Monday, June 27, 2005

Refuting the Irrefutable

The mysterious and prolix blog commenter Aquascum has notified us of a couple of papers he's written in response to Vincent Cheung:

Check them out; they repay careful reading. Consider the irrefutable refuted.


  1. I'm confused, Xenophon. To whom is your counsel directed? Who has been "disrespectful or snarky or even nasty" towards Cheung?

    Perhaps someone should put in a word for not being arrogant and condescending, given this snippet of response from Mr Cheung:

    My method is biblical, and it is helping many believers to study and practice their faith with great assurance, as well as to decisively vindicate the faith when confronting unbelievers. It is not my fault if your own unbiblical methods and doctrines are so feeble that I managed to trample all over them even by accident (as if stepping on an ant while on a leisurely Sunday stroll with my wife), and utterly embarrassed you by destroying your school of thought before the whole world. Don’t get so worked up over me; I never meant to outdo you in apologetics without even trying. I am just minding my own business and teaching the Bible — it’s your own fault for being so weak and irrational.

    I, for one, am not the least bit impressed by Cheung's typical responses to respectful, well-informed criticisms of his idiosyncratic epistemology. Simply churning out variations on "My position is completely biblical and rational, therefore it is irrefutable, therefore you must be wrong and I don't need to respond directly to your objections," until the critic's eyes glaze over, does not make for intelligent and productive debate.

  2. Just read Cheung's non-response to (I assume) Aquascum's essay. I say the following sincerely, and not at all saracastically: It sure would've been nice had Cheung spent the time and effort he took to write his non-response to instead respond to at least one of Aquascum's points. Cheung's non-response probably could've been summed up in a couple of sentences, or a paragraph at most, and he could've spent the remainder of the post attempting to interact with Aquascum. Pity.

  3. To begin with, Cheung sets the bar very high for himself. He regards his epistemology has nothing short of “invincible” and “irrefutable.” It’s the epitome of “rigorous rationality.”

    Now, there’s nothing the least bit disrespectful about holding a man to his own standards. That is just a case of taking him seriously, taking him at his own word.

    Since Cheung has such a lofty opinion of his intellectual rigor, he should welcome rational scrutiny. And the fact that when someone actually takes him up on his challenge, he refuses to step up to the plate, but resorts, instead, to personal abuse, is very revealing.

    An assertion is not an argument. A denial is not a disproof.

    Why would I go after a fellow Calvinist? Why would I host a guest editorial on Cheung? For several reasons:

    1.I was asked to comment on Cheung. So I did. And, in the nature of the case, once you get started, these things have a way of snowballing.

    2.Cheung is unwittingly positioning his followers for the fall. If they think that his epistemology is an “irrefutable” answer to the best that the unbelieving world has to array against the Christian faith, then they are living in a hall of mirrors. If they were to try his arguments out on a philosophy major, they’d run out of ammo in a hurry and be left utterly defenseless.

    Cheung’s epistemology is one of those artificial, antibody challenged, test-tube concoctions that can’t survive for long outside its germ-free laboratory in direct contact with the inhospitable elements of a real world opponent.

    3.Cheung means well, but well-meaning men can do a kind of harm that ill-meaning men cannot. Once you get a reputation for being a conservative, a lot of Christians drop their guard. Many Christians judge them by their conservative tone, not their conservative content.

    4.Because I’m a Calvinist, I take a particular interest in the health and welfare of Calvinism. We need to police our own. We need to keep our own house in order. We need to do what we can so that Calvinism is not misrepresented as something it is not, never was, and never should be.

    5.Clark and his epigones have an unscriptural epistemology. This leads, in turn, to an unscriptural doctrine of Scripture itself. And that leads, in turn, to other unscriptural doctrines. The fact that this is emanating from within Reformed circles makes it worse, not better.

    6.This also results in shaming fellow believers who simply and trustingly take the Bible at face-value. That behavior is wholly unacceptable.

  4. Check it out. What if I have a life?

  5. Hi Xenophon,

    You wrote:

    From the beginning before Cheung ever responding on his blog aquascum was writing things like: "And if you want an even bigger laugh, look at this that I just read in one of Cheung's books! Er...ok, right..."

