Thursday, October 26, 2017

Post hoc rationalizations

On  this video:

Josh Rasmussen says:

Here's a problem with theistic belief: the theist believes in God, but they don't believe in God on the basis of following the evidence or reason wherever they lead. Rather, there's some prior convictions…When the theist finds evidence for God, what they're doing is to find evidence to back up something that they already believe not on the basis of evidence. It's almost like the reason and evidence are post hoc rationalizations of prior convictions, and that's a problem. 

But isn't that objection a dramatic overstatement? On the face of it, his objection ignores some pretty major counterexamples. For instance:

There are philosophers who have devoted a great deal of time and care to arguments for conclusions that almost everyone was going to accept in any case. Arguments for the existence of an external world, for other minds, for the mathematical or physical possibility of one runner overtaking another…It is not even, necessarily, to provide a rational basis for things that people had hitherto believed without any rational basis. My wife is one of those people who don't quite see the point, evident as  it is to us philosophers, of discussions of Zeno's paradoxes, and who has, in consequence, never read Salmon or Grünbaum or any other author on this topic. But I very much doubt whether her belief that it is possible for one runner to overtake another–I'm sure she does believe this, although in fact I've never asked her–is a mere prejudice lacking any rational foundation. Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford 2006), 40-41.

It's routine for philosophers to formulate arguments to back up something that they already believe apart from their arguments. Are these just post hoc rationalizations for prior convictions? And is that, in fact, a problem?

Obviously there's some merit to his objection. There are many situations in which people cast about for any convenient argument to validate a belief which they didn't form from an evenhanded assessment of the evidence. But his objection is an overgeneralization. Whether or not finding evidence to back up something we already believe is problematic varies from case to case. In some situations, that's entirely justified. It would be irrational in those instances to suspend belief unless and until we discover additional corroboration or construct a sophisticated supporting argument.

Now, someone might object that the examples cited by van Inwagen are evident in ways that God's existence is not, so the comparison is disanalogous. But that's treacherous. For instance, it's not as if the reality of the external world is more evident than if we were trapped in the Matrix. The whole point of that thought-experiment is that the illusion is phenomenologically interchangeable with reality.

One could object to it on philosophical grounds, like the criterion of simplicity. And I think there's something to be said for that. But in that event, a philosopher would be casting about for evidence or "post hoc" arguments to validate his prior conviction regarding the reality of an external world.

Conversely, suppose, as a teenager, a Christian has an unmistakable answer to prayer. He becomes a philosophy major in college, and seeks to develop additional arguments to back up his prior Christian convictions. Is that just a post hoc rationalization? 

However, I have it on good authority that he may make a sequel video in which he includes some clarifications. 


  1. Conversely, suppose, as a teenager, a Christian has an unmistakable answer to prayer. He becomes a philosophy major in college, and seeks to develop additional arguments to back up his prior Christian convictions. Is that just a post hoc rationalization?

    Exactly. Some people come to conscious belief in God for postive reasons. Some atheists will say that those reasons are always (or almost always) for non-rationally rigorous reasons. Admittedly, some reasons are better than others. But I don't think the evidence for God must meet standards of warranted belief that other mundane/earthly things do. Why assume they should? That may, in fact, beg the question in favor of atheism. Since, if God really does exist, and if the universe really is emblematic of God and spiritual realities, then most everything is evidence for God. For example, the sun could be emblematic of God. A God who supplies Light (symbolic of knowledge & wisdom; hence enlightenment), Life (photosynthesis is the root source of life directly or indirectly on earth), Joy (cf. Seasonal Affective Disorder), Safety (predators often are most dangerous at night) etc.

    Some might include these types of things as part (not all) of external General Revelation which gets through to all (or most) people, leaving us accountable to God. A common Calvinistic (often Van Tillian) claim is that all things are revelational of God and point to the reality of God and the spiritual world. In addition to various *external* examples of General Revelation, there's also *internal* General Revelation that some theologians speculate about. There might be innate knowledge of God, or an innate potential for such belief and knowledge implanted by God into our natures which are meant to be triggered through normal human experiences and conditions (e.g. child parent relationships; cause to effect relationships; master to pet; ethics of ownership; pleasures and pains etc.). Those things coupled with the sensus deitatis/divinitatis might naturally bring people around to belief in God (even among unregenerate folk). How much more if one is regenerated by God and receives 1. the internal efficacious call and 2. inner testimony and witness of the Holy Spirit?

    I wonder if Josh will address Plantinga's claim that belief in God can be Properly Basic even apart from evidences and arguments. That doesn't necessarily mean it's veridical, since some properly basic beliefs are conceivably false. Or at least have insurmountable (or unsurmounted, thus far) defeaters. But if God exists, then it's perfectly plausible that He would make it such that belief in His existence and His basic attributes could be arrived at without rigorous rational reasoning and argumentation.

    1. Having watched the video, Josh does make reference to Reformed Epistemology at around 4:40.

    2. It's more like 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

      Josh also talks about facing the facts of reality despite them not being what we want them to be, and how we ought not to allow fear to motivate us, and so keep us from finding out what's true. I agree. I think atheists (not just some theists) often allow fear to motivate them. Some atheists virtually require rationally coercive evidence for God's existence for them to believe in Him. But in some cases, atheists who do that do so precisely out of fear. Fear of God's judgment. Fear of being constrained by Christian ethics. Fear of losing control to an unknown God. Fear of *being* irrational or being *perceived* by others (e.g. fellow atheist friends) as being irrational, or intellectually inferior for belief in God (or even provisional belief in God).

    3. AP,

      With reference to everything in the 3rd paragraph of your first post (e.g., " A common Calvinistic (often Van Tillian) claim is ...").

      Everything you describe in this paragraph is, so far as my reading has shown, exactly how 17th-19th century Reformed orthodox argued (i.e., "Scholastics", "Evangelicals", "Old Princeton", those supposedly influenced by "Scottish Common Sense Realism", etc.). E.g., what you describe could have been a summary of Hodge's description of "the innate knowledge of God" from his Systematic Theology (Vol. 1, Part 1.1.1, pg. 191 in standard text).

      However, you seem to suggest that this is "often Van Tillian." I'm not following here. Van Til called all the above seriously deficient in their epistemology and particularly their Apologetics, and lacking in piety, too rationalistic, etc. His "warrior children" (Bahnsen, Frame, Oliphint, etc.) continue these charges. Are the Van Tillians simply unaware of their own "concession" to the older orthodoxy, or do they disagree from a real discontinuity here? I’d have thought the latter is more probable.

    4. You rightly noticed I didn't restrict it to only Van Tillians. I used the word "often" because we are one of the largest groups of Calvinists who are doing apologetics online at the present time (on the contemporary stage). We may not be a majority, but we're likely the most common. The statement wasn't given in reference to historical theology.

      Are the Van Tillians simply unaware of their own "concession" to the older orthodoxy,...

      Van Til never claimed to be completely original. He freely admitted he inherited some good theology from past theologians, even though they (according to him) weren't completely consistent with what was right in their theology. Van Til clearly and joyfully admitted that he stood on the shoulders of other theologians who themselves stood on others.

      or do they disagree from a real discontinuity here? I’d have thought the latter is more probable.

      As I understand it, according to Bahnsen some of what made Van Til special was (among many things):

      1. His insistence that there is no strict division between theology and apologetics. They are two sides of the same coin. In this fallen world, good theology is apologetical, and good apologetics is theological.

