Van Til, Cornelius. Christian-Theistic Evidences. In Defense of the Faith vol. 6. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978.
In popular opinion, if Van Til’s presuppositional method is true, then what is the use of evidences? Indeed, we are told that Van Til wrote an entire book on evidences. So he did. The book itself is quite interesting and worth your time. Among Van Til’s works, it is not that difficult. We will see at the end if he gave a positive case with evidences.
I think CVT does a decent job summarizing Butler’s approach. I, for one, have never found Butler’s approach all that tempting, nor would, I imagine, many classical apologists today. For Butler, analogical reasoning is “reasoning about unknown possibilities from the known constitution of nature” (Van Til, 2).
With Van Til I agree that Butler’s analogy for a future life is quite weak. I cannot imagine anyone who seriously employs this today.
Hume’s foundation: what is the nature of the connection between ideas? If an idea recalls another idea, it is a general idea. On the other hand, there is no connection between particular ideas (18). Our ideas are merely contiguous. The relevance to Butler is obvious: “there is simply no logical relation between the past and future” (19). Moreover, probability, so crucial to Butler’s project, cannot really explain the relations between ideas.
How seriously should one take Hume’s criticisms of Butler? Hume’s epistemology has not held up very well through the centuries. I am not defending Butler, but if one can prove that Hume’s epistemology is bunk, then why should we be particularly impressed with his criticisms of Butler?
These idealists agreed with Hume’s critique of Butler, but did not think Hume’s sceptism was warranted. Kant is CVT’s target here.
I do not care too much for discussions of Kant. Far more interesting, however, is CVT’s discussion of James Orr. He notes, probably correctly, Orr’s “Hegelian or idealist argument” (37). CVT wonders whether Hegelian arguments are safe enough to use to dismantle Kant. Hegelians sought to unify “pure rationality” (Plato’s world of forms) with fact. What the Hegelians would soon realize is that “pure being” is just as unintelligible as “pure nothing.”
CVT then gives a good analysis of F.H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet. One may surmise that CVT got his idea of “brute fact” from these men. He hints as much (41). For example, you cannot count unless you already had the idea of a number system. These men came very close to overcoming the limitations of pure rationality.
Unfortunately, as CVT points out (but perhaps does not fully use), such a view more or less vanquishes the need for any facts (42). If every fact must be placed into a system of interpretation before it can have any meaning, then it is hard to see, if pressed consistently, why such a fact should be needed at all. That’s not CVT’s main criticism. The main problem for idealism is that it sees “the Absolute growing out of our own conception of reality.” The problem is obvious: how can the Absolute make sense of facts when it itself emerges from our own system of facts?
Christianity and its Factual Defense
CVT is quite clear “that if we seek to defend the Christian religion by an ‘appeal to the facts of experience’ in accord with the current scientific method, we shall have to adulterate Christianity beyond recognition” (49). Rather, we begin with another set of facts, the first of which is our being chosen by God. As all facts are created by God, “fact and interpretation are co-extensive” (51).
Indeed, he says “For us there can be no true interpretation of facts without miracle” (52). Whether this statement is true or not, this is not usually how miracles work. If one needs the proper framework to interpret a miracle, it’s not clear then why one needs a miracle.
Van Til does allow that we can appeal to facts, just not to brute facts (57). Rather, we appeal to God-interpreted facts. Any interpretation must line up with God’s interpretation. The rather obvious question, which he does not pursue, is how do we know our interpretation is God’s interpretation? The rest of the chapter is a juxtaposition of attacks on brute fact, limiting concepts, and bare possibility.
One might think upon reading this chapter title CVT would give actual evidences for God or show how evidences function within a larger system. He does not. He surveys current conceptions of God (usually immanentistic) by leading thinkers and why they are bad.
Creation and Providence
CVT examines the idea of causation. CVT ties Kant’s view of causation with Leibniz. I think there is something to that. Geisler himself made a similar criticism of Leibniz: such a view of causation is immanentistic. CVT shows how idealist systems cannot have a creation because the Absolute is always already unfolding. The closest Van Til gets to offering evidence iis his claim that man must first see himself as a creature.
Where Van Til is Correct
I agree that “facts” must also involve, at least in theory, a philosophy of fact (33).
Van Til said that those who seek a priori proof of God prove too much. In other words, if God’s existence is necessary, so is man’s (25). What I think he means is that God’s existence is correlative to man’s on this scheme. It is not clear how it is. Maybe on Leibniz’s scheme it is.
CVT said Aquinas assumed “the virtual identity of his intellect” with that of God’s (36). This is almost certainly false. In fact, it sounds a lot like Gordon Clark.
As it stands this book is quite interesting. CVT gives many lucid discussions of Idealism and British Hegelianism. One should note, however, that this book does not seek to give evidences for Christianity. What it does it evaluate the philosophies of fact of the leading thinkers of the day.