Saturday, July 17, 2010

Idealism and Van Tilianism

Godismyjudge said...

Both idealism and the coherence theory of truth disconnect truth from reality. They confuse the ontological question of "why is this true?" with the epistemological question of "how do we know?" In the process they loose sight of the self-evident principle that cannot be rationally denied that consciousness observes reality.

Since I’m not an idealist, I could let this slide. However, the objection is so problematic, both on its own terms, and in relation to Van Til, that I’ll venture a few comments.

1.It’s odd that you’d classify idealism as a form of scepticism when idealists tend to be rationalists (e.g. Blanshard, Leibniz, McTaggart).

2.One needs to distinguish between epistemological idealism (e.g. Blanshard) and metaphysical idealism (e.g. Berkeley, McTaggart).

Likewise, Blanshard’s version had more to do with his views of causal necessity and the nature of perception than the mind-dependent nature of reality (a la Berkeley).

3.Although idealism and the coherence theory of truth often go together, they are not inseparable.

4.Since I’m not an idealist, I’m in partial agreement with you that idealism (a la Berkeley) disconnects truth from reality. At the same time, that’s how a non-idealist views idealism.

In the nature of the case, an idealist doesn’t view himself as disconnecting truth from reality. To the contrary, for him, the rational is the real, and vice versa.

One wouldn’t get very far with a sophisticated idealist like Gödel by saying that he disconnected truth from reality. For instance, Gödel once wrote a celebrated essay for Einstein’s festschrift in which he reasoned from the theory of relativity to the static theory of time. Likewise, quantum mechanics is often cited in support of idealism. In addition, there are scientists like David Bohm, and Rupert Sheldrake who incline to panpsychism because they think that’s where the empirical evidence leads. In a similar vein, David Chalmers and John Leslie are quite sympathetic to panpsychism.

That’s not my own interpretation of reality, but proponents sometimes draw attention to experience or phenomena which any comprehensive worldview must integrate one way or another.

Again, I don’t say this to defend idealism or panpsychism (which I reject). I’m just making the point that an idealist is aware of all the same phenomena that the opposing positions are aware of. He can square appearance with his understanding of reality. Indeed, he happens to think that his position has more explanatory power than the competition. And he’d say it’s the nonidealist who is guilty of dichotomizing truth and reality. You wouldn’t make much headway with an astute idealist like Timothy Sprigge by pointing to “reality”–as if his own theory is oblivious to reality.

5.While I don’t think the coherence theory of truth is a sufficient stand-alone theory of truth, I think the coherence theory of truth has its place in dualism. Just as the correspondence theory dovetails with concrete truths of fact, the coherence theory dovetails with abstract truths of reason. The correspondence theory works well enough for empirical data, but it’s unsuited to abstract objects like mathematical truths and logical relations.

It’s also the case that even physical reality begins in the mind–the mind of God. The material world has its origin in the idea of the material world. God’s exemplary concept. So idealism is true to some degree, even if it fails to capture the whole truth.

7.To say that “consciousness observes reality” is only “self-evident” if you take direct realism to be self-evident. Since direct realism is eminently disputable, you’ve overstated your case.

6.Gordon Clark was arguably closer to idealism than Van Til. Clark was a big fan of Blanshard. And the position of later Clark is hard to distinguish from pantheistic idealism.

By contrast, Van Til criticized Clark’s rejection of sense knowledge for failing to do justice to natural revelation. Van Til was a scientific realist, whereas Clark was a scientific antirealist.

7.When I ascribe a modified coherence theory of truth to Van Til, this is what I mean. Van Til had a position which was structurally similar to epistemological idealism in the following respect: he viewed truth in holistic terms.

And this is because, as a Calvinist, he regarded every event as a meaningful event. Every event had a purpose in the plan of God. There were no brute facts. No discrete, surd events. Each event was related to every other event, for God intended each event, and–what is more–he intended each event to contribute to a meaningful and fully-integrated totality, in a part/whole relation.

In that respect, it’s analogous to a system of internal relations. However, unlike some idealists (e.g. McTaggart), Van Til was not a necessitarian. He didn’t collapse truths of fact into truths of reason. Truths of fact were contingent truths, contingent on God’s decree. What is more, God freely decreed the world.


  1. "Both idealism and the coherence theory of truth disconnect truth from reality. They confuse the ontological question of "why is this true?" with the epistemological question of "how do we know?" In the process they loose sight of the self-evident principle that cannot be rationally denied that consciousness observes reality."

    How does an idealism like Berkeley's lose sight of that? Berkeley thought a point in favor of his idealism was precisely that you can be guaranteed that reality is as you perceive it to be, because there's nothing besides the objects of your perceptions.

  2. Yes, Berkeley's thesis is a global theory consistent with appearances. That doesn't make it true, of course, but the empirical evidence doesn't count against it, for it can accommodate the empirical evidence on its own terms.

  3. I don't know all about that. I do know all about this:

    Isa 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
    Isa 1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
    Isa 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
    Isa 1:19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
    Isa 1:20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

    That is some "real" idealism there.

    It is conjoined here:

    Php 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
    Php 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
    Php 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
    Php 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
    Php 3:21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    It is an idealistic view to believe you have a part in your salvation.

    It is very real to view Faith as His Gift to His Elect, Called and Chosen, so that by it, by His power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself, we can experience reason and sanctification and justification in Him!

    To Him be the Glory, now and of course, forevermore! :)

  4. Do you think that quantum mechanics points towards(metaphysical) idealism?

  5. There are many different interpretations of quantum mechanics. On the interpretation favored by Eugene Wigner and David Chalmers (assuming I understand their position), that might point towards idealism.

    But there are other interpretations (e.g. Bohmian, many-worlds) where I don't think that follows.

    1. Do you think someone could hold to idealism (Inspiringphilosophy: and be consistent with his biblical belief? Would you say that these are incompatible?

    2. Those are incompatible. If idealism is true, then physical death is an illusion, the Incarnation is an illusion, the Resurrection is an illusion, &c.

      If, moreover, God is timeless, and God is the source of what we imagine, then history is an illusion. No creation. No Exodus. No Parousia.

  6. I would agree with you but when bringing something like this up. My friend replies "Why are those things illusions? Just because the physical world is an emergent construct that doesn't mean those things did not happen. I think you are assuming all idealism must be subjective idealism. But I clearly am an objective idealist since I argued from science.".

    1. According to absolute idealism, there is no "physical world." At best, there's a dream-like simulation of a physical world. Physicality is an illusion. If, moreover, we are simply divine ideas, a psychological projection of God's timeless mind, then time is illusory, too. This is systematically contrary to Biblical creation, history, and eschatology.

  7. Happy resurrection day!

    Can you give me your review and explain where you find issues and how to approach a view like this?

  9. i) His objection that idealists can't state the "mechanism" that facilitates the cause/effect relation begs the question of whether a mechanism is necessary.

    That presumes a particular model of causality, where there must be some conduit to mediate the effect.

    Moreover, that is, at best, an objection to dualism, not idealism. In idealism, effects of thoughts are thoughts. The same kind of thing. You don't need something in-between to mediate the result. Thought directly produces thought.

    ii) His objection to thought producing the brain is confused. In idealism, there is no physical brain. The brain is just an idea.

    iii) His objection that idealism is unscientific because it's unfalsifiable is a red herring. That's only relevant if we subscribe to scientism, where all knowledge is reducible to scientific knowledge.

    iv) There are better objections to idealism.