    Please don't misrepresent me. I wrote exactly *one* comment on this blog, in which I held Cheung's views up to *mild* ridicule. The link to it is here:

    ...and here it is, copied out in its entirety:

    OK, this link is hilarious, and speaks for itself:

    Quick, someone email Craig that the definitive refutation of his views is on-line! ;-)

    Molinism is a *heresy*; uh, sure, if you say so ;-)

    What Cheung writes in that entry linked above is foolish and stupid. It is foolish to publicly brand a man a heretic without so much as bothering to give *any* supporting argument whatsoever. It is stupid to do so, because you undermine the trust people have in you that you will give meaningful evaluations of people's ideas when you are specifically asked to do so.

    Foolish and stupid comments *deserve* ridicule from time to time. Indeed, *Cheung himself* agrees with me that sarcasm and irony are entirely appropriate for the Christian. If you want, I can point you to several places in his pdf documents where he argues this, and recommends Doug Wilson's _A Serrated Edge_ to his readers.

    Beyond this brief comment, there simply is no tradition of me ridiculing Cheung in any forum. And if you look at the extended Response that Hays linked to yesterday, you'll see that it is completely free of any sarcasm or ridicule whatsoever. That was quite intentional on my part.

  6. Hays wrote:

    2.Cheung is unwittingly positioning his followers for the fall. If they think that his epistemology is an “irrefutable” answer to the best that the unbelieving world has to array against the Christian faith, then they are living in a hall of mirrors. If they were to try his arguments out on a philosophy major, they’d run out of ammo in a hurry and be left utterly defenseless.

    I couldn't agree with you more. The above is one of the major motivations I had in writing the critique. I didn't write it to persuade Cheung, or to goad a reply out of him. As I make plain in the opening paragraphs, I wrote it primarily for my fellow Christians who might be considering Cheung's apologetic approach. He really *is* setting up his readers for a fall, because any reasonably reflective unbeliever can refute Scripturalism fairly easily. The claims of Scripturalism are neither contained in Scripture nor validly deducible from Scripture, and therefore any Scripturalist has a good reason for rejecting Scripturalism.

    BTW, there is an exchange, of sorts, between Gordon Clark and George Mavrodes on the Trinity Foundation website, about Scripturalism. Unfortunately, Mavrodes doesn't make the self-referential incoherence issue front and center. (Plantinga would do that for classical foundationalism, about fifteen years later.) Essentially, many critiques of Scripturalism and its attendant doctrines don't pay close attention to the self-referential incoherence issue, and that's why it looms large in my critique.

  7. Xenophon,

    OK, thanks. From what I can tell, there's little difference between Cheung and Clark when it comes to apologetics or theology. For Reformed contrasts to Clark and/or Cheung, you'll find it in various materials by Frame, Bahnsen, and Ronald Nash. For more general contrasts in terms of epistemology, you'll find it in the books Hays mentioned at the end of:

  8. Xeno:

    I'm wondering -- are you sure you didn't see this coming? Cheung has established himself as Pope of Scriptural epistemology and Metaphysics. You know how easy it is to refute Papal claims of inerrancy -- why don't we see that when Cheung makes claims which are disturbingly-similar in content (if not in tone) to Papal claim, aquascum and Steve have no problem simply bursting his bubble?

    As for being snarky, that's my job. I'm not convinced that aquascum has enough snark in him to be called "snarky".

  9. centuri0n said:

    I'm not convinced that aquascum has enough snark in him to be called "snarky".

    We have at least seven definitions to choose from:

    Also helpful is the following:


  10. If you are familiar with how cults handle their critics, this post
    from Cheung will rings some bells:

    Taking Time to Refute Cheung, by Vincent Cheung (posted 5/27/05).

    I'm not calling Cheung a cult. Please don't misunderstand my comment.

  11. Xeno said:

    He does, though, project a persona, intentionally or not, of a person who you kind of (how do I put this?) don't want to 'harm his sense of honor'. Like, he's of a different culture or something and he's got a different sense of self and honor, and you just want to not upset that while at the same time you are thinking that is great that he's a Calvinist to begin with. That is condescending-sounding, but that is just the impression he projects from that website (from the website anyway).

    And my "hog-wash-o-meter" broke trying to measure the size of the hog you here are trying to wash. "a person who you kind of don't want to 'harm his sense of honor'"? You might have said he's hypersensitive and uses that to bully those who offer him criticism -- it would have represented what I have read at Cheung's site at least as well as what you said here.

    "That is condescending-sounding, but that is just the impression he projects from that website." It is condescending-sounding because it is actually condescending.

    for aquascum:

    You're right -- you prolly fit at least one of those definitions of "snarky". Do I take back my lite-weight defense of your character or let it ride? :-)

  12. In his latest blog entry:

    ...Cheung makes a veiled reference to my recent critique:

    "Some people have failed to note this distinction in my writings (or mistakenly think that *I have failed* to make this distinction in my writings), so that they falsely accused me of being incoherent on this point (that is, as if I deny intuition and then appeal to it anyway). Rather, in my system of theology and apologetics, (if not for the fact that Scripture teaches it) we can throw out man's innate knowledge altogether and it will remain essentially unaffected (although some practical adjustments will be needed), since it does not depend on man's innate knowledge."

    As far as I can tell, no one on the Internet has made this claim about Cheung, except me :-) The notion that:

    [1] Cheung is incoherent because he denies the authority of intuition and then appeals to it anyway

    ... is argued at length in section 2 of my Response.

    Whether or not Cheung is actually referring to me here, it is quite easy to point out that what he posts in the blog entry above goes no distance in responding to my arguments. Sure, Cheung can *claim* that he doesn't "appeal" to intuition as a means of justifying his apologetic system. He can *claim* that his "system of theology and apologetics... does not depend on man's innate knowledge" (such as various intuitions). The problem is that Cheung cannot *make good* on those claims.

    As I argue in my Response, Cheung avails himself of intuition again and again, in defining, articulating, and applying his apologetic system. We can see this in several ways.

    First, the very definition of Scripturalism is an appeal to intuition. According to Cheung, knowledge consists of "only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture." Unfortunately, the notion that valid deduction is a knowledge-preserving and knowledge-extending form of inference is a notion that is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from Scripture. I'm sure Cheung firmly *believes* that valid deduction has this relation to knowledge. Indeed, I think Cheung is *correct* in this belief. It's just that *Scripturalism* doesn't license this belief for him. Rather, its best (and I would say only) defense is intuition. Again, Cheung is free to disagree here, but we'd need to see the arguments. Why does Cheung believe that valid deduction preserves and extends knowledge, if this claim is not so much as taught in or validly deducible from Scripture? So, unfortunately, Cheung's "system of theology and apologetics" *does* "depend on man's innate knowledge." Cheung is relying on innate knowledge about the authority of deduction, and its relation to knowledge, in the very construction of that system.

    Second, in section 2.3 of my Response, I document several cases where Cheung relies on intuition. He relies on intuition to define (1) the extent of our innate knowledge, (2) the law of non-contradiction, and (3) the requirements for a first principle of a worldview. (He also relies on inductive considerations in order to show how the Christian worldview 'solves' various philosophical and ethical challenges.)

    Third, in section 3 of my Response, I document Cheung's commitment to a couple of non-revelational constraints on knowledge: infallibilism and internalism. Cheung repeatedly applies these constraints as a means of ruling out the authority of intuition and induction, apparently unaware that these constraints are *themselves* intuitions about knowledge upon which he relies. They are certainly not propositions of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Ironically, Cheung employs intuition as means of rejecting the authority of intuition.

    I conclude, then, that Cheung's recent claim that "some people have... falsely accused me of being incoherent on this point" is just that, a claim. Why Cheung takes the time to maintain this claim, while declining to respond to the specific arguments recently given to him in support of [1], is anyone's guess.

  13. Cheung's latest entry: interesting because it can be employed in a good defense of natural theology :-)

    After all, according to Cheung, man innately *knows* propositions about God. Given Scripturalism, all knowledge is of propositions contained in Scripture or what is validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Therefore, man's innate knowledge of God, since it is *knowledge*, falls into one or the other of those two categories.

