mercredi 25 octobre 2017

'Jerusalem & Athens’: Dooyeweerd to Van Til (4): "Supra-rational should by no means be confused with irrational."

In your train of thought the matter seems to be quite simple. The Word-revelation results from divine thought. It is mediated to man through ordinary language. Its content is thought-content expressed in words (wrongly identified with concepts). Consequently, listening to Scripture, obeying the voice of God speaking through Christ in Scripture, means making every human thought subject to divine thought expressed in scriptural concepts, so that man has to “think God’s thoughts after him.”

Is this really a biblical view? I am afraid not. Nowhere does the Bible speak of obeying the voice of God in terms of subjecting every human thought to divine thought. The New Testament understanding of obedience is doing the Father’s will revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, by believing with all our heart that we belong to him. There is no real obedience to the will of God that does not result from the heart, in the pregnant biblical sense, as the religious center of our existence, which must be regenerated and opened up by the divine moving power of the Holy Ghost. It is exactly this central biblical condition that is lacking in your circumscription of obedience. You do not, of course, at all deny the necessity of rebirth. But I fear that the biblical conception of the religious center of human existence does not fit in with your view of the human nature. 

That the Word-revelation was from the beginning mediated to man through human language is naturally unquestionable. But that verbal language would necessarily signify conceptual thought-contents is a rationalist prejudice that runs counter to the real states of affairs. By means of language we can signify symbolically not only conceptual thought contents, but all sorts of contents of our consciousness, such as subjective moods and emotional feelings, volitional decisions in a concrete situation, our faith in Jesus Christ, pre-theoretical aesthetical and moral experiences, often expressed in short exclamations such as “How wonderful!” or “Shame on you!” etc., which certainly do not give expression to conceptual knowledge of the experiential modes concerned.

The transcendental critique of theoretical thought has shown why true self-knowledge in its biblical sense, i.e., in its dependence upon true knowledge of God, cannot be itself of a conceptual character. The reason is that all conceptual knowledge in its analytical and inter-modal synthetical character presupposes the human ego as its central reference-point, which consequently must be of a supra-modal nature and is not capable of logical analysis. This does not mean, as you suppose, that the human self is placed in a vacuum over against all the conceptual knowledge that we have of everything. The human ego cannot be theoretically opposed to conceptual knowledge since, as the central reference-point of the latter, it transcends every theoretical antithesis.

It would be placed in a vacuum only if we would try to conceive it apart from the three central (and consequently supra-logical) relations without which it loses all meaning and content. I mean its relation to our multi-modal existence and experience in the temporal world, the I-thou relation to our fellow-men, and the religious I-Thou relation to God, in whose image man has been created. Since the last mentioned relation encompasses the two others, we may say that, according to its positive meaning, the human ego is the religious concentration point or center of man’s existence. This is what the Bible, in a pregnant sense, calls the “heart,” from which are the issues of life, from which proceed all sins and in which takes place rebirth out of the Holy Ghost.

The Bible does not speak of this religious center in conceptual terms, no more than Jesus in his night conversation with Nicodemus gave a conceptual circumscription of rebirth as the necessary condition of seeing the kingdom of God. The same holds good with respect to the biblical revelation of creation, man’s fall into sin, and redemption through Jesus Christ. You often speak of the “scriptural concepts of creation, of sin, and of redemption,” as revealed concepts, whose normativity ought to be our basic view of objectivity. But the Word-revelation does not reveal concepts of creation, sin, and redemption.

You do not seem to have seen that words and concepts cannot be identical. “Now, to be sure,” you say, “when we speak of creation, we use concepts. There is no other way of speaking of God and of his relation to man.” What, in my opinion, you should have said is that when we speak of creation, we use human words varying with the language of which we avail ourselves, and multivocal in common parlance. But in biblical usage they have got an identical revelational meaning in so far as they relate to God in his self-revelation as the absolute Origin of all that through his Word has been called into being. This revelational meaning transcends every human concept since it is of a supra-rational character. Supra-rational should by no means be confused with irrational. [bolding by FMF.] It is not, like the latter, the opposite, but the presupposition of the rational, just like the human self-hood is presupposed in every human thought and every human concept. 

God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture as Creator and Redeemer concerns the central religious relation of man to his absolute Origin. Its true meaning is therefore to be understood by man only if his heart has been opened up to it through the moving power of the Holy Ghost, which is the dunamis of the biblical Word-revelation. What is said here about the dunamis of the Word-revelation and the central role of the heart in the understanding of its meaning is in complete accordance with the biblical testimony (cf. Is 6:10–13; Acts 16:14) and with the opinion of Calvin (cf the citations from the Institutes in New Critique Vol I, pp 516-7). 

But you place it “over against the simple thought-content of Scripture” and are of the opinion that it adds still further to the ambiguity of my transcendental critique. You think so, however, not on biblical ground, but in consequence of a rationalistic view of the Word-revelation and of the religious relation of man to God, which, you feel, is of a rational-ethical character. This rationalism implies also a relapse into a metaphysical theory of the intrinsical divine being and its attributes, which Calvin called a “vacua et meteorica speculatio.” That this theological metaphysics is necessarily involved in antinomies is, in your opinion, not a consequence of its vain attempt to exceed the boundaries of conceptual thought. It is only because of the necessary incompleteness of our theoretical knowledge about God and the created universe. The antinomies exist therefore only seemingly, but are nevertheless inevitable. 

