Examining the Basement

[The following quote is taken from Van Til’s short pamphlet ‘Why I Believe in God‘ in which he develops an imaginary conversation with an atheist.]

Now in presenting all your facts and reasons to me, you have assumed that such a God does not exist. You have taken for granted that you need no emplacement of any sort outside of yourself. You have assumed the autonomy of your own experience. Consequently you are unable—that is, unwilling—to accept as a fact any fact that would challenge your self-sufficiency. And you are bound to call that contradictory which does not fit into the reach of your intellectual powers. You remember what old Procrustus did. If his visitors were too long, he cut off a few slices at each end; if they were too short, he used the curtain stretcher on them. It is that sort of thing I feel that you have done with every fact of human experience. And I am asking you to be critical of this your own most basic assumption. Will you not go into the basement of your own experience to see what has been gathering there while you were busy here and there with the surface inspection of life? You may be greatly surprised at what you find there.

– Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God.


The Authority of Christ in Science

If man does not own the authority of Christ in the field of science, he assumes his own ultimate authority as back of his effort. The argument between the covenant-keeper and the covenant-breaker is never exclusively about any particular fact or about any number of facts. It is always, at the same time, about the nature of facts. And back of the argument about the nature of facts, there is the argument about the nature of man. However restricted the debate between the believer and the non-believer may be at any one time, there are always two world views ultimately at odds with one another. On the one side is a man who regards himself as being unable to find an intelligible interpretation of experience without reference to God as his Creator and to Christ as his Redeemer. On the other side is the man who is certain that he cannot find any such an interpretation. He assumes that there resides with him the power to make a universal negative statement about the nature of all reality.

The scientist who is a Christian therefore has the task of pointing out to his friend and colleague, who is not a Christian, that unless he is willing to stand upon the Christian story with respect to the world which has been redeemed through Christ, there is nothing but failure for him. Scientific effort is utterly unintelligible unless it is frankly based upon the order placed in the universe of created facts by Christ the Redeemer.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture

The Full-Orbed Life


Here we reach the highwater mark of present day antitheistic thought. Our opponents maintain not only that they do not know anything about the nature of reality but that nobody else can possibly know anything about it. The present day scientist is often not the humble seeker after truth but the militant preacher of a faith, and the faith that he preaches is the faith of agnosticism. It is this point to which we have seen all things come. The face of science and philosophy today is, with rare exceptions, set squarely against Christianity and the Theism that serves it as a foundation.

What else, then, can we do but take the sword as well as the trowel? We are driven to a defense of our faith. The full-orbed life, that which the world has sought in vain, is in our possession. We have an absolute God in whose fellowship we have even now the full-orbed life. We have an absolute God who alone can give meaning to all our strivings for advancement. We have an absolute God who alone can guarantee that that which we have in principle now will be fully realized hereafter.

– Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education: The Full-Orbed Life. 


The Elephant of Naturalism

If one maintains a soteriological theory in which the “natural man” is conceived of as able of his own accord to seek the truth because he has a true insight into his sorrowful condition, one cannot but become antitheistic epistemologically, in the sense that he must think of certain facts as existing in such a way that man can have knowledge of them without having knowledge of the true God. If no one can come to the Father but by Christ, and no one can say Christ to be Lord except through the Spirit, it is equally possible or equally impossible for man to come into contact with the Father or the Son or the Spirit. If one maintains that he can approach Christ of his own accord even if he is a sinner, he may as well say that he can approach the Father too. And if one can say that he knows what the fact of sin means without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, he may as well say that he can know other facts without reference to God. In fact he may as well say that he can know any and every fact without reference to God. If one fact can be known without reference to God there is no good reason to hold that not all facts can be known without reference to God. When the elephant of naturalism once has his nose in the door, he will not be satisfied until he is all the way in.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.77

The Presupposition of the Triune God

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781596389236We may as well say, therefore, that we are seeking to defend Christian theism as a fact. And this is really the same thing as to say that we believe the facts of the universe are unaccounted for except upon the Christian theistic basis. In other words, facts and interpretation of facts cannot be separated. It is impossible even to discuss any particular fact except in relation to some principle of interpretation. The real question about facts is, therefore, what kind of universal can give the best account of the facts. Or rather, the real question is, which universal can state or give meaning to any fact.

Are there, then, several universals that may possibly give meaning to facts? We believe there are not. We hold that there is only one such universal, namely, the triune God of Christianity. We hold that without the presupposition of the triune God we cannot even interpret one fact correctly. Facts without the triune God of Scripture would be brute facts. They would have no intelligible relation to one another. As such they could not be known by man.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences p. 2


Antithetical Concepts of Possibility

In consonance with this we may call attention to the fact that on the question of possibility the same difference of opinion exists that we found on the matter of predication. For the theist, possibility has its source in God, while for the antitheist, God has his source in possibility. Hence, what one will deem most possible, the other will consider altogether impossible.

