Friday, July 9, 2010

James Anderson's Defense of Van Til

James Anderson responded to my post on James White and Presuppositionalism by providing a link to an article he wrote defending Van Til. (link) Before getting into specifics on Anderson's article, I wanted to make some general comments. Undoubtedly, Van Til stated what I said he stated: 1) unbelievers don’t have true knowledge, 2: Christians and non-Christians have no common ground, 3) we should embrace apparent contradiction and circular reasoning and 4) our knowledge doesn't conincide with God's (i.e. scepticism). I will document this below. But it's also true, as Anderson's article points out, that Van Til at times said the opposite of these points or claimed to be misunderstood. Van Til's harshest critics (Clark & Robbins) simply accuse Van Til of contradiction himself. On the other hand, James Anderson (and other Van Til advocates such as Frame) seem to indicate that Van Til was not contradicting himself but rather had some deep, insightful meaning. However, they spend the bulk of there defense on explaining what Van Til did not mean rather then sharing what exactly Van Til's deep meaning was. Of course, if Van Til was irrational, then one could fill volumes with what Van Til didn't mean, because ultimately he didn't mean anything. So at best, Van Til is too confusing to be of any use and at worst he is an open advocate of contradiction.

Unbelievers Don’t Have True Knowledge

Quotes from Van Til
“The argument in favour of Christian theism must therefore seek to prove if one is not a Christian-theist he knows nothing whatsoever as he ought to know about anything..........On the contrary the Christian-theist must claim that he alone has true knowledge about cows and chickens as well as about God.” Metaphysics of Apologetics, page 194, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1931.

“The Scriptures nowhere appeal to the unregenerated reason as a qualified judge..........When scripture says: ‘Come, let us reason together’, it usually speaks to the people of God, and if it does speak to others, it never regards them as equal with God or as really competent to judge.” Introduction to Systematic Theology, page 29.

“The break between God and ‘natural man’ is..........complete.” Common Grace and the Gospel, page 153.

“But the reason of sinful men will invariably act wrongly.” Apologetics, page 49.

“This does not mean that we are thus after all granting to the natural man the ability to reason correctly.” Introduction to Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, page 39.

“Even Calvin, though by his doctrine of ‘common grace’ he was in a much better position to do justice to the knowledge of non-Christian science without succumbing to it than others were, did not bring out with sufficient clearness at all times that the natural man is as a blind as a mole with respect to natural things as well as with respect to spiritual things..........The mechanical separation between earthly things so often found has almost disappeared from Calvin’s
writings. Yet on occasion when he is trying hard to bring specific content into the notion that the natural man has certain knowledge with respect to the universe which is good as far as it goes, he falls back on the old distinction without criticizing it.” Introduction to Systematic Theology, page 82.

I really think these quotes by themselves justify my saying Van Til said these things, without even having to get into Anderson's article. All remaining dispute must be on what Van Til meant, not what he said.

James Anderson's Response
Van Til claimed that unbelievers don't know anything
Could Van Til have made such a patently absurd claim? Surely this would be reason enough to dismiss his epistemology as fatally flawed! The fact is that Van Til held no such belief — at least, not in the sense that many critics have attributed to him. Indeed, he explicitly denied this misunderstanding of his position


What misunderstanding? Anderson denies Van Til believed something but doesn't say what Van Til supposedly doesn't believe. To reveal that would perhaps give Van Til a boundary that he couldn't live with.

The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical questions 'Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?' The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own methods consistently.
(The Defense of the Faith, p. 103)


Van Til doesn't really say non-Christians discover truth. He shifts the topic to methods rather than the resultant discovery of truth. Do non-Christians, using their methods inconsistently, discover truth? Van Til doesn't say.

We are well aware of the fact that non-Christian have a great deal of knowledge about this world which is true as far as it goes. That is, there is a sense in which we can and must allow for the value of knowledge of non-Christians. (Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 26)
Note the qualifications 'as far as it goes' and 'a sense'. But Van Til doesn't explain further why he had to make such qualifications.