      2. Van Til's synthesis of Warfield's and Kyper's apologetic, which at first glance seemed to be contradictory. See chapters 14 and following of Van Til's A Survey of Christian Epistemology; as well as Bahnsen's lecture series, "Van Til and the Copernican Revolution in Apologetics" [which can be purchased HERE].

    5. Though it doesn't really address your concerns, Part 2 (of 3) of Bahnsen's lecture series can be freely downloaded here:

    6. AP,

      Thanks for your replies. Still trying to figure this out. Again, so much seeming similarity/agreement, and yet also such seeming divides. For me at least, this remains confusing. Thanks for your patience!

      Responding to your bulleted points about Bahnsen's characterization of Van Til:

      1 - I understand the point here. However, I'd be cautious about the implied claim that prior to Van Til no (or even just a few) Christian Theologians recognized that "there is no strict division between theology and apologetics", etc. I see this accusation frequently, but upon closer examination, depending on the theologian/apologist in question, I think the Van Tillian charge falls short on details. Some examples would be helpful.

      2 - This speaks to one of my earlier comments. For instance, Kuyper affirms, in quite grandiose, hyperbolic terms, the benefits for Christian apologetics of Kant's own "Copernican" revolution, as well as that of Schleiermacher. You can read this in the 1898 abridged English edition of his "Encyclopedia" (still in print from RHB under the title "Principles of Sacred Theology"). Kuyper's debt to both men, despite their self-evident (and admitted by Kuyper) anti-Christian theology, is obvious throughout the book. But especially read pages 672-679. On page 676 Kuyper sums up their contribution in the following manner (speaking proximately about Schliermacher, but by development he includes Kant), that he "has given theology back to herself, has lifted her out of her degradation, has inspired her with new self-confidence...[and that confessional theology]...owes to him the *higher* veiw-point at present occupied by the whole of theology."

      Now, it needs to be noted that specifically what Kuyper is extolling here is the epistemology of Kant/Schliermacher, while acknowledging their poor theology. And, as I understand, it is at this point that Van Til, et. al., seek to focus their own corrective to Reformed/Confessional apologetics. So, in reference to Bahnsen's own lecture title, I'm suspicious that the "Copernican" revolution in question is more to be attributed to Kuyper than Van Til, and on Kuyper's own account, to Schliermacher and Kant before him. I'm not sure this is a pedigree for current Reformed theologians to be proudly bragging about.

      [One thing that also needs be noted is that, so far as I can tell, the provenance of this particular English edition of Kuyper's book is in fact Warfield himself. Given that OP, including Warfield, long considered themselves in desperate combat against this epistemological approach, I often wonder what attracted Warfield to this; especially that about a decade later Warfield seems to have changed his mind and shown much concern about the tendency of Kuyper's (and Bavinck's) epistemology/theology, etc. I can only surmise that he was learning Dutch at the time (1898) and had yet to absorb the implications of it all, but that eventually he realized the size of the gulf.]

      So, after this long prolegomena, I have question - when you speak of Van Til's "synthesis" of Kuyper/Warfield, what from Kuyper did Van Til accept and bring along? Was it Kuyper's reliance on, and encomiums for, Kant and Schliermacher? Or did Van Til accept the strictures placed on this kind of epistemology by OP in general? I can't go into the details, but I recall the first time I ever heard the word and idea of "presuppositionalism" with respect to apologetics (some 10 years ago?), and alarm bells went off in my head, "KANT, KANT, KANT". I have yet to see sufficient evidence to dissuade me from this. I should note, that the first person from whom I heard this was James White, so take that into account.

      Oh, and yes, of all the Van Tillians, I think I've listened to Bahnsen the most. Thank you for the additional references. It's a shame that one has to pay for most of his audio.

    7. As a coda to point 1 - I think what I'm trying to say is that, how does one demonstrate the charge that another has separated their theology from their apologetics? You can make the charge that, "hey, your apologetics seems out of sync with your theology", but then one can reply, "I don't think so, to me they are consistent." How does one avoid a subjective fallacy here? You can just say "well, I guess I disagree with your theology/apologetics then", or something.

      Point is, if someone says, as did Van Til, that one agrees with OP's theology and epistemology, but they disagree with OP's apologetics, how do you know 1) OP is not actually consistent, and 2) that the one making this dichotomy (Van Til) is the one actually being inconsistent? In other words, the accusation would seem to beg the question. The only way I can see to sustain the charge if both sides agree as to the content of a consistent theology/apologetics and one side either flatly says "yep, I'm inconsistent, and I'm okay with that" or that side says "ah, I see I was wrong". Absent such clear statements, the accusation just remains dependent on one's presuppositions about that consistency, which is they very question at issue.

      Or am I missing something?

  2. A philosophy professor once told the class that people generally start with premises and conclusions and try to work through to the middle of the argument.

    1. Question is, what is "right"? Should we accept the necessity of "ultimate presuppositions" and argue post-hoc, and accept/expect that in others? Or do we accept a commonality at some level? After all, if it is true that the "majority report" is one of "generally starting with premises and conclusions....", would an appeal to "ultimate presuppositions" itself presuppose an acquiescence to the "sensus communis", rather than an appeal to facts and common reasoning; especially if we are stuck with something common regardless? I've often wondered at the (seeming) inconsistency of the Van Tillians here - the regenerate don't argue from the same presupposition as the unregenerate, except of course the presupposition that one must argue from a presupposition, etc. If all facts are God's facts, and fitted for the purpose God as assigned for "an aroma unto Life or Death", why not presuppose God's facts and their efficacy if you are going to presuppose anything? And why not attribute the different results not to a "preSUPposition", but rather to a "preDISposition"?

    2. One distinction is that in Van Tilian apologetics, the metaphysical common ground between believer and unbeliever is the same. Total shared common ground at the ontological level. The degree of epistemological common ground varies from one individual to the next, depending on the variable influences of natural revelation and common grace.

    3. Thank you.

      I'd say that in both cases, you are referring to "content" of knowledge. Of course, as Old Princeton (and Old New College, Edinburgh) would say, Science/Philosophy and Theology share common ground - and they meant that in exactly the sense you have just put it, at the "metaphysical/ontological" level. (cf., Hodge in ST 1; Cunningham in Lectures on Natural Theology, etc.). The specific content that any individual has out of this potential sum total certainly varies as a consequence of our createdness, fallenness and how God has disposes of nations and people, etc. If this is all that Van Til and Company mean, why 80 years of kicking up dust over this, and rejecting the notion of "common ground" (150 years if including Kuyper; 200 years if including Coleridge, Schliermacher, etc.)?

      However, I had thought that Van Til, and Frame, et. al., would say that our epistemology is different because the unregenerate can not/does not/will not "think" the same way the regenerate do. Isn't that the idea of "two kinds of men, therefore two kinds of science"? The Science differs not as a result of the similar or dissimilar specific content, but that the very instrumentation is different either side of "palingenesis." After all, there must be a reason why Kuyper, despite lamenting their poor or absent theology, praised the epistemology of Kant and Schliermacher, whereas OP and the Scots fought that stuff tooth and nail.

