Andrew Basden

(Written early in my attempts to understand Dooyeweerd, around 1995. The two paragraphs of introduction are interesting, as an indication of the types of question asked by someone who is meeting Dooyeweerd for the first time. The critique of Frame and Coppes' Critique is a bit of a tirade against what I saw us misunderstanding. My tirade is not well written, nor is it finished, but it does contain some useful points, and I end up rather angry with Frame and Coppes. They criticise Dooyeweerd from a Christian viewpoint, so some of the arguments here might not be of interest to non-Christians.

It has recently been pointed out to me by Magnus Vergrugge that Frame, at least, has softened towards Dooyeweerd. As he said, "This clearly shows that the work od Dooyeweerd can appeal to a lot of academics outside of the usual loop, if they only got to know his work. Hence we ought to try and pull them into our effort rather than rejecting them."

So, read on with caution, interest and interpretation. Someone criticised me for referring to Frame and Coppes (plural) as 'he' (singular); I'm sorry; it was all written with haste and passion. I could tidy it up, but have decided not to as doing so would cover up the evidence of emerging thought processes, and an evolving understanding of Dooyeweerd.

A.B. 22 December 2002.)


I have for several years been fascinated with Dooyeweerd's system of 'Christian Philosophy'. Why I like Dooy I have explained elsewhere. But I have a number of questions about the system, and would like to find a good critique of it. For instance, are there other spheres? Has Dooy conflated two spheres into one? What is the fundamental difference between them: is it irreducibility, and if so, what sort? For instance, people have almost as much trouble 'reducing' fluid mechanics to physics as they do biology. That is, it is almost as difficult to predict the behaviour of fluids as it is (simple) living organisms. But there is perhaps something indefinable 'extra' in living organisms, so the irreducibility is not just a matter of infinitely complex mathematics (as in both cases) but of 'something added', in the case of the latter.

I came across a 'Preliminary Critique' by Frame and Coppes, and hoped that this would provide the clarification I needed. The results are as follows; I found F+C's critique very unsatisfactory. It was a demolition rather than a critique, and did not help me answer the above questions.


F+C originally liked the idea of a Christian philosophy that would bring all of life under Christ. But he ended up highly critical of Dooy. Here are a few of their statements:

... [I was going to add more here, but never did.]

"We urgently warn God's people not to become entangled in such a philosophical bondage."

He used the phrase "malicious falsehood" for Dooyeweerd's ideas. Sadly, I have to call his supposed critique, malicious falsehood. I use the words advisedly. 'Malicious' because both his tone and content in many places show hostility. His paper is not so much a critique as a condemnation. A critique would examine what Dooy said, explore the good parts and the bad parts, and seek to ascertain whether the bad parts are due to a misunderstanding, and suggest ways in which they could be refined or better put. But F+C does not do this. Instead, he focuses on the bad parts, and uses them as a cudgel with which to beat Dooy around the head. As an example, at one point, he says, "This philosophy has nothing unusual to say about Christ as the Word, so we shall restrict our discussion to the other forms." (He then proceeds to demolish them.)

His 'malice' leads him to assume the worst rather than the best. For instance, he says (p. 43, footnote) that to Dooyeweerd 'concept' applies only to theoretical concept, and that he does not reflect upon the possibility that Scripture may yield naive concepts. So he continues, "we must assume that Dooyeweerd is ruling out the derivation from Scripture not only of 'concepts' of a technical, sophisticated sort, but even of any meaningful, authoratitive thought-content. In other words, Dooyeweerd is saying what modernist theologians have always said ... ." As another example it seems to me that he disagrees with Dooy over terminology, and I would have expected a more 'objective' critique to recognise this and make due allowance; but F+C does not do so.

I use the term 'falsehood' because in my view he has grossly misunderstood Dooy, and thus misrepresents him. He condemns, not what Dooy actually meant, but his gross misunderstanding of it, but gives the reader the impression that it is Dooy that is at fault. With statements like those quoted above, it is too easy for Christians to thereby be put right off this version of Christian philosophy altogether, and actually to see it as an enemy of Christ - when in fact it is nothing of the sort. Simply because F+C has a false view of it.

I doubt if F+C realises his mistake, but the malice he directs towards it is particularly sad. It is such that it would very effectively make many Christians avoid Dooy and drive them back into anti-Christian world views. If I were the devil, I could not have thought of a better strategy to prevent God's people taking seriously their responsibility to the creation.

However, F+C's paper has been useful to me. It has helped me to sharpen up my understanding of Dooy and its relationship to my beliefs. I will now go through his 'critique', chapter by chapter.

==== This is a preliminary version, not all chapters have been included.


One of the things I have found useful in Dooy is his approach to the distinction and relationship between naive, everyday thinking and theoretical, scientific thought. It helps give a foundation to inter- disciplinary working. But this is the first topic that F+C chooses to critique.

Throughout this chapter, and others, one of F+C's criticisms is that Dooy is often unclear or ambiguous. He seems to expect that everything should be totally crystal clear and well defined. He also criticises Dooy's use of metaphor for explaining things.

[I think this is unfortunate. With a new and deeply radical system of thought such as Dooy's I would not expect clarity of terms for some decades in the normal arena. In the unpopulated arena into which Dooy's thought was thrown, I would expect clarification to take even longer. During this time I would expect many of the more technical concepts, for which names and strict definitions have not been developed and which are as yet poorly understood by most, to be explained by means of metaphor. I see nothing wrong with this. I would hope that critiques like F+C's would aid to the clarification process by seeking to refine and provide answers. Sadly, I find that F+C seems more intent on pulling Dooy down and proving him wrong than on contributing to the development of the thinking. More about this at the end.]

F+C claims that Dooy claims that there is a "sharp" distinction between naive and theoretical thought. He then spends most of the chapter seeking for a clear definition of what this sharp distinction is, to end by proving that Dooy is wrong in claiming a sharp distinction.

[By 'sharp' F+C means that all thought is in one or other camp, with no overlap. That is, thinking is either one or the other, and there is no spectrum. But I am not aware that Dooy really claimed there to be such a sharp distinction. Clouser, for instance, clearly states there is some overlap, and names three stages: naive thinking, lower abstraction, in which we concentrate our minds on one aspect of an entity, and higher abstraction, in which we isolate the entity. So, if my understanding of Dooy is correct, then F+C's is wrong and his criticism is invalid.

More important than this, though: what is the importance of proving whether there is a sharp distinction or not? This is not explained. The only importance F+C seems to see is that, apparently, Dooy claimed there was. If there is such a sharp distinction, or if there is not, what follows? I am quite happy to find there is no such sharpness, and have always believed there is a spectrum. It doesn't matter to me whether Dooy is right or wrong about this; what matters is whether or not there is such a sharp disctinction and what follows from it.]

In seeking for sharpness F+C usefully goes through a number of things that characterises the differences between the two types of thinking. After he has 'proved' there is no sharp distinction, he then shows the power of the distinction, in a useful list. One difference that F+C underlines is that naive thinking tends to focus on entities and events, while theoretical thinking tends to focus on aspects of those entities and events.