The apostle Paul speaks of the natural man as actually possessing the knowledge of God (Rom. 1:19-21).(The Defense of the Faith, p. 92)
Yes, but what did Van Till think Paul mean by that? David Turner studies Van Til's comments on Romans 1:18-21 and concludes that Van Til advocate the paradoxical position that unbelievers are both theists and atheists. (Turner. Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21 A Study in the Epistemology of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grace Theological Journal 2.1 (1981) 45-58. p 56)

Scripture on the Issue
2 Peter 2:20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
Acts 26:27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

God's word clearly tells us that unbelievers can have true knowledge; even of spiritual truths.

Denial of Common Ground with Unbelievers
Quotes from Van Til
I deny common ground with the natural man, dead in trespasses and sins, who follows the god of this world”(Christianity Today, December 30, 1977, 22)

“On this point I may say that if the idea of neutral territory (common to Christians and
unbelievers) does fairly represent the traditional view, then I can only disagree with it..”
Common Grace and the Gospel, page 155.

“[Van Til objects to the] Aquinas-Butler type of argument (which) assumed that there is an area of fact on the interpretation of which Christians and non-Christians agree.” Introduction to Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, page 20, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970.

Again, it's OK to say Van Til said these things, because he did, regardless of what his meaning might be.

James Anderson's Response



I have been told that on my view the Christian can say nothing more to the non-Christian than: 'You work on one set of presuppositions and I work on another set of presuppositions, and that is the end of the matter. There simply is no common ground of any sort between us.' I would now make as plain as possible that only because reality is what the self-attesting Christ of Scripture has told us it is do we, as believers and as unbelievers, have common ground at all. If the triune God of Scripture did not exist and if He did not do what He says in Scripture He does, i.e. create and direct the whole course of history, the unbeliever would have no standing place in order to engage in his effort by his false systems to deny the existence and work of God.
(Toward A Reformed Apologetic, 1972 pamphlet, sect. 15)

Here Van Til does not tell us what this common ground is or even if the unbeliever holds tothe propositions that make up this common ground. Common ground may or may not be understood as a set of truths believed in by both sides.

Van Til's essential position was that although there is certainly common ground between believers and unbelievers (and thus apologetics is possible), that common ground is by no means neutral ground.

It is commonness 'without qualification,' that is, the idea of neutral territory of interpretation between believers and non-believers that I reject. (Common Grace and the Gospel, p. 152, emphasis original)


Again, at best we are given what Van Til didn't mean - and we certainly don't have an assertion that the people of God and the people of the world share some common beliefs.

In Van Til's view, this 'common' knowledge must in principle presuppose either the truth or the falsity of Christianity — and in actuality, he believed, it presupposes the truth of Christianity. (This conviction is, in a nutshell, what Van Til's celebrated 'transcendental argument' for Christian theism seeks to demonstrate.) We might put Van Til's position like this: both believer and unbeliever stand on common ground, but that ground is Christian ground. Thus, the apologetic task is not to move the unbeliever onto Christian ground, but to show him that he has been standing on Christian ground all along!

For Van Til, the 'point of contact' is not to be located in religiously neutral premises, but in the fact that the unbeliever is created in the image of God and, although he professes otherwise, he knows it. God's self-revelation in the created order, and particularly in the soul of man, is inescapable.

This again is a denial of common ground in the sense of shared beliefs. Unbelievers don't believe in the truth of Christianity. To say unbelievers presuppose of the truth of Christianity (either inconsistently or subconsciously) does not constitute common ground between believers and unbelievers. Even the contradiction of unbelievers being believers doesn't seem to get Van Til off the hook here.

The point of contact for the gospel, then, must be sought within the natural man. Deep down in his mind every man knows that he is the creature of God and responsible to God. Every man, at bottom, knows that he is a covenant-breaker. (Christian Apologetics, p. 57)

Only by thus finding the point of contact in man's sense of deity that lies underneath his own conception of self-consciousness as ultimate can we be both true to Scripture and effective in reasoning with the natural man. (Ibid., p. 58)


Even Pelagius would cringe at this assertion of man's inner goodness.

The Scripture on Common Ground
Matthew 22:41- 46 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42"What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. 43He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, 44" 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." '45If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Acts 17:2-4, 11Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas...These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

Christ and Paul both used common ground between believers and unbelievers to defend the faith when they argued based on the Old Testament.