      I find this odd, since "classic presuppositionalism" would maintain that Man has intuitive/necessary/self-evident truths (awareness of self-consciousness, external reality, etc.), and all other "knowledge" is derived discursively, etc. However, if VTP defines "ectypal" knowledge as 1) the only knowledge we have and 2) that such knowledge is by definition discursive, etc. Is this why they reject any possibility of "intuitive" knowledge, since they attribute this to God's "archetypal" knowledge?

      Frankly, I find that at most levels, the VTPers are saying the same thing as the historic Reformed orthodox, but then Gaffin says that Turretin is a Rationalist, etc., Frame mocks Hodge as an "objectivist", others complain that OP compromises the Gospel by allowing that the sinner has "fairly direct epistemic access to the facts of Scripture", etc. (that last from Lint's prolegomena book). What do all these have in common if not the belief that there is no common ground at the "metaphysical/ontological" level because there is a difference in basic reasoning, etc.? Or as Olpihint puts it, that unregenerate man has no "proper" content since all he "knows" is "swallowed up in irrationality".

      But then at times, even Van Til and Frame will say the exact opposite and admit that all Man must think the same, but that it is only an affair of ethics/morality - or, as I suggested, a matter not of preSUPposition, but of preDISposition. But at that point, VTP has conceded to the very "classicals" they declaim against. At the very list the Van Tillians seem to have sown a lot of confusion.

    4. And why not attribute the different results not to a "preSUPposition", but rather to a "preDISposition"?

      Van Tillians do just that.

      If this is all that Van Til and Company mean, why 80 years of kicking up dust over this, and rejecting the notion of "common ground" (150 years if including Kuyper; 200 years if including Coleridge, Schliermacher, etc.)?

      Because "common ground" among non-presuppositionalist Christians usually involves compromising Christianity. Because it often concedes too much to non-Christian abilities and thought. In their ability to reason apart from a dependence on God, as well as holding to anti-Christian/anti-theistic presuppositions. Much of "common ground" is anti-theistic and/or anti-Christian. Van Til was trying to purge that from Christian theology and apologetics, and encouraging Christians to be more consistent. This can also be seen in the difference between General Revelation and Natural Theology. General Revelation is true common ground, even though the project of Natural Theology often starts with anti-Christian/theistic assumptions. See Van Til's hypothetical dialogue between Mr. Black, Mr. White, Mr. Grey.

      Frame mocks Hodge as an "objectivist"...

      That's because Hodge (both of them) don't take seriously enough in their apologetic the noetic effects of sin on the mind and heart. There are elements in their apologetic that (unperceived by them) in practice assumes man as not created by God, unfallen and the measure of all things instead of God (homo vs. Deus mensura).

      Or as Olpihint puts it, that unregenerate man has no "proper" content since all he "knows" is "swallowed up in irrationality"...

      I can't speak for him, but as a Van Tillian myself, I think he's referring to the fact that IF the unregenerate WERE consistent with their presuppositions, they would not have any knowledge or be able to reason at all. But they do have knowledge and can reason precisely because they cannot be completely consistent with their worldview; being made in the imago dei and actually living in God's world. Van Til was calling both the regenerate and the unregenerate toward consistency. If the unregenerate were consistent, either they'd deny all possibility of knowledge and reasoning (i.e. consistent with their anti-theistic assumptions), OR they would become Christians (if they consistently lived according to the world they actually live in [i.e. God's], and consistent with the knowledge of God they do have but suppress). If the regenerate were more consistent, then their apologetic would be more powerful. Having been purged of anti-Christian assumptions and relying more upon the efficacy and sufficiency of General Revelation, the reality of sensus divinitatis/deitatis, the sufficiency and self-attesting nature of Special Revelation, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit etc. Such an approach would enable Christians to call out non-Christians for their moral and intellectual inconsistency and failings.

    5. AP,

      Once again, thanks!

      I’ll try to reply a bit more briefly to the remaining remarks. I’m sure neither of us have much time and you can have the last word.

      I’ll start from the bottom. You say “Having been purged of anti-Christian assumptions and relying more upon the efficacy and sufficiency of General Revelation, the reality of sensus divinitatis/deitatis, the sufficiency and self-attesting nature of Special Revelation, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit etc. Such an approach would enable Christians to call out non-Christians for their moral and intellectual inconsistency and failings.”

      1 – “Purging” ourselves of anti-Christian assumptions, etc. is indeed the goal. This is the goal of renewing the mind, growing into Christ, being conformed into His image, etc. The young men who have brought Van Tillianism into our church have, I think a bit dangerously, grounded their presentation on 1 Cor. 2:15-16. The impression created is that of what I can’t help but call an over-realized epistemology. I’ve also seen repeatedly in Van Tillian blogs, books, etc. variations on the theme of “knowing all things and in their essential interrelatedness”, etc. All I have attempted to do is to restrain this with reference to the warnings that “if we say we have no sin…”, “we see as through a glass darkly”, “we will *then* know fully as we are now fully known”, etc.

      My point is to attempt to stress what VTP claims for itself, the reality of self-deception and how one’s presuppositions color how one sees things, etc. It’s important to remember that one’s “presupposition” of God is not coterminous with God Himself, and not to confuse the Bible with our own understanding, or “presuppositions”, about what the Bible says, etc.

      Now, if (and when) this is countered with, “no, what we mean is that the Bible, as our ‘ultimate authority’ or ‘ultimate presupposition’, is the source of our theology, etc.”, I can’t help but reply with something like “you mean the Bible is your storehouse of facts?” But how do you know that you understand those facts correctly (especially when Van Tillians disagree amongst themselves)? If you have submitted/committed yourself to a given set of theological presuppositions, how do you guard yourself from self-deceit, especially if these presuppositions lend themselves to a superlative degree of “epistemic”, let alone “moral/ethical” restoration?

      Or even, if being consistent is the goal, if your epistemological presuppositions lead to skepticism? (Have you read Ronald Nash’s review of Van Til from 1980, in Christianity Today? Nash points out how Van Til’s own epistemology essential obviates any way of knowing if you are interpreting God’s word correctly. If correct, what does an apologetic look like that is consistent with this?) The point is, if you have committed yourself to what you are convinced is a “Copernican Revolution”, but it turns out to be in reality a “Ptolemaic” one, what then?


    6. [Part 2]

      This was, I think, a key motivation behind Warfield’s strictures against Kuyper and Bavinck when Warfield criticized the idea of “two kinds of men, therefore two kinds of science.” I don’t have Warfield’s quote in front of me (from his “A Review of Herman Bavinck's De Zekerheid des. Geloofs,” in volume 2 of SSW), but he basically insists that there are not two kinds of science because, not having yet been glorified, the regenerate mind is only marginally more restored, especially with respect to natural knowledge, etc. (the way Warfield puts it is much clearer than my summary…).

      One of Warfield’s chief concerns during the last half of his career was that of “Perfectionism.” We tend to see this as primarily focused on the moral Perfectionism of the Keswick crowd, etc. However, I think Warfield’s concern is to be found here as well. I fear that too much of Van Tillian/Presuppositionalism lends itself to an epistemic perfectionism. If you are looking at the effects of sin in the unregenerate from a Perfectionist perspective (a presupposition…), anyone whose presuppositions of the restored mind places the regenerate as closer to the unregenerate in this life would easily appear as compromising the size of this chasm, etc.

      [I should stress that I’m not including the Spirit-led acceptance of the things of God as respects salvation, etc.; there is no “degree” here, only acquiescence unto Life, or rebellion unto Death.]


