provided the order of the otherwise brute particulars in nature. Accordingly, rather than save science he merely psychologized it, reducing knowledge of data to pure subjectivism and consequently skepticism. Notwithstanding, Kant was correct that for men to know how things truly are, there must be a precondition for such intelligible experience. He did not reason in a strict linear fashion but transcendentally to the presuppositions for knowledge. In other words, he assumed knowledge and then inquired into those things that must first be true in order for there to be konwledge in the first place.

For the Christian (Van Tillian), a common creator stands behind both the internal mind and the external mind-independent world, providing a fruitful connection that is anything but idiosyncratic (Kantian). In other words, if intelligible experience, then Christian theistic creation and providence, etc.

Good Lord's Day.

Ron

danielj said...

In other words, if intelligible experience, then Christian theistic creation and providence, etc.

So, is this just a special kind of "affirming the consequent" or something else?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Daniel,

One may follow that premise with the denial of the consequent, which would lead to the denial of the antecedent (reductio ad absurdum - MT). Or, the antecedent may be affirmed and in turn affirm the consequent that follows. In either case, there's no affirming the consequent in TAG, but there is in induction which TAG is not.

Ron

Brad B said...

Hi Ron, thanks for the additional information. I think I follow you, do you believe that Kant shared with Plato/Aristotle that there must be some knowledge of the "perfect" that provide the categories that make sense experience intelligible?[is this waht is meant by "not a blank slate"?]

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Brad,

Kant must be distinguished from Plato. For Kant the organizing of particulars so that rational inference could be drawn was not a recollection of what was known in some other alleged life. He was merely trying to given an answer to Hume's skepticism, by introducing knowledge apart from experience, which did not include a knowledge of external things. With the a priori the tabula rasa disappears.

Ron

Joshua Butcher said...

I am inclined to think that Kant is more Cartesian than is commonly (or at least, common to those I've read) acknowledged. Descartes starting point is not incompatible with Kant's transcendental categories. Rather, we might say that Descartes self-knowledge is the precondition for Kant's development of self-knowledge into a set of categories of the self's cognition.

Descartes' approach toward empirical particulars was more skeptical with regard to metaphysical reality, but epistemologically they both recognize the difficulty of knowing objects outside the mind.

Anonymous said...

Spome things are beyond our comprehension and always will be. it is foolish to think we know the mind of God on matters like these. This particular issue is troublesome for many. It is important to always keep in mind;as creatures, that there are things we will never understand. Let God be God. This topic is certainly something out of our sphere. The only theological argument would be adressing the nature of election.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I didn't think we were peering into the hidden things of God but rather the plain teachings of Van Til and Bahnsen.

I'm curious though, since you mentioned it, what can we know regarding election?

BR,

Ron

Anonymous said...

I have to apologize.. the last post you replied to was mine and was meant as a comment on the Piper post...

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

No prob. Now I understand.

Ron

Annoyed Pinoy said...

Ron, my understanding is that:

1. Induction argues from particulars to generals (or from effect to cause).

2. Deduction argues from generals to particulars (or from cause to effect)

3. Abduction (abductive arguments) is reasoning or inference to the better or best hypothesis(es)/theory(ies). That is, to that one which has the greatest explanatory (a) power and (b) scope. This corresponds to (the late) Ronald Nash's approach to apologetics (also Carnellian Systematic Coherency/Consistency presuppositionalism and Schaefferian Practical presuppositionalism).

4. Reduction (or reductive arguments) argues back to the necessary preconditions for something to be the case. (That's how Geisler's Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics describes some presuppositional Transcendantal arguments).

Ron, would you agree that Bahnsen's TAG is a reductive argument?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

No, I don't think so. There is overlap in such categories, for any conclusion that follows with necessity from the premise may be considered deductive, even if it’s transcendental. At base, a reductive pursuit simply is one that seeks to analyze one thing in terms of another - at least that's how I've understood it. It seems to me that Reductionism as a philosophy can pursue any hypothesis on strictly empirical grounds, without any reference to knowledge apart from experience though of course the a priori is always presupposed in any logical pursuit. Can’t a reductive pursuit be linear - not inquiring into what must be true prior to something else being possible? Can’t we “reduce” Reductionism to: P is nothing other than Q? Obama is nothing other than a socialist, which would deny that he is a husband too. "If Obama signs x-bill, then he is a socialist" is not to make socialism a precondition for the possibility of signing such a bill, for a non-socialist could sign such a bill depending on motive – like a gun at one’s head.

Cheers,

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

In response to this blog entry, a friend of a friend of mine wrote this on his blog: A deductive argument might proceed as follows: If logic then God. Logic. Therefore God. However a deductive argument may not proceed as follows: If logic then God. Not logic. Therefore God.In the second example the “statement of the original belief” (logic in this case) is negated per Bahnsen. Notice that the conclusion no longer follows.