    But then, according to Cheung's initial definition of knowledge, whatever is validly deducible from that innate knowledge is itself knowledge. What this means is that we can gain further knowledge of God by means of, at the very least, valid deduction from our innate knowledge of God. This is natural theology.

    The conundrum for Cheung is that, by defining knowledge in Scripturalist fashion, *all knowledge is of equal authority*, whether it is explicitly derived from Scripture or known innately. As long as, in the end, it is either knowledge of Scriptural propositions or of propositions validly deducible from Scriptural propositions, it qualifies as genuine knowledge. So why *can't* we deductively build a system of theology from our innate knowledge of God (contra Cheung's blog entry above)? According to Scripturalism, it would still be knowledge, and just as much knowledge as any other form of knowledge.

    Yes, Cheung *claims* that "there is insufficient content, clarity, and objectivity" in "our innate knowledge of God" for it to "be the first principle of the biblical worldview." But how does he know this? Is *that* claim (about the nature of our innate knowledge, and its relation to worldviews) a proposition of Scripture or validly deducible from propositions of Scripture? I'm afraid not. So Cheung can only avoid a total rationalism about building a system of theology (in which there is no explicit reference to special revelation), by embracing non-revelational intuitions about the nature of our innate knowledge. That is, he must reject his Scripturalism.

  14. Hello -

    I'd just like to say something that I fear may get lost in the flurry of posts here.

    First as a matter of pointing out my bias, I have been an avid reader of Vincent Cheung beginning this year, and thus far I am in full agreement with him in terms of what he's written (that I've read). I'm not going to defend him (I'd probably do a shoddy job of it) and I thank you aquascum for writing those essays and forcing me to rethink what I believe (and I have been, but I don't quite have the time currently for a lot of thinking =/).

    But the point I'd like to make is that even if you hate Vincent Cheung for his apologic writings, he's made the point before that the primary purpose of his ministry is to teach and equipt Christians by expositing God's Word.

    I do feel like even if you completely disregard all apologetic works that you disagree with (and it seems like the only one would be Ultimate Questions), the other 17 books (including Presuppositional Confrontations and Apologetics in Conversation, for they can be read from a perspective of someone who is more in line with Van Til's method) are still extremely valuable. As far as I can tell, he has a brilliant mind when it comes to setting the faith on a firm foundation.

    In short: Even if you disagree with him regarding his apologetic method, you should read his other books. Since most of the questions he gets (and responds to on his blog) are from a Christian apologetics point, it looks like his ministry is primarily in apologetics, but for me his books have been refreshing, convicting, and very precise and easy to read. I would encourage you all to read through them.

  15. mxu wrote:

    "...even if you hate Vincent Cheung for his apologic writings."

    Just for the record, I don't subscribe to the above, of course. As I made plain in the opening paragraph of my Response, I welcome Cheung as a brother in Christ, and I rejoice in the commonality of our faith.

    "I do feel like even if you completely disregard all apologetic works that you disagree with (and it seems like the only one would be Ultimate Questions)..."

    Again, just for the record, in my Response I document my claims, not only with reference to "Ultimate Questions," but also with reference to "Systematic Theology," "Presuppositional Confrontations," "Apologetics in Conversation," and "The Light of Our Minds" (as well as various blog entries). I disagree with significant theses he presents in all of those works. All you have to do is search on those titles in my Response, and you will find specific page and even paragraph references. I've "focused" on UQ in the sense that most of my *quotes* are from that work (after all, Cheung advertises it as his "system of apologetics"), but I've read through all of these other works, believe it or not, and at times quote them as well.

    "As far as I can tell, he has a brilliant mind when it comes to setting the faith on a firm foundation."

    What would that foundation be? Scripture? Or Scripturalism? :-)

  16. As to Cheung and the exposition of God's word, Christians should not be dependent on the Internet for Biblical exposition. As of now, there's no substitute for investing real money in a good set of commentaries. In the future, more of these may be available online, but at present you have to crack the books, literally, for sustained, quality exegesis of the Bible.

  17. Xeno said:
    "aquascum may be from the U.K. At least that webpage seems to be space provided to customers of a U.K. broadband provider...

    Of course he could be an American in Britain.

    I detect a Windsor location in his polemical style..."