    7. Last post. I'll keep my final comments short, and probably not very helpful.

      1 - PreDISpostion vs. preSUPosition: Frankly, I'll have to demure on this. If a hatred for the things of God comes prior to their suppression, then rational thought is just held subservient to evil, sinful ends, but otherwise the same rational faculties are exercised by sinner and saint alike.

      VTP language suggests far too much that the rational faculties themselves are different - not just an antithesis of use (ethical antithesis), but an antithesis of tools (instrumental antithesis). VTP's language lends itself towards seeing sin as destroying the rational image of God in Man, not just as corrupting it. If so, this is against orthodox Reformed anthropology.

      2 - Yes, I have read Van Til's dialogue. Although not exactly an exercise in straw-man caricatures, it comes pretty close. I cannot see how OP can be classified as anything like the portrayal of Mr. Grey, let alone the 17th Century scholastics, and Puritans, etc. Also, I know this is an area that has been burned over several times, but the one point in the dialog (on page 50 of my 1980 version of the book I have it in) where Mr. Black talks about how Mr. White had only discussed the fact of the Resurrection in the context of Christian doctrine, etc. - when reading that, my mind went straight to Paul at Athens, where not a stitch of Old Testament prophecy or meaning, let alone anything from Jesus, is used by Paul. Paul uses Natural Theology, and indeed the pagans' own texts and ideas in framing the final claim about God having raised from the dead the man appointed to judge, etc. I know there is a Van Tillian interpretation of this and I'm not going to change any minds. But when you talk about the "efficacy and sufficiency" of Natural Revelation, Paul's method at Athens seems to assume this while Van Til seems to call this "Arminian." I don't see Van Til as consistent here.

      3 - Frame mocking Hodge as "objectivist": I still have not seen any evidence to substantiate this charge. But as I said in my first post, I suppose if one is coming from an epistemic perfectionist presupposition, one can at least sympathize with the charge. Here's a bit of a challenge - read Hodge's The Way of Life. This is the closest that Hodge gets, I think, to an apologetical/evangelical tract. What does Hodge do wrong here? How would one do it better under Van Tillian presuppositions? Also, a good article of Hodges from the Princeton Review is helpful in understanding his overall views on the Noetic effects of sin and their restoration by the Holy Spirit - from the 1830 volume, “Regeneration and the Manner of its Occurrance” (from The Biblical Repertory, and Theological Review Vol. 2 No. 2 (1830),

      4 – I’ll pass on Oliphint for now….

      Thanks again for your time and respective dialog!

    8. Hah, I meant "respectful" dialog....though I guess "respective" is not out of bounds....

    9. Given my limited knowledge and IQ, there's not much more I can contribute to the convo.

      // I understand the point here. However, I'd be cautious about the implied claim that prior to Van Til no (or even just a few) Christian Theologians recognized that "there is no strict division between theology and apologetics", //

      I didn't give percentages, because I don't know them. You're probably more well read in past theology than I am. Nevertheless, if it's not taught that way, it's often practiced that way apologetically. Meaning, often apologetics was (and is) seen as merely presenting the evidence to non-Christians in a rational way, as if they are neutral or even open minded and perfectly rational thinking beings; rather than as the unregenerate rebels non-Christians are, who actively resist and suppress God's truth and evidence (to greater or lesser degrees). It's like the old joke about how philosophers and psychiatrists don't get along. Philosophers (allegedly) treat humans in the abstract as logically consistent rational thinking machines. Whereas psychiatrists, who deal with real human beings, know as a matter of experience that humans are so VERY irrational. Humans are moved, motivated, and driven by biased desires, fears, passions and emotions. That includes the most rational of humans. See this list of Cognitive Biases which we all suffer from to some degree or another:

      We're surrounded by revelation through and through. Yet, I would slightly disagree with Van Til on how strong the evidence is. I think it's strong enough that we're all held accountable. But not strong enough that it's rationally coercive. I've read a number of Van Til's and Gordon Clark's books. My memory isn't that good, but I don't recall Van Til ever addressing (or if he does, doing justice to) the doctrine of God's Hiddenness. He doesn't use it to balance his doctrine of God's evident & pervasive presence. I've address these related issues in two of my blogposts:

      Detecting and Finding God

      "Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

      //So, after this long prolegomena, I have question - when you speak of Van Til's "synthesis" of Kuyper/Warfield, what from Kuyper did Van Til accept and bring along?//

      Just listen to the lecture by Bahnsen on the topic (I think lecture 3 of 3). I got it from around the year 2000. I think it's worth a listen.

      //It’s important to remember that one’s “presupposition” of God is not coterminous with God Himself, and not to confuse the Bible with our own understanding, or “presuppositions”, about what the Bible says, etc. //

      And I don't "toe the line" on everything Reformed or Van Tillian. Contrary to usual Reformed folk, I'm a continuationist. Contrary to most Van Tillians, I'm not dogmatic on whether all men "know" God (see my blogpost on Detecting and Finding God above). Though, I do think all men *ought* to know God, and are culpable for not knowing Him and/or His existence. I have other disagreements and adjustments as well which there's no room/point to mention.


    10. //I can’t help but reply with something like “you mean the Bible is your storehouse of facts?” But how do you know that you understand those facts correctly (especially when Van Tillians disagree amongst themselves)? If you have submitted/committed yourself to a given set of theological presuppositions, how do you guard yourself from self-deceit, especially if these presuppositions lend themselves to a superlative degree of “epistemic”, let alone “moral/ethical” restoration? //

      Yet Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame et al. don't hold or teach that approach. Nor do they define presupposition in that way (which seems more Clarkian and axiomatic). Besides 1. ever greater exegesis and hermeneutics, Van Til allowed for 2. extra-Scriptural facts to help shape and refine our theology and apologetics (though, of course, submitted to the higher infallible revelation of Scripture). See for example Notaro's book, "Van Til and the Use of Evidence" along with Frame's and Bahnsen's books. True VTism is in favor of the motto semper reformanda. There's no place for stagnant theology. All the more if one is a post-millennialist [which many VTers are, though Van Til himself I think was Amil].

      //Have you read Ronald Nash’s review of Van Til from 1980, in Christianity Today?//

      I'd be interested in reading it. Without searching for it, would you know the month the article was in? I've browsed both the festschrifts to Van Til (Jerusalem & Athens) and Gordon Clark (The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark edited by Ron Nash). I do think that there's some truth to how Van Til's approach might lead to skepticism, but I think both Bahnsen and Frame have sufficiently "corrected" their mentor on those issues, with James Anderson supplementing, further developing and adjusting Van Til's use of paradox.


    11. //when Warfield criticized the idea of “two kinds of men, therefore two kinds of science.”//

      Total Depravity isn't "UTTER" depravity. The unregenerate are still made in the imago dei [which has been effaced but not erased]. They still live in God's world. So, there will be some truth to their science, but that truth will technically be contrary to their stated and held non-Christian worldviews. Conversely, as you pointed out, the regenerate are not yet entirely sanctified. And by science, we're including all areas of science, not just the natural sciences [the limited definition of which has come to dominate the meaning in the last 200 years].

      // I fear that too much of Van Tillian/Presuppositionalism lends itself to an epistemic perfectionism.//

      I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in Van Tillianism is epistemology. That's where skeptics have rightly aimed their guns. VTism needs to develop the area of epistemology so much more. The thing is, the brighter minds tend to leave VTism or modify it in such a way that they are ostracized by the average VTian (cf. Paul Manata).

