Book Review: The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Nash)

Nash, Ronald.  The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Zondervan: 1982. Reprint by Presbyterian and Reformed.RonNash

The possibility of our having cognitive knowledge about God was denied on three grounds:  God is too transcendent; 2) human knowledge is de jure problematic; 3) human language was de jure problematic.

Question of the book: Can the human logos know the Logos of God (Nash 14)?

Hume’s Gap: our pivotal beliefs must rest on something besides knowledge.

Kant’s wall: there is a wall between the world as it is and the sense world.

For the Neo-Orthodox, revelation is always an event.  It is never cognitive knowledge about God.

Defense of Propositional Revelation

(A)  All S is P                                             (E) No  S is P

(I)  Some S is P                                         (O) Some S is not P.

(A) All revelation is propositional       (E) No revelation is propositional

(I) Some revelation is propositional    (O) Some rev. Is not propositional

We can rule out O as irrelevant to the discussion.  The Neo-Orthodox thinks that all evangelicals hold to A, but that’s false.  We hold to I.  Further, holding to I doesn’t entail the claim that all revelation is propositional.

In short God reveals knowledge to his creation and some of this knowledge about himself is contained in the form of propositions (45). And even if one wants to claim that revelation is personal, saving faith still presupposes saving faith about something.

The Christian Logos

This is the heart of Nash’s project. Key idea: “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of god, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between the divine and human minds” (59).

The Christian Rationalism of St Augustine

Augustine has some sort of interplay between the uncreated Light of God and the mutable light of the human mind (81). How can the human mind understand the eternal Forms within God’s mind?  Nash suggests three ways:

(1) The human intellect is both passive and active with respect to the forms (85). It is passive, pace Kant, in that it doesn’t create the conditions for knowledge. It is active in the sense that it judges and receives.

(2) The forms are and are not separate from the divine mind.

(3) The human mind is and is not a light that makes knowledge possible.

While Nash had a fine discussion on how Augustine modified Plato’s essentialism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, the chapter just feels “short.” I know he wrote a book on the topic and it is worth pursuing there.

In Defense of Logic

When Nash wrote this book, the Dooyeweerdian school in Toronto was a force to be reckoned with (one sees something similar in John Frame’s works).  Nash gives a fine rebuttal to the Dooyeweerdians: if human reason is valid only one one side of the cosmonomic boundary, “then any inference that God is transcendent must be an illegitimate application of human reason” (99). In other words, if God is transcendent, you are in error for saying he is transcendent!

Conclusion

The Logos of God has created the logos of the human mind in such a way that that it can receive cognitive, propositional knowledge about a transcendent God.

 

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Review: Social Justice and the Christian Church (Nash)

This book isn’t quite the violent beat-down of the Sojourners guys that David Chilton’s was, but it’s close. It was a pointed response back then; it is a desperate cry today. As church groups are falling, or about to fall, to Social Justice, Nash’s words are worth hearing.

Ask a social Justice Warrior what Justice is. Do it. It’s quite funny. Nash begins with Aristotle. Not that Aristotle is great, but his discussions are as good as any.

The ancient (and most simple) definition of justice is “giving each one what she is due” (Nash 29). The problem is obvious: there is no way you can take this correct definition and deduce an entire economics program from it.

Universal justice: a person is just in the universal sense if he possesses all of the virtues. The Bible echoes this in Gen. 6:9 and Ezek. 18:5.

Particular justice: a man is just in this sense if he does not grasp for more than what he is due. Nash, following Aristotle, sees three subsets of this justice:

(1) commercial justice: just weights and balances.

(2) remedial justice: some wrong must be made right.

(3) distributive justice: a good or burden is apportioned among human beings (Nash 31).

Formal Principle of Justice: We can summarize Aristotle: equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. Unfortunately, there is no criterion to help us.

Material Principle of Justice: this is usually seen in needs, deserts, achievement, etc.

