A Double-Edged Sword

It takes a lot of background to fully appreciate today’s XKCD. First, you have to know who Donald Knuth is (the world’s greatest living computer scientist), and that he has a standing reward of $2.56 (256 pennies is a ‘hexadecimal dollar’) for finding errors in his publications, and that he is a few volumes into his magnum opus, The Art of Computer Programming, and waiting for him to finish it is kind of like waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai (if Moses came down every couple years with another, larger, set of stone tablets). And it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the presuppositional apologetic tactic of taking a materialist to task for unjustifiably making use of the immaterial laws of logic. OK, now you’re ready:

The real punchline is in the mouseover text

Dear Reader: Enclosed is a check for ninety-eight cents. Using your work, I have proven that this equals the amount you requested.

(Note also the conclusion on the chalkboard (\therefore P \wedge \overline{P}), a reference to Logic’s fundamental Law of Non-Contradiction (which I was just able to mathematically typeset right there using WordPress’s native ability to compile \LaTeX — which is a typesetting system created by Donald Knuth, whose involvement in the typesetting community led to this interdisciplinary work!)

Ah, revel in the geekiness! And as enjoyable as that was, I’ve got more! Here’s a quote from DVD’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (we’re going to have to just start calling that NL2K around here):

In the mainstream Western intellectual world perhaps furthest from home, the very prevalence of postmodern philosophy, with its insistence that theories are never neutral nor void of worldview-driven assumptions, makes twentieth-century Reformed figures such as Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til, though no postmoderns themselves, look like prophets.

Hmmm. So what do you think of the similarity between presuppositionalism and postmodernism? OR, is presuppositionalism really just Christian postmodernism, because of ” its insistence that theories are never neutral nor void of worldview-driven assumptions”?

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11 Responses to A Double-Edged Sword

  1. RubeRad says:

    Maybe the missing link here is “This comic uses a common presuppositionalist apologetics tactic, and Van Til is considered the father of presuppositionalist apologetics, and hey, that reminds me of a DVD quote about Van Til and presuppositionalism which I’ve been meaning to post, but which until now has been too small to stand as a post of its own…”

  2. John Harutunian says:

    Although I’m more synergistic than Reformed, I think there’s something to be said for presuppositionalism.
    BUT -I’d be interested to hear what you (and other bloggers) have to say about C.S. Lewis’ approach.
    The classic opening lines of *Mere Christianity* are:

    “Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things they say…’How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ [etc.]” From which Lewis proceeds to argue for the existence of the moral law.
    This certainly sounds like there’s common ground between the Christian and the non-Christian, doesn’t it?

  3. Paul M. says:

    Ruben, presuppositionalism admits some of the strengths and insights of postmodernism (as does Horton, Vanhoozerm and even Leithart, see the latter’s Solomon Among the Postmoderns, who even Horton endorsed), and where postmoderinism is correct, Van Til &co. called a while back. Contemporary non-presuppositional philosophers have granted the insights of presuppositionalism here. For example, the esteemed Michael J. Murray writes:

    “I have to add here that this is where many Christians just misunderstand what is valuable in so-called postmodern philosophy. Almost without exception evangelical theologians who accept the deliverances of postmodernism do so because they confuse two points. They think that being a relativist about best-ness of theoretical explanations commits one to relativism about truth. But this is just mistaken. So, there is a lesson to be learned from postmodernism, but it is not the lesson they think. Let me add further that it is at junctures like this that we can see just where so-called ‘presuppositionalists’ have apologetics right. That is, it is right that both Christian and unbeliever have certain presuppositions in place when they engage each other intellectually. And it is right that there is no way to decisively argue unbelievers out of their unbelief because of these very presuppositions. In this way, one might think, the insights of Cornelius Van Til are quite useful for apologetics, and what he has to say already embodies anything useful postmodernism has to teach us. It is unfortunate, however, just how poorly contemporary defenders of presuppositionalism do in making its insights clear. In part, the trouble is that they themselves are just not clear about which of the insights are valuable and which are not.” (Murray, Reason for the Hope, p.17, n.3.)

    Now, I agree with much of what he says in his last two sentences, but that is being rectified. I would add that there is a lot of talent that is already here, and/or coming down the pike, that should serve to fill that gap.

    Of course, presuppositionalism isn’t simply post-modernism, and it parts ways with postmodernism at many crucial points, one of which is: presuppositionalism endorses a meta-narrative whereas postmodernism ostensibly denies it. Furthermore, there’s an ambiguity on “neutrality” or, rather, objectivity. That ambiguity is between global and local neutrality/objectivity. Moreover, there needs to be a distinction between rational bias and psychological bias. Postmodernists will frequently affirm the former (and the latter) whereas presuppositionalists will affirm the latter.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Thanks Paul, I knew you’d (a) get it, and (b) be able to answer the question better than me!

  5. Paul M. says:

    What I don’t get is LATEX’s symbolization for the LNC. Wouldn’t it be something like ~(P & ~P)? That is: It is not the case that(both P is the case and it is not the case that P)? Does the overline stand for not? If so, then isn’t the conlcusion just a contradiction, i.e., (P & ~P), rather than a formal statement of the law of non-contradiction?

  6. RubeRad says:

    It’s just a cartoon, man! Yes, overline is another way of saying not. And I didn’t say “statement of”, I said “reference to”. The implication of the cartoon is “Therefore, P and not-P. QED, logic is broken”. Of course, you and I know that in logic, when we reach this step, we have to unravel our proof to find the faulty assumption which was made (or instantly point to the assumption we wanted to prove-by-contradiction was false) — but that only works if you assume that the law of non-contradiction holds.

    What better way would you ask a cartoon to illustrate on a chalkboard “voila, I have disproven logic!”?

  7. Paul M. says:

    Ruben, I’m not sure it’s a reference to the LNC (but I grant it presupposes it), and I get the cartoon, and it’s fine as is. I’m just referring to A&~A, which I thought you were saying was the LNC. So my bad.

    What better way would you ask a cartoon to illustrate on a chalkboard “voila, I have disproven logic!”?

    But of course if Graham Priest were here, he’d say that the cartoon did not disprove logic.


  8. Rick says:

    I was just waiting for Paul to show up.

  9. MissionMobilizer says:

    I found your blog while doing a search for Theology of Glory vs Theology of the Cross. I read your articles and liked what I saw there enough to add you to my feed reader, marked as a “must read”. Now I see you are referencing XKCD and are obviously a fan. I knew I made the right choice. :-)

  10. RubeRad says:

    Sweet! Well welcome to the Outhouse. Don’t forget to light a match and crack the door on your way out…

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