Definitions

What do we do when the meaning of something is disputed? “…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

Our world is currently in the midst of revolution, a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving. The news is filled with stories about how different things are being redefined, retooled, and reinvented. It is as if we are in a race to scrap the past as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

What is driving this passion? In a word — democracy. The world seems to be deep in the process of the democratization of all things. We can see the process at work at Wikipedia, which claims to be “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

What is Wikipedia? “Wikipedia is an encyclopedia collaboratively written by many of its readers. It is a special type of website, called a wiki, that makes collaboration easy. Many people are constantly improving Wikipedia, making thousands of changes an hour, all of which are recorded on article histories and recent changes. Inappropriate changes are usually removed quickly, and repeat offenders can be blocked from editing…. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has rapidly grown into the largest reference website on the Internet.”

The guiding principles of Wikipedia, the principles of democratization, direct that all “Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly, proportionately and without bias.” Editors are directed to not state any opinions, but to stick to the facts. The guidelines state that there is a difference between fact and opinion. It’s no more nor any less that what people learn in college. It is a helpful process, but it has a serious flaw. It is impossible to do because opinions are simply expressions from particular perspectives, and everyone has a particular perspective. Every expression of fact comes from a particular perspective.

The flaw becomes obvious when we explore the difference between fact and opinion? From the dictionary we learn that an opinion is a belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty. Opinions are value judgments that issue from one’s beliefs and/or presuppositions. A fact, on the other hand, is a statement or assertion of verified information about something that exists or has happened. Facts are existential, they don’t appear to be dependent upon beliefs or presuppositions. They just are. And what is more, facts appear to be obviously true, self-evident, axiomatic (evident without proof or argument). In other words, facts seem to be true and are verifiable. A verifiable fact has an identified source, and the source is cited or assumed to be an authority on the matter.

Authorities are people who have studied and often written extensively on a subject. In other words, authorities are the paragons of studied opinion. They have studied the opinions of many authorities and come to their own opinion, which they posit to be true and authoritative.

Do you see the circularity of the process? Opinions are not allowed, but facts are actually nothing more than well-established opinions. Philosophical and/or theological differences involve the interpretation of facts. All sides have their authorities.

Most serious disputes are not disagreements about facts, but disagreements about the interpretation of the facts, about what the facts mean. Wikipedia solves this problem by insisting that every viewpoint is equal. Wikipedia aims not to evaluate any viewpoint positively or negatively, but to simply present the “neutral” “facts.” And while this sounds very good and fair and intellectual, there are no neutral facts. Rather, Wikipedia claims to maintain a neutral perspective by claiming to state only neutral facts. Wikipedia is engaged in the democratization of opinion, by building a democracy of so-called facts. But, as we have seen, facts are nothing more than footnoted opinions.

Yet Wikipedia says that it is not a democracy. True, it is not setting up a government. However, it is setting up an authoritative social resource where every voice is equal. And while a voice is not a vote, voices (where participants have “voice” but not “vote”) are intended to have an effect on votes, to sway votes.

Embedded in Wikipedia is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. “Wales has been a passionate adherent of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. … From 1992 to 1996, he ran the electronic mailing list ‘Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy.'” —Wikipedia Such passions are not objective or neutral and they do not just go away. Rather, they form the foundation of one’s worldview.

Here we need to challenge Wikipedia’s assumptions about the neutrality of the democratization process. Wikipedia editors are carefully instructed to write from a very particular perspective in order to convey the impression of neutrality. This is a foundational philosophical concern. Political freedom, a pillar of the US Constitution guarantees the right to express political opinion in the public square, which is forbidden on Wikipedia on the grounds that it is not a “public entity.” Yet, it could and has been argued that the Internet is public in nature.