      // But when you talk about the "efficacy and sufficiency" of Natural Revelation, Paul's method at Athens seems to assume this while Van Til seems to call this "Arminian." I don't see Van Til as consistent here.//

      I kind of agree. VT and VTians perform some hermeneutical gymnastics on Acts 14 & 17. See for example, Van Til's sermon/lecture on it which I've posted HERE. I've included the lecture on my blog because I have more agreement with it than disagreement. This is also why I engage in more seemingly evidential or classical arguments than many VTers would feel comfortable with. I've even been kicked out of an irc channel and a Facebook group because of it.

    12. "I've even been kicked out of an irc channel and a Facebook group because of it."

      Heh, you just endeared yourself to me! As the Australians would say, "good on 'ya, mate!"

      Yes, I do make a distinction between what I call the "hardened Van Tilians" and most of the rest. However, part of my attempt here has been to draw out the poison, so to speak. Once one has moved off of pure VT, it begins to be easier to keep moving the ball. But perhaps more later.

      As for Nash's article, here's the look-up info: Title = " Attack on Human Autonomy: Review of "A Christian Theory of Knowledge," by Cornelius Van Til", by Ronald Nash, Vol. 14, Jan. 16, 1970, pgs. 349-50.

      Here's the money quote:

      "I have several objections of my own, also. All Van Til's conclusions are supposed to follow from the principles set forth in his first three chapters, but it is exactly as this point that his argument is weakest. Take, for example, his defense of the Scriptures. Like Van Til, I believe in the authority and the inspiration of the Bible. But so far as as the ultimate validity of his system is concerned, everything depends on Van Til's ability to defend the authority of the Scriptures without making any appeal to logic or to 'facts.' He argues that the authority of the Scriptures is self-attesting.

      As I see it, a self-attesting truth is one that cannot be questioned. A good example of a self-attesting truth would be an analytic statement like 'all bachelors are unmarried men.' No evidence can be offered that could throw the truth of this statement into question: no evidence is even needed to support its truth. But in the case of Scripture, even Van Til admits that there are problems.
      He does not think the problems are sufficient to undermine the authority of the Bible, but the important thing here is his recognition that problems do exist. I fail to understand how a system of truth that faces problems which even Van Til admits may never be fully resolved (see page 351) can be self-attesting.

      A second problem concerns Van Til's peculiar understanding of the term *fact*. It is impossible, he argues, to separate a fact from its ultimate interpretation, which means God's interpretation. I am willing to grant this, but how is a sincere disciple of Van Til supposed to know when his facts are God-interpreted? When they are consistent with the Scriptures? Hardly, for the Bible says nothing about most of the facts in question. When our interpretation coincides with God's? Hardly, for we must never forget that there is no point of identity between the divine and human knowledge. I contend then that Van Til's use of 'fact' is vacuous since there is no way for man to know when his facts are God-interpreted."


    13. I'll just add a couple comments about Nash's criticisms.

      First off, one familiar with Hodge will notice some common points here. First off, Hodge also has an analysis of "self-attesting" truth. Hodge, however, adds a caveat that may be helpful - if something is truly "self-attesting", the test that Nash sets up is not always valid. Hodge goes on to say (in a few places) that it is possible for someone to "question" these truths, but to do so requires essentially denying the obvious. As he puts it, such attempts are always forced and temporary. He even uses in one place the analogy of pressing down on a spring, which one may do for a moment, but once he can, he lets go and it forces its way back into place. So, I'm not sure that, as he puts it "systematically doubting" is a valid dis-positive to something truly self-attesting. Regardless, Nash's point about Van Til's own self-contradiction is right on.

      Secondly, Nash's point about Van Til's concept of "no point of identity" (or contact, as it's usually put) sounds very similar to Hodge's own critique of one of his mid-19th century contemporaries, William Hamilton. Hamilton's version of radical nescience comes from a different location, but its final effect is much the same as Van Til's. Also, I'm not convinced that Frame has offered much of an improvement on this, but I'm not too deep into that yet.

    14. //Heh, you just endeared yourself to me! As the Australians would say, "good on 'ya, mate!"//

      Something like 10 years ago I got banned for about a year or two from the channel #choosinghats, and a few months ago from one of the "Presuppositional Apologetics" Facebook groups. But I think I've since been re-instated in the same (?) facebook group. Whoever banned me might ban me again if he found out I'm back (lol).

      // " Attack on Human Autonomy: Review of "A Christian Theory of Knowledge," by Cornelius Van Til", by Ronald Nash, Vol. 14, Jan. 16, 1970, pgs. 349-50.//

      Thanks. I did a google search and maybe THIS IS IT. I'll also look it up at a TIU/TEDS seminary [Rolfing] library.

      // I fail to understand how a system of truth that faces problems which even Van Til admits may never be fully resolved (see page 351) can be self-attesting.//

      As I see it, Scripture is self-attesting not in the sense of "self-evident truths" or axiomatic truths, but in the sense that the Holy Spirit testifies to it (IMO even to non-Christians) and it existentially rings true in the hearts of men to a louder or quieter degree depending on one's hardness of heart [btw, this is not a denial of, or contradicts total depravity]. I've likened the teaching of Scripture to the hearts of men as being analogous to a homing beacon. Men ought to sense and hear the "ring of truth" in Scripture as it accurately describes one's own heart and the world of sin, beauty, morality, laws [moral, logical, scientific], meaning, truth (etc.) we live in. The sensus divinitatis should point toward and be drawn to Scripture's teaching like a compass pointing North or metal to a magnet.

      //Hardly, for the Bible says nothing about most of the facts in question.//

      It includes general facts, not just specifics. As VT said, while Scripture doesn't specifically talk about everything, there's another sense in which it (generally) speak about or touches on everything.

      I googled this quote. Not sure how accurate it is and I don't want to take out my copies of Van Til's books:

      The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instruction of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.– Cornelius Van Til, allegedly from Christian Apologetics p.19 and The Defense of the Faith p.29


    15. //Hardly, for we must never forget that there is no point of identity between the divine and human knowledge.//

      The free mp3 I link to above deals with this very issue that was at the heart of the Van Til vs. Clark Controversy. Here's the LINK AGAIN. Frame also addresses this in his book Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought.

      Also, consider these quotes of Van Til:

      True human knowledge corresponds to the knowledge which God has of himself and his world. Suppose that I am a scientist investigating the life and ways of a cow. What is this cow? I say it is an animal. But that only pushes the question back. What is an animal? To answer that question I must know what life is. But again, to know what life is I must know how it is related to the inorganic world. And so I may and must continue till I reach the borders of the universe. And even when I have reached the borders of the universe, I do not yet know what the cow is. Complete knowledge of what a cow is can be had only by an absolute intelligence, i.e., by one who has, so to speak, the blueprint of the whole universe. But it does not follow from this that the knowledge of the cow that I have is not true as far as it goes. It is true if it corresponds to the knowledge that God has of the cow.- Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, page 1

      The same point may be further elucidated if we say that Platonic and Augustinian thought have opposing conceptions of Mystery. Augustinian thought holds that there is not and has never been mystery for God. It is this that makes the mystery that has always and that will always surround man not a burden, but a joy, to him. Man can rejoice in the mystery that surrounds himself because he believes that no mystery surrounds God. If mystery should be thought of as surrounding God, then nothing would remain for man but utter despair. A child who knows that his father is a millionaire does not need to have more than a dollar in his hand. The believer can pray with confidence, “Give us this day our daily bread.” On the other hand, Platonic thought starts out with the idea that there is mystery surrounding both God and man.- Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 49-50

      As we think God's thoughts after Him, we gain true knowledge even if it's not exhaustive knowledge. For finite creatures, that's the only solution (or way out) of the age old problem of either (the necessity of) knowing everything or knowing nothing. Omniscience or Global Skepticism. Since, to truly know A, you must know it in relation to B. But then you need to know B in relation to C, and C to infinitum. Meaning, to truly know A you must know it in relation to B all the way to Z. You can't know the parts apart from the whole, and vice versa. Only God fully knows how X (or A) fits into His exhaustive providential plan for all things.

