Natural Law and Self-Deception

So it looks to me as though we are going to have a full bore discussion of natural law. This is fine, and about time. I do think that there are some genuine differences here, obviously, but perhaps not as many as advertised. Some of this seems to me to be a debate between advocates of natural knowing, on the one hand, and natural understanding on the other.

If you look in the comments on the previous “5K in your pocket” post, you will see a link to Andrew Fulford’s article on certain tensions in Van Til’s position, along with some comments on it. Here is that link again.

But if you will allow me to complicate things a little bit — for is that not my spiritual gift? — I would point out one other implication of any expression like natural law. If there is a law, then there is a lawgiver, as I have already said. But if there is a natural law, then there is also a body of persons to whom the legislation applies. If there is law in Idaho, there is a legislature. But there must also be Idahoans, who are subject to the law.

This means that we must consider the epistemology of those who are under natural law, and there are two aspects of this that have been noted frequently. One is that these knowers are creatures, and the other is that they are sinners. The tension that arises out of this is, I believe, part of what Fulford is pointing to in his article.

But there is another thing. As created, sinful knowers, we are (in addition) also complex in our knowing. Our knowledge of whatever it is does not just sit in our brain, like a solitary marble in a box. We have conflicts and tensions and contradictions in our knowing. In other words, I think that some believe that there are tensions in Van Til’s position when actually the tensions are in the heart of the sinner.

Think about the realities of self-deception. Self-deception occurs when you decide to tell a lie to yourself, and you successfully pull it off, and you are to blamed for having successfully lied, and are not exonerated for having believed it — because you actually knew what you came to not know. It really is deception, and you really are the liar and you really are the lied to.

The Bible points to this reality in multiple places:

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Cor. 3:18).

“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Jas. 1:26).

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Now, when we ask if a man knows the truth about God, we must answer yes and no. He knows it and he does not know it. He holds it under the water, but he has to hold it in his hands in order to hold it under water. He lies and he believes the lie. What about human psychology makes this possible? Hard to say, but this is something that all of us observe all the time. We see it easily enough in others.

This is the ultimate question, one that will come up at the Day of Judgment. What did mankind know, and when did we know it? The answer is that we knew the entire truth the entire time, and we did not know anything because we were blind to the truth. This is not a tension in Van Til only — it is a tension in Scripture. But this is only because Scripture shines a light on the tangles of the human heart.

“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom. 1:19).

“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ” (2 Cor. 3:14).

And the only thing that can remove this tension is the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified — resulting in the regeneration that Van Til saw as so necessary.

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18 thoughts on “Natural Law and Self-Deception

  1. At the risk of coming off as a mere flatterer …
    Pastor Wilson, far from complicating things, you have instead brought refreshing expositional clarity to bear on an often perplexing issue. 

  2. And that’s why members of the Party were so corrupt. They embraced doublethink as good, which in itself requires an extraordinary level of self-deception. 
    The fact that we “knew the truth the entire time, and we did not know anything because we were blind to the truth” is a testament to the necessity of a giver of Light.

  3. Mr. Wilson: You may have already read it but Bahnsen wrote a piece on the Apologetic Implications of Self-Deception. I believe it was his PhD thesis. http://www.amazon.com/Apologetic-Implications-Self-Deception-Greg-Bahnsen-ebook/dp/B004QOB7UI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389658025&sr=8-1&keywords=bahnsen+self+deception

  4. I read the article. I think that Andrew makes the mistake that is common amongst some readers of Van Til, which is to say, “Surely unbelievers can know *something* of God without knowing Him exactly.” Van Til admits in various places that unregenerate man can understand the Christian concept of God in a formal sense; it’s not like the word “God” is utterly unintelligible. But they don’t truly grasp it; if they truly grasped the concept of God in Scripture, they’d believe in Him, because they would then truly know they are sinners, and then repent. As for unbelievers knowing a fact without knowing it truly, I think Van Til makes that clear as well. If someone knows *any* fact truly, then he knows it’s a fact in God’s universe. If He doesn’t recognize it as a God interpreted and God created fact, then he doesn’t have true knowledge of that fact, despite knowing a great deal about that fact in other respects.