But now you will ask me if I myself am not obliged to use concepts of God and the human ego in the threefold transcendental ground-idea whose necessity the transcendental critique has shown. It is true that I used the term limiting idea in this context and you appear to be willing to conceive of the “concept of creation” as a limiting idea. I guess that then the same must hold good with respect to what you call the other revealed concepts. But what is meant by the term “limiting idea” in the transcendental critique of theoretical thought as developed by the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea? Nothing else is meant but the concentric religious turn of our theoretic conceptual thought, which is bound to the modal diversity of our temporal existence and experience to its supra-conceptual presupposita. This means that the genuine conceptual contents of these transcendental limiting ideas do not transcend the modal dimension of our temporal horizon of experience. The same applies to the theological limiting concepts relating to the so-called attributes of God. 

In The Defense of the Faith you deal with these attributes within the traditional framework of a metaphysical theory of being. They are, you say, not to be thought of otherwise than as aspects of the one simple original being; whereas in fact, they are taken from the modal dimension of our temporal horizon of experience and existence in its central relation to God as its absolute Origin. But since they are ascribed to God, such as he has revealed himself to man in Holy Scripture, i.e., within the human horizon of experience and existence, they are to be understood only in the analogical sense of belief as analogies of faith (analogiae fidei) whose material content is exclusively determined by God’s Word-revelation. For, in their sense-proper, the modal aspects of our temporal horizon cannot be ascribed to God’s being as its properties, since they are of a creaturely character. But the analogies of belief, insofar as they relate to God’s self-revelation, are preëminently fit to give expression both to God’s presence in the temporal world and to his absolute transcendence; to his presence, since they imply the whole temporal order of the modal aspects; to his transcendence, since they refer to God’s absoluteness, which transcends every creaturely determination. 

In any case, they cannot be given a metaphysical interpretation as if they would be determinations of God’s absolute being, for they too belong to the modal dimension of the human horizon of experience. Because they refer to God’s absoluteness, they are unbreakably bound to the central religious dimension of this horizon. For it is only in the religious center of his consciousness that man is confronted with the absolute, so that even the absolutizations in apostate philosophical views originate in the central religious impulse of the human heart, which has been led in an erroneous direction. Since the analogical moments in the modal structure of the different aspects of our experiential horizon are arranged in an unbreakable order and meaning-context, their meaning is bound to this context. As to the analogies of belief relating to what metaphysical theology called the “attributes of God’s being,” this implies that they should not be separately called absolute, or be identified with God’s absolute being. 

This is why I cannot agree with your statement that God’s being is exhaustively rational (Ibid., p. 309). My objections concern your whole view of God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture according to which it would contain a metaphysical theory of the divine being. It is true that it was not your intention to make deductions on the basis of one attribute by itself and that, in line with Calvin, you say that no knowledge of God’s nature is available to man except such as is voluntarily revealed to him by God. But by interpreting God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture in terms of a metaphysical theory of God’s being, you could not stick to this biblical standpoint. Nowhere can you find in the Bible support for your statement (Ibid., p. 309) that “logic and reality meet first of all in the mind and being of God,” so that God’s being would be “exhaustively rational.” We are, indeed, confronted here with a metaphysical absolutization of the logical analogy of belief in what the Bible reveals about God’s omniscience. [bolding by FMF.]

This appears from what you observe with respect to Leibniz’s distinction between truths of fact and truths of reason. According to you, the Reformed apologist should hold to the truths of fact presented in Scripture only because to him they are truths of reason. It is true that you yourself, as a creaturely human being, are not able to show “the exhaustive logical relationships between the facts of history and nature which are in debate as between believers and unbelievers in Christian theism,” but in the plan of God they function, you say, within an absolute system of logical relations which does not detract anything from their individuality. 

We should, however, realize what Leibniz meant by his distinction between truths of reason and truths of fact. The former are, according to him, those whose opposite is excluded by the logical principle of contradiction. The latter are those whose opposite is not impossible in a logical sense, because they are of a contingent, i.e., not necessary, character. This does, however, not mean that in Leibniz’s opinion the facts would happen by blind chance or that they would lack logical coherence. They happen according to God’s will and are subject to the logical principium rationis sufficientis, which in Leibniz’ logistic view embraces all kinds of causal relationships. 

Leibniz maintains the distinction between truths of fact and truths of reason even with respect to God’s mind: the former depend upon God’s will, the latter upon God’s reason. I am afraid that you have not realized that a theological reduction of the truths of fact to Leibniz’ truths of reason would make even the central facts of creation, fall into sin, and redemption a consequence of logical necessity in virtue of the principle of contradiction. This would result in an extreme logicistic view of “God’s world-plan” which would leave no room for the sovereign freedom of God’s will. For God’s will can, in your view only carry out the plan of God, not determine it. I am sure that in fact the author of The Defense of the Faith will never accept this consequence.
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In the above I have tried to answer the questions which you have asked me with respect to the transcendental critique. I could not do so without going into the background of the objections you have alleged against my standpoint. This has doubtless brought to light important differences between your view of a Christian philosophy and that of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea. At least if I have not misunderstood you on essential points, which might occur because, at times, your terminology is not always clear to me. In this case I shall be happy to be corrected by you, if you should wish to do so in your response.

Herman Dooyeweerd

(Excerpt from the chapter 'Herman Dooyeweerd: II. CORNELIUS VAN TIL AND THE TRANSCENDENTAL CRITIQUE OF THEORETICAL THOUGHT, in the book Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, Edited by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974, pp 81-84)
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See also
Dooyeweerd: Van Til & Starting-points