Contradiction

Quotes from Van Til
All teaching of scripture is apparently contradictory (Common Grace and the Gospel, p. 142)

“All the truths of the Christian religion have of necessity the appearance of being contradictory” (Common Grace and the Gospel, 165).

“While we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory.” Common Grace and the Gospel, page 9.

“Shall we..........say that the contradiction that we think we see (in Scripture) is no real contradiction at all? We cannot follow (this line of thinking).” Toward a Reformed Apologetic, page 4

“We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning possible to finite man.” Rushdoony quoting Van Til. page 24.

Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradiction in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical. The Defense of the Faith, p.44

“It is true of course that in matters of historical communication we cannot attain unto impartial and impersonal knowledge of facts.” Richardson quoting Van Til. Christian Apologetics, SCM Press, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948. page 12.

“Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about Him by any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of antitheism.” Metaphysics of Apologetics, page 16.

“all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning.” Apologetics, page 62

James Anderson's Response
Thus although circularity is necessary in some sense, it need not be a vicious or fallacious circularity (as is the case in the example given above):

The charge is made that we engage in circular reasoning. Now if it be called circular reasoning when we hold it necessary to presuppose the existence of God, we are not ashamed of it because we are firmly convinced that all forms of reasoning that leave God out of account will end in ruin. Yet we hold that our reasoning cannot fairly be called circular reasoning [i.e., begging the question —JA], because we are not reasoning about and seeking to explain facts by assuming the existence and meaning of certain other facts on the same level of being with the facts we are investigating, and then explaining these facts in turn by the facts with which we began. We are presupposing God, not merely another fact of the universe. ([A Survey of Christian Epistemology]., p. 201, emphasis original)


Here, James Anderson isn't really denying that Van Til advocated circular reasoning.

Van Til characteristically used extreme and antithetical language to express what he took to be important principles. In this case, his point was that since Scripture is the self-revelation of a God who is incomprehensible (but not inapprehensible; we have partial but not full understanding of him), we should hardly be surprised to find points of logical tension — 'apparent contradiction' or 'paradox' — in our systematization of that revelation. For example: God is all-glorious, yet we are told that our actions can 'give glory' to him. (Note that for Van Til such 'paradoxes' are only apparently contradictory, not genuinely so; the logical perplexities arise because of our finite, creaturely perspective. See ibid. p. 9ff.) Furthermore, Van Til observed that the doctrines of Scripture are intimately and inextricably related to another, forming a complex system of truth. Because some of these doctrines are 'paradoxical', the system presented to us as a whole system is 'apparently contradictory'.

Again, James Anderson isn't really denying that Van Til held to apparent contradictions in the bible.

Yet doesn't the presence of 'apparent contradiction' circumvent any attempt to systematize doctrine or draw logical conclusions from Scripture? Not necessarily. It simply means that we must be alert to the possibility of such paradoxes arising, and if all attempts at resolving an 'apparent contradiction' prove unsuccessful we should avoid deducing erroneous conclusions based on one side of the paradox taken in isolation from its counterpoint. John Frame explains:

If we are to think analogically, using Christian limiting concepts [the two sides of an 'apparent contradiction' —JA], we should not deduce from God's unity that he cannot be three, or vice versa. Nor should we reason that because God has foreordained all things, finite beings cannot bring glory to him. Insofar as these paradoxes influence everything we say about God and man, they inject 'apparent contradiction' into all of our theology.

But we can make many deductions from God's unity that do not compromise his triune nature. For example, since the true God is one, and we must worship only a true God, it follows that we must not worship many gods. And to reason that since God foreordains all things, he foreordains the fluctuations of the stock market, does not compromise the full bucket paradox [i.e., that human actions are significant to an all-sufficient God —JA]. Therefore, to acknowledge apparent contradictions is not to renounce all use of logic. To be sure, we must always ask ourselves whether our attempts at logical deduction fall afoul of the general paradoxes pertaining to the divine nature and the Creator-creature distinction. Some such attempts do; some do not. If we have asked this question in a responsible way, then nothing prevents our free use of logical deduction.
(Cornelius Van Til, p. 169)


Same thing. Contradictions are being accepted. If you can have contradictions sometimes, how do you know when you can use reason and when you cannot?

