The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Part 7 of Let's Read Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics

Part III: Foundations of Dogmatic Theology (Principia) 

Scientific Foundations


Well, lo and behold Bavinck defines many of the things he used without defining in the first two parts of Prolegomena. I do not know why things have been done in this order, but at any rate, we should have a lot of things cleared up, at least insofar as what Bavinck himself actually believes and means.

Here is the opening summary of this section:
    If we consider theology a science, we must inquire into the scientific foundations of its structure. In the modern era this was a task usually given to philosophy, an illusory starting point since then dogmatic theology has no independent scientific status of its own. Normatively, theology should begin with revelation, proceed from faith, and articulate its own first principles (principia).
So we now know Bavinck believes revelation must normally be the starting point of theology.
    By principia in general is usually meant the basic cause and ground of reality as well as the means by which we come to know them. Thus Aristotle, for instance, distinguished principles of being, of existence, and of knowing. Theologians also adapted this terminology. By way of revelation God makes himself known to us as the primary efficient cause of all things. Holy Scripture is the external instrumental efficient cause of theology, and divine revelation also requires the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. We thus identify three fundamental principles for theology: God is the essential foundation (principium essendi); Scripture is the external cognitive foundation (principium cognoscendi externum); and the Holy Spirit is the internal principle of knowing (principium cognoscendi internum). The foundations of theology are thus trinitarian: The Father, through the Son as Logos, imparts himself to his creatures in the Spirit.
There are some interesting thoughts here. I was concerned initially that nothing would be said of reason being an internal principle of knowing. It was spoken of, later, though Bavinck seems to call reason/intellect, or at least the use of it, the principium cognoscendi internum. Bavinck tries to differintiate between reason and the Holy Spirit:

"The Logos who shines in the world must also let his light shine in our consciousness. That is the light of reason, the intellect, which, itself originating in the Logos, discovers and recognizes the Logos in things. It is the internal foundation of knowledge (principium cognoscendi internum). Just as knowledge within us is the imprint of things upon our souls, so, in turn, forms do not exist except by a kind of imprint of the divine knowledge in things. So, in the final analysis, it is God alone who from his divine consciousness and by way of his creatures conveys the knowledge of truth to our mind—the Father who by the Son and in the Spirit reveals himself to us. “There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!’ Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!” (Ps. 4:6)."

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 233). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

He also ends up saying that the created world is the foundation of knowledge for all science, yet above the summary claims that Scripture is the external cognitive foundation. Back to the summary:
    Historically there are basically two schools of scientific thought: rationalism (subject oriented) and empiricism (object oriented). Rationalism is the not unreasonable attempt to impose mental order on the changing world of perceptions and representations. If we have access only to representations and not the things themselves, a form of idealism gains the upper hand in which only the thought is judged to be real. Rationalist idealism, however, violates the natural realism of our ordinary experience in the world. Idealism confuses the organ of knowledge with its source and has as its consequence the notion that our senses always deceive us and give us a false impression of reality. 
    Empiricism, on the other hand, proceeds from the diametrically opposite view, namely that sense perceptions alone are the source of our knowledge. The mind is a passive blank slate; human consciousness is completely subjected to the world outside of us. This view is also in error in failing to take into account the active role of the human mind, the role of unproven presuppositions in all scientific observation. In addition to its flawed starting point, empiricism denies the term “science” for all but the “exact sciences.” The entire range of the “human sciences,” including theology, is excluded; the fundamental religious and metaphysical questions faced by all people must be ignored. It is especially here that modern philosophy and science is most disappointing and needs fundamental revision so that we are protected from both materialism and idealism. 
    The proper starting point for any theory of knowledge is the universal and natural certainty we find spontaneously in our ordinary experience. We trust our senses, which lead us to believe in an objective world external to us, and our mental representations of that world point back to that reality. From this we conclude that scientific demonstrative certainty is neither the basic nor the only kind of human certainty; there is also a universal, metaphysical, intuitive, immediate kind of certainty that is self-evident and which we call the “certainty of faith.” Christian thinkers from Augustine on rejected rationalism in favor of a “realism” that acknowledges the primacy of the senses and the constraints placed by reality on the human mind. At the same time, in distinction from empiricist thought, Christian theology also insists that the mind does have its own nature, operates in its own way, and possesses the freedom to soar beyond the senses to the world of the ideal. The human mind is therefore not a blank slate, the representations it forms are faithful interpretations of the real world outside us. The human intellect also has the capacity to abstract general and universal judgments from particular events. Contrary to all forms of nominalism, which by denying the reality of universals in effect makes all science impossible, realism correctly assumes their reality in the thing itself (in re) and therefore also in the human mind subsequent to the thing itself (in mente hominis post rem). The theological explanation for this is the conviction that it is the same Logos who created both the reality outside of us and the laws of thought within us. The world is created in such a way that an organic connection and correspondence is possible between our minds and the reality external to us. The world is an embodiment of the thoughts of God. In the words of the Belgic Confession (art. 2), the creation is “a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.” The created world is the external foundation of human knowledge (principium cognoscendi externum). However, so that this knowledge becomes part of our human consciousness, the light of reason enables us to discover and recognize the logos in things. This internal foundation of knowledge (principium cognoscendi internum) is also a gift of the mind of God. The Father, by the Son, and in the Spirit, conveys the knowledge of truth to us.
Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, pp. 207–208). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
So there you have it. I still am having a hard time deciphering some things in Bavincks' thought, but there is much good here. In particular Bavinck points out that it isn't the eye that sees or the ear that hears, but the soul of the person uses the eye to see and the ear to hear. It is the person then, using the mind/intellect, that uses the senses to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. We can hear without paying attention, but what we hear we don't recall. When we focus on the speaker, then we can make heads or tails of what is being said. This indicates that we are more than just a bunch of atoms, and that the soul itself is immaterial.