Our concern is not really about Wikipedia but about the broader issue of democratization. Wikipedia is simply an example of the process at work. The process is related to mass hallucination. “In most cases, mass hallucination refers to a combination of suggestion and projection, wherein one person will see, or pretend to see, something unusual, and point it out to other people. Having been told what to look for, those other people will consciously or unconsciously convince themselves to recognize the apparition, and will in turn point it out to others.” The idea that “Wikipedia has a neutral point of view” is a pareidolia, a suggestion of this kind. Suggestion and redirection are the very successful tools of prestidigitation — and of politics.

My intent is not to single out Wikipedia, only to use it as an example. It is as much a fruit as it is a root. Wikipedia is successful because it represents what many people believe — that they can be neutral with regard to the deeper religious and philosophical concerns. The point to be made here — a point made in the Bible — is that no one can be neutral with respect to God. Belief in God requires that all facts be interpreted in the light of God. And unbelief in God means that facts are not interpreted in the light of God. The two positions are mutually exclusive, and both cannot be correct.

We believe, on the basis of the Bible from a Christian perspective informed by the presuppositionalism of Cornielus Van Til (and many others) that such a belief is an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. Consequently, we make every effort to define our terms on the basis of Scripture, as Daniel Webster did when he wrote his English dictionary. You are hereby warned about this because our world and its Modern dictionaries have engaged in a systematic process of purging biblical definitions from the English language, and have made great strides over the past fifty or so years.

As a result, you may find much of the information on this site to be unfamiliar to your contemporary sensitivities. But rest assured that it has deep roots in Christian history.

Calvin’s Method

From what has been said it is apparent that Calvin’s theology required a “Copernican revolution” of the traditional method recommending Christianity to non-believers. The traditional method of apologetics, developed best by Thomas Aquinas, constructed its view of man in relation to God and from the bottom up. Thomas did not think that the “philosophers” mixed up heaven and earth because they did not know about the fall of mankind in Adam. Aristotle’s philosophy must not be rejected but supplemented by the Christian story. The Christian story needs theism of the philosophers as its foundation. How otherwise, argues Thomas, can believers show unbelievers that the story is reasonable.

Aquinas sought to show the unbeliever that the Christian story is in accord with logic and in accord with fact. Calvin sought to show that “logic” and “fact” have meaning only in terms of the “story.” The unbeliever appeals to a “logic” that is above the Creator-creature distinction to thought in general, human and divine as identical with being. Aquinas thinks he can satisfy the demands of the unbeliever with respect to the requirements of logic and of thought as such. Calvin requires the “philosopher” to give its proper place to the fall of man and recognize that the creature must submit his logical efforts to the Creator-Redeemer of man.

Aquinas thinks he can satisfy the demands of the unbeliever with respect to the idea of facts, as such. Calvin requires the “scientist” to give its proper place to the fall of man and recognize that facts are, and cannot be anything but, expressive of the all-controlling plan of God.

Aquinas offers Christianity to the natural man as an hypothesis that, in his open-minded search for truth, he will find to be better than any other. Calvin challenges the natural man to relinquish his claim to be the rightful judge as to whether the claims of Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life are true or false and, with true repentance for following the god of this world, prostrate himself before the triune God of Scripture.

Man cannot know himself except he know himself as a sinner saved by grace. When by the gift of the Holy Spirit he has become a Christian, he has therewith at the same time become a theist. When he has thus become a Christian theist, he looks back to the pit from which he has been dug. “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world, for after that the world by its wisdom knew not God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Following Calvin rather than Aquinas, we may today point out that in all the history of thought, except that which is based upon the Christian story, man cannot identify himself. He would have to do so in relation to a world of pure contingent factuality made correlative to an abstract, timeless principle of rationality which, in the nature of the case, cancel each other out. If modern scientists, modern philosophers, and modern theologians would escape their inability even intelligently to ask any question, let alone find any answer, they can do so only by accepting the answer the triune God has given man in Scripture. Without submitting to this God, he is a prophet without a mantle, a priest without a sacrifice, and a king without a crown.

from Cornelius Van Til

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