God is back of them both

We hold that God has so created the objects in relationship to one another that they exist not as particulars only, but that they exist as particulars that are related to universals. God has created not only the facts but also the laws of physical existence. And the two are meaningless except as correlatives of one another. Moreover, God has adapted the objects to the subjects of knowledge; that the laws of our minds and the laws of the facts come into fruitful contact with one another is due to God’s creative work and to God’s providence, by which all things are maintained in their existence and in their operation in relation to one another.

… Now since we think of nothing as having existence and meaning independently of God, it is impossible to think of the object and the subject standing in the fruitful relation to one another that they actually do unless God is back of them both. Hence, the knowledge that we have of the simplest objects of the physical universe is still based upon the revelational activity of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.122-123

All knowledge rests on revelation

As indicated in an earlier connection, man’s creation in God’s image involves (a) the fact that man’s ideal of knowledge should never be that of the comprehension of God, and (b) the fact that man’s knowledge is nevertheless true.

What we have now spoken of as the presuppositions of revelation are nothing more than the presuppositions of a truly Christian theistic theory of knowledge. God had in himself all knowledge from all eternity. Nothing could be added to his store of knowledge in any process of time. In accordance with his plan, or, as we may say, in accordance with his interpretation, all finite things were made. Hence, all knowledge that any finite creature of God would ever have, whether of things that pertain directly to God or of things that pertain to objects in the created universe itself would, in the last analysis, have to rest upon the revelation of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.119

The self-attestation of Scripture

In the first place it must be affirmed that a Protestant accepts Scripture to be that which Scripture itself says it is on its own authority. Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered. Perhaps the relationship of the sun to our earth and the objects that constitute it, may make this clear. We do not use candles, or electric lights in order to discover whether the light and the energy of the sun exist. The reverse is the case. We have light in candles and electric light bulbs because of the light and energy of the sun. So we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason because it is reason itself that learns of its proper function from Scripture.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.130

Van Til on Natural Theology

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895Coming now to the knowledge that man in paradise would have of God, we must notice first of all that there man would be able to reason correctly from nature to nature’s God. But the meaning of this fact should be taken in connection with what we have said when discussing the true theistic conception of physics. We may perhaps best bring out what we mean by saying that man could originally reason from nature to nature’s God by contrasting it to what has usually been meant by that statement. In the first place, when men say that we can reason from nature to nature’s God, they usually take for granted that nature as it exists today is normal, and that the human mind which contemplates it is normal. This is not true. Nature has had a veil cast over it on account of the sin of man, and the mind of man itself has been corrupted by sin. Accordingly, we must not, now that sin has entered into the world, separate natural theology from theological psychology. After sin has entered the world, no one of himself knows nature aright, and no one knows the soul of man aright. How then could man reason from nature to nature’s God and get anything but a distorted notion of God? The sort of natural theology that the sinner, who does not recognize himself as a sinner, makes is portrayed to us in the first chapter of Romans.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.133


Transcendental argument

We have already indicated that the Christian method uses neither the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense. Now when these two elements are combined, we have what is meant by a truly transcendental argument.

A truly transcendental argument takes any fact of experience which it wishes to investigate, and tries to determine what the presuppositions of such a fact must be, in order to make it what it is. An exclusively deductive argument would take an axiom such as that every cause must have an effect, and reason in a straight line from such an axiom, drawing all manner of conclusions about God and man. A purely inductive argument would begin with any fact and seek in a straight line for a cause of such an effect, and thus perhaps conclude that this universe must have had a cause. Both of these methods have been used, as we shall see, for the defense of Christianity. Yet neither of them could be thoroughly Christian unless they already presupposed God. Any method, as was pointed out above, that does not maintain that not a single fact can be known unless it be that God gives that fact meaning, is an anti-Christian method. On the other hand, if God is recognized as the only and the final explanation of any and every fact, neither the inductive nor the deductive method can any longer be used to the exclusion of the other. That this is the case can best be realized if we keep in mind that the God we contemplate is an absolute God.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.10-11

Apostles of deduction and induction

By the deductive method as exercised, e.g., by the Greeks, was meant that one begins his investigations with the assumption of the truth and ultimacy of certain axioms, such as, for example, that of causal relation. The question whether these axioms rest in God or in the universe was in that case not considered to be of great importance. Not as though the question was not raised. Plato did consider the question whether God was back of the ideas or whether the ideas were back of God. Yet this question was not given the importance that we give to it. We must put the point more strongly. The question was, in effect, given the wrong answer. It was assumed that the true, the beautiful and the good rest in themselves, and that God is subordinate to them. For us the question is all-important. If the axioms on which science depends are thought of as resting in the universe, the opposite of the Christian position is in effect maintained. The only rationality they know of in the universe is then the mind of man. Hence the alternative may be stated by saying that according to the Christian position, the basis of human investigation is in God, while for the antitheistic position the basis of human investigation is in man.

