Challenging the Wisdom of this World

It is thus that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world in the modern day no less than He did in the day of Paul. Instead of accepting the favours of modern man, as Romanism and Arminianism do, we should challenge the wisdom of this world. It must be shown to be utterly destructive of predication in any field. It has frequently been shown to be such. It is beyond the possibility of the mind of man to bind together the ideas of pure determinism and of pure indeterminism and by means of that combination to give meaning to life. Either modern man will have to admit that he knows everything or else he will have to admit that he knows nothing. The only alternative to this is that he claims both absurdities at the same time.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.40

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Man is always accessible to God

The truly Biblical view, on the other hand, applies atomic power and flame-throwers to the very presupposition of the natural man’s ideas with respect to himself. It does not fear to lose a point of contact by uprooting the weeds rather than by cutting them off at the very surface. It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God. In that fact alone he may rest secure with respect to the point of contact problem. For that fact makes men always accessible to God. That fact assures us that every man, to be a man at all, must already be in contact with the truth. He is so much in contact with the truth that much of his energy is spent in the vain effort to hide this fact from himself. His efforts to hide this fact from himself are bound to be self-frustrative.

Only by thus finding the point of contact in man’s sense of deity that lies underneath his own conception of self-consciousness as ultimate can we be both true to Scripture and effective in reasoning with the natural man.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.117

The Great Service of Hume

We can well understand then that the nominalism of Berkeley developed into the scepticism of Hume. Hume says that the empiricistic position furnishes no a priori or valid element for thought. Hume tried to work out the full implication of Descartes’ emphasis upon the human mind as the most ultimate foundation for knowledge. He concluded that upon such a basis no knowledge is possible. We cannot help but agree with his conclusions, though not with his premise. The scepticism of Hume is the best reduction to absurdity of the position that takes its start from the human individual. We shall find that later forms of Empiricism have added to the subtlety of the general point of view but that none have added any strength to the position. Hume’s thought remains as the simplest proof that if one takes his stand upon the sense world as such there is no knowledge possible of anything. Hume’s position works out Plato’s first method to the point of obvious absurdity.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.105

The Foundation of Everything

Christianity offers the triune God, the absolute personality, containing all the attributes enumerated, as the God in whom we believe. This conception of God is the foundation of everything else that we hold dear. Unless we can believe in this sort of God, it does us no good to be told that we may believe in some other sort of God, or in anything else. For us everything depends for its meaning upon this sort of God. Accordingly we are not interested to have any one prove to us the existence of any other sort of God but this God. Any other sort of God is no God at all and to prove that some other sort of God exists is, in effect, to prove that no God exists.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.34

Our knowledge must depend on God’s knowledge

A corollary from the doctrine of the Trinity is that human knowledge is analogical. Human knowledge must always depend upon divine knowledge. Anything that a human being knows must first have been known to God. Anything a human being knows he knows only because he knows God. For that reason too man can never know anything as well and as exhaustively as God knows it.

The fact that man’s knowledge must always remain analogical is applicable to his knowledge of God as well as to his knowledge of the universe. God will never be exhaustively understood in his essence by man. If he were, he would no longer be God. In that case there would be no solution for the problem of knowledge.

A third corollary from the doctrine of the Trinity is that man’s knowledge though analogical is nevertheless true. Or to put it more specifically, man’s knowledge is true because it is analogical. It is analogical because God’s being unites within itself the ultimate unity and the ultimate plurality spoken of above. And it is true because there is such a God who unites this ultimate unity and plurality. Hence we may also say that only analogical knowledge can be true knowledge.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p. 48

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Evil

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic
5. Evil

Each claims that with respect to the problem of evil his position is in accord with conscience.