Scripture on the Issue1 Corinthians 14:9-11 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.

John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth

Psalm 119:113 I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.

Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

God's word is not non-sense.

Skepticism
Van Til Quote
"we dare not maintain that [God’s] knowledge and [human] knowledge coincide at any single point." Minutes of the 12th General Assembly of the OPC, 1945,15

James Anderson Response
In the first place, it is possible in this way to see that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man coincide at every point in the sense that always and everywhere man confronts that which is already fully known or interpreted by God. The point of reference cannot but be the same for man as for God. There is no fact that man meets in any of his investigation where the face of God does not confront him. On the other hand in this way it is possible to see that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man coincide at no point in the sense that in his awareness of meaning of anything, in his mental grasp or understanding of anything, man is at each point dependent upon a prior act of unchangeable understanding and revelation on the part of God. The form of the revelation of God to man must come to man in accordance with his creaturely limitations.
(An Introduction to Systematic Theology, pp. 164-65)

Note three things about what Van Til writes here. First of all, the claim in question is immediately followed by the words "in the sense that"; thus it is only in a certain qualified sense that God's knowledge and man's knowledge are said never to coincide.

Secondly, Van Til begins the paragraph by stating that there is a sense in which God's knowledge and man's knowledge coincide at every point. Thus it is clear that Van Til's aim here is to distinguish the aspects in which divine knowledge and human knowledge do coincide and the aspects in which they do not. Moreover, the sense in which (according to Van Til) they coincide is such as to preclude antirealism or skepticism; for anything that man could know (i.e., the revelation with which he is confronted) is, in the nature of the case, already an item of God's knowledge. (Hence Van Til's oft-repeated claim that our knowledge amounts to "thinking God's thoughts after him.")

Finally, note the precise sense in which there is said to be no point of coincidence between God's knowledge and man's knowledge: it concerns the character of the knowledge, rather than its content. At root, it is a question of dependence. God's knowledge is original, constructive, and utterly independent of any prior knowledge. In stark contrast, man's knowledge is derivative, reconstructive, and utterly dependent on God's prior knowledge. (As Van Til later puts it, "God's knowledge is archetypal and ours ectypal." Ibid., p. 203.) In this respect, then, it is clear that God's knowledge and man's knowledge have nothing in common (much as God's will and man's will have nothing in common with respect to the foreordination of history). Moreover, rather than opening the door to antirealism or skepticism, Van Til argued, this relationship between divine knowledge and human knowledge underpins the epistemological realism of the Christian faith (i.e., the notion that we can acquire knowledge of an objective reality independent of our own minds).

As with many of Van Til's distinctive views, this characterization of God's knowledge and man's knowledge is certainly open to debate. However, it should be quite clear from the above that his "no point of coincidence" claim should not be superficially dismissed as obviously wrong or epistemologically self-destructive.


A lot has to be read into Van Til here to get him off the hook and frankly after it's done, we are still left wondering what it means for our knowledge to depend on God's knowledge.

Conclusion
Van Til said what I said he said. As for what he meant, who knows? For my part, I think the best way to understand Van Til is as a Calvinist version of Immanuel Kant. At least, if you trade Kant's "noumena world" with Van Til's "knowledge of God", Van Til starts to behave himself with a certain amount of predictibily. But if James Anderson wishes to read him differently, at best all we get is confussion rather than open contradiction.

14 comments:

Paul Manata said...

Van Til: We are well aware of the fact that non-Christian have a great deal of knowledge about this world which is true as far as it goes. That is, there is a sense in which we can and must allow for the value of knowledge of non-Christians. (Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 26)

Dan Chapa: Note the qualifications 'as far as it goes' and 'a sense'. But Van Til doesn't explain further why he had to make such qualifications.

____________________


I may respond further when I have more time, working on a book review/critique right now.

Anyway, Dan, quote mining usually works against people who are not familiar with the subject. Now, besides the fact that Anderson corrected your misrepresentation and you're only come back is to play the part of the pedant, Van Til does qualify these claims all over the place.