[But F+C nowhere seems to get near my own understanding of the difference. My understanding of theoretical thought is that it seeks to uncover the laws of (the spheres of) reality, and make them explicit and communicable. Naive thinking seeks only to experience and live. In both we function as analytical subjects, but there is a difference. In theoretical thinking, we isolate a single aspect or sphere from all the others, in order to remove from our study the operation of all laws of other spheres. Whether it is valid to do that or not is not the issue; what is at issue is this act of isolation. If we isolate for the purpose of uncovering laws of a sphere then we are engaging in theoretical thinking. I find that distinction very clear, since it speaks of a qualitative rather than quantitative difference, and also very useful. Its use to me is in giving a foundation for the relationship between technology-centred research and inter-disciplinary application of the technology. I find the distinction has explanatory power, and is a good guide to the evaluation and design of research methods. It also enables me to plan inter-disciplinary work. Why doesn't F+C take up this view of the difference?]

Perhaps the reason for F+C apparent blindness in this area is that a more technical formulation of the issue of naive versus theoretical thinking presupposes parts of the system of philosophy which he is unwilling to endorse (p. 11).

[While he has every right to endorse what he will, I think it is a shame that he takes this line. It is rather unfair to judge a system if you first cut out of it some of its essential parts. Of course it will not work if you do that. One should critique the system as a whole.]


Dooy, says F+C, claims that theoretical thought cannot be applied to God, nor to the self. Because it presupposes them. F+C doesn't like this. He wants to be able to theorize about God and about the self. In particular, he notes that Kant claimed that theoretical thought cannot and must not mention God, and wants Dooy to completely repudiate Kant.

[I do not see why Dooy should completely repudiate Kant, that is in all things. It is quite conceivable that Kant was right on some things. In particular, I would feel a little uncomfortable about a God which could be completely understood by theoretical thought, a God which is bound to obey certain laws! I am quite at home with the idea that theoretical thought is inherently incapable of encompassing God.

But Dooy does seem to repudiate Kant in one respect, namely that God can indeed be talked about in theoretical terms, if one does so via metaphor. That is, for instance, one can describe salvation through the legal metaphor of justification. As long as one remembers that God is much more than this. As I understand it, there are a number of reasons why theoretical thought cannot encompass God. One is that He created the laws, and so is not himself bound by them. Since the purpose of theoretical thought is to uncover laws about created reality (in my understanding) then it is at best an inappropriate instrument with which to understand God. Second, God usually interacts with his world and with us in a multi- spherical way, rather than just in a single sphere; but theoretical thought works by isolating a single sphere. So if we apply it to God's interaction with us we will end up with a one-dimensional view of God's rich activity. In that sense, it is not that it is somehow impossible to engage in the activity of theoretical thought about God-concepts, but rather that by doing so we will always end up with a very distorted image of God. So it has very little authority in discussions about God. (Though intuitive common sense of a more pre-theoretical kind may have greater authority.) Third, theoretical thought presupposes self, which presupposes God. F+C discusses this presupposing.]

Dooy says that since theoretical thought presupposes God then God cannot be part of the theory. F+C does not like this. He says that the presuppositions of a theory are usually part of the theory. He is right, eg in mathematics. [But I think he is missing what Dooy means. First, a theory has two parts, one of which is the presuppositions, so it is quite valid - though perhaps not normal - to define the word, theory, to cover only the part that excludes the presuppositions. Maybe that is all Dooy is doing. But I think Dooy actually means something different by 'presuppostion'.]

F+C gives two examples of presupposition. One is that the book on his desk 'presupposes' the paper it is written on. If the paper were not there then neither would the book be.

[Wrong. First, "I have a book in my head" presupposes no paper. Paper is merely the medium. Some medium may be required for full and explicit setting down of the book, but that is different from Dooy's use of presupposition, as I understand it. Nearer to Dooy's use of the word is the idea that the book presupposes an author: some functor, some centre of deliberate functioning. In the same way, a theory presupposes some centre of deliberate functioning to form the theory, to function as subject in the analytical sphere. It is this that I understand to be what Dooy means when he says theoretical thinking presupposes a self. Now, what does it mean that it presupposes God, because a self presupposes God? I understand this in two ways. One is that without God there would be no selfs. The other is that in our theoretical thinking we are not operating purely analytically. In fact, we are making pistic choices and commitments as we do our theoretical thinking. For instance, I decide to follow one line of research rather than another, because of my deliberate choice. Our religious commitments heavily influence our theoretical thinking. So also do other spheres come in - legal, moral, aesthetic, economic, etc. The activity of theoretical thinking is multi-aspectual, even though the core of the thinking is analytical.]

[Notice that I have argued on the basis of the Dooy spheres being valid. Am I not arguing circularly? First, not really. I am arguing from the spheres, but am not then going back to prove the validity of the spheres, but rather of the idea that God cannot be theoretically encompassed. Second, even if there is some circularity, that is what one would expect. If a system does not agree with itself then it is false; one of the first checks that it may be true is that it is self-consistent. Third, one has to take a position about the spheres. Either one can accept the idea of irreducible spheres, or one rejects it. One is not more 'objective' by rejecting; one merely becomes a monist (or perhaps dualist). So to say that I argue from the spheres is not a bad thing; it is merely my choice; F+C might want to argue from a monist or any other position if he does not like to start from the spheres, but doing that is not more objective nor more sound.]

F+C gives another example of presuppostion: a dictionary. A dictionary is a "central reference point" for use of words, but is formed of words. So, he seems to argue, there is no need for the Archimedian point that Dooy says is necessary for theoretical thought.

[But here F+C unknowingly supports Dooy. It is well known that the fact that a dictionary tries to legislate for words while being in the medium of words leads to problems. Simply because there is no external Archimedian point for a dictionary. The only reason why we can use a dictionary in this way is that our interpretation supplies the Archimedian point, even if we do not know it.)

So, F+C asks, why may not the presuppositions of a theory be part of the theory? "Why shouldn't Dooyeweerd's own philosophy be regarded as such a meta-theory? Such a theory, of course, would reflect on its own basis as well as on the basis of other theories."

[But that is precisely what Dooy does, as I understand it. He critiques other philosophies, and also claims that the same critique can be applied to his own, since all theoretical thought, incdluding his own, makes a religious presuppostion.]


Here F+C is good, but far too brief. In a footnote he outlines a list of questions about Dooy's system of modal spheres:

1. "Are the spheres elements of the real world, or are they merely ways in which human beings perceive the world?"

2. "How can one, finally, distinguish one law sphere from another, when in Dooyeweerd's view the 'nuclear moment' of each sphere, which distinguishes it from all the others, is undefinable?" [But if may still be recognizable, even if not fully definable.]

3. "Why must the universe be arranged in law spheres of the type Dooyeweerd describes? ... [Maybe because Dooy would argue] any philosophy or science which denies the structure which Dooyeweerd describes will invariably fall into contradictions and other insurmountable difficulties. But Dooyeweerd's examples of such difficlties in alternative conceptions are not always clear of persuasive." [I ask this. But I am willing to accept it as a starting hypothesis while it is invetigated. And I reckon the investigation will take decades, so I am not too worried about inefficient examples. As long as somebody can find better ones. What I want to know is: what is the forming-function of spheres; by what mechanism do we identify the spheres? I am happy to allow some measure of intuition and supra-theoretical input into this mechanism, but do want to know what it is. So that I can properly critique Dooy's spheres. Especially in this age of artificial intelligence etc. Antinomies is one part, but what are the others? Unfortunately, F+C gives no hint here.]