Ron writes: I'll deal with your friend here. Don't you see the problems with all of this? I hope they jump off the page for you. The first argument is valid. It asserts the antecedent and then the consequent follows. No problem there. The second argument he attributes to Bahnsen misrepresents him, (which is a serious matter as it is to violate the ninth commandment. This young person ought to represent his opponents only after he has understood them.) Bahnsen was not so inept as to deny the antecedent. Will your friend retract his accusation of Bahnsen if he is unable to produce a single argument wherein Bahnsen denies the antecedent?

Your friend then writes: However, a transcendental argument may proceed as follows: Logic presupposes God. Not logic. Therefore God.

Ron Comments: That is simply false on several accounts. A) The argument does not demonstrate TAG. B) The argument is not even valid. C) The argument takes the same form as the argument he called invalid and impugned to Bahnsen's account.

Ask yourself a question, what does "logic presupposes God" look like when written out? Before reading any further, please answer that question for yourself.

The premise Logic presupposes God makes God a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition for logic. Accordingly, "God", in that formulation, becomes the consequent of the premise, not the antecedent: In other words, God assumes the "then" position of the if-then major premise. So, when your friend writes: Logic presupposes God - he is communicating by those literal words: "If Logic, then God (because logic presupposes God)".

Accordingly, when your friend asserts "not logic" in the minor premise, he is denying the antecedent. Accordingly, his conclusion "Therefore, God" is not justified by the syllogism, the very thing he falsely accused Bahnsen of doing!

His formulation for TAG reduces to:

If logic, then God (Because God is a precondition for logic)
~ logic
Therefore, God

I suspect that just one of the things confusing this person is that he thinks that for X to presuppose Y, Y must be a sufficient condition for X. That is obviously false. After all, my existence (X) presupposes God’s existence (Y). But certainly that doesn't imply that "if God exists, then I exist." Did I exist in eternity (when God did)? That which is presupposed for X's existence is necessary for X's existence, but it need not be sufficient for it.

“A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

What Bahnsen means is simply this:

Predication presupposes G if and only if:

If true predication, then G exists
If false predication, then G exists

This can be stated in traditional form.

True P presupposes G (If true P, then G)
~G
Therefore, ~ true P

False P presupposes G (If false P, then G)
~G,
Therefore, ~false P

All predication presupposes God’s existence. ~G, therefore, neither true P nor false P.

Anonymous said...

“A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

What Bahnsen means is simply this:

Predication presupposes G if and only if:

If true predication, then G exists
If false predication, then G exists

This can be stated in traditional form.

True P presupposes G (If true P, then G)
~G
Therefore, ~ true P

False P presupposes G (If false P, then G)
~G,
Therefore, ~false P

All predication presupposes God’s existence. ~G, therefore, neither true P nor false P.

Ron,

That is very helpful.

Why do you suppose the Bahnsen used MT and not MP to argue?

Thanks!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I'm going to address your question in a fresh post.

Ron

Anonymous said...

I am not persuaded of presuppositional apologetics because I believe it is circular reasoning. I do understand that all reasoning is ultimately circular and that is why I guess I could be called a fideist of some sorts. I am actually a hybrid of Pascal and Kierkegarrd with a splash of others.. I won’t bore you. I think we should preach the gospel and not argue for the existence of God…. With all those cards on the table I have no doubt that Greg Bansen used “logical” arguments. He was a logic fiend. It was his arguments that led me to fideism if you can believe that? I do not want to debate my views. Not here anyway. I do want to announce that the fallacy of begging the question and circular reasoning is what I am persuaded Greg Bahnsen committed in his debates. I am providing some quotes below and then turned them into the question begging deductions they actually are.

“I'm maintaining that the proof of the Christian world view is that the denial of it leads to irrationality.”

No Christian worldview -> irrationality
rationality
Christian Worldview


“The transcendental argument says the proof of the Christian God is that without God one cannot prove anything.”

no Christian God -> cannot prove anything
we prove things
Christian God
QED

“The atheist world view cannot do it, and therefore I feel justified concluding as I did in
my opening presentation this evening by saying that the proof of the Christian God is the
impossibility of the contrary. Without the Christian world view this debate wouldn't make
sense.”

no Christian God  no rational debate
rational debate
Christian worldview
QED

Anonymous said...

Hey Ron, even that guy gets it! Ha I guess Dr. Bahnsen didn’t know what Mike Butler who took Bahnsen's place after all those years thought about TAG. Maybe Butler committed apostasy with his deductions after his mentor passed from this earthly toil!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Mr. Fideist,

I rarely have such mixed feelings. I am delighted though that you appreciate that TAG is deductive.

That you are convinced that all reasoning is circular but are unsatisfied with circular reasoning because you think it always requires question begging, doesn't that suggest to you that all argumentation must be fallacious? If so, how can you argue against TAG, or anything else for that matter with any cogency?