However, Bavinck still says some things that leaves me wondering. For instance, I would argue that while we do indeed "take for granted" that the world around us is real and what we see is reliable to some extent, that in itself doesn't make what we see reliable. Also, I would say that in our interactions with that which is outside of us we come to trust what we see with greater confidence. A child and a dog alike are both wary of their surroundings. As they interact with it they learn what is safe and not safe. It's very interesting to me that previously Bavinck seemed to want to put down Descartes' "I think, therefore I am." I imagine this is because Bavinck believes this to place man over God, reason over revelation, and so on. the problem is that Bavinck's solution is to say that we trust our own senses and therefore that there is a world external to us. This sounds very similar to me. I suppose Bavinck is trying to argue that natural revelation, that is, creation or the world, is our starting point, and the things which immediately stick out to us as true or good is because God, the logos, is causing our minds to do so. And I think there is truth in that of course. God has given us our minds and the capability to think. The categories of the mind, such as the law of non-contradiction, surely come from God and reflect what He Himself is like.

But it seems Bavinck wants to push our thinking all the way over to God thinking for us by causing things to make sense, or "click", in our brains. Bavinck says:

In the first place the light of reason is therefore identical with the active intellect, the faculty of abstraction, which shines its light on objects and brings to light the intelligible components of these objects. In addition, it is also identical with the fund of general concepts, which our mind acquired by that same faculty of abstraction. But in both ways we owe that light to God or, more specifically, to the Logos (Ps. 36:9; John 1:9). It is he who causes this light to arise in us and constantly maintains it. And so, when the truth discloses itself to our mind by the rays of that light, we owe it to God and not to human beings, who are merely the instrument. 
Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2003). Reformed dogmatics: Prolegomena (Vol. 1, p. 232). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
So does God give us the light of reason, or does He Himself constantly shine light into our reason so that we can see what is true and common in things? Has God given us the ability to connect the dots, or does He Himself connect the dots for us, and then we "get it". It almost seems like Bavinck believes the latter, but I am more inclined to believe the former, though God may certainly utilize the latter at times. When a Christian exercises saving faith, he or she does so not because God is believing for him or her, but because the person has been convicted of their sin and their need for Christ as Lord and Savior. God in salvation gives the desire to be saved, but the person does the believing. I think we have all been given light from God, and we use that light, and we should praise God for the light. And because of this we can thank God for that light. But do we not also shine and direct that light, as image bearers of God? We use our minds, our intellects, and shine the light we have been given by God, and we ask God to give us more light. However, I do not think God ordinarily spontaneously causes our mind to jump down "this line of thinking" or "that line of thinking." If the intellect is thought of as a giant searchlight looking for a missing person, I think that God has given us the giant searchlight of the intellect, but we ourselves direct it. We ask God to give us wisdom in directing it, we ask God to give us a brighter, broader searchlight, but we do not, or at least should not, ask God to think for us. God calls us to do the work of thinking. He will give us greater clarity of thought when we ask, a brighter light so to speak to search for His truth with, but I do not believe He takes over the directing of the brain, hijacking us so to speak, and connects the dots for us. If Bavinck believes that, I strongly disagree. If he does not, then great!  

So I do believe that the world is an embodiment of the thoughts of God, and indeed do reflect His glory. I also believe we ourselves were made from the earth and in the image of the glorious God. God has given us minds to know Him, and we are called to exercise our thinking capacities and the categories of thought which He indeed has given us. But part of our categorizing rightly is due to our efforts and labors to differentiate things. We differentiate in a number of ways, including reflection and connecting the dots logically. Things are rarely immediately apparent, and it takes work, mind work, to make things become more clear to us. By exercising our minds well, then, we use the light that God has given us well.

I could say much more but hopefully Bavinck will shed more light (pun intended) on what he means in the coming chapters. To close I just want ask that if it is God Himself, through the Logos or the Holy Spirit, who is actually causing things to make sense in our minds, then can we be said to think at all, or merely "receive" revelation into our consciousnesses as virtually passive creatures? If so, then is reason really nothing more than God communicating Himself by means of Himself to our consciousnesses? If so I do not see how we can be said to do any real thinking at all.

1 comment:

  1. hi thomas,
    interesting thoughts - have a look further over though at pp.586-7 where bavinck speaks of a general testimony of the Holy Spirit viz a viz the Logos. you've put your finger on a difficulty bavinck encounters in incorporating the subject-object dilemma in his principia - it struggles to describe primary and secondary agency in the way you have described

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