The final question, then, when considering the object of knowledge, is whether the spatial-temporal universe exists by itself or whether we must presuppose the existence of God in order to think intelligently of the spatial-temporal world. We found that, according to Christian theism, every individual object of knowledge to be known at all must be known in its relation to God. Then if one spatial object is to be known in its relation to another spatial object, the connection must be thought of as made by God. In other words, the universals of knowledge have their source in God. Similarly, if one object of knowledge is to be known in its relation to other objects of knowledge that have existed or will exist at another period of time, we must think of the connection as being made by the plan of God.
– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.183
Since it is upon God’s command that the work must be undertaken, it is God’s command that gives one the assurance that the work will accomplish its purpose. Looking at matters by themselves, it would be worse than useless to undertake reasoning with unbelievers. But it is the deep conviction of the total depravity of man that makes one throw his whole reliance upon God in all respects, and not the least in this question of reasoning with unbelievers. It is only he who deeply believes in the total depravity of man that can really preach with conviction that his work will not be in vain. Since he is convinced that the ethical alienation has been against God and against nothing else, he also knows that God is able to remove the ethical alienation. He, therefore, trusts that the Holy Spirit to whom, in the economy of redemption, the task has been assigned of convicting the world of judgment, will use the means of rational argumentation to accomplish his task. This hope is not inconsistent with the conception of the immediacy of the work of the Holy Spirit. That immediacy is complete. Our arguments taken by themselves effect nothing, while the Holy Spirit may very well convict without the use of our argument as he may convict without the use of our preaching. Yet because God is himself a completely rational God and has created us in his image, there is every reason to believe that he will make argumentation effective.
– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.196-197
“Our wisdom in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as those are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes, and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves, nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.” – (John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.1.1)
From this quotation, certain things are clear. Calvin never did start a chain of reasoning about man’s nature and destiny by taking man by himself. He did not start with man as with an ultimate starting point. Calvin did start with a general a priori position. His position is as radically opposed to that of Descartes as it is to that of Hume. Most apologetic writers who have come after Calvin have allowed themselves to be influenced unduly by Cartesian philosophy on this matter. Calvin recognized fully that if man is to have true knowledge of himself he must regard God as original and himself as derivative. He did not place God and man as correlatives next to one another, but he recognized from the outset two levels of existence and two levels of interpretation, on the one hand the divine and eternal, and on the other hand the human or temporal. To him it is perfectly obvious that the endowments that we possess are not of ourselves, but of God. Hence he says that “not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him: and of which he is not the cause.”
– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.156-157
The non-Christian holds that pure chance and absolute fate are equally ultimate and mutually correlative limiting concepts or heuristic principles which man uses to explain the fact that we have learned much about the world, that there is order in the world, a uniformity, while there is also continual change and development. But the non-Christian’s “explanation” is no explanation at all. To say “it just happens” as an explanation of an event is really to say, “There is no explanation that I know of.”
The Calvinist, therefore, using his point of contact, observes to the non-Christian that if the world were not what Scripture says it is, if the natural man’s knowledge were not actually rooted in the creation and providence of God, then there could be no knowledge whatsoever. The Christian claims that non-Christians have made and now make many discoveries about the true state of affairs of the universe simply because the universe is what Christ says it is. The unbelieving scientist borrows or steals the Christian principles of creation and providence every time he says that an “explanation” is possible, for he knows he cannot account for “explanation” on his own. As the image-bearer of God, operating in a universe controlled by God, the unbeliever contributes indirectly and adventitiously to the development of human knowledge and culture.
… the Christian offers the self-attesting Christ to the world as the only foundation upon which a man must stand in order to give any “reasons” for anything at all. The whole notion of “giving reasons” is completely destroyed by any ontology other than the Christian one. The Christian claims that only after accepting the biblical scheme of things will any man be able to understand and account for his own rationality.
– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.17-18
Augustine of course stood squarely for the Pauline principle, having told us that the whole of history consisted of one deadly, no-give, no-take combat between two “cities,” that of God and that of man, the “citizens” of the former kingdom being in basic disagreement with those of the latter on the respective questions of the beginning, the middle, and the end of history. To be sure, citizens of the kingdom of God must not press upon those of the kingdom of man what Jesus said to the Pharisees, namely, that they be of their father, the devil, since only Jesus knew the heart of man. Thus, His followers may speak only of the two opposing principles activating men. Similarly, it is not possible for them to predict in each instance whether a certain individual belongs to one kingdom or the other, as history is never and nowhere a finished product. Nonetheless, there are two main and exclusive tendencies in it: men are in their hearts either for or against the Christ whom Paul preached, and what is in their hearts will usually find expression in the sympathies manifested by their actions.
– Cornelius Van Til, Who Do You Say That I Am p.33-34
In a lecture presented in 1981, Peter Lillback begins by telling the story of an imaginary philosophical colloquy. Gathered at the meeting are representatives from various schools of thought; Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, John Montgomery, Clark Pinnock, Josh McDowell, B.B Warfield, John Gerstner, and Cornelius Van Til.
Before Van Til arrives, those gathered seek to find common ground by presenting different ideas that they might all agree on. They make great progress and are able to come to a consensus just before Van Til enters the room. Hopeful for unanimous agreement they inform Van Til that they have all agreed that “the rational mind of man is able to interpret all of reality honestly and with full capability to discover the truth.”
Of course, to everyone’s disappointment, Van Til does not agree. Quoting from his works he presents his view of sinful man’s reasoning and the necessity of recognising the authority of Scripture. In the remainder of the lecture Lillback seeks to show that Van Til’s position is in reality the historic view of the Reformed church. Then in a following lecture Lillback presents the “exegetical and theological basis for presuppositionalism.” These lectures are highly informative and deserving of a wider audience.
Lecture 1: ‘Van Til’s Place in the History of Modern and Reformed Thought.’
Lecture 2: ‘The Exegetical and Theological Basis for Presuppositionalism.’
Naturally, Plato was “helpful” when he pointed out to the Sophists that, if reality were subject to universal flux, then human predication would cease to have meaning, and that relativistic theories were generally proposed with a claim of absolute truthfulness. But then, having said this, it would have been well to investigate the other half, namely, that the Sophists were, of course, equally capable of refuting Plato. His highest law, the absolute universal, was a purely empty form. Whatever else was to be said of it, it had still to be made correlative to the idea of pure contingency. But by merely speaking, Plato became a relativist; thus, he took pure contingency into his pure absolute. As with the Sophists, he had to, if he spoke at all, contradict himself with every word. For appearances of justification in predicating on any subject, it thus behooved the Platonist and the Sophist to take in each other’s washing. Pure form and pure “matter,” or pure contingency, are correlatives of each other. Possibly, Christians throughout history would have an emotional preference for the idealist thinking of Platonism, as over against all forms of sophism, as well as mechanism, materialism and pragmatism before or since. But, as to logical priority, neither was able to “make peace with the law of contradiction,” i.e., neither one could offer a positive foundation upon which the law of contradiction might have been employed at all. Only the Christian position, with its teachings of the triune God as the creator and redeemer of men, is the true starting-point for all argument without contradiction. Scepticism is defeated only by Christianity.
– Cornelius Van Til, Who Do You Say That I Am? p.17