Tag Archives: Cornelius Van Til

Can Life Have Meaning Without God?

A short article written for The Gospel Coalition.

(The Far Side cartoon mentioned in the introduction can be viewed here.)

The Atheist’s Guide to Intellectual Suicide

Having been recently promoted to associate professor, I was invited to give a short lecture at our Fall convocation service last week. The audio of the lecture (“The Atheist’s Guide to Intellectual Suicide”) is now available on iTunes U.

On a closely related note, check out these good thoughts by my colleague Mike Kruger on the current state of public debate over moral issues.

Does Presuppositionalism Engage in Question-Begging?

The Gospel Coalition is running a series on methods in apologetics. The latest installment is “Questioning Presuppositionalism” by Dr. Paul Copan, who raises four criticisms of presuppositionalism, one of which is the old canard that presuppositionalists engage in fallacious circular reasoning. (I think all four are misguided in one way or another, but the other three will have to wait for now.) He writes:

First, it engages in question-begging — assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an “F” in any logic class worthy of the name!

Dr. Copan is a gentleman and a scholar, so I’m sure he doesn’t realize quite how insulting this sounds to presuppositionalists! (For comparison, imagine someone claiming that evidentialists commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent because they use inductive inferences.) This criticism has been answered many times, so it’s disappointing to find it cropping up yet again (although perhaps presuppositionalists should take comfort from the fact that Dr. Copan doesn’t offer any new criticisms!). Even so, I’ll try to explain one more time why this complaint so badly misses the mark.

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Antitheism Presupposes Theism (And So Does Every Other ‘Ism’)

By this rejection of God, agnosticism has embraced complete relativism. Yet this relativism must furnish a basis for the rejection of the absolute. Accordingly, the standard of self-contradiction taken for granted by antitheistic thought presupposes the absolute for its operation. Antitheism presupposes theism. One must stand upon the solid ground of theism to be an effective antitheist.

(Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. xi)

“Antitheism presupposes theism” is one of Van Til’s best lines, because it captures in a nutshell the genius of presuppositional apologetics. It’s not merely that theism is true; it’s not merely that theism can be shown to be true; it’s that theism can be shown to be true by any attempt to prove it false. One can prove theism to be false only if, as a matter of fundamental metaphysical fact, theism is true — which is just to say that antitheism is self-defeating.

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The Lord of Non-Contradiction

Philosophia Christi has kindly permitted me to post on my website a preprint of “The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic”, which I co-authored with Greg Welty. I wrote the first version of the paper, but Greg did all the heavy lifting; the argument is indebted to the ideas he developed in his DPhil dissertation on theistic conceptual realism.

Logic

Here’s the abstract:

In this paper we offer a new argument for the existence of God. We contend that the laws of logic are metaphysically dependent on the existence of God, understood as a necessarily existent, personal, spiritual being; thus anyone who grants that there are laws of logic should also accept that there is a God. We argue that if our most natural intuitions about them are correct, and if they’re to play the role in our intellectual activities that we take them to play, then the laws of logic are best construed as necessarily existent thoughts — more specifically, as divine thoughts about divine thoughts. We conclude by highlighting some implications for both theistic arguments and antitheistic arguments.

While we don’t discuss Van Til or presuppositional apologetics in the paper, those so inclined will recognize this as a more robust exposition of a common presuppositionalist argument and they’ll also appreciate (I hope) the concluding remarks.

TAG and Epistemic Certainty

A commenter asks why I don’t endorse the claim that the transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) gives us epistemic certainty (which I take to mean that the argument delivers a conclusion that has maximal epistemic warrant and could not be rationally doubted). After all, if TAG proves Christian theism “by the impossibility of the contrary”, as many of its advocates have claimed, wouldn’t it follow that TAG’s conclusion is epistemically certain?

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Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics

Most readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of the brilliant Reformed apologist Cornelius Van Til. (Proof: I drink coffee out of one of these.) Most readers of Van Til will know that he was a big fan of the brilliant Reformed biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos, who was one of his professors at Princeton Seminary. Van Til described Vos as “the greatest pedagogue I ever sat under.”

I’m not sure whether the big-fan-of relation is transitive, but it seems more than fitting to pass on word from Phil Gons that Logos are planning a full English translation of Vos’ Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. However, the project is contingent on there being sufficient interest. Go here for more information, including how to pre-order at a locked-in low price.

