Timothy McGrew recently raised some fundamental objections to Cornelius Van Til:
In his Christian Theistic Evidences, Van Til spends several chapters critiquing a broadly evidentialist methodology of the kind I endorse, using Butler's Analogy of Religion as a foil:
Hume's empiricism was far more critical and consistent than that of Butler. We proceed to see what happens to the conception of probability on the basis of Hume's empiricism. If all knowledge is based upon experience, and experience is interpreted without the presupposition of the "Author of nature" as Hume claims it is, we cannot expect that one thing rather than another will happen in the future. From the point of view of logic, one thing as well as another might take place in the future.As for reported miracles, Van Til claims that Hume undermined the credibility of miracle reports chiefly by showing that, on empiricist grounds, "there is no reason to think that a God who could work miracles can be proved to exist." In particular, according to Van Til, Hume demolished the empirical arguments–cosmological and teleological–for the existence of God in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion…For anyone who, like Van Til, has fallen under the spell of the great Scottish skeptic and acquiesced in these melancholy conclusions, I have good news. Hume was wrong. He was wrong about inductive inference and his critique of induction, influential as it was, displays the poverty of his own understanding of probable inference. He was wrong in the objections he raised against the credibility of reported miracles and was resoundingly refuted on this subject by his own contemporaries, as even some modern agnostics have realized…[Hume] is mired in a deductivist framework... Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy, 108-09.
i) I agree with McGrew that Hume was wrong. However, it seems to me that in this instance, his objection to Van Til rests on a misinterpretation of Van Til. At least to judge by what he quoted, Van Til isn't making a statement about empiricism in general or empiricism per se, but naturalistic empiricism, which reduces everything to contingency. Van Til is remarking on what happens when you take empiricism to a logical extreme after denying the Creator.
ii) In addition, although I myself affirm sense knowledge, it's dubious whether sensory perception alone is an adequate basis of knowledge. I think sense knowledge has to be supplemented.
When someone starts out on the wrong foot, as I believe Van Til has done by his concessions to Hume, it is not surprising that problems tend to resurface throughout his philosophical system. To pick just one illustration, Oliphint quotes with apparent approval Van Tils' criticism of the non-Christian for whom
the law of contradiction is, like all other laws, something that does not find its ultimate source in the creative activity of God.I find this sort of radical logical positivism unintelligible. I have no idea what it would even mean for what is logically possible and impossible to be the result of a creative act of God; the very notion of action seems to presuppose distinctions between actor and action that are intelligible only in terms of fundamental principles of logic. Ibid. 109-110.
Here McGrew seems to be on firmer ground. Van Til's statement about logic, in the passage quoted, does indeed appear to be nonsensical.
McGrew goes on to say:
It is painful to have to point out things like this, since Van Til has inspired so many ardent and loyal disciples. But in my view, deep problems pervade almost every aspect of Van Til's thought–his epistemology, his history of philosophy, his description of the position of non-Christians, and his exegesis of Scripture. It is my considered opinion that there is no point in trying to correct his system pice by piece. One must simply start over on very different principles. Ibid. 110.
Whether that's true or false would depend on McGrew successfully elaborating his allegations. I myself use different philosophers for different spare parts.
McGrew has his own package. I don't think we have to take it or leave it. We can disassemble the package and select some choice spare parts which we combine with spare parts from other thinkers.