4. "Why must [the spheres] be arranged in the precise order Dooyeweerd suggests?" [Yes, I ask that.]

5. "What of concepts that overlap several spheres?" Such as ethical language, aesthetic history (which is of interest to both artists and historians), psycho-physics, aesthetic analysis, economic judgement. [I think this can be answered. For instance, economic judgement is really a 'judgemental' analysis about economics. Judgemental here is not juridicial (to do with what is due) but rather to do with a feely type of analysis. In making an economic judgement we are functioning in the economic sphere and others. But also, cf. Hart's levels of telephone usage. We seldom make an economic judgement for its own sake, but rather for fulfilling some higher role. It is rather like "telephoning X". It is perhaps at the higher roles that we function in all aspects. Studying history of art is such a higher role. And in doing so we function in all aspects, just as when planning a space mission. Even legal, moral and pistic. So that I think answers F+C's example of aesthetic history. But there have been other examples I have come across from time to time which do not seem to me to fit neatly into just one sphere.]

[One question that F+C does not ask, which I do is: There seems to be a divide between pre-logical and post-logical. Is there, apart from the fact that only humans function as subjects in post-logical?]

[Another question I ask, but F+C doesn't, is: Should time itself be a sphere? Rather than a prism for separating out the spheres.]


[Here F+C really seems to misunderstand Dooy, and rejects Dooy's idea of 'heart'. But then in the next section F+C criticises Dooy for lacking what I undserstand to be Dooy's idea of heart.]

F+C claims Dooy's idea of 'heart' or human self is unclear, and suggests several possibilities that he dismisses: the 'centre', 'concentration point', 'starting point', 'reference point', and 'supra- temporal', 'transcending the diversity of the modal aspects.'

[As I understand it, what Dooy is saying here about heart and self is that: 1. If we have the idea of irreducible spheres, then how is it that we perceive things as unities? Answer: we have a self or heart which transcends them and acts as a central hub around which fifteen spokes of our experience emerge. Whether this is the only answer is unclear to me, but there is something more important about self and heart, in the following.]

Copes quotes Dooy, "How could man direct himself toward eternal things, if eternity were not 'set in his heart'?" Then he says, "The gist of these quotes seems to be that if man's heart were not supra-temporal he could have no fellowship with God." He rejects this idea of heart.

[It has been a puzzle of philosophy for ages, how anything in creation could have any real awareness of and could interact with a transcendent God. Consciousness has also been problematical. In the field of AI consciousness and self-hood have been debated fiercely, usually with a presupposition that there is no God, or at least that God is irrelevant to the argument. I understand Dooy to be saying that human beings have a 'heart' which transcends theoretical thought and it is by this that we can be aware of God (as opposed to merely theorizing or making propositions about him) and can respond to him and interact with him in a real way. Because of my involvement in AI, I find Dooy's position both very clear and very helpful. Clear, not in terms of precision, but in terms of its link with what has been going on in AI. Dooy gives an answer to the problem of self awareness, but not an escapist answer (a kind of magic stuff, or a homunculus). He clearly places it in a philosphical system, alongside the spheres, and also tries to suggest what the relationship between heart and spheres might be: it is the central reference point from which we function in the spheres. The difference is that 'magic stuff' is really a proposal for a different sphere, irreducible to that of biology or logic/information processing. But Dooyeweerd goes 16 steps further on - fifteen spheres plus the idea of the transcendent self.]

The first reason F+C rejects the idea is that "This argument is clearly invalid" (his emphasis). Just as a finite being can have some concept of infinity, so we do not need to be God to be able to have some idea of him.

[But, F+C argument is invalid. Dooy is not talking about a concept of God, but of immediate awareness of him and immediate response to him and interaction with him. What Heidegger was reaching for when talking about thrownness, perhaps. And, while the finite may have a concept of infinity, and the weak may have a concept of omnipotence, they cannot experience these. But we can experience God as something more immediate than a concept. I believe that it is Dooy's concept of heart which distinguishes him from Kant, which F+C was so keen to see done. Yet F+C rejects the idea, and that is perhaps why he cannot see the difference between Kant and Dooy. As I understand it, Dooy's idea is as follows. There are two: creator and creation. Human beings, made in the image of God, are able to bridge the two, able to know and interact with God while being subject to created laws. The spheres are to do with interacting with the creation, while the heart is to do with interacting with God.]

The second reason is that "The argument is not only invlaid, but dangerous as well." "It is precisely this kind of argument which has been used throughout the history of thought to break down the creator- creature distinction."

[No. The idea of heart actually maintains the distinction. See above on the two interactions. If we have no heart then either we can never really know God except as a distant mystery about which we have only confusing propositions, or we take the pantheist position and say that our experience of the creation is actually the same as our experience of God. The only way I have seen so far to keep a Biblical position of the true reality and true interaction with both the creator and a separate creation, is to have Dooy's idea of spheres and heart. I think heart and spheres are Dooy's attempt to clarify what it means to be in the image of God. Note that 'image of God' idea could be seen by people like F+C as "compromising the creator-creture distinction." It may be "dangerous" but it is true.]

He makes the point that though the Bible is rather imprecise in its use of the idea of heart as our orientation toward God, for Dooy's purpose (a precise account of the relationship between human experience, accounts of that experience and self) "it is not enough to imitate the generality of the Scriptural representations."

[Yes and no. I agree with F+C, in the sense that precision should be an aim. But I disagree in the sense that we should always expect to find precision. Precision is tied up with the analytical sphere, and thus, according to Dooy, by definition cannot be applied to the heart issues. We have a different knowledge mechanism there: immediate awareness and interaction. It may be that no greater precision is possible than that which the Bible gives and illustrates. I find Dooy's stating the relationship between heart and spheres precise enough for the present, until it has been tested to see if it may be valid.]


According to Dooy, neither theoretical nor naive knowledge can have true knowledge of God. F+C says this is confusing. He says that people CAN have true knowledge of God, but that that Dooy denies it.

[But I say this true knowledge of God (that is, awareness of him and ability to respond to him) comes from Dooy's idea of heart, which F+C rejects.]

[Also: does he mean 'true knowledge' or 'full knowledge'? I believe Dooyeweerd means full knowledge.]

F+C says, "Even those without access to the Scriptures have knowledge of certain commands of God which can be truly formulated in language (Rom 1:32)." "Doubtless, also, there is a sense in which God is incomprehensible, in which our knowledge of him is non-exhasutive; but Scripture always assumes that it is possible to have true knowledge of God which can be expressed in true language."

[Yes and no. Yes, to having true knowledge. But No to it being 'truly' formulated in language, if by 'truly' we mean more than attaching a label to parts of it. And where does Scripture say it assumes the possibility of expression in true language? I do not believe it does, if by 'true' we mean that language can encompass the truth completely, or even in such a way as to never be misleading.]