No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument

The editor of Philosophia Christi has kindly permitted me to post on my website a preprint of my article “No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument: A Response to David Reiter”. The article is scheduled to appear in the Summer 2011 issue along with a short rejoinder from David. It was a profitable exchange, and it’s gratifying that Philosophia Christi considers TAG to be worthy of critical scholarly discussion. Van Tilians should also be thankful for sympathetic, well-informed critics like David. May his tribe increase!

TurretinFan Strikes Back

A couple of months ago, I offered some criticisms of an argument given by TurretinFan against the claim that there are irresolvable paradoxes. (As a side note, it’s worth mentioning again that this claim can be understood in several different ways.)  His argument was apparently aimed at paradoxes in general, not just theological ones.

TurretinFan has now responded by offering a restatement of his argument and a rebuttal of my criticisms. Here are some comments by way of reply:

1. The most serious problem with his argument is that his premise P1 misrepresents my position (and Van Til’s, as I read him). As I make clear in my book, I firmly reject the idea that a paradox necessarily involves some proposition P being both true and false at the same time and in the same way. As I also make clear in the book, I reject the idea that a paradox can arise for just any proposition (or set of propositions).

2. The conclusion of his argument — “if we accept the existence of unlimitable paradoxes, we must also be prepared to accept at least the possibility of the nonexistence of unlimitable paradoxes” — is far too weak to do my position any harm. In fact, I’ll even grant it! Of course it is possible that there are no irresolvable paradoxes. My defense of theological paradox doesn’t imply otherwise. But what of significance follows from that? Certainly not the fact that there are no irresolvable paradoxes, theological or otherwise.

Bottom line: TurretinFan’s conclusion is no more problematic for me that the mere possibility that I am a brain in a vat (which I am also willing to grant).

3. TurretinFan also offers an “enhancement” and “simplification” of his original argument. On examination, his second argument turns out to be neither an enhancement nor a simplication of the first, but a different argument altogether. In any case, it’s no more successful as an objection to my position, and for much the same reason: it attacks a straw man. In my book I argue against the idea that theological paradoxes should be construed as genuine violations of the law of non-contradiction. So his enhanced argument also badly misses the mark.

4. I’ll also mention in passing that while I would grant his premise P4, it isn’t beyond reasonable dispute.

5. TurretinFan adds by way of conclusion: “I don’t see any good reason to accept the existence of irreconcilable paradoxes.” I don’t want to be uncharitable, but I suspect he says this because (i) he hasn’t read much if any of the literature on philosophical paradoxes and therefore doesn’t appreciate how challenging some of them are to resolve and (ii) he hasn’t read much if any of the literature on theological paradoxes, particularly on the difficulties of explicating the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation in ways that are both orthodox and non-paradoxical. I could be wrong about this; if I am, it shouldn’t be any trouble for him to set me straight.

Regarding (i), I wonder whether TurretinFan thinks there is a straightforward solution to, say, the Sorites Paradox.

Regarding (ii), I wonder how he would state the doctrine of the Trinity in such a way as to rule out all heterodox views while avoiding any trace of apparent logical inconsistency.

6. TurretinFan goes on to say, “I have seen no reason to reject the strongly intuitive position of the universality of the laws of logic and particularly the law of non-contradiction.” But as I’ve pointed out (and not for the first time) this simply isn’t an implication of my position; on the contrary, my defense of theological paradox is designed to accommodate that very intuition.

7. It should be evident by now that TurretinFan’s arguments miss the mark in large part because he’s tilting at windmills. I don’t deny the law of non-contradiction or advocate dialetheism (although refuting dialetheism is harder that you might think) even though I believe that certain Christian doctrines are paradoxical (i.e., they seem to imply a logical contradiction). At this point, I can only recommend that he obtain a copy of my book (perhaps via interlibrary loan) and interact with it directly. Until he does that, I doubt any further exchanges between us will bear much fruit. If he does read it, however, I’m confident it will only be a matter of time before he joins us on the Dark Side.

TurretinFan on Paradoxes and the Christian Faith

The erudite and enigmatic TurretinFan has posted some thoughts on theological paradoxes in the context of the Clark-Van Til debate. He currently leans Clark-ward; I took a stab at straightening him out in the comments. (I failed, but it was worth a try!)