Tag Archives: Cornelius Van Til

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!)

A Biblical Epistemology?

Is there such thing as a “biblical epistemology”? Van Tilian presuppositionalists are among those who insist there is. Christian philosophers in general, however, tend to be skeptical of the idea. They’ll suggest that it makes no more sense to say there is a biblical theory of knowledge than to say there is a biblical theory of gravity. After all, the Bible is no more a philosophy textbook than a science textbook. Right?

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The Works of Cornelius Van Til

According to one leading Reformed theologian, Cornelius Van Til is “the most important Christian thinker of the twentieth century.” If that’s an overstatement, it’s a forgivable one. Van Til’s thought was profound, innovative, and provocative. He wrote voluminously, and his most prominent publications have been variously engaged, praised, and condemned by Christian scholars from practically every point on the theological spectrum. His ‘presuppositionalist’ Christian philosophy with its sharp distinction between analogical thought (“man thinking God’s thoughts after Him”) and autonomous thought (“man is the measure of all things”) has wide-ranging implications for many other disciplines: apologetics, education, systematic theology, biblical hermeneutics, scientific inquiry, counselling — indeed, for any area of human study and endeavour one cares to mention.

In 1997 Logos published The Works of Cornelius Van Til on CD-ROM in their Logos Library System format. For those of us with a more than passing interest in Van Til’s thought, this was a gift from the heavenlies. A labour of love by Eric Sigward (who must have spent hundreds of hours assembling, editing, and formatting its content) the CD-ROM contained 29 of Van Til’s books (including both editions of The Defense of the Faith) and over 200 other articles, pamphlets, reviews, and unpublished manuscripts. It also boasted over 50 hours of audio recordings. In addition to this wealth of content, the Logos Library System provided a fully indexed search facility that enabled complex searches for words and phrases (e.g., display every paragraph in which Van Til used the phrase ‘natural theology’ near the word ‘Arminian’).

At this point, I have to make a shameful confession. The Works of Cornelius Van Til has been utterly indispensable in helping me to sustain a wholly undeserved reputation. By serving as the moderator for the Van Til email discussion list for 8 years, and the maintainer of www.vantil.info for 6 years, it seems I’ve inadvertently given people the impression that I’m an ‘expert’ on all things Van Tilian. (Sadly, this is far from true, but I’ve been reluctant to come clean on the matter until now.) As a consequence, with some regularity I get emails asking me what Van Til thought or wrote on such-and-such a matter. Without the Van Til CD-ROM, my ignorance would be manifest; but with its help, I’m invariably only minutes away from an answer that makes me look like the world’s greatest living authority on the Dutch Calvinist philosopher.

“Can you tell me what Van Til had to say about the New Testament canon?”

“What’s Van Til’s take on the Sermon on the Mount?”

“Did Van Til ever interact with Dietrich Bonhoeffer?”

No problem! (Click, click, tappety-tap, click.) You want citations with that?

Imagine then my delight on learning that Logos have issued an ‘enhanced edition’ of The Works of Cornelius Van Til. All the original content has been preserved, but also updated to take full advantage of the Libronix Digital Library System (the successor to the Logos Library System). The material has been arranged into 40 volumes to facilitate navigation and searching. Furthermore, the new edition includes thousands of indexed hyperlinks to other Libronix resources, such as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Barth’s Church Dogmatics. By means of the same technology, it is now possible to find out — in a matter of minutes — in which of his writings Van Til interacts with, for example, Calvin’s discussion of the sensus divinitatis or Barth’s treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. Provided that no one reads this review, I’m confident that my ill-deserved reputation as a Van Til scholar will be secure for many years to come.

Whatever one thinks of Van Til’s work, there’s no denying that The Works of Cornelius Van Til is a fantastic resource. At the time of writing, Logos are offering it on sale at a substantial discount, but I’ve been told that if readers of this review use the magic coupon code ‘VANTIL’ they’ll receive a further 25% discount when they order the product before 31st July 2008. And those who own the original Logos version of the CD-ROM are entitled to a free upgrade.* What more could one ask for? (Did someone say, “The Collected Works of John M. Frame”? Volume 1 is already available; 2 and 3 are the pipeline.)


*As Phil Gons of Logos explained to me: “It is true that owners of the old Logos version of the Works of Van Til get the new version for free. We’ve actually already activated the new version in the Libronix accounts of everyone who owned the old version; however, if someone never made the switch to Libronix, this automatic upgrade wouldn’t have worked for them. They will have to call our customer service (800-875-6467) and have it manually unlocked. There is a qualification, though. The individual must have owned the old version prior to the release of the new version or at least not purchased the old version as a way to get the new version at a significantly reduced rate.”