"Does Dooyeweerd maintain this clear Scriptural witness against the concept of the unknown god? It would seem not. We are not saying that Dooyeweerd teaches the unknown God concept, but it is clear that he does not adequately guard against it. Everything that he says about the knowledge of God discourages, rather than encourages, the confident assertion that we know truth from God."

[No. F+C only says this because he has completely misunderstood and rejected Dooy's concept of heart. As I understand it, Dooy is suggesting three kinds of knowledge. Two - naive and theoretical - are about things in Creation, while the other one is about God. He explicitly says we CAN know God (because of the heart), and thus does adequately guard against it. In fact, I believe that he guards against it in almost the best way possible while still maintaining the distinction between God and Creation. How else could we keep together the two ideas of such a distinction but also true knowledge of God? F+C seems to have no real answer here. If you reject heart, then it is only of creation that we can have true knowledge, so either we have pantheism and a true knowledge of God, or we have a transcendent deity who can never be truly known. F+C is simply wrong about Dooy here.]

F+C reminds us that there is one and only one Mediator between God and man, the One who is both God and man, Jesus Christ, but says that Dooy interposes several "mediators" between God and man: law, heart, hierarchy of modal spheres.

[No. F+C both misunderstands Dooy here, and also he is (deliberately?) nit-picking with semantics of the word, mediator. I do not believe Dooy is suggesting any 'mediator' between God and man composed of law, heart or spheres. The problem seems to lie in the fact that F+C sees Dooy's law, spheres and/or heart 'connecting' man to God, but he is wrong on two accounts. First, F+C misuses the word, mediator. In the context of the Scripture, 'mediator' speaks of one who brings peace between two warring sides. The important thing here is not the spatial metaphor of between, but rather the action of Christ in peace-making. Maybe Dooy's concept of heart could perhaps be said to be 'between' man and God as a spatial metaphor, but it is not involved in the activity of peace-making. So Dooy does not in any way propose any rival to the unique Son of God. But, second, I question whether it is even appropriate to think of the heart, or law or the spheres, as being 'between' God and man. A mediator between two beings X and Y is a separate being, Z. But heart is merely the mechanism or faculty which we have that enables us to truly be aware of and respond to God. (I do not use the word 'know God' here, since it is confusing; I define what I mean by 'know' as to be immediately aware of and respond to or interact with.) As for law and spheres, 'law' is to do with spheres, so we can take them together. The spheres are again not a separate being between God and man, but rather the way God has designed creation to be. They constitute some kind of attribute of creation, not a separate being. It is only because he misunderstands law, heart and spheres that he thinks Dooy thinks they are mediators.]

"Notice that it is the heart, not God, or the Word of God, which is called the 'central reference point'."

[Nit picking again. 'Central reference point' is used in a particular way, as discussed above. Namely, it is the way in which we are able to experience integrated wholes, rather than collections of spheres. It is not meant to mean the centre of our universe. The heart is not an end, but a mechanism.]

7. LAW

God made law for the cosmos, but is himself not bound by it. However, his laws are consistent with his character and he may be expected to act in ways consistent with those laws.

[OK. I take that. Makes sense. But it is interesting that moral is seen as creational rather than divine.]

F+C says that "Law, like God and self, appears first of all, to be a supra-temporal reality which is 'refracted' by the prism of time into a great diversity of specific precepts. The supra-temporal reality is what Dooyeweerd calls, 'the central unity of the divine law, namely the commandment to love God and the neighbour.' This central commandment takes many forms in the temporal world. There are laws of arithmetic, laws of physics, ..."

[I am not sure I take the idea that all the various spheres are really refractions of the law of love for God and neighbour. It is a part of Dooy that I have not really come across - if indeed F+C is right in his understanding of it.]

In the first five spheres, the laws cannot be broken, but in the higher, uniquely human, spheres, the laws are norms. F+C discusses whether there are really laws of history. He quotes Spier as saying that one should not build a 17th century house in the 20th century as an example of such a law. F+C says, "we don't believe that ... God will condemn anyone for building a 17th century house in the 20th century!"

[But I have two things to say here. One about the building of the 17th century house in the 20th century. This would not on the face of it seem so terrible, at least as not to merit God's displeasure. However, I wonder whether F+C's idea that Dooy says that God is displeased when we break these early-sphere laws is in fact wrong understanding of Dooy. I don't think that these laws of the spheres are seen by God as something that brings about his eternal condemnation in themselves; what brings about our eternal condemnation or life is our heart-orientation toward God. As to sphere laws, I think that it is more that God has given guidelines for 'right' or 'healthy' functioning in the spheres, and if we go against the laws then we will suffer in some way. The later the sphere, the greater the suffering.

For instance, if we break a law of logic then we might arrive at wrong advice or knowledge. That could lead to suffering. If we break a law of linguistics, then we deceive, and that does lead to suffering. If we break a social law, we make people feel uncomfortable, we instil into the company some unease that tends to spread competitiveness or cynicism. If we break a law of economics - of frugal use of scarce resources - then we find maldistribution of the resources and poverty, and we find ourselves in the middle of an ecolgical crisis. If we break a law of aesthetics, then - what? It seems to me that doing this does not lead to quite so much suffering as the ecological crisis or deception. Ugliness and lack of harmony seems less important. So, perhaps the seriousness of breaking a law is not monotonically increasing. But one must remember that the word in Genesis, when God said his creation was 'good' had a strong aesthetic overtone. If we break a juridicial law then we bring about injustice. If we break the moral law of love - well, here we are into the serious ones. (These are interesting ideas to explore, but not part of my main argument.)

[So what about breaking a historical law? How much does that matter? If we do build 17th century houses in the 20th century, it would seem not to be particularly serious, and probably not even as bad as breaking a law of logic. But on the other hand, if we built 17th century houses to a large extent, then perhaps there would be some suffering, such as old people dying of hypothermia, and a greater incidence of various diseases.

[However, I think that there is something more important in the laws of this sphere than what kind of houses we build. The sphere is not just historical, it is also technological: to do with formative power. And I know that it is bad to be 'technology-centred', to develop technology without any thought for its use or impact. One extreme example of this might be nuclear technology. A less extreme example, but probably more far-reaching in its effects, is the technology-centredness of most information technology development. Apparently, over 300 billion dollars a year are spent on IT. XXXX questions whether we really get true benefit from all this expenditure and use of resources. I somehow doubt it. Much human resource is wasted as a result. So, perhaps there is indeed a normative law here.

[Or is it just that some have not so much broken the law of the sphere as have made an idol of the sphere? I do not know. Who is going to sort this out? Certainly not F+C.]

Now F+C asks whether Law is part of the creator or part of the creation. Dooy says it is part of the creation. But F+C does not like this. "Rather, in Scripture, the law of God is purely and simply divine." He presents five arguments for this. But I find that all five not only fail to convince me, but actually all have serious flaws.

First, F+C points out that in Ps 119:89-93 we see nature obeying God's ordinances. Therefore there must be some difference between nature and the ordinances it obeys, and, he implies, this difference is that the ordinances are somehow part of the Creator rather than the creation. Or maybe it is that the ordinances are "God's".

