University-Trained Mole Rats

Scripture teaches us that the creation is articulate. “The heavens declare his righteousness, And all the people see his glory. Confounded be all they that serve graven images, That boast themselves of idols: Worship him, all ye gods” (Ps. 97:6–7). The created order pours forth speech. Nature is not a dumb mute, vaguely gesturing in the direction of some nameless god, who must have made "all this." It is far more than that. The creation pours forth moral speech. In the text cited above we should note that the heavens declare God's righteousness, and does so in a way that makes it unmistakeable that this righteousness is glorious, and that it humiliates those who pray to their statues. An honest look at the night sky, in other words, not only blows away the pretended rationality of idolatry, but also the pretended morality of it. The heavens declare God's righteousness, and shames the unrighteousness of every alternative pretense. When we kick against such heavenly declarations, we do it by demanding to see the argument laid out cold on the table and neatly dissected. But who said it was merely an argument? There are arguments that can be extracted from the experience, and … [Read more...]

With Arms Quivering

When you say that our behavior is unnatural, we do not find your arguments compelling.

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart interacts with a 2010 article by natural law theorist Jean Porter. At issue was the question of whether or not natural law provides a basis for rejecting same-sex relationships or marriages. Porter thinks not, and Peter finds her reasoning compelling -- as far as the natural law limitation goes -- but concludes that this is why we need Scripture. Here is Peter's conclusion. "Other natural law theorists, of course, think otherwise. But Porter's reasoning is pretty compelling, and leaves me wondering whether we can say certain sexual acts are 'contrary to nature' without having some insight that comes from outside nature. Say, from revelation." Now there is no problem acknowledging that nature does not tell us everything, and that there are certain truths that cannot be obtained from nature that are taught in Scripture. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Second Coming, or the need to baptize in the triune name. But there are still difficulties. Aren't there always? We really need to pursue this issue out to the end of the road, because a lot rides on it. We ought not conclude anything about the clarity of the lesson from the … [Read more...]

To Obligate Belief

The classic beginning of Calvin's Institutes rightly assumes that it is not possible to know God without knowledge of ourselves. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. But it runs the other direction as well. It "not easy to discern" which knowledge precedes and brings forth the other. They are interdependent. "Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him" (Institutes 1.1.1). The same kind of thing is true of other sets of complementary assumptions. I cannot know my Cartesian pinpoint self without assuming something about the authority of logic. I think I think, therefore I think I am, I think. I cannot know the Bible without assuming something about the nature of the world in which I learned to read it, along with the reality of Miss Robinson who taught me how to read in first grade. I cannot know one thing without knowing something about all things. This, if true, means that the whole world is a package deal. God did not give us the world piecemeal. He places us in an integrated reality, and it is only sin that wants to pretend that we are anywhere else. That sin wants to … [Read more...]

The Way It Looks on the Screen

So I am a presuppositionalist. That's true enough, but what do I need to presuppose? This will require more development, but what needs to be presupposed is the way things actually are. You don't need to know all the precise details of how things actually are -- you don't begin at the end -- but you do have to be committed to the truth a priori, knowing that such objective, unmovable truth, which is so necessary as the foundation of every form of knowing, is not possible apart from the bedrock of the true and living God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 9:10). But beginning with the fear of the Lord does not mean beginning with the Lord alone, the Lord solitary, the Lord isolated. No one can know the Lord that way -- it is incoherent -- oxymoronic. God cannot be known from outside God unless there is a creation, in which the knower lives. And if he lives in a created order larger than himself, then he also knows things other than God simultaneously with his self-knowledge, and these other things also testify to the majesty of the God who created them all. So prior to the creation, there was no fear of God. In order to have the fear of the Lord (which … [Read more...]

C.S. Lewis and Moose Tracks Ice Cream

Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing natural law -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Jim Jordan kicked things off by attacking The Calvinist International at the Auburn Avenue conference, and I wrote a few posts on the subject, including an outline of my own debt to C.S. Lewis, and my derivative gratitude for the work of Van Til. So the debate now continues. Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have now replied to Jim here. In addition, just as I did, Steven gives an account of his intellectual pilgrimage here. We all travel different paths, but we ascend the same mountain. That's what natural law leads to, right? A syncretistic swirl of paganism and Christianity, like moose tracks ice cream? The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient, that kind of thing? Not really. I think this is a fruitful topic for debate because it concerns the nature of reality, and our access to that reality. For every Christian who lives downstream from Kant, I think this is an issue that should concern us much more than it usually does. We shouldn't want to live in a generic universe, ruled over by the place-holder god of the secular deists, on the one hand, but on the other we must … [Read more...]

Me and Van Til

So let us begin with the ungrammatical title. Why would I put it like that? It is not really proper, unless worked into a sentence like "'Me and Van Til' is not really a proper title for a blog post." So maybe I am being grammatical accidentially, like the boy who was dozing in the back row of English class when the teacher said to him, "Billy, give me examples of two pronouns." He lurched to his feet, bewildered, and said, "Who? Me?" "Very good," she said, albeit reluctantly. Maybe I was just looking for an arresting title. Maybe it is just clickbait. Where was I? Since I have been writing a bit on natural law, and have identified myself as a Van Tilian presuppositionalist, I thought a little intellectual autobiography might be in order, and I will begin with an anecdote that illustrates the jumble in my head. One of the first books I wrote (in the early nineties) was called Persuasions, and contained a series of conversations between a character called Evangelist and various unbelievers. It was a dream of "reason meeting unbelief." This was pre-Internet, and at the time, conservative Presbyterians and recons got a lot of their books from a catalog company called Great … [Read more...]

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. … [Read more...]

Five Thousand Dollars in Your Pocket

As our discussion of natural law proceeds apace, one of things we have to do is distinguish between the unacceptable forms of natural law and the acceptable forms of it. I mean, to accept the unacceptable forms of natural law would be . . . unnatural. Creepy almost. So what's the difference? At the end of the day, if someone wants to say that natural law can give us a moral compass whether or not there is a God, that is unacceptable. It is idolatrous. In such a case, nature functions as the source of law. In my understanding of what Scripture teaches, the only source of natural revelation would be God Himself, as He is -- which is triune. God is not an optional component in the system. With natural revelation, creation is the medium through which God speaks. The world is God talking, and it is absurd to postulate a system where you keep the talking, but then grant that the existence of the talker is up for grabs. Scholars apparently differ . . . So a litmus test of whether we are going in a bad direction would be whether or not the words nature and creation are interchangeable, for the purposes of our discussion. If those two things are treated as being completely … [Read more...]

What Plato’s Cousin Knew

Theological disputes are often matters of great moment, even when those outside the dispute cannot track with what is going on. I think it was Gibbon who once displayed his ignorance by saying that the debate over homousia and homoiousia was somehow over the letter i -- which is pretty similar to saying the debate between atheists and theists is over the letter a. But at the same time, theologians are capable of talking past each other simply because they are used to different terminology, or perhaps because they are worried about the trajectory of those who use that other terminology. Take, for example, the distinction between natural revelation and natural law. Now before opening this particular worm can, I want to acknowledge that two positions represented by these phrases can be quite different indeed. But this is a historical fact, not a logical one. I believe the two essential positions can be collapsed into one another with 5 minutes of questions. Say you are comfortable with the phrase natural revelation. You believe that the triune God of Scripture revealed Himself through the things that have been made, and that this fact leaves all men everywhere without excuse. … [Read more...]