Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Van Til on common ground

In this post I'm going to outline my understanding of Van Til on common ground. This is occasioned by Fesko's new book, which I haven't read. I have been reading Dr. Anderson's serial review. I won't document my interpretation by quoting Van Til. I'm not that invested. I'm going to rely on memory. I will also be adding some of my own refinements. 

1. Antithesis/common ground

In Van Til's analysis, there's a tension between antithesis and common ground. The tension isn't internal to Van Til's analysis. Rather, it reflects the instability of non-Christian thought. 

2. Metaphysical common ground

If Christianity is true, then reality is Christian. The non-Christian exists in a Christian reality. Not a Christian culture, but reality in toto. His physical environment as well as his mind. 

At the metaphysical level, the degree of common ground between Christian and non-Christian is total. The non-Christian cannot escape reality. He can deny elements of reality, but since there's no alternative to reality, his flight from reality will always be parasitic on the very reality he labors to overthrow. There is no metaphysical antithesis whatsoever.  

3. Hypothetical antithesis

i) To the extent that the non-Christian is epistemologically self-conscious, his goal will be to provide a systematic alternative to the Christian worldview. The aim will be zero common ground between Christianity and the non-Christian alternative. His position will be developed in conscious opposition to Christian theism. However, that's subject to various caveats. 

ii) Because there's only one reality, if that reality is Christian, then it's impossible for the non-Christian, however ingenious and indefatigable, to develop a thoroughgoing alternative to reality. So the effort to devise a consistent alternative to Christian theism is doomed to fail. It will always fall short of the goal. 

To cast it this in Calvinistic terms, the non-Christian lives in a divinely-defined reality. There are no random events. By virtue of predestination and providence, everything has a purpose. Everything happens for a reason. Moreover, God is the source of possibilities and necessities as well as actualities. There can be no wholesale point of contrast. 

So there's a certain paradox or dilemma in the antithetical relationship between Christian theism and non-Christian alternatives. The non-Christian program cannot succeed. There is no other reality to fall back on. The construction materials derive from Christian reality. All the resources at the disposal of the non-Christian are ultimately Christian in origin. I don't mean historically, but metaphysically. 

iii) We need to distinguish between non-Christian views that originated independently of Christianity (e.g. ancient Greco-Roman atheism, Buddhist atheism) and non-Christian views that evolved in reaction to Christianity (e.g. Renaissance/Enlightenment atheism). 

On the one hand, the antithesis between Christianity and modern Western atheism may be more extreme because Christian theism is the default foil. 

On the other hand, the antithesis between Christianity and modern Western atheism may be less pronounced in some respects than pre-Christian atheism because modern Western atheism is ironically influenced by Christianity in a way that pre-Christian atheism wasn't. For instance, Buddhism didn't target Christianity but Hinduism. 

In a sense, the outlook of Buddhist atheism is more foreign to Christianity than modern Western atheism inasmuch as Buddhist atheism originated without any reference to Christianity. 

iv) It's my impression that Roman Catholicism is the default foil for Renaissance/Enlightenment atheism. That's the primary target. But if, like Van Til, you regard Roman Catholicism as a highly defective representative of Christianity, then that adulterates the antithesis. In a sense, atheists were right to oppose Catholicism, although they opposed the good as well as the bad in Roman Catholicism. And their alternative was bad.

By the same token, the foil for Buddhism and Greco-Roman atheism is pagan polytheism. Once again, that adulterates the antithesis. They were right to oppose pagan polytheism. The problem lies with their alternative. 

4. Practical epistemological antithesis

i) Most non-Christians are pretty thoughtless. They're not attempting to construct a wholesale alternative to Christianity. 

ii) Due to common grace, non-Christians often retain some common ground with Christians. That varies from one individual to the next as well as from one society to the next. 

No comments:

Post a Comment