Two Contemporary Theories of Justice

Rawls: (a) each person has a right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with others’ basic liberties; (b) justice as fairness

To make his project work Rawls says everyone must assume a “veil of ignorance.” In other words, you have to imagine a society where any rights you give yourself wouldn’t conflict with others’ rights. The problem with this, as Nash notes, is we have no reason to think that anyone would come up with this veil of ignorance. The veil of ignorance idea isn’t bad, per se; we just have no reason for believing it. Anyway, there is no reason to think it is just (42ff).

As other critics have pointed out, any invention in society (like the automobile) has the potential to make 95% of society more affluent, yet it would marginalize a few. Therefore, cars are unjust. But no one will seriously live this way. The automobile would impoverish the horse-and-buggy industry. Should we get rid of automobiles?

The liberal confuses economic merit with moral merit

Justice and the Welfare State

Problem with interventionism: “The liberal’s obsession with the proper distribution of society’s goods blinds him to a crucial truth: that before society can have enough gooods to distribute among the needy, a sufficient quantity of goods must be produced. By focusing all their attention on who gets what, defenders of the welfare state promote policies that severely restrict production” (64).

Justice and the Bible

We can’t confuse Love and Justice. The state is an agent of justice, and states by definition are coercive.

Problems with enacting the Year of Jubilee today:

a) Not all poor would be helped. If you didn’t own land prior, then you aren’t getting any today.

b) Only Israelite slaves are freed. Tough luck to anyone else.

c) Only property outside the city would be affected. Sold property within the walled city would become permanent exchange after a year.

d) Immigrants did not have permanent land rights, so they wouldn’t be helped.

e) Those who were born after the Jubilee but died before it wouldn’t be helped.

Quotes of Liberty

“Social justice, as viewed by statist proponents…is possible only in a society controlled from the top down” (50).

In terms of content and prophetic witness, the book is magnificent. However, much of it is a summary of Rothbard and there really isn’t new content.

Review: Escape from Reason (Schaeffer)

In Schaeffer’s other works he shows you step by step on how to “take the roof off” of a stoned-up hippie.  He doesn’t do that in this one. This is more of a Dooyeweerdian (though he never acknowledges it) deconstruction of the nature-grace dualisms.  I think he succeeds, though there are a few howlers. Along the way he gives brilliant insights, but the frustrating thing is that they are all in passing and are never developed.

Most of the book is a summary of He is there and He is Not Silent and The God Who is There.  Still, as a summary it avoids most (but not all) of Schaeffer’s weak points and the argument is forced to be tighter.

Aquinas as Fall

He wants to blame Aquinas for everything. I’m sympathetic to that idea, and there is much wrong with Aquinas, though I don’t think we can pin every problem on him, at least not as regards art.  Aquinas’ focus on particulars opened up the world of nature in art. Previously, art focused on the universal. Artists after Aquinas began to focus more on nature. The danger was that nature was autonomous and ate up the upper storey of grace. Schaeffer writes, “Aquinas lived from 1225 to 1274, thus these influences were quickly felt in the field of art” (Schaeffer 12).  Who is he talking about? He means Cimabue (1240-1302). Thus, with Cimabue we see Aquinas’s focus on the particular. Strictly speaking, this is a logical fallacy. It reads:

If Aquinas’s focus on particulars, then we will see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

We see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

Therefore, Aquinas is the influence.

This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  In any case, it’s doubtful that Aquinas’s monastic writings would have been mainstreamed in the art community.  Nevertheless, Schaeffer offers a number of diagrams that demonstrate this nature-grace fall (which I will show at the  end of the review).

Reformation man didn’t have this duality of nature and grace, since God’s propositional revelation spoke to both storeys.  Therefore, even though nature isn’t grace, we have a unified propositional revelation from God.

The Modern Era

There is Schaeffer’s notorious section on Hegel, notorious in the sense that he gets everything wrong.  But this also reveals that Schaeffer misplaces the antithesis. We commend Schaeffer for his take on the law of non-contradiction.   We just reject this as the antithesis. If this is the point of antithesis, and if the Greeks upheld it as Schaeffer maintains, then on his gloss the Greeks were quite biblical in epistemology.  This is unacceptable.

His analysis of modern art is quite good, or so I imagine.  I don’t know much about modern art, except that most of the stuff in the National Endowment of Arts is trash.

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Critique

I like this book better than the others in his trilogy.  I read it in one sitting. It’s very well-written. And the diagrams are great.  My main problem is that it reads too much like a genealogical critique. What I mean is that Schaeffer traces the problem of a thought by seeing the problems in its predecessor’s thought.  This is very close to the genetic fallacy.

But there is another problem.  Let’s grant that Schaeffer’s analysis is correct.  This can’t substitute for the hard work in epistemology and metaphysics that the budding apologist has to do.

Diagrams

Schaeffer’s project represents the “two-storey” universe.  God is up top. Man on the bottom. Unhinged from biblical revelation this means that the world of “universals” is above and the world of particulars below.  They either never meet or one eats up the other.

Set 1.

Grace
——-
Nature

[Renaissance art]

Grace (universals)
———–
Nature (particulars)

[Kant and Rousseau]

Freedom
————
Nature

Schaeffer has a brilliant point there.   Reformation man posited the uniformity of nature within an open system.  Apostate man believes in the uniformity of nature within a closed system, and is left with a mechanical determinism when it comes to human freedom.

[Kierkegaard and the New Theology]

Faith
—–
Rationality

[Secular Existentialism]

Optimism must be non-rational
——————————
All rationality = pessimism

 

Review: He is there and he is not silent (Schaeffer)

Schaeffer, Francis.  He is There and He is Not Silent.  Tyndale.  1979 reprint.

Image result for he is there and he is not silent

On page 1 Schaeffer defines metaphysics as “the existence of Being.”  That’s an ambiguous statement at best. Does he mean that there is an entity called Being which itself exists?  That’s not necessarily wrong, and a good Platonist would have no problem with it, but I don’t think that’s what he means.  In normal usage metaphysics means something like “the nature of reality” or the study of being.”

“An impersonal beginning leads to some sort of reductionism” (8). Schaeffer suggests that if all is bare particularity and there is no universal (or universals) to bind the particulars together, then they can’t have any significance.  I like the idea, but I think it is under-developed. He explains the idea better with pantheism. If all is essence, or one, or whatever, then there is nothing to distinguish the particulars. They don’t have any meaning. You don’t have any meaning.

Schaeffer’s argument is quite simple: you have to begin with the infinite-personal Trinity in order to have meaning.  He means something like only the Trinity, and the propositional revelation of God-in-Christ, can allow for predication between universals and particulars.  I agree. I just think he needs more than 100 pages to make the case.

He has two long chapters on epistemology.  They were surprisingly good and the astute reader can sense the Van Til. He begins, as all must, with pointing out the failures of the Greeks. Their gods were personal, but finite.  As a result sometimes the gods controlled fate; sometimes fate controlled the gods. Knowledge and morality were iffy.

Plato rightly championed universals, but where was the universal that held everything to be located?  The gods were finite and fate was impersonal.

He makes a fascinating suggestion that the Reformation’s insistence, not merely on sola scriptura, but on propositional revelation, solved the problem of nature and grace. Verbal, propositional revelation had both an infinitely personal God (universals; upper storey) that speaks to the space-time world (62).  It’s a brilliant suggestion worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

This book is much better than The God Who is There.  Schaeffer’s argument is “tighter” and he doesn’t get sidetracked on philosophical issues that are beyond his capacity.  

 

Review: The God Who Is There (Schaeffer)

I first read this book in 2002 and it was the primer that got me into apologetics and philosophy.  From Schaeffer I moved to James Sire; from Sire to Douglas Groothuis, and from Groothuis to Cornelius Van Til. The book is quite exciting for the reader actually believes he will take these arguments and reclaim culture for Christ. Schaeffer offers a stirring vision on how the loss of God affects every area of life.

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Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Schaeffer fundamentally misrepresents every philosopher and group with whom he deals. There is no intellectual rigor whatsoever.

Schaeffer sees himself broadly within the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, but he is a watered down version of Van Til. For all of Van Til’s problems, Van Til knew if you were going to press the antithesis, you were going to press it in the right place. Schaeffer fails that because he thinks “The Greeks were okay who got reason right. It was Hegel who messed it up and introduced irrationality.”

Thesis: In giving up the hope of rationality, a rationality that is founded only in the revelation of God in Christ, man is plunged below the line of despair. This line of despair normally moves in the following historical pattern: philosophy → art → music → general culture → theology (Schaeffer 16). Above the line there is absolutes (whether they are sufficiently justified).

The Positive Case for Christian Theism
God is personal and in creating man in his own image, man is personal (87). Schaeffer proves this in the form of a disjunctive syllogism (A v B; ~B; therefore, A).  “Either there is sa personal beginning to everything or one has what the impersonal throws up by chance out of the time sequence” (88).
God placed his revelation in history, and in doing so made it verifiable (92).  God’s speaking in history is what makes unity possible between the upper and lower storeys, because God spoke to all areas.
The Nature of Proof (Epistemology)
(1) A theory must be non-contradictory and explain the phenomena in question.
(2) We have to be able to live consistently with our theory (109).
The Good Parts
It’s not hard to see why Schaeffer had the influence he did.  The book was just “fun” to read.  And he saw the current problems on transgenderism, transhumanism, and Cultural Marxism.  His zeal for evangelism is contagious and he knew how important communication was (45).
While Schaeffer fundamentally misreads Hegel, he does get the dialectical methodology of Marx correct (46).  While he doesn’t draw the specific connection, we now see that dialectical methodology is a tool the New Left uses today (and which most conservative culture warriors are unable to deal with).

He has some very good analyses of art history.

 

The Bad

 

Schaeffer had a tendency to make sweeping surveys on philosophy.  Sometimes they were misleading.  Other times they were just false.  His most notorious example is Hegel, and here I can only summarize Greg Bahnsen’s critique of Schaeffer.
Schaeffer writes, “Before his (Hegel’s) time truth was conceived on the basis of antithesis…. Truth, in the sense of antithesis, is related to the idea of cause and effect. Cause and effect produces a chain reaction which goes on in a horizontal line. With the coming of Hegel, all this changed…. (Hegel proposed) from now on let us think in this way; instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite is an antithesis, and the answer to their relationship is not in the horizontal movement of cause and effect, but the answer is always synthesis…. (Thus) instead of antithesis we have, as modern man’s approach to truth, synthesis”.
Hegel never denigrated logic.  He simply pointed out that the antithesis must always arise from the thesis because of man’s finite take on truth. Further, one can only be astonished at Schaeffer’s claim that the Greeks valued truth and the logical antithesis.  Plato and Aristotle might have, but one doubts that Heraclitus or the Sophists did. Indeed, Schaeffer’s misconstrual of Hegel in favor of the Greeks seems to let the Greeks off the hook!
This book is rightly considered a 20th century classic.  Despite its intellectual gaffes, it did get evangelicals thinking about worldview issues.  Schaeffer was key in rallying evangelicals to the pro-life cause.  For that we are grateful.  But the apologist cannot stop with Schaeffer.  Metaphysics and epistemology, which Schaeffer left undeveloped, have advanced light years.

Review: Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy of Education

This is one of the early forays into the modern approach to Christian education/Christian schools. Clark doesn’t give anything like a program or curriculum.  He does give good guidelines. And as always, his writing style is top-notch.Image result for gordon h clark

The first half of the book is a summary of A Christian View of Men and Things.  But perhaps his attack on “neutrality” is a new emphasis.  As the beginning of the book is on worldview, and since he covered the same ground in A Christian View, we will just summarize the high points.