[But, as Hart points out, this difference between nature and orinances does not mean that the law it obeys is thereby part of God. He argues that the Realist conception that the laws or prototypes are part of nature is wrong. Rather, there are entities in nature that 'exist' and there are laws that 'pertain'. The latter are not part of the former. But both are created. F+C seems to be making the mistake Plato and Aristotle made, in assuming that if the laws are created then they must somehow have the same type of 'existence' as things and events. Furthermore, the phrase, "God's ordinances" does not imply that they are part of God - just as "God's creation" does not imply that the creation is part of God. So, the fact that nature 'obeys God's ordinances' does not require that the ordinances are part of God.]

Second, F+C says that Scripture "never speaks of any 'law structure' or 'law order' in nature." And uses this as part of his argument that law is part of god.

[But Scripture not speaking of something does not mean that thing is not true. It does not mention boolean algebra, but boolean algebra still holds. Boolean algebra is a 'law' that we have discovered. However, 'law structure' is something deeper. So should we expect the Bible to speak about it? I'm not sure we should. Dooy's idea of law structures is his own theoretical formulation and explanation for part of the nature of the creation. He is trying to make sense, and also to counteract anti- Christian philosophy. So he might be justified in doing this - as long as it does not have authority higher than that which is revealed by God. So, F+C's second argument doesn't hold either.]

Third, F+C indulges in 'biblical arithmetic' of a dubious kind. "There, 'law of God' is a phrase which refers to the 'Word of God' (note Ps 119:89) and the 'Word of God' is equated with God Himself in John 1:1."

[Oh dear! With this kind of argument I expect I could prove just about anything. That argument really only holds if two conditions are both true. One is that everytime the phrase 'Word of God' occurs in the English translations of the Bible, they all refer to exactly the same thing - and that seems not to be true. Second, that the 'equation' of the 'Word of God' with God himself is two-way, that it is a mathematical identity. "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1) has a particular meaning in Greek which does not require such a mathematical identity. So F+C's argument falls.]

Fourth, F+C says, "To obey the law is to obey God. The law deserves from us a kind of total obedience which only God deserves ... 'Law of God' is simply a way of speaking of God's own claims upon His creatures."

[I find the last sentence is OK. But note law "is a way of speaking" rather than "identical to". The way I see it is that God provided laws. When talking about the moral law especially - and that seems to be the focus of much of the Bible when it talks about God's law - then obeying the law is obeying God. But 'is' does not indicate identity of the object (law == God). Yes, it deserves total obedience, but that is simply because God deserves it and he has given us his laws to let us know what his claims are. An army officer deserves the total obedience of the soldiers because the Queen deserves, but that does not mean the officer is identical to the Queen. As Paul says, the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It is not God itself, but rather given by God for certain purposes: to let us know what sin is, and to let us know our need for a Saviour. So this does not mean that the law itself is divine.]

Fifth, F+C maintains that the law is 'spoken' by God rather than 'created' by him, and he points us to John 1:1-3.

[But, as above, John 1 talks about Jesus Christ the Son, not about a law. And I am not sure that Jesus was 'spoken' by God, but rather 'begotten' by God. Yes, the law is 'spoken' by God in the sense of its content being communicated. But if I 'speak' a command to my children that does not mean that the command is part of me. Rather, it has emerged from me, been made by me, almost in the way I might create something like a picture. Speaking is just one way in which I function. So, again, F+C's argument falls.]

[In viewing this debate about Law, I think now that Dooy's treatment is motivated by finding a way of steering between two errors. One is to idolise the law, making it part of God. That is, the law of gravity, the law of politeness, the law of love, are actually God, part of God - which is a pantheist or platonic concept. I think he was concerned at what he saw as platonic pagan influences in Christian world views, particularly that the major division is between 'physical' or 'natural' and 'spiritual' or 'supernatural'. That is, God, angels and demons were one side, while humans, animals, plants and rocks were the other. He wanted to draw a different boundary: God as creator on one side, and all others, as creation, on the other. The other error he wanted to avoid is nominalism, that all laws, certainly those of the post-sensitive spheres, are mere human creations, so my laws are just as good as yours. Dooy tries to have real laws that pertain, given by God, that are still not part of God.]


On Scripture, as we might expect, comes the most important area of controversy. F+C accuses Dooy of a 'modernist' view of Scripture, and of denying not only its infallibility and inerrancy but also its authority.

Much has been said, F+C states, about the "radically Scriptural character of this philosophy". There are many in the movement who hold to the Reformed view, of the inerrancy etc. of Scripture - but also many who do not.

Dooy maintains there are three 'forms' of the Word of God: Jesus Christ, Creation and Scripture. "These are three temporal forms of that supra-temporal fullness which is the Word itself."

[So far, so good.]

"The Word itself is often described as the '... radical and central biblical theme of creation, fall into sin and redemption by Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God in the communion of the Holy Spirit.' [Dooyeweerd, Twilight of Western Thought, p. 41f] It is also called the 'basic motive' or 'ground motive' of Scripture."

[Not quite right. It is not the Word that is this 'radical and central theme' but "the second basic motive of Western thought" (I looked up Dooy, Twilight, p. 41.). That is, Western thought has been influenced by a number of 'ground motives', of which that revealed in the Bible is one. The ground motive is also called 'presupposition'. Let us stop for a moment to consider just what Dooy is getting at when he talks about 'ground motive' or 'presupposition.'

[Creation, fall and redemption is indeed the 'ground motive' of Scripture. But it is wrong to say that the Word IS (described as) this three-fold ground motive. Rather, these three happenings are actual events of supra-cosmic significance, and the Word speaks about them, revealing them to humankind. More than that, for our purposes, they form basic presuppositions about the way we see things. What Dooy is trying to point out is that theoretical (and other) thought makes presuppositions about such supra-cosmic things, and that the presuppositions affects the thought, or, rather, the way such thinking develops. He shows how there have been four types of presupposition, three of them dualistic and one Scriptural and integrative. We will return to discuss presuppositions, ground motives, below, but we should note here that since unaided humanity would naturally tend towards a dualistic presupposition, God had to reveal the 'true' presupposition, the true picture of the way things are, and did so in his Word, which has three forms. F+C seems to misunderstand here; in fact I am mystified how he could not see it correctly. I will come back to this below, since F+C returns the topic of presuppositions later. However, after the above he turns his attention first to Dooy's distinction between theoretical and 'heart' knowledge. So will we.]

After saying the above, F+C turns his attention to how Dooy believes the Word to be, not words, but 'power'. He cites Dooy as saying, "It effects the true knowledge of God and ourselves, if our heart is really opened by the Holy Spirit so that it finds itself in the grip of God's Word and has become the prisoner of Jesus Christ. So long as this central meaning of the Word revelation is at issue we are beyond the scientific problems both of theology and philosophy. Its acceptance or rejection is a matter of life or death to us, and not a question of theoretical reflection."

F+C dislikes the force of this, he dislikes the idea of the Word 'gripping' us. "Is there any sense in which this Word, in its central meaning, is appropriated by hearing, understanding, believing, obeying? Or is the Word a kind of blind force which 'grips' a person and changes him, whithout giving him any information, commands, questions, promises, etc.?" F+C takes Dooy to mean some kind of irresistable force.

