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

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