    16. Also this great quote by Van Til:

      And if my unity is comprehensive enough to include the efforts of those who reject it, it is large enough even to include that which those who have been set upright by regeneration cannot see. My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. The child is not afraid because its father knows it all and is capable of handling every situation. So I readily grant that there are some "difficulties" with respect to belief in God and His revelation in nature and Scripture that I cannot solve. In fact there is mystery in every relationship with respect to every fact that faces me, for the reason that all facts have their final explanation in God Whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and Whose ways are higher than my ways. And it is exactly that sort of God that I need. Without such a God, without the God of the Bible, the God of authority, the God who is self-contained and therefore incomprehensible to men, there would be no reason in anything. No human being can explain in the sense of seeing through all things, but only he who believes in God has the right to hold that there is an explanation at all.- Van Til, Why I Believe in God

    17. Wow, okay. I think we've run this thread pretty bare. I'll just (finally?) add some last few words:

      1 - Cognitive Bias: A few things. First off, if the insinuation is that OP, 19th Cent. Free Church Scots, 18th Cen. Evangelicals, etc. were unaware of this, this is flatly historically false. One of the more comical misapprehensions is that of labeling all such as "Baconian" in their epistemology, etc. I find it comical in part because, while being accused of neglecting these biases, one of the principal planks of Bacon's own teach was in fact being aware of cognitive bias - he called them "Idols of the Mind" and he had 4 broad categories (Idols of the Tribe, Cave, Marketplace and Theatre; discussed in his "Novum Organum"). He's wasn't nearly as exhaustive as that Wikipedia entry (who is?), but those categories were meant to cover the gamut. Point is, that the knowledge of these things is not unique to Presuppositionalists, etc.

      A second point is one perhaps a little less obvious - how do you know that there even are such things as cognitive biases? If everyone has them, and has them all the time, then we have no standards, etc. by which to notice them and/or correct them in ourselves or in others. The very reality of our awareness of these biases presupposes that we can, and indeed do, get around them, if only from time-to-time. In addition, the ancient Greeks, at least, were fully aware of this - this awareness even gave birth to ancient skepticism (see Sextus Empiricus, among others - in a good modern, cheap translation). Given how much of this was prior to the New Testament, and the spread of Jewish culture and the OT, etc., how do we account for this if not from some sort of "common grace" (as Calvin put it, just enough light left to grope around...), as the kind of thing that Paul meant in Romans 1-2?

      When you say (and the full paragraph) "Yet, I would slightly disagree with Van Til on how strong the evidence is." I would tend to agree with what you said. W. G. T. Shedd also says something to the effect that belief in God cannot be of something like belief in logical axioms, etc., precisely because of that coercive nature, etc. God is not like the definition of a triangle. There is content there beyond necessary truths, etc. (I can't recall off hand where that is, other than his Dogmatic Theology.)

      Also, Shedd, in Chapter 1 of his Dogmatic Theology, he defines all we know as ultimately the product of Revelation:

      - “Revelation in its general and wide signification is any species of knowledge of which God is the ultimate source and cause. In this sense, all that man knows intuitively is revealed to him; for even his axiomatic knowledge does not originate from himself independently and apart from his Creator. All that he knows in this manner, he knows through his intellect, and this intellect is the workmanship of God. Man cognizes in accordance with the laws of human intelligence, and these laws are established by his maker.”
      - “Unwritten or general revelation, then, is a particular form of human consciousness that is ultimately referable to God….This mode of man’s consciousness not only has God for the object of it, but for the cause of it.”
      - “The Scriptures go yet further than this and refer all the operations of the reason to the author of the human intellect. Nothing in the human consciousness is independent of God and isolated….Even human reason, which in the intuitions of mathematics and in the laws of logic seems to be a self-sufficient faculty, is represented in Scripture as dependent.”


    18. I should add about Shedd above, that he was not, and cannot be, defined in any modern "Presuppositionalist" category. He was practically one with the Hodges, et. al. Another peeve I have with VTP is how its advocates are so ready to anachronistically apply VT's ideas backward on to people, as though they were just little proto-Van Til's, sort of evolutionary still-births on the way to the great crowning achievement of his "Copernican Revolution". I know it's a bit pejorative, but their ecstatic, hyperbolic claims open them up to this.

      //So, after this long prolegomena, I have question - when you speak of Van Til's "synthesis" of Kuyper/Warfield, what from Kuyper did Van Til accept and bring along?//

      "Just listen to the lecture by Bahnsen on the topic (I think lecture 3 of 3). I got it from around the year 2000. I think it's worth a listen."

      Yes, I'll listen to this (again?), I can't recall if I've heard this. I've listened to a couple dozen of his teachings, not to mention his debates, and that dialog with Sproul from '77.

      However, I laid that out for you to consider - what if, just what if, Van Til's "Copernican Revolution", upon closer inspection, turns out to be derived from rather pagan sources, in particular Kant and the post-Kantian idealists? I know such a blunt-force charge produces nothing but an equally forceful denial from the hardened Van Tillians, which is why I tried initially with you to broach it historically via Kuyper's more explicit avowal. I haven't read it yet, but there is a recent book (2016?) by a guy called Bosserman, a recent student of Oliphint's, where he apparently makes the case for a continued influence of Idealism, and especially Hegel, on Van Til. Given that Bosserman makes the same type of erroneous, borrowed-conviction, claims about OP, I don't know how reliable he is. Still, Van Til's earliest critics were quick to bring out the relationship, not that they were very trustworthy either (Buswell, McRae, etc.).

      All that said, I'm willing to allow that Van Til was using language, etc. to speak to his peers and the culture. And perhaps at this point I'm just not getting it, but there's a lot smoke there that gives me pause.

      How to do this? Well, I'd suggest actually reading, widely, in the 18th and 19th century reformed orthodox. The Scottish Presbyterians, OP, Shedd, and many others. Yes, there's some bad stuff in there, especially as one wears on to the end of the 19th century, but even then Warfield and Machen keep the lamp lit. But without seeing how the old orthodox understood things, from their own writings (i.e., don't trust Marsden or Noll on this....), I don't think the contrast (and similarities) with Van Til and company can come out very well. I guess what I mean is, like the Proverb says, don't just let the modern Presuppositionalists have their say - let the old guys have their day in court too.

