Friday, March 22, 2013

Van Til "The Defense of the Faith" Chapter 2

This is the second post on Van Til's work "The Defense of the Faith." My analysis of the first chapter is here.

Again, I am reviewing it chapter by chapter as a way of digesting the book. It is not thick, but Van Til is an important thinker in reformed theology. I'm also coming at it from the perspective of a philosopher who wants to be a help to today's reformed theologians. So I won't be making comments on all parts of the book but rather limit what I say to where I think I can help clarify ideas and definitions and correct problems. 

Before we Talk about Reality, the Method
Van Til is doing philosophy from a reformed theological standpoint. That is really important to understand before we get into anything. He is trying to make everything he believes about philosophy to be informed by the Bible. This is his method. In philosophy, your method will determine what you say about ultimate reality, how we know, if we can know, do we know, what is beauty, what is justice, what is goodness and if there is a God. 

God is Reality and the Universe is Reality 
So Van Til responds to that last question by saying yes, God exists. Furthermore, God is reality. He says that we must be careful to make a distinction about the term reality. God, who is reality, is self-sufficient and is distinct from His universe. This distinction is very important since it triggers important stances in ethics, psychology and my favorite epistemology. 

A Side Note 
Van Til says this "Most philosophers have not been Christians." He says this comment in the context of explaining why it is improtant to take theological language and redress it with philosophical terms. This is a small point, but yeah I disagree with this comment. Let's begin with a list of orthodox* Christian philosophers: 
  1. Boethius 
  2. Augustine 
  3. Thomas Aquinas
  4. Anselm
  5. George Berkeley 
  6. Kierkegaard 
  7. Melebranche 
  8. Pascal 
*Orthodox defined as one who holds beliefs put forth by the historic creeds 

Ok, moving on.

The Problem of the One and Many 
In this chapter, Van Til attempts to work through the problem of the one and the many. He briefly outlines the problem. "The philosophers have sought for a unified outlook on human experience. Philosophers have sought for as comprehensive a picture of the nature of reality as a whole as man is able to attain. But the universe is composed of many things. Man's problem is to find unity in the midst of the plurality of things." I like how Heraclitus put it, when you put your foot in a river and take it out again, is it the same river the second time you put your foot in? 

This problem has plagued humanity since we started trying to categorize things. (Yes, it is why I struggle to keep my room clean. I have one room and many things and don't know how they ought to be unified together.)

Various philosophers have tried putting forwards answers. Some have said there is no unity, just diversity. Heraclitus said everything is in constant flux. Plato argued that somewhere out there there are a set of forms on which all things are based. Kant said we can't know reality in itself, hence don't worry about solving this problem. You can take your pick, and Van Til puts his on the list.

Another Distinction 
Quick to separate himself from the philosophers, Van Til makes a distinction between "the eternal One and Many" and the "temporal one and many." This important since the former is the trinity, residing in complete unity. On the other hand, God is also equally diverse. Neither the Father, Son or Holy Spirit are fundamental. "The Son and the Spirit are ontologically on a par with the Father."

The Temporal One and Many Concrete Universals 
With this distinction between the eternal one and many and the temporal one and many, Van Til focuses on the temporal one and many. The realm of temporal one and many (this world we created beings reside in) has equality among each other. There are no created ideas/facts that are more ontologically basic then others. The reason being, all are equally derived and equally dependent upon God. On the other hand, their relation to each other is one of a hierarchy. Certain laws like man's purpose is "higher" then the mechanical laws of this universe. These different laws are mutually dependent on each other. Though, Van Til doesn't explain how.

Why I Disagree with Van Til 
Honestly, Van Til doesn't solve the problem of the one and the many. I'm still confused on how having a trinity solves it. I think Van Til simply pushes the problem back to a horny dilemma of how can God be one and three? In fact, trying to use the trinity to solve a philosophical problem (the former being of faith and the latter of reason) opens a nasty can of worms for theologians. I admire Van Til for wanting to be theological in his philosophy, but I fail to see how he solves this philosophical problem. Rather, I think he makes it worse for theologians.

Faith and Reason - an Important Distinction to Hold 
Because he has brought a concept that is known by faith into the realm of reason, we now have muddled an important distinction between two forms of knowledge. Knowledge by faith and knowledge by reason. We know the problem of the one and many through reason. We know the existence of the trinity through faith. If you muddle this distinction you start going down the path of the late scholastics and later our friend Descartes. We've been there, let's not go back.

note: I'm not saying I'm against "faith seeking understanding" since understanding is different then reason. 

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