[I think F+C misunderstands what Dooy is saying. Dooy is emphasising that 'head knowledge' will not get us into the Kingdom of God, but we need 'heart knowledge', 'heart response'. He is referring to the experience we all find, at least in some people, that God speaks to us with power, not with propositions. Dooy is not denying that in this process we hear, understand, believe, obey, but rather than such understanding and reflection is a vehicle, a means to the end of ultimate response or obedience to God. There is a sense in which God's call can be irresistable - and I would have thought F+C, as a good Calvinist, would have been only too happy to agree with Dooy about it.]

F+C is concerned that this 'gripping' can even happen through "false language". "Dooyeweerd's unclarity [viz., his use of the word, grip, without explaining it fully], again, leaves the door open for false doctrine."

[Presumably he means that Dooy is suggesting that God can even speak to a person via words that ultimately are not fully true. But there have been instances of this, of God using non-biblical material to prompt a person in the right direction and then eventually find him. Yes, indeed, false doctrine could result from unclarity, and from God using non- biblical material to speak to people, but that does not seem to worry God as much as it worries F+C.]

Dooy contrasts heart knowledge and theoretical reflection, "a matter of life and death" and "a question of theoretical reflection." F+C asks, "Why is it that a matter of life and death may never be also a question of theoretical reflection? Dooyeweerd seems to assume this is obvious; but very often we expend our greatest theoretical energies on those problems we care most about ... The present ecological crisis, for example, may be said to be, in a sense, 'a matter of life and death', but this does not that fact make all the more urgent the theoretical study of ecology?"

[F+C seems to have a rose-tinted view of theoretical reflection. I agree that in matters of life and death, in important matters, then sinless humans would employ their analytical energies to tackle those matters. They would operate in the analytical sphere. But first, 'theoretical thinking' is when the analytical sphere is elevated and an object sphere is isolated from the others. That is, the ivory tower. This is NOT what is needed in important, life and death matters - even if we might make use of theoretical knowledge so gained in our multi-spherical working on the important matter. Second, we are not sinless. We academics too often treat theoretical thought as something to idolize, and something on which we build our reputations, and something by which we trounce rivals. And, in expending so much effort in doing these things, we blind ourselves to the real matters of life and death. Think, for instance, about the 5000 people killed on British roads each year; how many academics undertaking Transport Studies actually go out and try to remedy the situation? Precious few. In fact, many academics look down on those who actually try to accomplish something. Look at how James Martin is treated as something of a charlatan in academic Computer Science circles. So, both in theory and in practice, theoretical thinking is not really what will help us tackle matters of life and death - and certainly it is not needed for doing so.

[I think that Dooy has it right. Let us take an example. I might be worried about whether God really loves and accepts me, and repeat to myself the well-known doctrines of Christ's death for me and so on. I try to convince myself from what I know, by some process of deduction or theoretical thinking, but to no avail. On this occasion the doctrines just do not seem to speak to my heart, my worry, to the real me. Then the Holy Spirit switches on the light in my mind and at the same time speaks to my heart: the idea lights up inside me that God went ahead with creation even though he knew what suffering I and others would cause; he still believed it worthwhile. And then - and in that instance only then - do I know, deep down, that God does accept me as I am. Theoretical thought - about Christ's death etc. - can not accomplish that; what it does is when the Holy Spirit 'grips' me. And notice how this gripping is not devoid of information, or at least of understanding in that it will usually rest on or at least make use of any existing theoretical head knowledge. By the Holy Spirit I gain new understanding both in my heart and in my mind. But by power, not by theoretical thought.

[However, unlike many Christians, I do recognise the importance of the mind. But I do not, like so many Christians of yesteryear who have swallowed a rationalistic world view, see the mind as merely the organ for theoretical thinking. I (using that part of me called my mind) function in the analytical aspect, and it is important to do so properly. Moreover, if I oppose this aspect to others then I engage in what Dooy calls theoretical thought. Further, in engaging in both theoretical thought and analysis I make presuppositions. I take Rom 12:2 to refer to all three: that I should be transformed in the way I undertake analysis, in the way I carry out, and my attitude to, theoretical thought, and in the presuppositions I based these on. More about presuppositions below. Let us return to F+C's statement above.

[I find it interesting that F+C should cite the ecological crisis. Presumably he wrote this paper in the early or mid 1970s, and so would not know of the obfuscation that has occurred since then, and the utter refusal to face such 'matters of life and death'. It is ironic that in precisely this matter, theoretical thinking has actually been employed by the establishment as a shield against having to tackle these issues! Too often, especially in the 1980s, the cry by the establishment was "Well, there is no scientific evidence of a problem or an urgency to do anything."

[Of course, much of this obfuscation is down to human sin, rather than any inherent weakness in theoretical thought. As I have said, the results of theoretical thinking, carried out at an earlier time, may indeed by useful in matters of life and death. But when we are faced with such matters here and now, the time for theoretical thinking has passed, and it is time for 'naive', multi-spherical thinking leading to action. It is even more true of situations in which we are faced with having to respond the Living, Eternal God: the time for theoretical thinking is passed, and we have respond with our whole beings. I think that this is what Dooy had in mind when he contrasted heart knowledge with theoretical thought.]

"A fortiori it would seem that if creation, fall and redemption are matters of eternal life and death, then they ought to be studied - theoretically as well as 'naively'."

[I do not believe that Dooy is saying there can be no theoretical study of these things whatsoever. For instance, one can make a sociological study of saved people, using statistics as a tool. Also, one can perform multi-spherical ('naive') analysis of the events and processes of creation, fall and redemption. For instance, one can try to gain an understanding of why God made the world in the first place, especially knowing aforehand that we would fall and bring about myriad suffering. One can try to understand why it was that we fell, or why God saw fit to redeem us rather than start afresh. Such 'understanding' can be very useful, especially in specific situations, such as my example above.

[But even such understanding, and certainly theoretical understanding, can never fully grasp creation, fall or redemption. We can never really come to a full understanding of why God made the world in the first place. Even though some might claim to, nobody has the key that unlocks this mystery. Some might say it was because God was lonely. Other than he wanted something to love. CS Lewis suggests that creating a temporal universe was perhaps the only way for God to make lots and lots of Christ-like figures, instead of (begetting) only one. But it remains a mystery. Theoretical thought cannot surround it. But theoretical thought does seem to be able to surround the mysteries of the creation. This is what Dooy was getting at. I think F+C may have misunderstood.]

F+C seems to think that because Dooy calls these three themes (creation, fall and redemption) presuppositions then this makes it impossible to make any study of them. "But we have argued earlier, and still maintain, that there is no reason why the presuppositions of theoretical thought may not be analysed theoretically."

[Here we move into a consideration of what Dooy means by 'presupposition'. I have written more fully on it elsewhere, and refer the reader to that. But here I shall summarize.

==== I have yet to do this.]


F+C suggests that Dooy's system weakens evangelism. The argument he presents seems to be two arguments intertwined. One goes as follows. 1. Dooy has discovered "divine" laws not found in the Bible (the laws of each sphere). 2. So breaking a law in such spheres - such as building a 17th Century house in the 20th Century, to use F+C's example - is a "sin" against God. 3. This weakens the concept of sin as personal enmity against God. (Sin "is a personal heart-attitude, not merely a weakness of constitution.") 4. So "the very Gospel of Christ will be lost in the verbiage."