    19. AP,

      As for Self-attesting, I like the way you put it. I think we can learn a lot from how Calvin uses the analogy of "sensus" in the first place - he uses the analogs of light and taste. How do we know that light exists? Because it attests itself to our eyes. How do we know what is bitter or sweet? Because they attest themselves to our sense of taste. Calvin is very much a Realist at this point (not at all Van Tillian, I'd say). Here is how I wrote up my analysis of how OP and others viewed this in an email for someone:

      "To say we have a "sense" of sight requires a few things - an object to sense, an organ to sense, and a mind to perceive and be aware, etc. To say that we have an in-built "sensus lux" that includes all of the above is one thing, but to say we have an in-built sensus lux without, however, any organ to sense the light, or a mind to be aware of it, is another thing. The idea behind "blinding oneself" presupposes a motive for the blinding - it presupposes that having sensed the light, we are offended by it and so remove our eyes to avoid seeing it further. If we are "born blind" in a strict sense, we are born without any means of actually sensing light, in which case what motive have we to blind ourselves? The sense presupposes not only a thing to be sensed, but also the motive to blind presupposes the actual sensing of it, and further, knowing the thing sensed for what it is - the proper object of that sense. Else, whence comes the motive and reaction to suppress it?

      Furthermore, why did Calvin use sensus here rather than something broader like “notitia”? To have a sense is not the same as having knowledge of the object that the sense is designed to receive. Having the ability to see and hear does not necessarily or immediately gives us a proper and prior comprehension or real knowledge of the visible and audible spectrum - this comprehension must be acquired by the use of that sense, either actively or passively. We do not call the bare possession of a sense "knowledge", either of itself, or of the proper object of that sense. Even to learn about what the sense is requires the use of it against its proper object such that we can reflect back on the sense itself (thus Calvin’s insistence on the dual knowledge of Self and God – they both reflect on and inform each other). To say that the bare possession of a sense is the precondition or presupposition to interact with the proper object of the sense cannot be confused with a real knowledge of the object of the sense that results from actually interacting with the object of the sense. Though possession of the senses of sight and hearing does presuppose the existence of proper objects for those senses, we cannot say that we properly “know” light and sound simply by virtue of the mere possession of these senses, or of being aware that there must be proper objects toward which these senses are directed. In both cases, we still need, ultimately, to interact with the proper object of a sense for that sense to be both finally and truly validated or authenticated, and also to have real knowledge of its proper object. In other words, how do we know that we both have a sensus lux and how do we know its proper object? – by virtue of actually seeing light.

      [cont...Part I]

    20. [Part II]

      "This would suggest why Calvin at the beginning of his Institutes uses the idea of the sensus divinitatis - if he had meant real, predicated knowledge of the object of the sense, prior to its use, why not use notitia (indeed, even Hodge admits the possibility and viability of the real, predicated, pre-sensed knowledge)? The use by Calvin of the idea of sensus is, I think, meant analogously by him here. He brings forward the idea of the sensus divinitatis in man just prior to his bringing in the Scriptures to setup the relation between the sense and the proper object of that sense. After all, we don't seek to suppress a "sense" per se, but the knowledge gained by it from its proper object – we may pluck out our eyes because we cannot pluck out the sun, but we must see the sun first, and furthermore, plucking out our eyes is not the same as plucking out the sense itself, but only one necessary means required by the sense – to think so would be to confuse the sense with the instrumental means provided for the sense to operate.

      Again, there is a logical priority - to say that we "know" God by virtue of the sensus divinitatis simply avoids the question - how and when does sinful Man know God via this sensus, and how much of God is known by man solely resultant upon this sensus? If sinful man "knows" God prior to any sensual (in the fullest literal meaning, not just physical, but moral also) interaction with either himself, or the rest of Creation, or God’s Scriptures, then what exactly is "known" about God at that point (after all, Calvin does start with Man’s knowledge of himself)? How fully predicated is this knowledge? How accurate is it? How accurate must it be to be the object of suppression? This really begs the question of what "knowledge" itself is – for instance, when I hear the idea that God is the "precondition" or "presupposition" of all knowledge and meaningful predication, I keep asking whether or not this prior knowledge of God is itself "meaningfully predicated" in an unregenerate sinner, and if it is "meaningfully predicated", how did he come by it, considering that any meaningful predication requires a prior presupposition of God, etc., and back ad-infinitum? It's like saying that a man born blind, or without the neurological function to process physical light, must still inherently "know" light as a precondition of seeing. Clearly, in such a case, whatever such a blind man must "know" about light cannot be anything like real light. And not being anything like real light, how can it count as real knowledge of light such that there is a proper motive to suppress it?"


    21. [Part III]

      "Calvin's issue with Natural revelation, therefore, is not that it cannot be known (indeed it is known) but rather that natural revelation is not the proper object of the sensus divinitatis, no matter how much nature may speak of God. Salvation is to be found not in Nature, or what Nature reveals about God. Salvation is to be found in Nature's God and knowledge of His plan of Redemption, and only the Scriptures gives us the revelation of this as the proper object of the sensus divintatis. After that, the Holy Spirit is required to confirm this knowledge as certainly true and coming from God, and grant faith in the object. This is very important – as Machen was to say, it is only the conjunction of the Word and Spirit that produces a true saving conviction. But how is the Word itself acquired? In the same manner as all other knowledge, even under sin. Also, this is why Calvin and others say that the Scripture is self-validating – not because only the H. S. grants this understanding, or only because the Bible is internally consistent, etc., but primarily because only the Bible reveals the proper object of the sensus divinitatis, and so, as light is self-validating as the proper object of the sensus lux, or as tasting immediately reveals our sense of sweet and bitter (both analogs used by Calvin to this purpose), so only Scripture is the fit object for this sensus divinitatis.

      As an example, here is one analogy that Hodge used in his discussion of Inspiration (ST, Vol. 1, pg. 167): “Besides, we have the witness in ourselves [i.e., Believers, etc.]. We find that the truths revealed in the Bible have the same adaptation to our souls that the atmosphere has to our bodies. The body cannot live without air, which it receives and appropriates instinctively, with full confidence in its adaptation to the end designed. In like manner the soul receives and appropriates the truths of Scripture as the atmosphere in which alone it can breathe and live. Thus in receiving the Bible as true, we necessarily receive it as divine. In believing it as a supernatural revelation, we believe its plenary inspiration.” Elsewhere, Hodge also says (pg. ST, Vol. 1, pg. 101), “The sun is not more obviously the source of light, than the Bible is the source of divine knowledge. The absence of the one is as clearly indicated as the absence of the other. [i.e., in Man’s life in (spiritual) darkness, etc.]” It is important not to minimize the importance of the objective character of Scripture as this proper object of the sensus divinitatis just because man in his sin rejects it until renewed by the H. S. If anything, the recognition of Scripture as this proper object by the unregenerate would provide the best motivation for sinful suppression. I think this is one key area where VTP fails.