Similarly, once more with the question of probability. For theism, God is the source of the probable. For antitheism, the probable is the source of God. Hence, what one thinks altogether probable, the other will think altogether improbable.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.190

Confrontation at the Service Station

The Reformed apologist throws down the gauntlet and challenges his opponent to a duel of life and death from the start. He does not first travel in the same direction and in the same automobile with the natural man for some distance in order then mildly to suggest to the driver that they ought perhaps to change their course somewhat and follow a road that goes at a different slant from the one they are on. The Reformed apologist knows that there is but one way to the truth and that the natural man is travelling it, but in the wrong direction. The service stations along the highway will service cars going in either direction. And as there are seemingly more cars going in the wrong direction than there are going in the right direction, the upkeep of the road will be supplied largely by those going in the wrong direction. Speaking together at one of these service stations, two travellers going in opposite directions may be in perfect agreement when they eulogize the turnpike on which they are travelling and the premium quality of gasoline which they are getting. But like Bunyan’s Christian the Reformed apologist will tell his friend that the way he is going leads to the precipice. He points to the signs made by the builder of the road which all point the opposite way from that which his friend, the natural man, is going. And when the reply is made by the natural man that he has been very successful in his trip so far, and that he too has been following signs, signs which point in the direction in which he is moving, the Reformed apologist will wipe out such of these signs as are near at hand and will challenge his friend to wipe out any of the signs he has ignored.

The Roman Catholic and the Arminian apologist would not be in a position to wipe out any of the signs that point in the wrong direction. An Arminian apologist meeting the natural man as both stop at one of the service stations is in a strange predicament. Since he is a Christian he should really speak to the natural man about the fact that he is following the wrong signs. His belief in creation demands of him that he warn his new acquaintance against following the wrong signs. But since he himself holds to a measure of autonomy for man and since this undermines his own belief in creation, he can at best say to his friend that it is doubtful which signs are right. Then as far as his “neutral” apologetic method is concerned, the Arminian, in the interest of getting his friend to go in the right direction, admits that the signs that point in the wrong direction are right. He himself goes in the wrong direction for some distance too with the natural man. He fully agrees with the natural man when together they start on their wrong course and he still fully agrees on the way to the city of destruction. Then suddenly he puts on the brakes and turns around, expecting that his friend will do the same. Thus in the whole business he has dishonored his God (a) by practically admitting that his revelation is not plain and (b) by himself running away from God in his interpretation of natural revelation and in his subjection of supernatural revelation to the illegitimate requirements of the natural man. Meanwhile he has failed in his purpose of persuading the natural man to go in the right direction. The Roman Catholic and Arminian views of theology are compromising; in consequence the Roman Catholic and the Arminian method of apologetics is both compromising and self-frustrative.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.135-136

The Absolute Will of God

The basic difference then that distinguishes Christian from non-Christian ethics, is the acceptance, or denial, of the ultimately self-determinative will of God. As Christians we hold that determinate human experience could work to no end, could work in accordance with no plan, and could not even get under way, if it were not for the existence of the absolute will of God.

It is on this ground then that we hold to the absolute will of God as the presupposition of the will of man. Looked at in this way, that which to many seems at first glance to be the greatest hindrance to human responsibility, namely the conception of an absolutely sovereign God, becomes the very foundation of its possibility.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.84

Note by K. Scott Oliphint from the 4th edition:
“Here Van Til is employing a transcendental approach to the application of Christian truth. Given that there is self-determination in the will of man, what are the presuppositions behind that self-determination that make it possible? Van Til’s answer is, here and always, the presupposition of God and his character as it is expressed in Reformed theology.”

The Facts Belong to God

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The non-Christian scientist must be told that he is dealing with facts that belong to God. He must be told this, not merely in the interest of religion in the narrower sense of the term. He must be told this in the interest of science too, and of culture in general. He must be told that there would be no facts distinguishable from one another unless God had made them and made them thus. He must be told that no hypothesis would have any relevance or bearing on these same facts, except for the providence of God. He must be told that his own mind, with its principles of order, depends upon his being made in the image of God. And then he must be told that if it were not for God’s common grace he would go the full length of the principle of evil within him. He would finish iniquity and produce only war. His very acts of courtesy and kindness, his deeds of generosity, all his moral good is not to be explained, therefore, in terms of himself and the goodness of his nature but from God’s enabling him to do these things in spite of his sinful nature. “Will you not then repent in order to serve and worship the Creator more than the creature?”

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.165-166