  5. It seems to me that post-Christian societies are more evil (more intentionally destructive and self destructive) than pre-Christian pagan societies. I suppose that this would make sense for many reasons but among them would be greater supression of truth, bigger lies told to the self, more congitive dissonance on a societal level working itself out in bizarre ways.

  6. Is there a name for what Seth B. describes here:
     


     

    “But they don’t truly grasp it; if they truly grasped the concept of God in Scripture, they’d believe in Him, because they would then truly know they are sinners, and then repent. As for unbelievers knowing a fact without knowing it truly, I think Van Til makes that clear as well. If someone knows *any* fact truly, then he knows it’s a fact in God’s universe. If He doesn’t recognize it as a God interpreted and God created fact, then he doesn’t have true knowledge of that fact, despite knowing a great deal about that fact in other respects.”
     
     


     

    I am sure we have all had the experience of studying a thing intently, assuming we know it, then find ourselves stuck on a problem only to have it pointed out that what we had studied so intently is the solution, and we realize what we thought we “knew” we in fact did not know at all.
     


     

    Maybe that is what is in play in what Seth specifies. If so, then mere argument/apologetics is not enought–something else must happen. Defining that ‘something else’ may be useful.

  7. Eric,
     
    It happens in secular areas as well. I bring it up because I recently experienced it first-hand (again). Something I had read 10 times, diagrammed, studied and  written notes on  was no where to be found when I saw it in real life. Perhaps the word is ‘stupidity’ as I am a slow learner, but I have seen the same thing in my students as well. I use terms like, ‘the ‘Aha! moment’ or ‘the light bulb goes off’. I am curious if there is a better term for that experience. Also, can we facilitate it when explaining our faith to others?

  8. Eric,
     
    Take the late Christopher Hitchens as an example. I really admired that he could state the gospel correctly even though he was an athiest. So, in one sense he understood it. Maybe the way to state the difference is it is one thing to know the idea and another thing to know the Person.  I will leave it to the better minds on the board to put it eloquently and succinctly.
     

  9. So kind of like: “Nick, not only do you not get it, you can’t even see it, and you have an Education Doctorate…Nick, all of you must be born again…the fact that you are surprised at this is even against you…”

  10. I think the idea of paradigm shift is key.  We’re dealing iwth differing paradigms.  If we revert to natural law, it’s a watered down, neutral territory that confuses as much as it clarifies.  People are really stuck in their paradigms and it’s difficult for them to switch, but that’s what’s really needed.

  11. Excellent post.
    It’s been my observation that Van Til’s has been somewhat ignored and dismissed by some of the younger theologians our reformed circle.  Also, the FV controversy stole the show for some time.
    These debates over Natural Theology are good, and I’m looking forward to them. I hope they lead to a resurgence in Van Tilian thought.  These millennials could use a heavy dose.
     
     

  12. We make distinctions in an attempt to to speak intelligibly about mysteries- ‘general’ and ‘special’ revelation, ‘intellectual’ and ‘moral’ knowledge.
    I wonder about the practical import of the discussion at hand.  Maybe it is of some consequence in the realm of political theology?  It seems obvious the issue somehow affects our ethic, but it is not entirely evident what exactly is at issue.
    If the brothers at Calvinist International want to take the dialogue in a helpful direction, I would suggest they interact with that which was proffered as an antidote to their musings.  They could critique Dr. Leithart’s trifecta of ‘Natural Law: A Reformed Critique’, ‘Did Plato Read Moses?: Middle Grace and Moral Consensus’, and ‘The Stifled Heart: Stoicism and its Influence on Christian Piety’.
    Also, if I may, I’d like to suggest that they attempt to gear further discussion more toward a popular audience.  I hear good things about some of the contributors at CI, and some of their writing, particularly on 2K, has been a help to me, but sometimes they have an air of sophistication to one unrehearsed in scholarly discourse.  This isn’t the academy, it’s where the rubber meets the road.

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