    22. [Part IV]

      This is at least my reading of Calvin on this, and how Warfield and many others saw it also. This also helps explain what Van Til and other Presuppositionalists incorrectly identify as "Natural Theology", and why - in reality what they mean by this is what the “real natural theologians" would have called the Rationalists (folks like Socinus, Locke, Toland, Clarke, Hutcheson, etc.). The "real" natural theologians, those I prefer to call the “Classical School of Christian Evidences (CSCE),” the 17th cent. Puritans/Scholastics, 18th cent. Scotch Presbyterians, 19th cent. Old Princeton, etc., always (almost!) followed Calvin's formula - apologetics is the explication of this "sensus divinitatis," beginning with the self and its sinful deflection to nature instead of the God of nature, and finally leading to the Scriptures. Why? Because only Scripture is the proper object of this sense. They insisted that the "facts" are not complete without the Scripture being included as just as much a fact as any natural fact is; and in addition, as I pointed out earlier, that Reason is to be defined in light of all the facts, which includes the facts of Scripture. That’s why CSCE manuals of apologetics almost always start with a discourse on the universality of this sense, followed by the need of Special Revelation as the object of this sense (e.g., Campbells’s in 1769, Alexander’s in 1825, Bogue in ). All the “proofs” only follow after this as a kind of corroborative testimony. As far as I can tell, these are following Calvin’s own pattern.
      But do notice the distinction here between the sense and the knowledge that comes from the proper object of that sense. My concern with the Presuppositionalist idea is that it "jumps the gun," as it were - we know before knowing, and even more - we know truly before truly knowing. It begs far too many questions - if we already, ontologically, have a full and proper knowledge of God, what is it then that Scripture provides which is distinct from this prior knowledge? On the other hand, if all that is "presuppositionally" known is merely the minimum sufficient to prompt a sinful suppression, then, well, welcome to the club (we're glad to have you). But the proper relating of these things is very important. Yes, ontologically, God is the prior source and cause of this sensus because of how He created Man and because His evidences are perfectly fitted as means for His ends of self-revelation. But there is also a distinction here to keep clear - the order of how we, as fallen, sinful creatures, come to be aware of this (or, as Hodge put it, how it is “brought out and established”) such that we act sinfully in response to it, on the one hand, and on the other hand, how we are prepared for the proper object of this sensus to be presented to us in the Scriptures (i.e., we are taught the Law, written on our hearts prior to the Gospel, etc.) and to be authenticated by the H.S. There is an important distinction to be made here that relates to a proper Biblical understanding of Anthropology (how God made man to know Him) and its relation to the Fall and Soteriology.
      VTP, I fear, collapses all this, at the very least, and possibly gets the Biblical ordering of it wrong. I haven’t quite figured it out (assuming I will?), but I’ve seen enough to be at least highly questioning of Van Til and his school. I'm still searching and reading a lot myself. I am, I hope honestly, open to being convinced. Hodge and Warfield were not perfect either, at it is of course possible, in God’s unfolding plan for His church, that VTP is exactly what God has for us in this time. That’s one of the problems I face with spending so much time in the past – it causes one to miss what is most pressingly in need of God’s corrective in the present."

    23. [Part V]

      So that was how I wrote it up about a year ago, after this Van Tillian stuff was first introduced into our church.

      I'll just add a final code here from Calvin. I wish people would read him without modern glasses on. In Book 1, just as he finishes his explication of the "innateness" of God in humans, he sums up his case in this fashion: Inst. I.v.15 “But, however that may be, yet the fact that men soon corrupt the seed of the knowledge of God, *sown in their minds out of the wonderful workmanship of nature* (thus preventing it from coming to a good and perfect fruit), must be imputed to their own failing….”

      I stress the clause *sown in their minds out of the wonderful workmanship of nature*, because here is where Calvin shows both how the sensus proceeds into actual knowledge (as opposed to a pre-cognitive idealism of some sort), and how this procession is efficacious. Calvin elsewhere talks about the knowledge of God as consisting in 3 parts, that which is innate, that which is "by diligence acquired", and that which is revealed by Scripture, etc. Clearly, he had the idea of something more than an in-born, fully predicated, "presupposition", etc. I only bring this up because this is how it seems to be understood by many, including some in my own church.

      Again, I'll reiterate, what you seem to be talking about is indeed to be found in pre-Van Tillian orthodoxy, but I submit that it is possibly not what Van Til, et. al. mean - else, on what basis do they disagree with the older Orthodox? Is it not possible there is a real disagreement here, not just misunderstanding?

      Here is something good from Calvin: “Further, the apostle does not require us in his words to renounce wholly the discretion which is either ours by nature or acquired by long experience, only recalls us to the position that we yield to God, so that all our wisdom might be founded upon his word.” (Commentary 1 Cor. 3:18)

      This is precisely what OP meant.

    24. So, I'll add one last comment (not exactly a few words, was it?), then I'm out. To follow up on the last post, as to what OP meant, here is something from the one OP guy who is perhaps beset upon the most by modern readers, Archibald Alexander. This quote is from his Evidences of the Christian Religion (1825). Just prior to this quote he spends several pages rehearsing the varieties of "cognitive bias" (again, this is not new...) that result in the abuse of reason. Now, in this section, he talks about submission to the Scriptures:

      "Before I leave the consideration of the various classes of persons, who, while they profess to be guided by reason, make an improper use of this faculty, I ought to mention a set of men, distinguished for their learning and ingenuity, who profess to receive the Christian revelation, and glory in the appellation of rational Christians. They proceed on the plausible and (if rightly understood) correct principle, of receiving nothing as true, but what their reason approves; but these very men, with all their fair appearances of rationality, are chargeable with as gross a dereliction of reason, as can well be conceived; and, in regard to consistency, are more vulnerable, than any of those already mentioned. For, while they admit that God has made a revelation, they insist upon the right of bringing the truths revealed to the test of human judgment and opinion, and reject them as unreasonable if they do not accord with this standard. But the declaration of God is the highest reason which we can have for believing anything. To set up our opinion against the plain expression of his will, is surely presumption of the highest kind. Perhaps, however, I do not represent the case with perfect accuracy. Perhaps, no man is chargeable with such an inconsistency, as to admit a thing to be contained in an undoubted revelation, and yet reject it. [he means this last sentence as a rhetorical question...]

      The exact state of the matter is this. The Scriptures, it is admitted, contain a revelation from God; but there are many things in the Bible, which, if taken in the most obvious sense, are inconsistent with reason; now as nothing inconsistent with reason can be from God, it is concluded, that this cannot be the true sense of Scripture. Accordingly, their wits are set to work, and their learning laid under contribution, to invent and defend some other sense. Upon these principles, a man may believe just as much, or as little as he pleases, of what the Bible contains; for it has been found that no text is so stubborn as not to yield to some of the modes of treatment, which have been adopted. But I maintain, that this whole procedure is contrary to right reason. The plain course which reason directs us to pursue, is, after examining the evidences of revelation, and being satisfied, to come to the interpretation of the Scriptures with an unbiased mind; and in the exercise of a sound judgment, and with the aid of those helps and rules which reason and experience suggest, to obtain the sense of the several parts of the document; and although this sense may contradict our preconceived opinions, or clash with our inclinations, we ought implicitly to receive it; and not by a refined ingenuity, and laboured critical process, extort a meaning, that will suit our own notions. This is not to form our opinions by the Word of God, but to cut down the sublime and mysterious doctrines of revelation, to the measure of our narrow conceptions. And thus, in the creed of many called rational Christians, the divine system of heavenly truth is shorn of its glory, and comes forth little more than an improved theory of Natural Religion. There is no reason in this."

  3. //Conversely, suppose, as a teenager, a Christian has an unmistakable answer to prayer. He becomes a philosophy major in college, and seeks to develop additional arguments to back up his prior Christian convictions. Is that just a post hoc rationalization?//

    Would you ask the same question if the teenager wasn't Christian but of another faith, who also reported an unmistakable answer to prayer? Presumably not.

    1. I'm on record saying God probably answers some non-Christian prayers. Try again.