For example, take the claim you're referring to. Van Til admits unbelievers discover truth by the methods they employ. But it is "as far as it goes." They don't go far enough. In fact, unbeleivers attribute false propteries to things, and claim that fail to instantiate properties they in fact instantiate. In any other domain that would be to not tell the whole truth even if you told part of it. Since this is obvious, all I need to do is give but one example of what Van Til was thinking: All things besides God and his ideas have been created. This is a truth about them. This is an important truth about what you see when you look out your window, Dan. Unbelievers may find important truths about mountains, birds, and rivers, for example. However, they will deny what is probably the most important truth---a truth that reveals itself to them which they supress---and that is that these things have been created by God and are kept up by the word of his power. An unbeliever can write the most humanly authoritative book on woodpeckers ever to have been written. If they tell us that have not in any sense been created by God, and that they are, ultimately, a meaningless pebble in a sea of meaningless pebbles, they only have mentioned the truth "as far as it goes."

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

Let's say you’re right about what Van Til meant here and he did think unbelievers have valid means of knowing truth and in fact do know truth. If that's the case, then the "unbelievers don't know truth" comments no longer support presuppositionalism. Why not use their knowledge and methods against them by showing their knowledge demonstrates God's existence?

But that said, I don't see how you can know Van Til meant what you are saying here. To my knowledge, he didn’t explain himself in the way you just did here.

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Dan,

Your comments make it clear that you're just getting your feet wet on Van Til and presuppositionalism.

"If that's the case, then the "unbelievers don't know truth" comments no longer support presuppositionalism."

I have no clue what this means.

"Why not use their knowledge and methods against them by showing their knowledge demonstrates God's existence? "

And this is precisely one of the main planks of Van Til's program. Not only that, their knowledge shows that they know God and are suppressing that knowledge, living off borrowed capital.

"But that said, I don't see how you can know Van Til meant what you are saying here. To my knowledge, he didn’t explain himself in the way you just did here."

Because I have read him as well as his students who later commented on him, as well as second generation commentators. I'm not quote mining him looking for easy targets to take out of the context of the broader corpus and then "refute." I don't do that.

I will probably give you a fuller reply along with quotations etc when I have the time. That is, unless others don't correct you first. For now we'll have to rest content that I have resolved your problem and shown that there is no problem with Van Til; indeed, even YOU think believers find truth in a sense, but they don't find the truth in another (as my example demonstrated). It's not a very compelling response to what I wrote to say, "I just don't get it!"

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

If God's existance can be demonstrated, then why presuppose it?

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Manata said...

Dan,

"If God's existance can be demonstrated, then why presuppose it?

Some of this depends on what you mean by "demonstrate." Anyway, there's many answers to this question.

1. The purpose of "presupposing God" is not "to demonstrate his existence." You act as if those two claims are inconsistent. Why not derive the contradiction? They look perfectly consistent to me. Now, maybe you understand something by Van Til that isn't what he meant, which is probably the case, and so it will be helpful if you can derive the alleged inconsistency between (a) God's existence can be demonstrated and (b) we should presuppose God.

2. Van Til's "demonstration" was that God's existence is presupposed when one uses logic, science, or makes moral judgments. You just can't help it.

3. Van Til argued that all men presuppose something. Are you suggesting that we presuppose not-Christ in order to "demonstrate" him? Or are you claiming that it is possible to be fully or ultimately automous and neutral in your thinking?

4. Apropos (3), Van Til thought this was unethical. Van Til said there were ultimately two presuppositional stances toward Christianity.

5. Van Til didn't view reason in a magesterial role.

6. Even W.L. Craig recognizes a differences between knowing and showing. If "showing: that Christianity is true is consistent with its proper basicality, what's the problem with presupposing it? Indeed, Alvin Plantinga even recognizes and commends presupposing a Christian worldview in his Advice to Christian Philosophers.

Presupposing Christ is a basic heart committment. It's a recognition of Lordship. A recognition of authority. . But many times, what we know far outstrips what we can show.

In any case, I'm not even sure what you mean, and I know you haven't "got" Van Til (in fact, you're actively trying to not get him, to debunk him, seeking the most uncharitable representations you can't find), so it's hard to answer you. Why don't you read this article by Anderson which should give you some help with the notion of "presuppose."

http://www.proginosko.com/docs/FrameFestschriftEssay

Paul Manata said...

on (b) it is more clearly put: "the christian worldview" that is presupposed, not just "God."

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

Some of this depends on what you mean by "demonstrate."

I mean show or prove that God exists, via experience and sound arguments. In other words, take the unbelievers knowledge of woodpeckers and whatnot as well as their methods (experience and logic…) and use it to show that God exists.

Does this change your response above that such is a main plank in Van Til’s program?

You act as if those two claims are inconsistent. Why not derive the contradiction? They look perfectly consistent to me.

Well given my observation that I have arms, my also presupposing that I have arms is minimally irrelevant, if not downright impossible.

Van Til's "demonstration" was that God's existence is presupposed when one uses logic, science, or makes moral judgments. You just can't help it.

That’s not really presuppositionalism; it’s evidentialism. Take for example Aquinas’ cosmological argument:

It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. (premise from senses)

whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. (premise from causality)

But this cannot go on to infinity, (premise from logic)

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover this which is God (conclusion)

This argument is basically the same as:

There is no first mover i.e. God, (premise- atheist presupposition)
whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another (premise from causality)
But this cannot go on to infinity (premise from logic)
Therefore there is no motion (conclusion showing absurdity of atheist presupposition vs. atheist’s senses and beliefs derived from senses)

Likewise it’s basically the same as:
There is a first mover i.e. God (premise - theist presupposition)
whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another (premise from causality)
But this cannot go on to infinity (premise from logic)
Therefore there is motion. (conclusion showing the consistency of theist presupposition with senses and beliefs derived from senses)

However, on this point, Clark raises the question if Van Til was a presuppostionalist or at least a consistent one. But rather than charging Van Til with inconsistency on this point, perhaps Van Til simply meant he could shoot down non-Christian belief systems (as oppose to saying he could positively prove his own system).

Van Til argued that all men presuppose something at all times.

I agree. The question in my mind is what we presuppose or put another way, how much we should presuppose. Or even better, should we presuppose things we have evidence for?

Are you suggesting that we presuppose not-Christ in order to "demonstrate" him?

Only in reductio ad absurdam arguments.

you're actively trying to not get him, to debunk him, seeking the most uncharitable representations you can't find

I wasn’t really saying what Van Til means.

Why don't you read this article by Anderson which should give you some help with the notion of "presuppose."

Thanks for the link. He seems to be saying presuppostionalism isn’t really about presuppositions; it’s about the no-neutrality principle and the no-autonomy principle, which opens room “for the use of traditional philosophical, scientific, or historical arguments for Christian theism”. I suppose it’s a matter of how to define presuppostionalism: genetically or conceptually. If genetically, we are left with the daunting task of understanding Van Til. If conceptually, Clark’s avoidances of arguments from evidence show more promise than Anderson’s openness to them.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

on (b) it is more clearly put: "the christian worldview" that is presupposed, not just "God."

That's a big change. I doubt we could prove a christian worldview, even if we could prove God's existance. But I am not sure about that.

God be with you,
Dan

Robert said...

Hello Dan,

Regarding Van Til he is a mixed bag. Having read and studied him extensively (I even have a first edition DEFENSE OF THE FAITH! :-) ) I can say that he is one of those guys that even when you disagree with him, he makes you think about what needs to be thought about. That is a great thing. Unfortunately, his first language was Dutch and I think things really sometimes get lost in translation. He makes some statements (many of which you have amazingly found and gathered together) that taken at face value are ridiculous. Which is why many misunderstand him and attack him.

You also have to remember Dan that in challenging Van Til, for some of the calvinistas he is like a guru figure who ought not to be questioned or challenged by his disciples! :-) Some of these calvinists even run around as if his transcendental argument for the existence of God (often referred to simply as TAG) is some kind of silver bullet that is untouchable by the nonbeliever.

Van Til had some relevant insights and was thought provoking, but it is a mistake to claim he made no mistakes or that “presuppositional” apologetics alone is the way to go. Some Calvinistas are so enamored of Van Til that if you say anything even remotely challenging the master, you will feel the vengeance of his disciples and their multitudinous posts supporting him. The reality is that insights from presuppositional apologetics and evidentialist apologetics can be useful in getting behind the smoke screen arguments that the nonbeliever presents.

