Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Intramural debate

streetapologist said:

“I am kind of surprised that so much time is being spent refuting Vincent Cheung. It seems to me that much of this is intramural.

I don't believe that you are asserting that Cheung is an unbeliever, nor are you calling into question his commitment to defend the faith (in spite of your differences with his philosophy) in other words is all of this really necessary? Perhaps we should remember Paul's words in Ephesians 4:1-15.

Further, I believe that if occasionalism is false then along with the list of those who are wrong should include Jonathan Edwards, Gordon Clark, and Malebranche. Perhaps Occasionalism is incorrect, perhaps Cheung's entire system of apologetics is fatally flawed, how do we restore this brother? If his system of apologetics (or any of his resources)have merit do we not owe it to the Christian community to show him grace?

Sometimes in winning a battle we lose the war. I am certainly not taking issue with the scholarship on either side, rather asking sincerely whether the refutation-counter refutation within the reformed family is really furthering the cause of Christ?”

This raises a fair question. Although it was directed at Manata, it’s obviously relevant to my own writing on the subject, as well as others (e.g., Sudduth, Aquascum).

In reply:

i) This is, indeed, an intramural debate.

ii) It is also true that we need to exercise discretion in what battles we choose to fight, even if we’re on the winning side.

iii) To me, the fact that Cheung or Robbins or Gerety may be fellow believers is irrelevant.

I don’t doubt that John and Charles Wesley were true believers. But that doesn’t immunize their theology from intramural criticism.

I don’t doubt that Billy Graham is a true believer. But that doesn’t immunize his theology from intramural criticism.

There were certain members of the church of Jerusalem who took the position that a Gentile had to become a proselyte, observing the ceremonial law, in order to be incorporated into the New Covenant. In fact, St. Peter was once of that opinion until God corrected him (Acts 10).

So it’s possible to stake out that theologically erroneous position, and still be a true believer.

Yet this didn’t prevent St. Paul from publicly attacking that position.

iv) My problem is not that Cheung isn’t one of our own, but that, to the contrary, he is.

If Cheung were an open theist, it would be fine with me if he took outlandish positions which brought his open theism into disrepute.

My problem is when Scripturalism is associated with Calvinism, for, to that extent, it does a disservice to the cause of Calvinism.

v) Inductive logic has been a long time in the making, from Pascal, Bayes, Boole, Laplace, and Mill through Hempel, Keynes, Carnap, and von Neumann to contemporary exponents and proponents like Putnam, Salmon, Swinburne, van Fraassen, and others.

For Cheung, Robbins, and Gerety to dismiss this highly sophisticated branch of logic with a single-word (“fallacious”) in the name of Calvinism is intellectually contemptible and discreditable to the cause of Reformed theology.

v) Yes, Cheung advertises himself as a Christian apologist.

In the nature of the case, apologetics must leave itself open to rational scrutiny. Apologetics can hardly be immune to rational scrutiny when its raison d’etre is to make a reasoned case for the faith.

vi) Let us remind ourselves of what Cheung’s epistemology amounts to:

“Now, empirical investigations cannot teach man what he does not already know, [fn. 25] but only the divine logos can convey information to man’s mind, in addition to the innate knowledge he possesses. However, although it is impossible to gain any knowledge by empirical means, man’s observation of nature can remind him about what he already knows about God. Therefore, observation of the universe does not add information to man’s mind; rather, it provides the occasion for one or both of two things to occur. First, observation stimulates the mind to recall what God has already placed into it. Second, observation stimulates the mind to intuit what the logos immediately conveys to it on the occasion of the observation, often about what the person is observing. In both cases, no information comes from the act of observation itself.”

i) Cheung’s occasionalism is radically at odds with the Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura).

There are literally hundreds of imperatives in scripture commanding the reader to “hear” or “give ear” to the word of the Lord.

This assumes that our sensory organs were indeed designed by God to gain outside information and add to our overall knowledge of God. The audience for Scripture is quite literally an “audience.” They are to learn the will of God by listening to the spoken word or reading the written word.

That is, at the very least, the prima facie assumption lying behind these imperatives. And given that Scripturalism supposedly confines all knowledge to propositions deducible from Scripture, the onus is squarely on the Clarkian to reinterpret these verses consistent with occasionalism—assuming that occasionalism is, of itself, deducible from Scripture, which it is not.

ii) Even if a Clarkian could overcome this initial presumption, he can only do so at the expense of Scripture:

a) His hermeneutical approach is no better than Mary Baker Eddy. He explains away hundreds of Bible verses by imposing on Scripture an extraneous interpretive grid. They are not to be taken at face value. Rather, they are to be reinterpreted consistent with rationalism due to a purely philosophical critique of sense knowledge.

They also disregard empiricist critiques of rationalism.

b) To reduce human knowledge to either innate knowledge or intuition renders the Bible superfluous. It substitutes general revelation for special revelation.

Needless to say, this is not deducible from Scripture itself.

Ironically, scripturalism is an unscriptural violation of sola Scriptura, and that’s one battle which is well worth fighting for.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments Steve. As I told Paul, I better understand the issues involved.