[First, a small point. F+C uses the word "divine" for the sphere laws. I think that is word with unhelpful connotations here since it, and the drawing of the attention to "not found in the Bible", immediately puts the believer onto the foot of "Do we have heresy here? Do we have Dooy adding to the Word of God?" I think that is unhelpful, since he is, perhaps unwittingly, clouding the issue by means of snide connotation. But let it pass, and examine what is meant by "divine" here.

[As I have argued eralier, the laws are definitely not divine in the normally accepted sense of the word. That is, Dooy makes clear, they are not part of God himself. To suggest these laws are part of God is pantheism; surely F+C is not suggesting that Dooy is advocating pantheism, when Dooy himself says clearly he is not? That is why his use of "divine" is unhelpful.

[As I understand it, Dooy claimed that the laws of the spheres are only "divine" in that they were designed and provided by God. In particular, he was at pains to rectify two wrong god-less ideas. One was the reductionist idea of emergence, that these laws 'emerged' out of the operation of the soup of sub-atomic particles over billions of years, and that the moral law of love, for instance, is merely a label for an incredibly complex operation of cause and effect among the particles. He is thus seeking to stand against reductionism. The other error he seeks to rectify is nominalism, which claims there are no laws at all; all is merely our interpretation.

[To stand against these requires that he make a strong claim, namely the laws have been planted there by God. They are both really there, and they cannot be reduced to laws of other spheres. The laws therefore have some kind of authority, based on God. But they are definitely not divine in the normal sense of the word. "Divinely instituted" might have been a better word to use.

[Now, step 2: breaking a spherical law is sinning against God. I do not think this follows, unless one takes the pantheistic view that the laws ARE part of God. If they have been laid down by God, then breaking them is like departing from the instructions in a manual: we will find things do not function quite so well. This "quite so well" might more or less serious, which brings us to step 3.

[F+C says that sin is personal enmity against God. But this is only one kind of sin. There are many words for sin the the Greek of the New Testament. One, for instance, means 'missing the mark' rather than personal rebellion and enmity. There is also the concept of injustice or unrighteousness. As I understand it, it is this that is involved in breaking the sphere laws. By doing so, we are not giving things in God's beloved creation their due, we are being unjust to them, since harmful results follow from our ignoring of the Maker's instruction manual.

[However, there is a sin which is personal rebellion against God, as F+C rightly points out - and which figures highly in the Reformed view of sin. Such sin is fundamental to all other types of sin. Now, as I understand Dooy, rebellion against God is a breaking of the law of the pistic sphere. The pistic sphere is to do with our vision of ourselves, out ultimate commitment. While functioning as a subject in any sphere involves personal response, this is supremely so in the pistic sphere. Breaking the law of this spheres is personal rebellion and idolatry. Dooy thus would seem to agree that (one kind of) sin "is a personal heart- attitude, not merely a weakness of constitution." Also, as I understand it and as Hart claims, since it is the terminal sphere, it is in some sense more fundamental, and so its results pervade all other spheres. This is indeed what we find, that rebellion and idolatry are fundamental to all other wrongdoing. So Dooy would seem to agree with F+C. F+C says that sin "is" personal heart-attitude, while Dooy says that it is the most fundamental type of wrongdoing.

[So it would seem to me that the only difference between them is that Dooy just goes a little further in identifying injustice as a problem in addition to personal rebellion against God. Just as I find the Bible does. If, as F+C points out, Dooy "broadens the concept of sin beyond that which is usually found among Reformed Christians" then it may be that their concept of sin is too narrow, and that Dooy is right to do this.

[One further thing. F+C suggests that Dooy is saying that rocks, governments, etc. can be 'sinners'. I am not sure Dooy says that. First, governments are manufactured entities, not natural ones, and so require special treatment. But, more fundamentally, it does depend on what we mean by 'sinner'. It would seem to me that any entity that functions as subject in a sphere may break some of the laws of that sphere, to the extent that those laws are norms rather than deterministic (and norm-ness seems to increase from zero or near zero in the earlier spheres to near totality in the pistic sphere). If an entity functions as subject then that entity is responsible if it breaks a law, and can be held responsible for any harm that comes about as a result. That is as far as I would go to say that a rock can be a 'sinner' (if indeed that is feasible).

[But if, in the word, 'sinner', one bundles connotations of eternal judgement, personal rebellion against God, idolatry, etc., then I would have to say that only entities that function as subject in the pistic sphere can be 'sinners' in this way. That is, only human beings.

[Presumably the latter is what F+C means by the word, 'sinner'. But he seems to be confusing with it the notion of being a responsive subject in a sphere. Again, I feel that Dooy has done us a great service in clarifying the notion of wrongdoing, sin, injustice, etc.

In step 4 F+C is concerned that the focus of Gospel of Christ becomes less sharp. I suppose that this might be true, in the sense that for some decades the focus has been centred solely upon the righting of our personal heart attitude towards God. Dooy is saying that in addition to righting this, the work of Christ is also to put right other things such as unjustices of various sorts. This is less 'sharp' in the sense of being broader, but I do not find any problem with this, and it brings us to the second argument.]

The other argument goes like this. 1. "Since the heart of man is the 'concentration point' of the whole temporal cosmos, says Dooyeweerd, man's fall into sin "implied the apostasy of the whole tomporal world". Thus not only man, but the whole world is somehow involved in sin: rocks, trees, ... governments, etc." 2. "If, then, sin extends over all of these entities, then redemption does as well. And if redemption does as well ... then evangelism must also. That is to say, evangelism should not merely be the preaching of the good news to individuals; rather it should include the restructuring of social institutions as well. It should even involve the 'subduing of the earth' mentioned in the 'cultural mandate' of Genesis 1:28, since it should include the removal of the effects of sin from the creation." 3. But, while sin affects the whole creation, sin is "an exclusively personal category" [his emphasis]. Only a person can sin; trees cannot. 4. So evangelism, which should be concerned purely with personal redemption of individual humans, is weakened if it is broadened to include social or environmental action.

[Oh dear: the rationalistic and pietistic reaction against social gospel. I heard just the day before I wrote the first draft of this, that George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilisation, now admits to the importance of 'social action' in evangelism. Let us examine these steps more carefully.

[Step 1 is to do with the effect of our sin upon the rest of creation. It seems in accord with what the Bible teaches.

[Step 2: if sin covers all these, then so must evangelism. I have no trouble with this - provided we recognise that there are several different activities and foci in evangelism, as will be made clear in step 3.

[Step 3: F+C is at pains to draw a distinction between the effect of sin and the perpetration of sin. I agree. But, as discussed above, I think he conflates two types of perpetration, namely breaking of sphere laws that constitutes injustice, and personal rebellion against God that is the breaking of the law of the terminal, pistic, sphere. "Only a person can sin." True, in the sense of pistic pesonal rebellion against God, since being a subject in this sphere is unique to humans.

