The Omniscient Teacher

It becomes increasingly apparent that the teacher in Dewey’s schools must somehow know that these teachings of Christianity cannot be true. They must protect their pupils from the evil influences of such disintegrating and miseducative doctrines. So they must be sure that these doctrines are not true. They must know that it is impossible that they can be true. They must be able to assure the pupils that there cannot be a judgment coming. They must be able to make universal negative assertions about all future experience. And they must make such assertions on the basis of present experience as it is intelligible without reference to anything beyond itself. In other words Dewey’s teachers must first assert that man knows nothing of a transcendent realm. But they must also assert, in effect, that they know all about it. They must assert that nobody knows anything about it. This means that they who claim to know about it must be mistaken. And then they themselves, nonetheless, presume to know all about it. They must be omniscient in order to know that no one can rightfully claim to know anything about God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.5


On what foundation rest the guns?

The discussion between the two positions must therefore be one that takes place for the sake of the argument. This means that each takes his place, hypothetically only, upon the pre-supposition of the other in order to see what happens to human experience.

Since the Christian must seek to win the non-Christian, it is he who should first be ready to think himself sympathetically into the position of the party he is trying to win. He therefore listens patiently to all the objections that the non-Christian has against the Christian position. But he at once sees that all these objections rest upon one fundamental assumption, the assumption of man’s ultimacy. And therefore the real question between the two positions has not even been touched unless it be asked upon what foundation the non-Christian can make his objections to Christianity intelligible. On what foundation rest the guns which he directs against the Christian position?

When this question is considered, it appears that this placement is the truth of Christianity itself. In other words, the non-Christian needs the truth of the Christian religion in order to attack it. As a child needs to sit on the lap of its father in order to slap the father’s face, so the unbeliever, as a creature, needs God the Creator and providential controller of the universe in order to oppose this God. Without this God, the place on which he stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.40-41

The presupposition of God

The two positions are therefore basically opposed to each other on all scores. The question is not simply as to which one is in accord with fact and logic. The question is rather in terms of which presupposition fact and logic have meaning at all. On which position is there any intelligible application of logic to fact at all? The question therefore concerns the philosophy of fact and the philosophy of logic. Any argument between them that does not go back to the question of presuppositions begs the question. The Christian position seeks to make human experience intelligible in terms of the presupposition of God; the non-Christian position seeks to make human experience intelligible in terms of man who is conceived of as ultimate.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.30-31

Goal, standard, and motive

Have we a goal to set before our youth? What is the aim and purpose of human life? Do we have a standard by which to direct our pupils to this goal? And what should be the motivating principle as they seek to achieve that goal?

Man has always asked himself such questions. Christians too are familiar with them. Man’s chief end, says the Christian, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The revealed will of God expressed in the Scriptures is the proper norm for man’s life. And faith in the God of Scripture should be man’s motivating power.

… Modern man has his own substitute for historic Christianity. He, not God, determines the goal of life. He must be his own standard of right and wrong. He must provide his own power of motivation.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Dilemma of Education p.vii-viii

The Heidelberg Catechism
91. Q. What do we do that is good?
A. Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for His glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition.