Van Til Makes Sense!?

Yes, you read that right, and it freaks me out too, but I’m beginning to see all the more where Cornelius Van Til and other presuppositional apologists are coming from after a certain event that occurred a few nights ago. I will confess that this did involve a couple beers, but hey, certain things are just better with a glass of abbey ale, theology being one of them.

I found myself, once again, in an Internet argument. Yes, I’m pretty ashamed of myself too, so I don’t blame you if that’s the first thing you think. It’s especially bad after you leave comments on a fellow blogger’s post about not feeding the troll (which is basically what I found myself doing), but none of that’s the point of my post here.

This argument took place on Facebook, and involved debate with a nonbeliever regarding the state of disunity within the church. What this dude was arguing was that, because so may people have taken Scripture and misinterpreted it, exploited it, and generally made a mess of the ordeal, this is a clear indicator that God doesn’t exist, because an omnipotent God would not make things so unclear and fuzzy as to cause dissension amongst His followers. Let’s show logically how this works.

1) God is omnipotent, and wishes to communicate to Mankind through the Bible.

2) People take said Bible, and use it to say things about God they want to see in God, rather than take God at his word.

3) An omnipotent God’s will cannot be thwarted, and since the Bible is supposed to be an expression of that God’s will, and that will is thwarted and distorted, God is not actually omnipotent, and therefore does not exist.

Now, I know I’m not doing this argument justice; in a way, I’m turning this into a straw-man argument. Understand that, the way this was presented to me was much better than I just presented it to you.  It’s not my objective to debate this argument; I already did that on Facebook.

Here’s what happened: as  I argued with this guy, I realized that every time I attempted to form a rebuttal (most of these defending the Bible as God’s word), I would try to meet this guy on neutral ground.  However, I found myself actually watering down my own beliefs (and the truth) in order to help bring this guy into agreement with me, but every time, he only hit the weak points of my argument to bring it down further.  I wasn’t purposely attempting to compromise the truth, just trying to meet him halfway.

This is precisely what presuppositional apologetics aims to avoid.  It’s not that people haven’t been brought to God through evidential apologetics (which I was sort of trying to use), but it can, and often does, lead us to compromise what we actually believe and find ourselves defeated by the person we’re trying to persuade. While I still dislike Van Til’s attitude, he makes an excellent point as to why we have to presuppose that God and the Bible are the only source of rationality.  If we don’t, we compromise on key issues.

I’m not calling myself a presuppositionalist, but having this play out in front of me helped make a lot of sense of the matter.  Even though it happened at 4 AM, it was an awesome epiphany!

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2 thoughts on “Van Til Makes Sense!?

  1. Here’s a question to consider: given any such presuppositional belief system, what makes your particular presuppositions more likely than opposing presuppositions held by another person? It’s a rather silly dead end street: all you have from that point is “my presuppositions are more acceptable than your presuppositions for x reasons”, and…bam. You immediately must resort to standard logical/evidential arguments for your presuppositions. It’s as if you’ve succeeded in moving the semantics of the argument back a level, but…what kind of success is that?

    Far as I can see, beyond basic presuppositions (like “we exist” and “we can figure things out by thinking”, to put it simply), presuppositional arguments muddy the waters and necessarily lead to evidential-based arguments, albiet on a different level. Or, worse, they put the presuppositionalist in a position of unfalsifiability, at which point many people will simply laugh and disengage. Am I missing anything here?

    I also have trouble understanding what you mean by this:

    “As I argued with this guy, I realized that every time I attempted to form a rebuttal (most of these defending the Bible as God’s word), I would try to meet this guy on neutral ground. However, I found myself actually watering down my own beliefs (and the truth) in order to help bring this guy into agreement with me.”

    How, exactly, does one water-down their beliefs in order to present them rationally in an argument? It’s not clear what you actually mean, but based on the presuppositionalist context, I am going to guess. And based on that guess: if your beliefs are somehow based on something *other* than rationality, such that to present them rationally you must “water them down”, then…mmm…I’d say there’s something, I don’t know, irrational going on. And that would be…bad. Because being irrational is not a very good position to come down from, or to be at all.

    But yeah, not entirely sure about all that. Interesting stuff as always, monsieur!

    • Actually, Dave, those are the same objections I still have. What makes my presuppositions better than his? That’s why I really haven’t gone all out in agreeing with Van Til in his stance. I think what he would say is that, though we have to accept what we believe on faith, that does not make them irrational, as they are rooted in the rationality of God, which makes what we say rational. He basically says, “Well, since God is on our side, and God is pretty much all there is, that’s why we’re right.” However, even that summary doesn’t do it justice.

      By the way, I think what I’m saying would make more sense if the reader we’re joining me in actually reading these articles (which are free in .mobi format somewhere on the Internet). Whenever Van Til talks about the downfalls of NOT presupposing, he does it in a way that, though we do actually believe that God exists, that the Bible is authoritative, and that Jesus is God Incarnate, we can present ourselves in a way to demonstrate, by accident, that we don’t. Though this doesn’t happen all the time, I can see where he’s coming from. However, from what I am reading in these articles, what Van Til presents is great about presupposing is that there’s no wiggle room: you either accept it, or you don’t. He can show you how your arguments are irrational, and demonstrate the rationality of his (without compromise), but he will not attempt to find neutral ground with you. Over against presuppositional apologetics is evidential (or as he terms it, evangelical or non-Reformed) apologetics, which attempts to find middle ground with people and does not presuppose the existence of God or any other traditional first-order doctrine within Christianity for the sake of argument.

      Honestly, I see where both can work, and I do not fully adopt Van Til’s rather condescending apprehension to non-Reformed apologetics. Actually, if you wanted to find someone who talked better about it, read Francis Sheaffer. He was pretty well inspired by Van Til…but doesn’t act like he’s better than everyone else.

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