    At the risk of blowing his cover, if I'm the last surviving member of the Illuminati, Aquascum happens to be the last surviving member of the Numenati--an ever more secretive secret society. Like me, he must maintain a low profile to avoid pistol-packing agents of Opus Dei!

  18. As to Cheung and the exposition of God's word, Christians should not be dependent on the Internet for Biblical exposition. As of now, there's no substitute for investing real money in a good set of commentaries. In the future, more of these may be available online, but at present you have to crack the books, literally, for sustained, quality exegesis of the Bible.

    Speaking of commentaries, could you recommend a couple of good ones from the Reformed perspective? Matthew Henry is probably the best known -- at least to common folks like me. Are there other commentaries on the entire Bible that you'd recommend? Sorry, I don't know too much about commentaries...

  19. As you'd expect from a Puritan, Henry is great for practical theology, but it's not a great way of finding out what the Bible means. Calvin's series is also worth reading, but shows its age in terms of recovering the original meaning of the text.

    The NT series of Hendricksen/Kistemaker is written in the Dutch-Reformed tradition. Sane, theologically sound and conservative on critical issues.

    There are, however, better commentaries on any particular book of the Bible.

    As of yet we don't have really good Reformed commentaries on every book of the Bible. Here's what we do have:


    Aalders. Dutch Reformed. Good for it's time, but somewhat overtakne by the recent competion.

    Currid. He's doing a whole series on the Pentateuch. Has completed Gen through Lev. Great scholar. A bit thin on theology.

    Waltke. Best all around commentary, but beware of his comparative mythology. Also, he regards the genealogical genre as subject to error.


    Currid (see above).

    Enns. Better on thematic and theological analysis than Currid, but squishy on Mosaic authorship.

    Gispen. Dutch-Reformed. Good, but showing its age.


    Currid (see above).


    Ribberbos. Okay commentary. Not outstanding. Wait for Block.










    Longman. I guess he's still a Calvinist, but this is basically a liberal commentary. He's also done one on Song of Solomon.


    Ridderbos (see above)

    Young. Great piece of scholarship. But Motyer is better on theology.




    Longman. Squishy on date/authorship.

    Young. Great scholarship. A bit thin on theology.


    Three vol. series ed. by McComiskey. Almost all contributors are Reformed and fine scholars.


    Carson. He's into New Covenant Theology :-(


    Lane. Was still a Calvinist when he wrote this. Later left the reservation (Hebrews).




    Hoeksema. Sermon series.

    Murray. Stiff style, but best overall for theology.

    Schreiner. More readable and up-to-date than Murray. Doesn't quite get it right on justification, something he corrects for in his Pauline theology volume.


    Hughes. Frankly, there are better commentaries on this epistle (e.g., Barnett, Garland, Harris).


    Ryken. Boice's successor at 10th Pres.

    Silva is also working on a commentary on Galatians.


    Silva. Buy the new 2nd. ed.




    Knight. But Mounce is better.


    Nothing from a doctinaire Reformed standpoint, although Bruce construes the apostasy passages consistent with perseverance.

    Carson is working on a commentary on Hebrews.

    1-2 PETER/JUDE



    Beale. Definitive, but not for beginners.

    Poythress. Great introductory commentary.

    There are also some fine commentaries by Evangelicals and fundamentalists. See my commentary section on "Ready any good books, lately?"

  20. Cool thanks Steve! That's a really good idea to use a bunch of commentaries from different people. I wasn't thinking along those lines. Thanks. :-)

    Also, a quick follow-up: what do you think of Moo's commentary on Romans? Monergism Books highly recommends it. And I've seen it crop up on a few other places from time to time.

  21. Moo's commentary would not be my first pick. The first three I'd reach for are:

    1. Cranfied, for exegesis of the Greek text and the vetting of exegetical options. But beware of his Barthian theology (on display in chaps. 5, 9-11).

    2. Fitzmyer. Catholic, but excellent for philology and historical/OT background. Even admits that Paul does, indeed, teach sola fide!

    3. Schreiner. Best for theology, including interaction with the new perspective, and good vetting of exegetical options.

  22. Cool, thanks again so very much Steve! You sure do reply real fast. :-) Thanks again.

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