The Clash Between Different Systems of Truth

vtThe objections against the phenomena of Scripture would therefore be legitimate if those who make them could show us the positive foundation on which they are standing. This foundation should enable them to explain the facts in terms of a system of truth other than that which is offered in the Bible. This point will later concern us more fully. For the moment, the difference between the final point of reference of the Christian and the final point of reference of the non-Christian is indicated so as to make plain that no discussion of “fact” can be said to settle final issues unless it takes this difference into consideration. The Christian’s belief in the Bible as the Word of God is involved in, and is an expression of, his belief in the triune God as the only final point of reference in all human predication. The Christian holds to the authority and finality of the Bible not because he can clearly, that is exhaustively, show the coherence of every fact with every other fact of Scripture. He rather holds to this doctrine of Scripture because, unless he does, there is no resting point for the search of facts anywhere.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.36

The Trinity and the Problem of the One and the Many

We may contrast this doctrine of the Trinity with Plato’s thought by calling attention to the fact that for Augustine the Trinity furnished the basis of the principles of unity and diversity in human knowledge. In other words the Trinity is for Augustine as for all orthodox Christians a conception without which knowledge were impossible to man. That there is plurality which man must seek to relate to some underlying unity, is patent to all men. From the earliest dawn of reflective thinking it has been the effort of man to find unity in multiplicity. But the difficulties that meet one when trying to speculate upon the question of unity and plurality are that if one begins with an ultimate plurality in the world, or we may say by regarding plurality as ultimate, there is no way of ever coming to an equally fundamental unity. On the other hand, if one should begin with the assumption of an ultimate abstract, impersonal unity, one cannot account for the fact of plurality. No system of thought can escape this dilemma. No system of thought has escaped this dilemma. Many systems of thought have denied one of the horns of the dilemma, but all that they have accomplished by doing this is to find relief in the policy of the ostrich.

What Augustine and all theistic thinkers after him have done is to say that in God, and more specifically in the triune God, lies the solution of this difficulty.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p. 47

Van Til’s Proposal for Apologetic Methodology

My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:

1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture.

2. That we no longer make an appeal to “common notions” which Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the “common ground” which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.

3. That we appeal to man as man, God’s image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.

4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of “chance.”

5. That we argue, therefore, by “presupposition.” The Christian, as did Tertullian, must contest the very principles of his opponent’s position. The only “proof” of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of “proving” anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of “proof” itself.

6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, seek to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.

7. That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he “already knows” but seeks to suppress. This “reminding” process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal.

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.20-21
(Bahnsen p.729-730)


We Cannot Be Empiricists

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781596389236The second point on which Butler’s empiricism was inconsistent was in its relation to his conception of the “Author of nature.” We have hinted at this point in the previous chapter. The matter may be put as follows: If an “Author of nature” is really presupposed it will control the nature of reasoning that one employs. If we may presuppose an “Author of nature,” the facts are created by him. That means we cannot be empiricists, in the sense in which Butler takes empiricism and in the sense in which Hume takes empiricism. If an “Author of nature” is presupposed, all the facts of the “course and constitution of nature” are bound together by the mind of God. Then human minds are made by God. This means that we can never be a priorists in the Cartesian sense of the term. Our minds can never legislate future possibility and probability because this future possibility and probability lies in the control of God. Yet it means that human minds may speak of universal connection between ideas and things. There is an entirely reasonable expectation that the constitution and course of nature will be the same in the future as it has been in the past because of the rationality of God that is back of it. Even so it should be remembered that God may at any time send His Son to change the constitution and course of nature. The point is that only that will happen in the future which will be in accord with the program of God. We can contrast this position with that of Hume by saying that for Hume the basic concept of thought is bare possibility, while for one who holds to an “Author of nature” the basic concept of thought should be God’s complete rationality. Butler failed to see this basic alternative. We may agree with him when he rejects a priorism of the Cartesian sort, but we cannot agree with him when he substitutes for it an empiricism of an uncritical sort.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences p.41-42

Revelation of the Sovereign God

Van_Til1The doctrine of Scripture as self-attesting presupposes that whatsoever comes to pass in history materializes by virtue of the plan and counsel of the living God. If everything happens by virtue of the plan of God, then all created reality, every aspect of it, is inherently revelational of God and of his plan. All facts of history are what they are ultimately because of what God intends and makes them to be. Even that which is accomplished in human history through the instrumentality of men still happens by virtue of the plan of God. God tells the stars by their names. He identifies by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely.

It is of such a God the Bible speaks. So it is once again a matter of moving about in circles. It is impossible to attain to the idea of such a God by speculation independently of Scripture. It has never been done and is inherently impossible. Such a God must identify himself. Such a God, and only such a God, identifies all the facts of the universe. In identifying all the facts of the universe he sets these facts in relation to one another.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.28

The God of the Philosophers

Men in general are, therefore, truth suppressors. They are not those who are first of all without knowledge of the truth. They are indeed such, if one thinks of the knowledge that must come from Scripture. But they are first of all truth possessors, or truth-knowers, who have, by sinning, become truth suppressors. Having taken to themselves the right to define the nature of God and of themselves, they have mingled the idea of their new god with that of the God they know by virtue of their creation. In their natural theology, that is, in what, as sinful men, they set forth as their view about God, they never state the truth without adulteration. They do not completely succeed in suppressing the truth, but they never assert the truth without an overwhelming admixture of error. The god of the philosophers is never their Creator and the Creator of the universe. He is always of necessity bound up with his creation. Hence sinful unregenerate men never worship the true God as they ought. In practice they do not know him because when they think of him they, of necessity, think falsely of him; they always degrade him to the level of the creature.

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

Presuppositions Accepted by Faith

That is to say, Kant’s supposed advance upon earlier forms of philosophy is found merely in the fact that he has combined an abstract rationalism such as that of Parmenides or Spinoza with that of an equally abstract brute factualism such as that of the most extreme process philosophers of history. This is all that anyone who does not start his thinking on the presupposition of the God of Christianity and his revelation through Christ speaking in Scripture can do. All men do their thinking on the basis of a position accepted by faith. If your faith is not one which has God in Christ speaking infallibly in Scripture for its object, then your faith is in man as autonomous. All of one’s reasoning is controlled by either of these presuppositions.

. . . Only if one presupposes God as the one in whom rationality and being are coterminous and coextensive can he use the laws of logic at all. And if he does this, he knows better than to attempt to determine what is possible or impossible in reality by means of these laws. The Christian has a God whom he as a creature cannot fully comprehend. God says I am and is able to fully justify this assertion. He is able to make it stand because only on the basis of this assertion does the thinking and willing activity of man have any possible meaning at all. The Christian gladly accepts the idea that he cannot logically penetrate the idea of man’s responsibility and his place in the plan of God. But Kant has brought God as well as himself down into utter darkness. He has no foundation on which he can make any assertion stand.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.128-129

Like a Child on Their Father’s Knee

The ultimate source of truth in any field rests in him. The world may discover much truth without owning Christ as Truth. Christ upholds even those who ignore, deny, and oppose him. A little child may slap his father in the face, but it can do so only because the father holds it on his knee. So modern science, modern philosophy, and modern theology may discover much truth. Nevertheless, if the universe were not created and redeemed by Christ no man could give himself an intelligible account of anything. It follows that in order to perform their task aright the scientist and the philosopher as well as the theologian need Christ.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.147-148