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets his moral consciousness, an aspect of his total experience, in terms of his presupposition. He knows that the judge of the whole earth must do right. All the facts and problems of evil and sin take their meaning from, and find their solution in, terms of the plan of God according to Scripture. The approvals and disapprovals of his conscience take their meaning from the Word of God and from it alone.

b. The non-Christian claims this because he takes his conscience to be its own ultimate point of reference. Evil has not come into the world because of man’s disobedience; it is metaphysically ultimate, i.e., it just is! Evil cannot, ultimately, be distinguished from good; what is, ought to be. Even assuming that good could be distinguished from evil, there is no right to expect that the one will ever be victorious over the other. If those who think they are good succeed in making what they think is “good” prevail upon earth, it can be only by the suppression of the “good” of others who also think they are “good.” Thus power politics will forever replace all ethical distinctions.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought
   (Variation in The Defense of the Faith p.305)

The Most Fundamental Epistemological Question

When therefore we examine the various epistemological views with regard to their “objectivity,” we are interested most of all in knowing whether or not these views have sought the knowledge of an object by placing it into its right relation with the self-conscious God. The other questions are interesting enough in themselves but are comparatively speaking not of great importance. Even if one were not anxious about the truth of the matter, it ought still to be plain to him that there can be no more fundamental question in epistemology than the question whether or not facts can be known without reference to God.

Suppose for argument’s sake that there is such a God. And surely the possibility of it anybody ought to be willing to grant unless he has proved the impossibility of God’s existence. Suppose then the existence of God. Then it would be a fact that every fact would be known truly only with reference to him. If then one did not place a fact into relation with God, he would be in error about the fact under investigation. Or suppose that one would just begin his investigations as a scientist, without even asking whether or not it is necessary to make reference to such a God in his investigations, such a one would be in constant and in fundamental ignorance all the while. And this ignorance would be culpable ignorance, since it is God who gives him life and all good things. It ought to be obvious then that one should settle for himself this most fundamental of all epistemological questions, whether or not God exists. Christ says that as the Son of God, he will come to judge and condemn all those who have not come to the Father by him.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.4

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Logic

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Each claims that his position is “in accord with the demands of logic.”

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the reach of logic as manipulated by man, in terms of God’s revelation of the relation of man to the world and therefore in terms of his presupposition of God. Genesis tells him that nature is made subject to man, and both are subject to God and his purpose. Thus his logic is in gear with reality, but it does not claim to control God himself and therewith all possibility.

b. The non-Christian claims that his position is logical but cannot put any intelligible meaning into the claim. If he works according to his presupposition about the ultimate non-rationality of facts, then all logic operates in a void. It has no contact with the world. If he works according to his presupposition of the ultimacy of all facts, then all facts are reduced to logic and thereby destroyed because they lose their individuality; logic has a validity that is, therefore, purely formal. It could only be a logic of identity, merely saying A is A, for all would be one.

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– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.305, and Jerusalem and Athens p.20)

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Facts

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Both Christian and non-Christian claim that their position is “in accord with the facts of experience.”

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience of them in terms of his presupposition. The “uniformity of nature” and his knowledge of that uniformity both rest for him upon the plan of God. The coherence which he sees in his experience he takes to be analogical to, and indeed, the result of, the absolute coherence of God.

b. The non-Christian also interprets the facts in terms of his presuppositions. On the one hand is the presupposition of ultimate non-rationality. On such a basis, any fact would be different in all respects from all other facts. There could be no “uniformity,” the foundation of all science. Here is “Chaos and Old Night” with a vengeance. On the other hand is the presupposition that all reality is rational in terms of the reach of logic as manipulated by man. On such a basis the nature of any fact would be identical with the nature of every other fact, or, in short, only one big universal fact. There then could be no experience, because there could be no change. All would be a static unity. The non-Christian tries somehow to balance these contradictions. While in the first place he tells us he can never as much as discover any fact, or know anything of its nature, he in the second place after he has discovered what he cannot discover, turns around and tells us everything about it. On his principles he knows everything if he knows anything, though at the same time he cannot know anything; but he does know something, which means he knows everything.

 

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.304-305, and Jerusalem and Athens p.20)

 

Nature through the lens of Scripture

Natural revelation is perfectly clear. Men ought from it to know God and ought through it to see all other things as dependent on God. But only he who looks at nature through the mirror of Scripture does understand natural revelation for what it is. Furthermore, no one can see Scripture for what it is unless he is given the ability to do so by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Only those who are taught of God see the Scriptures for what they are and therefore see the revelation of God in nature for what it is. To be taught of God is a “singular privilege” which God bestows only on his “elect whom he distinguishes from the human race as a whole.” As taught of God, the elect both understand the Bible as the Word of God, and interpret natural revelation through the Bible. The rest of mankind, not taking Scripture as the Word of God, in consequence also misinterpret the natural revelation of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.