[Step 4: So, F+C claims, evangelism should ONLY be about righting human personal commitment. I agree that this is the most important and fundamental focus of evangelism, owing to the terminal nature of the pistic sphere. Without this focus, evangelism dwindles to mere exhortation to right living (ethical sphere), to legalism (juridical sphere), being nice to people (social sphere), prosperity gospel (formative sphere perhaps), or whatever. (This is an interesting thought that I will not explore here: are all the common distortions of the gospel related to the spheres in the way I have suggested there?) But I disagree that this should be the ONLY focus of evangelism. Environmental, social and other 'secular' action is also part of evangelism. Or, rather, part of what it is mandatory for God's people to be doing vis-a-vis the world while here on earth. For two reasons.

[One is that God loves his Creation and has commanded us to take care of it - and has never rescinded that command. Omitting that is to sin (rebel) against God, even if unknowingly. I will argue this in two ways, from Dooy and from the Bible, to show that they are saying the same things. First, from Dooy, the idea that we do not need to fulfil the cultural mandate but merely preach the gospel of personal salvation stems from a pistic vision that we are solely spiritual creatures, and that our earthly accretions have no real value eternally. This is a false commitment, constituting an act, or a state, of personal heart-attitude against God. From the Bible, this is gnostic and, as I John points out, the Anti-Christ. To put it bluntly.

[Second, is the fact that all things are to be involved in Christ's redemption. All things are Christ's inheritance (Heb. 1). Which is more glorious: to save only human souls and have to wipe out the creation and start again, or to save the whole creation? I want to work to present to my Saviour the best inheritance I can. That includes preventing extinction of too many species.

[Third, a purely personal gospel message is no longer seen as relevant or powerful by many people in the West. It was in the time of Whitefield and Wesley, when persons were oppressed, that the message of "You are of personal value to God without going through the establishment of priests and vicars" and its personal emphasis was needed. But today, when individualism reigns in the world, the problems people face are to do with our effect on the Creation. This is the side of the whole Gospel that needs to be emphasised today. Repentance has taken on a global meaning.

[Not to say that we ONLY preach environmental etc. action, but that we combine it with the call for personal repentance and commitment.

[To conclude, I think F+C is taking a Reformed rather than a Biblical view of sin and evangelism. I further think that Dooy has done us a service in broadening the Reformed view to take us a little nearer the Biblical view.]


Dooy says there are three steps in theoretical thought. 1. Theoretical thought presupposes naive experience and cosmic time. 2. All of this presupposes the existence of a self which transcends time. 3. This self presupposes something beyond self, namely 'an origin.'

Only in the third step does confrontation occur between biblical and non-biblical ground motives. F+C claims that Van Til doesn't like this. He wants the confrontation to occur at the first step. "If it is not brought in at the first step it cannot be brought in properly at the third step."

[I do not see why Van Til requires this. Surely, it is the third step, what all other things presuppose, that is most basic. Since steps 1 and 2 presuppose the Origin of step 3, then if we differ in step 3 this difference is felt in steps 2 and 1, even if it may not be explicit there.]

However, a more serious criticism is that Dooy says that step 3 only presupposes "an" Origin, not "the" Origin proclaimed in the Bible. "Dooyeweerd never seriously challenges the unbelieving philosopher to accept the God of Scripture. He constantly assumes that the unbeliever is able to reason perfectly well without this assumption. Therefore Dooyeweerd in fact concedes what he claims to challenge, namely the autonomy of theoretical thought."

[It all hinges on what is meant by 'perfectly well'. Dooyeweerd, I believe, holds that the unbeliever *can* function correctly in the analytical sphere, at least to some degree, even when their presuppositions and heart orientation are bad. As Francis Shaeffer said, non-Christians can come up with 'true truth'. But, to reason 'perfectly well' could mean reasoning in a context of correct and healthy functioning in all 15 spheres, including the pistic. If someone is wrong here then their whole flow of reasoning is flawed, even though they might be functioning OK in the analytical sphere itself. I find this explains why apparently incontrovertible arguments can be wrong - they ignore certain spheres, and the direction in which they are driven is determined by the higher spheres. If we function wrongly in one of these, then the whole functioning is out of kilter. Maybe this is what John was referring to when he said that if a person breaks one law then he has broken them all? In any case, to hold that an unbeliever can function well in the analytical sphere does not involve assuming that sphere to be autonomous. So I do not think F+C's criticism of him is valid here.]

F+C qualifies the above criticism, by continuing: "Or, rather, Dooyeweerd does challenge the independence of theoretical thought from naive experience, supra-temporal selfhood, and ultimate origin, but he does not challenge that autonomy which is far more significant - the pretended autonomy of sinful man over against the living and true God!"

[This might be more serious: Dooy does not challenge sin. My first question is: should he be expected to do so in his 'New Critique of Theoretical Thought'? In one way, no. In another way, yes. I have long felt that his system is missing the idea of sin and pride, and have taken it, not that he denies those, but that he is concerned to ascertain the structure of unblemished Created Reality. So sin would not come into it as a fundamental. Only as a parameter value. That is, "an origin" is presupposed, but which origin is chosen is a parameter value to be filled in by each person or culture. What Dooy was at pains to rectify were erroneous ideas then prevalent that (a) theoretical thought could be isolated from naive experience, (b) it could be isolated from selfhood, (c) it could isolated from ultimate religious or pistic commitment. He is not saying that by merely linking it back to these three everything will carry on 'perfectly well'. It is not his concern to challenge "the pretended autonomy of sinful man over against the living and true God" - at least, not at this juncture, in which his purpose is to show the relationships that tie theoretical thought.

[Where this should be challenged, in my opinion, is in actual human functioning in all spheres as subjects. As I understand it, and as discussed a page ago, since the pistic is the terminal sphere, then if we have a wrong or false commitment (a wrong Origin) this has a corrupting effect on our functioning in all spheres, even if we function perfectly in them. Putting it in another way, if there are three presppository steps, and the basic presupposition is about which God we commit ouselves to, then if we make an error here then all else will be warped. If that is so, then he does indeed challenge the "pretended autonomy." He does so, not by saying that the unbeliever cannot function in certain spheres, but rather that his/her functioning is corrupted.]

F+C sums up his criticism by saying, "Dooyeweerd fails to confront unbelieving philosophy with the total bankruptcy of its position."

[But is its position "totally bankrupt"? Romans 1 makes clear that the unbeliever can indeed find out some true things about God - and presumably about various things in Creation. This means that it is not "totally" bankrupt. It is indeed not full, and is corrupted, but is not totally bankrupt. Rather, we might say that it does not have enough in its account to pay the debt to full, true knowledge.

So, if my understanding of what Dooy is saying and my understanding of F+C's criticism are correct then this criticism is invalid.]


It seems to me that Dooyeweerd's ideas should be welcomed by Christians, even if flawed, since they go miles further than any comparable system of thought. Every effort should be made to understand them properly, to apply them in the rough and tumble of life, and to refine them once we see where the flaws lie. This is what I am trying to do with applying them to information technology.

Written up to Nov. 1995


Frame J M, Coppes, L J, (19??), "The Amsterdam Philosophy: a preliminary critique", Harmony Press, R.D.2, Harrisburg, NJ 08865, USA.