(1) Education presupposes a view of man (Clark 9). Is man a monkey? A machine? A bunch of atoms? Or the image of God?

(2) The failure of agnosticism/skepticism regarding ultimate matters: a skeptic finds that nothing is to be found, presumably including knowledge.  This makes it worthless for education. The agnostic says he does not know which propositions are true, but presumably he knows that it is better to eat than to starve (34).

(3) The atheism of Russell (unyielding foundation of despair) leads to the pessimism of the existentialists, prompting Clark’s remark: “The only reasonable reaction to humanism is suicide….If the humanists want to be consistent they should kill themselves” (54).

(4) Clark anticipates Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism by noting that the evolutionists can’t give an account of teaching math: “Sooner or later….the pupil will ask, “‘Why should I learn arithmetic? Then if the teacher is authentic and honest she will say, ‘Arithmetic helps you when you lose your faith in God.’ Or, she will say, with more truth, ‘Arithmetic will help you gain power and dominate other men.’ Or, with true zoological scholarship she may say, ‘Arithmetic is a phase of the evolutionary process that leads to the extinction of the human species’” (58-59).

The Problem with Dewey

This is the meat.  I want nothing short of a scorched-earth, nuclear wasteland when dealing with John Dewey.  But let’s keep it brief, at least as regards his theory of progress. “There is no criterion by which to judge of change, nor is there a goal which fixes the direction of progress” (Clark 89).

Goals of education

“Education should be as thorough as technical training; but not so narrow and restricted; for the aim is a complete man and a well-balanced life” (203).

Neutrality isn’t just impossible.  It is silly

“O God, we neither deny nor assert thy existence; and O God, we neither obey nor disobey thy commands. We are neutral” (207).

Criticisms

The book can’t help the fact that it is dated in some respects.  On the other side, that can also be seen as evidence of how prophetic Clark was. And while there are a bunch of good jokes/horror stories/news reports about how silly some of the education curricula is, and no matter how disliked Common Core is, improvements have been made.  No one is incompetent 100% of the time.

Clark has a section on whether emotions are proper to the Christian.  To his credit, he notes that the dictionary definition of emotion can’t apply to the Christian or the Christian’s God.  Such a view would have the perfect changing to the imperfect, or given over to rationality. Well and good. It’s not so clear how Clark deals with proper emotions as found in the psalms.

Review: Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things

This book isn’t perfect but it does exhibit all of Dr Clark’s strengths as a communicator  My main problem with the book is the chapter lengths: they are excessively long. This isn’t too much of a problem, except Clark will spend 90% of the chapter debunking erroneous views, but he only gives a few pages to the biblical position, and even then it is only a summary.

Notwithstanding, there are a few areas where Clark shines, notably epistemology.  Even then, though, it is limited. We get evaluations of empiricism, skepticism, and relativism, and Clark lists all the inadequacies of these views–but there is more to epistemology than a survey of three or four options.  The book doesn’t have much on belief-formation, justification of knowledge, etc. Nonetheless, Clark hints towards a theistic summary (which would be later fine-tuned by Carl F Henry).

The Philosophy of Politics

What is the function of government?  Clark examines numerous ethical theories (Bentham, Aristotle, Plato) and notes that the definition of good [for government] depends on one’s nature of man (113).

A problem with Rousseau: “He seems to be torn between an infallible general will that cannot express itself and an expressed majority vote that is not infallible…” (121).

Theistic view:  state has limited power (136).  God is the source of all rights.

Funny quote: “But if men are essentially good, how is it that when they pass from psychology or theology to politics only the poor remain good and the wealthy become evil?   [The demand] for more government seems to imply that not only are poor people good, but politicians are even better” (139).

“The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind.  Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language, if not the precise meaning, of the mystics and say, we have a vision of God” (321).

This is good.  And I think Clark was correct over Van Til on this point.  This also nicely sidesteps the Eastern Orthodox critique that the West relies on created grace and avoids any direct contact with God.  If Clark’s analysis holds, however, this isn’t true.