And rather than merely debating the superiority of one form of apologetics over another at Christian blogs, people ought to be “out there” using what they know to lead people to Christ.

Robert

Paul Manata said...

When I said "presuppose the Christian worldview."

That's a big change. I doubt we could prove a christian worldview, even if we could prove God's existance. But I am not sure about that."

Yeah, it's to clarify Van Til's claim. In any event, depending on how you mean "prove," I don't think there are any apologetic arguments that "prove" Christianity or God, at least not any apologetically useful or persuasive arguments. We can argue for the Christian worldview, though. Seems to be the best worldview out there, which ones can compete?

I mean show or prove that God exists, via experience and sound arguments. In other words, take the unbelievers knowledge of woodpeckers and whatnot as well as their methods (experience and logic…) and use it to show that God exists.

Does this change your response above that such is a main plank in Van Til’s program?


That's an odd way to use "demonstrate." Yeah, this is what Van Til does. As he said, "All facts prove God's existence."

"Well given my observation that I have arms, my also presupposing that I have arms is minimally irrelevant, if not downright impossible."

Is that the sense Van Til meant "presuppose Christ?" Odd that a professing Christian equates presupposing Christianity with presupposing arms. In any case, it's more like presupposing your existence in order to prove it. Indeed, you presuppose it in proving it.

"That’s not really presuppositionalism; it’s evidentialism. Take for example Aquinas’ cosmological argument:

It's not the same. First off, evidentialISM is a claim about how one can be warranted or justified in ones belief. So you're not using the terminology correctly. Secondly, van Til was not opposed to offering evidenCES. Third, transcendental arguments are different than the arguments you propose. They differ in scope and subject matter. So, you again make a claim that bears out your lack of knowledge on the subject.

"However, on this point, Clark raises the question if Van Til was a presuppostionalist or at least a consistent one. But rather than charging Van Til with inconsistency on this point, perhaps Van Til simply meant he could shoot down non-Christian belief systems (as oppose to saying he could positively prove his own system)."

Which is to play the part of the pedant. The term "presuppositionalism"stuck for Van Til. If it be *defined* in a way to exclude Van Til, then he was not a presuppositionalist. Bahnsen covers this point in readings and analysis. He claims that Clark was not a *transcendental* presuppositionalist. Others, like Oliphint, want to call it "covenantal apologetics." Frame admits he doesn't really like the term "persuppositionalist" either, and Anderson covers this in the paper I linked to. So, yeah, van Til believed one could ARGUE for Christianity. he believed evidences were useful and helpful and embarrassing to not Christians. If this makes him a non-presuppositionalist in your understanding, so be it. That is a unsubstantive point.

Cont.

Paul Manata said...

Cont.

I said: "Van Til argued that all men presuppose something."

Dan said: I agree. The question in my mind is what we presuppose or put another way, how much we should presuppose. Or even better, should we presuppose things we have evidence for?

You have evidence for your senses, for other minds, the validity of logic, etc., yet these things are presupposed too. We presuppose induction, for example, even when we have "evidence" of it.

I asked, "Are you suggesting we presuppose not-Christ to prove Christ?"

You said,

"Only in reductio ad absurdam arguments.

Again, one of Van Til's (Bahnsen's) main points. he said we assume the non-Christian presuppositions "for arguments sake" to show that it leads to absurdity.

"Thanks for the link. He seems to be saying presuppostionalism isn’t really about presuppositions; it’s about the no-neutrality principle and the no-autonomy principle, which opens room “for the use of traditional philosophical, scientific, or historical arguments for Christian theism”. I suppose it’s a matter of how to define presuppostionalism:

Right, you're taking your own understanding and your own definitions and imputing them to Van Til. This is why most presuppositionalists reading your "critiques" wish you'd actually read Van Til/Bahnsen/Frame/Anderson before continuing on. You're finding out why Anderson's FEM said Van Til's position was as absurd as you painted it to be since it is more nuanced and sophisticated. Really, what you're admitting (tacitly or not) is that Van Til only has the problems you claim for him if you read him uncharitably and on your own terms, which is what you would rip any one else for doing to, say, Arminius.