Similarly with the more modern method of induction. What is meant by induction as a method of science is the gathering of facts without reference to any axioms, in order to find to what these facts may lead us. Many scientists claim this method to be the method of science. But we have already seen that the usual assumption underlying this method is the antitheistic one, that there may be any kind of fact. Hence the difference between the prevalent method of science and the method of Christianity is not that the former is interested in finding the facts and is ready to follow the facts wherever they may lead, while the latter is not ready to follow the facts. The difference is rather that the former wants to study the facts without God, while the latter wants to study the facts in the light of the revelation God gives of himself in Christ. Thus the antithesis is once more that between those for whom the final center of reference in knowledge lies in man, and those for whom the final center of reference for knowledge lies in God, as this God speaks in Scripture.

Accordingly, we pay scant attention to the historic quarrel between the apostles of deduction and the apostles of induction. Our quarrel is not with either of them in particular but with both of them in general.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.8-9

Christianity alone is rational

It is utterly impossible that there should be trustworthy witnesses to the incarnate Word unless these trustworthy witnesses are trustworthy because they are the servants of the self-attesting God, speaking through the Son of God. This is only to say that any identification of any fact can take place in terms of the truth of the Christian religion alone. It is but to say that Christianity alone is rational. It is but to say that if one leaves the foundation of the presupposition of the truth of the Christian religion one falls into the quagmire of the utterly irrational. No intelligent predication is possible except on the basis of the truth, that is the absolute truth of Christianity.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.252

Collision of methods

The Reformed apologist cannot agree at all with the methodology of the natural man. Disagreeing with the natural man’s interpretation of himself as the ultimate reference-point, the Reformed apologist must seek his point of contact with the natural man in that which is beneath the threshold of his working consciousness, in the sense of deity which he seeks to suppress. And to do this the Reformed apologist must also seek a point of contact with the systems constructed by the natural man. But this point of contact must be in the nature of a head-on collision. If there is no head-on collision with the systems of the natural man there will be no point of contact with the sense of deity in the natural man. So also, disagreeing with the natural man on the nature of the object of knowledge, the Reformed apologist must disagree with him on the method to be employed in acquiring knowledge. According to the doctrine of the Reformed faith all the facts of nature and of history are what they are, do what they do and undergo what they undergo, in accord with the one comprehensive counsel of God. All that may be known by man is already known by God. And it is already known by God because it is controlled by God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.120-121


The man with yellow glasses

The unbeliever is the man with yellow glasses on his face. He sees himself and his world through these glasses. He cannot remove them. His interpretation of himself and of every fact in the universe relating to himself is, unavoidably, a false interpretation. The conclusion that he, quite logically, draws from his assumption of his own autonomy is that the Christian position with respect to the creation, fall and redemption of man is the projection of a man who has illusions. There simply cannot be any such thing as creation. There can be no judgment after death. There can be no eternal punishment for sinners. There are no sinners.

It is therefore the idea of a common ground of interpretation that the “presuppositionalist” rejects. Such a common ground would be a meaningless monstrosity. Can any one intelligently assume that he is both a creature and not a creature, a sinner and not a sinner? Can any one intelligibly assume, with Hamilton, the Reformed theologian, that God is the source of possibility and with Hamilton, the apologist, that possibility is the source of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.259

True theistic proofs

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781596385832There are two ways of constructing a proof for the existence of God. These two ways are mutually exclusive. The one is in accord with the basic construction of Reformed theology; the other is destructive of it. The one begins with the presupposition of the existence of the triune God of the Scriptures. The other begins with the presupposition of man as ultimate.

The true theistic proofs undertake to show that the ideas of existence (ontological proof), of cause (cosmological proof), and purpose (teleological proof) are meaningless unless they presuppose the existence of God.

This involves interpreting human reason itself in terms of God. It involves saying that unless human reason regards itself as being what Scripture says it is, created in the image of God, that then it has no internal coherence.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.218