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Regarding the comment about Butler and Bahnsen, good point, A.

Ron

Anonymous said...

This was a very helpful article.

Scott said...

Ron,

Not sure if you saw that Paul Manata defended your view here with the very guys that misunderstood you. http://www.choosinghats.com/2011/04/bahnsen-van-til-tag-and-deduction/

Scott

Reformed Apologist said...

I saw Paul's post over a year ago. I had forgotten about it though. He did a great job. Maybe you realize that his opponents had taken me to task for the same thing prior to the exchange with Paul. They had done so in response to my two posts that you commented on in the last 24 hours.

It’s remarkable that someone would defend the premise that TAG is not deductive based upon his opinion of what the main proponent of TAG (Bahnsen) thought rather than what TAG actually is. If Euclid thought it was folly that the number of primes is infinite, yet while propounding the theorem, should we conclude that the theorem itself is folly, or do we evaluate the theorem on its own merits? In the like manner, even if Bahnsen wrongly thought that TAG was not deductive, that hardly informs us of whether TAG is or is not deductive. Sure, at the beginning of the post there is a passing recognition of such appeals, but it's taken away with the other hand later.

Secondly, it’s striking that those over at CH possibly think that Mike Butler thinks TAG is not deductive. What, do they suppose that Mike might not believe that the premises of TAG provide the guarantee of the truth of TAG’s conclusion? In other words, isn’t it true that if the premises are true and the form if valid that it is impossible for the conclusion to be false? Isn't such a construct a sufficient condition for deduction? Isn’t that what Bahnsen meant by the “impossibility of the
contrary”, Paul's point?!

Finally, confusion abounds regarding what the denial of experience entails, which Paul picks up on. To take it further, Bahnsen and CVT often spoke in terms of predication. To deny the experience of x was for them to predicate the contrary about the experience. They often pointed out that to argue against Christianity is to presuppose Christianity. In other words, the issue for them was often predication (whether positively or negatively) about causality, logic, reality etc., and not the absence of the ontological aspects of those things (causality, logic, reality).

Anonymous said...

Could TAG be used by Roman Catholics or Muslims? Or do the Roman Catholic view of God on a "great chain or scale of being" and Islam's "utterly transcendent " make it impossible?

Reformed Apologist said...

Neither can. Rome reduces to skepticism and Allah is unknowable.

Anonymous said...

Is that because Rome's emphasis on the traditions and papal authority and with islam is that because he so transcendent that he can't with us?

Reformed Apologist said...

Re Rome, pls search my blog. Re Islam, basically yes

Reformed Apologist said...

Re Rome this gets the the skepticism in view

http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-i-hate-roman-catholicism.html?m=0

Anonymous said...

Is it because they say scripture isn't clear or because you can be sure they are interpreting scripture right?

Reformed Apologist said...

As my RC posts point out, the clarity of Scripture is denied to the laity by the magisterium, which creates the alleged need for an alleged infallible magisterium. Yet the clarity must be present for the magisterium lest they deny Scripture too overtly. So, only the popes can interpret scripture. The laity may now read it and interpret any passage any way they like, as long as any interpretation doesn't deny dogma.

Why should we believe that Scripture needs an interpreter but the magisterium doesn't. IOW, who interprets the apparent contradictions of Rome, or even her seemingly clear statements? If we cannot understand and believe God's word, who can we?

Anonymous said...

" Whereas Gordon Clark viewed this law as an expression of God’s very being, Van Til considers this law a human limitation that does not apply to God. He believed that Clark, and those who agree with him, make God subject to a human law. Van Til warns that the rational man will allow his reason to sit in judgment over God’s Word. He will not allow the Bible to rule his life." Dr. Phil Fernandes
Is this the true view of Van Til? Because a lot more lies exist than truth about the man.
Found at :http://instituteofbiblicaldefense.com/1997/05/cornelius-van-til/

Rex said...

Would you say that Eastern orthodoxy falls into skepticism?

Reformed Apologist said...

Depends on the view of the magisterium. Romanism surely does.

Rex said...

Of course Rome does. The E.O. just put so much emphasis that it seems church tradition is more authoritative than scripture.

Reformed Apologist said...

Michael Butler did a multi part series on EO several years ago. Not sure it's online or not.. EO is in many ways junior varsity Romanism. So is Episcopal church in many ways...

Rex said...

I've listened to his 25 part Presup and His science audios but I haven't seen any E.O. stuff. If you find it send me a link. Thank you and God bless

Reformed Apologist said...

They were published in Penpoint. Randy over at covenant media foundation might be able to help you locate if you're intersted. I don't recall whether Mike addressed epistemological matters or not. Might have had an ecclesiology / soterioogy focus. Too long ago for me to remember.