For Robert

I certainly don't think Van Til was all right on everything, no mere human is, not even Arminius. I have also criticized what I take to be the more extreme forms of Van Tilianism. I take the project of presuppositionalism to be more of a meta-level one and largely correct. Even Michael Murray had to note the insight of Van Til and presuppositionalism in *Reason for the Hope*.

In any case, having read Van Til, surely you'd agree that these criticisms Dan is offering, all of which have been addressed in the literature (which shows Dan is just dabbling here, he gives no evidence that he's prepared to meet the objection and has not once anticipated the popular responses to these stale objections), are wide of the mark.

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

Sorry for the delay, I owed Razorskiss a response.

Me: I mean show or prove that God exists, via experience and sound arguments. In other words, take the unbelievers knowledge of woodpeckers and whatnot as well as their methods (experience and logic…) and use it to show that God exists.Does this change your response above that such is a main plank in Van Til’s program?

Thee: That's an odd way to use "demonstrate." Yeah, this is what Van Til does. As he said, "All facts prove God's existence."

I don’t get it. You also said :

Yeah, it's to clarify Van Til's claim. In any event, depending on how you mean "prove," I don't think there are any apologetic arguments that "prove" Christianity or God, at least not any apologetically useful or persuasive arguments.

Are you equivocating with yourself? Are you disagreeing with Van Til? What’s going on here?

Me: "Well given my observation that I have arms, my also presupposing that I have arms is minimally irrelevant, if not downright impossible."

Thee: Is that the sense Van Til meant "presuppose Christ?"

Who knows? Odd technique here Paul.

Me: 4
You: Van Til said 4.
Me: 4 = 2+2
You: That’s not what Van Til meant by 4.

transcendental arguments are different than the arguments you propose

My point is the two arguments are the same. To take transcendental arguments out of the garage you end up on and evidential argument driveway.

If it be *defined* in a way to exclude Van Til, then he was not a presuppositionalist. Bahnsen covers this point in readings and analysis. He claims that Clark was not a *transcendental* presuppositionalist. Others, like Oliphint, want to call it "covenantal apologetics." Frame admits he doesn't really like the term "persuppositionalist" either, and Anderson covers this in the paper I linked to.

That’s now what Anderson was saying. He was basically saying everyone has presuppositions so it’s not a distinctive of presuppostionalism. He wasn’t allowing for a presuppositionalism without presupposing the truth of God’s existence.

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

"Are you equivocating with yourself? Are you disagreeing with Van Til? What’s going on here?"

When I say, "depending on what you mean," that should have been enough to avoid this response.

I asked if Van Til used the term in the same way you were using it. You said:

Who knows? Odd technique here Paul.

Me: 4
You: Van Til said 4.
Me: 4 = 2+2
You: That’s not what Van Til meant by 4.


1. So you don't know if you're equivocating since you don't know what he meant by the term 'presuppose.'

2. Argument from analogy minus the analogy.

3. Your analogy intends to evoke some kind of strong conceptual identity, I'd like to see you make the same move for the term under discussion.

"My point is the two arguments are the same. To take transcendental arguments out of the garage you end up on and evidential argument driveway.

Naked assertion. Also, if transcendental arguments make *meta* level claims, your response is ruled out, *by definition*.

"That’s now [sic] what Anderson was saying. He was basically saying everyone has presuppositions so it’s not a distinctive of presuppostionalism. He wasn’t allowing for a presuppositionalism without presupposing the truth of God’s existence.

I never denied Van Til doesn't presuppose the existence of God. You're the one who put a wedge between presuppositionalism and arguments; presuppositionalsim and evidences. I gave some paradigmatic cases that showed your wedge was artificial and plainly wrong (coincidentally you did not re-post those comments and interact with them).

You have been making claims about Van Til's system and "problems" he has when it is clear to EVERY Van Tilian that I know that you massively misunderstand Van Til and are just beginning to dabble in his stuff, quote mining from second hand sources.

If you want to think you understand Van Til better than EVERY Van Tilian, those who have studied him and his works for YEARS, be my guest. That's a conversation stopper for me, though.

Have a good one, Dan.