The discussion between the two positions must therefore be one that takes place for the sake of the argument. This means that each takes his place, hypothetically only, upon the pre-supposition of the other in order to see what happens to human experience.
Since the Christian must seek to win the non-Christian, it is he who should first be ready to think himself sympathetically into the position of the party he is trying to win. He therefore listens patiently to all the objections that the non-Christian has against the Christian position. But he at once sees that all these objections rest upon one fundamental assumption, the assumption of man’s ultimacy. And therefore the real question between the two positions has not even been touched unless it be asked upon what foundation the non-Christian can make his objections to Christianity intelligible. On what foundation rest the guns which he directs against the Christian position?
When this question is considered, it appears that this placement is the truth of Christianity itself. In other words, the non-Christian needs the truth of the Christian religion in order to attack it. As a child needs to sit on the lap of its father in order to slap the father’s face, so the unbeliever, as a creature, needs God the Creator and providential controller of the universe in order to oppose this God. Without this God, the place on which he stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.
– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.40-41
Man might receive revelation (a) about nature, (b) about man, and (c) about God. He might, moreover, receive such revelation from three distinct sources, that is, from three distinct immediate sources, namely, from nature, from man, and from God. The matter may be schematically presented as follows. Man might receive revelation:
A. About nature:
1. From nature i.e., through physics
2. From self i.e., through psycho-physics
3. From God i.e., through theologico-physics
B. About man himself:
1. From nature i.e., through physico-psychology
2. From self i.e., through psychology proper
3. From God i.e., through theologico-physcology
C. About God:
1. From nature i.e., through natural theology
2. From self i.e., through rational theology
3. From God i.e., through theology proper
– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.121-122
If this has piqued your interest, I encourage you to read Van Til’s ‘An Introduction to Systematic Theology‘ where he develops each of these categories over several chapters.
At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that every system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own. Usually this fact is overlooked. It is taken for granted that everybody begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of such investigations. Yet this is not actually the case. It could not actually be the case.
In the first place, this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But that must also be his starting point. If the Christian is right in his final conclusion about God, then he would not even get into touch with any fact unless it were through the medium of God. And since man has, through the fall in Adam, become a sinner, man cannot know and therefore love God except through Christ the Mediator. And it is in Scripture alone that he learns about this Mediator. Scripture is the Word of Christ, the Son of God and Son of man. No sinner knows anything truly except he knows Christ, and no one knows Christ truly unless the Holy Ghost, the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son, regenerates him. If all things must be seen “in God” to be seen truly, one could look ever so long elsewhere without ever seeing a fact as it really is.
If I must look through a telescope to see a distant star, I cannot first look at the star to see whether there is a telescope through which alone I could see it. If I must look through a microscope to see a germ, I cannot first look at the germ with the naked eye to see if there is a microscope through which alone I can see it. If it were a question of seeing something with the naked eye and seeing the same object more clearly through a telescope or a microscope, the matter would be different. We may see a landscape dimly with the naked eye and then turn to look at it through a telescope and see it more clearly. But such is not the case with the Christian position. According to it, nothing at all can be known truly of any fact unless it be known through and by way of man’s knowledge of God.
– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.4-5
Socrates answers the question whether the holy is holy because it is holy or whether it is holy because God says it is holy, by saying that he does not care what the gods say about the holy. He wants to know what the holy is in itself. In other words, he assumes absolute human autonomy. By saying this he, at the same time, answers the question asked. The Holy is holy not because a god says it is holy; the holy is a concept and a reality that stands above the gods as well as above men. This is rationalism. But involved in this rationalism is the notion that holiness is an idea that is wholly beyond the reach of human definition. This is irrationalism. Instigated by Satan, Adam introduced the notion of human autonomy and with it the rationalist-irrationalist synthesis that has marked all human thought that is not redeemed by Christ. Socrates exemplifies this fact clearly.
There are two purely contradictory statements that must, on this apostate view, be made about reality as a whole. In the first place all reality must be one in the sense that it is a static whole. If this were not so, man would not understand his own freedom. To understand is, on this view, to penetrate exhaustively by logical insight. But, if man understood himself and therefore his freedom exhaustively, then he would not be free any longer. He would not exist at all. For, to understand is, on this view, to be absorbed in being. Being and understanding are one. To understand himself man must, on this view, destroy himself. He must be absorbed into the “wholly other” reality above him. Yet he has no knowledge of a god that is above him. Therefore he cannot, though he must, be absorbed into God.
– Cornelius Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace p. 10-11
The two positions are therefore basically opposed to each other on all scores. The question is not simply as to which one is in accord with fact and logic. The question is rather in terms of which presupposition fact and logic have meaning at all. On which position is there any intelligible application of logic to fact at all? The question therefore concerns the philosophy of fact and the philosophy of logic. Any argument between them that does not go back to the question of presuppositions begs the question. The Christian position seeks to make human experience intelligible in terms of the presupposition of God; the non-Christian position seeks to make human experience intelligible in terms of man who is conceived of as ultimate.
– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.30-31
Every system of philosophy must tell us whether it thinks true knowledge to be possible. Or if a system of philosophy thinks it impossible for man to have a true knowledge of the whole of reality or even of a part of reality, it must give good reasons for thinking so. From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology. It will then be possible to compare the Christian epistemology with any and with all others. And being thus enabled to compare them all, we are in a position and placed before the responsibility of choosing between them. And this choosing can then, in the nature of the case, no longer be a matter of artistic preference. We cannot choose epistemologies as we choose hats. Such would be the case if it had been once for all established that the whole thing is but a matter of taste. But that is exactly what has not been established. That is exactly the point in dispute.
– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.xiii-xiv
Now the only argument for an absolute God that holds water is a transcendental argument. A deductive argument as such leads only from one spot in the universe to another spot in the universe. So also an inductive argument as such can never lead beyond the universe. In either case there is no more than an infinite regression. In both cases it is possible for the smart little girl to ask, “If God made the universe, who made God?” and no answer is forthcoming. This answer is, for instance, a favorite reply of the atheist debater, Clarence Darrow. But if it be said to such opponents of Christianity that, unless there were an absolute God their own questions and doubts would have no meaning at all, there is no argument in return. There lie the issues. It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that no human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or in affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence. Thus the transcendental argument seeks to discover what sort of foundations the house of human knowledge must have, in order to be what it is.
– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.11
The main point is that if man could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God.
– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.203
The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be indirect rather than direct. The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible. The question is as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. Are they what the non-Christian methodology assumes that they are? Are they what the Christian theistic methodology presupposes they are?
The answer to this question cannot be finally settled by any direct discussion of “facts.” It must, in the last analysis, be settled indirectly. The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws. He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible.
– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.122-123