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.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John Piper on Infants Dying in Infancy

John Piper believes that all infants dying in infancy go to heaven but it would seem that faulty reasoning has caused him to ignore basic evangelical tenets. (Click on title to go to link.)

"I think they're all saved. In other words, I don't buy the principle that says that children born into "covenant families" are secure, and children born into "non covenant families" aren't. I don't go there."

He rejects the notion that the only saved infants dying in infancy are those born into covenant homes. He also rejects the idea that some born within covenant homes that die in infancy can be lost. Rather, he affirms that God saves all who die in infancy. Piper is not alone in these speculations. Presbyterian A.A. Hodge and Dispensationalist John MacArthur assert the same. I appreciate Piper much more on this matter for he speaks more tentatively regarding what he thinks; whereas Hodge and MacArthur are dogmatic in their claims. Hodge even went so far as to suggest the Westminster standards teach this form of universalism, which it does not.

"My reason for thinking they're all saved is because of the principle in Romans 1 where Paul argues that all people know God, and they are "without excuse" because they do not honor him or glorify him as God. His argument is that they are without excuse because they know things, as though accountability in the presence of God at the Last Judgment will be based, at least partly, on whether they had access to necessary knowledge."

Piper’s reasoning is terribly flawed. Piper reasons that if a person knows God, then he’s without excuse. Fine so far… until he deduces from that premise: If a person does not know God, then he needs no excuse. It is certainly true that if a man knows God, then he his culpable. However, it does not logically follow from that premise that those who do not know God are not culpable. That is fallaciously to deny the consequent based upon a denial of the antecedent. In other words, from if P then Q, we may not reason to not P, therefore, not Q. Even if Piper’s final conclusion were true, it would not follow from his premises. Simply put, that one is culpable for having knowledge of God does not imply that he is not culpable for something else apart from such knowledge, such as the inherited corrupt nature and imputation of Adam’s sin. Rather than deal with these, Piper seems to presuppose that sins proceeding from the corrupt nature either are not present in infants, or simply do not warrant damnation. In either case, the forensic and genetic aspects of sin are simply ignored in his treatment of the subject. (In passing we might note that it is a bit dubious to assert that infants do not know God. A defense of that premise might have been in order.)

"I think babies and imbeciles—that is, those with profound mental disabilities—don't have access to the knowledge that they will be called to account for. Therefore, somehow in some way, God, through Christ, covers these people."
"In some way, God, through Christ, covers these people?" What needs to be covered? Certainly not their sin, for Piper has already conceded that what these infants need is not a covering for sin but rather their just and deserved place in the kingdom. Moreover, why would Piper say that humans such as these are saved in death? Saved from what? Would he at least concede that elect infants dying in infancy are united to Christ through the monergistic work of regeneration, or would that smack of the need for too much grace? In the final analyses, either Piper has affirmed that the “salvation” of infants dying in infancy is a matter of justice alone, or he has implied that infants deserve mercy and grace.

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