IBRI Research Report #11 (1982)
FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT:
A Critique of the Logical Structure
of Van Til's Presuppositionalism
David P. Hoover
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Copyright © 1982 by David P. Hoover. All rights reserved.
|In the essay that follows, one major school of apologetics --
-- is taken up by assessing its logical structure in the writings of
most well-known representative, Cornelius Van Til. The author's
with regard to Van Til's presuppositionalism is that the Christian's
task has been greatly frustrated, in effect, by the replacement of that
task with an obscure philosophy about reason-giving.
After identifying the virtual canonical status which the presuppositionalists accord their own position vis-a-vis the evidentialists' position, the author goes on to test out the Van Tilian apologetic on its own terms. (i) Van Til insists that Christian theism be shown, in some sense, to be necessarily true, but lacks any argument which accomplishes this; (ii) Van Til's own elucidation of the sort of necessity he is after makes the opposite point probability remains; (iii) the principles which Van Til advocates to get the argument under way logically preclude the only result Van Til will accept; and (iv) Van Til's resort to "analogical reasoning in order to transcend what would otherwise be a hypothetical conclusion only serves to further obfuscate the pre-suppositionalist's position. Analogicity cannot be, nor is it intended to be, a logical property of the argument structure employed by the presuppositionalist. Its function seems to the author to be metaphysical in character. But if so, the presuppositionalist's argumentation is "saved" from the level of hypothesis only upon pain of conflating, and hence confusing, the categories of logic and metaphysics.
|Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written.|
Within the literature of evangelical apologetics there ought to be a place for discussing what Christian apologetics is or ought to be. But it is distressing whenever "defending the faith" is projected to the world-at-large as either an involved academic discipline to be pursued solely for its own sake -- e.g., as a meta-apologetics of method -- or worse, as intramural feuding among Christian thinkers. Nevertheless it does seem both worthwhile and needful that continued and careful thought be given to the meta-apologetic level,1 but this primarily as a means to sharpen and make logically viable our practical apologetics. It is only this latter apologetics which provides specific arguments in the field, whether empirical or conceptual, in order to engage modern unbelief in whatever form it may arise. Regrettably, however, although it is confrontation with unbelief that is the very raison d'etre of apologetics it seems easily lost sight of within many Christian college and seminary classrooms.
Writers in apologetics within recent decades have, I believe, given warrant for the charges of identifying apologetics with its meta-apologetical task and making apologetics appear to be taken up in intramural polemicizing. In what follows I hope to contribute to the discussion about what apologetics ought to be, but hopefully without aggravating whatever is negative about the present image. My contribution will be somewhat oblique, however, for ironically (or so it may seem) my particular plea for scholarly tolerance among apologetes (of whatever calling or discipline)2 will be at the expense of the method advanced by Cornelius Van Til. I shall argue that Van Til's apologetics is internally confused and that it collapses of its own weight not, say, of what Van Til might term a "univocally-thinking" or an empiricistic critique. But if this can be established, it follows that one very significant reason for discord within contemporary apologetics vanishes. There is also the side-benefit that the traditional labels of "presuppositionalism" and "evidentialism" needn't be thought to name mutually exclusive positions. Rather, presuppositionalism, if the term is to have a use following our critique, might best designate the concerns of meta-apologetics i.e., the Christian's philosophy of reason-giving while evidentialism might stand for part of the scope of practical apologetics.3 I say this with the caveat that although the present critique may be seen to be decisive vis-a-vis Van Til's pre-suppositionalism, it is not intended as the final word on any apologetic going by that name whether presently formulated or yet to be advanced.4
Before beginning our critique of Van Til something more should be said concerning the discord mentioned above. Within the literature of presuppositionalism, it is not hard to find many instances in which the presuppositionalist criticizes his evidentialist brethren in the language of religious and moral indictment. Evidentialrist methodology, to take just a few examples, is excoriated as "blasphemous,"5 "immoral,"6 "a rejection of the authority of God and His Word,"7 and an invitation to "the non-believer to judge Christianity with an apostate epistemology."8 According to Jim Halsey, an ardent Van Tilian, evidential apologetics in its traditional sense is characterized by:
|(a) a rejection of the authority of God and His Word;
(b) an abrogation of covenant;
(c) an attempted shedding of the finite and temporal make-up of man via the enthroning of the reason.9
Since my position too would doubtless be judged unfavorably by Halsey's "canonical" criteria, it is perhaps in place to remark on a certain family resemblance in the critical attitude assumed within much of the presuppositionalist literature. It is regrettable, I think, especially in view of its highly debatable theoretical underpinning, that presuppositionalism seems to foster among its practitioners such a readiness to characterize its opposition in terms of theological and moral accusation. Indeed, I cannot think of anything more reprehensible (and serious) than to be faulted for rejecting God's authority, for abrogating His covenant, and for enthroning an autonomous human rationality. It seems to me that if characterizations (a), (b) and (c) were held to be true of a Christian brother's mode of reasoning we should then have a case for church discipline. At any rate, I think that Halsey's polemics are more likely to generate heat than light. The point I make about the readiness to morally indict, of course, applies where appropriate to the opponents of presuppositionalism as well.
The present thesis will proceed as follows: (i) We will make clear Van Til's argument objective, (ii) we will note a tension in Van Til's own thought when he attempts to illustrate this objective, (iii) we will briefly examine the logical prospect of achieving that objective given Van Til's argument strategy as outlined in A Survey of Christian Epistemology, and (iv) we will attempt to see whether the argument property of "analogicity" can service the apparent defects in the faltering argument.
I. THE TWO-FOLD NATURE OF' VAN TIL'S ARGUMENT OBJECTIVE
Van Til calls his method presuppositional. Its chief feature is presupposing the truth of Christianity as the system that integrates all factuality and that accounts for life as it is actually lived. The objective in this argument method is to show or demonstrate to one's opponent that Christian theism (i) truly does this, and (ii) the much more ambitious claim, that Christian theism alone can do this. In short, the presuppositionalist's quest is to exhibit by argument both the sufficiency and the necessity of Christian theism as explanatory of our world of experience. States Van Til,
|Our argument . . . would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world.10|
One pursues this argument objective, according to Van Til, first constructively or positively and then negatively. We need to examine each of these argument phases with care if we are to understand whether such a two-fold objective has any logical promise of being achieved. Constructively, the Christian apologete "presents the biblical view positively by showing that all factual and logical discussions by men take place by virtue of the world's being what God in Christ says it is. [The apologete] then proceeds negatively to show that unless all the facts and all logical relations be seen in the light of the Christian framework, all human interpretation fails instantly."11 And the goal of this argumentation, to underscore the point I wish to pursue, is to exhibit the fact that God, for Van Til, can be argued to be "the only and the final explanation of any and every fact."12 (emphasis mine)
The structure, then, of Van Til's presuppositionalist argument strategy can be said to be an explanandum-explanans structure, and the point we now make is of the utmost importance: Van Til contends in the above quotations that all facts and logical relations that can arise within human discourse will receive their only possible explanation in Christian theism. Schematically, the situation might be represented as follows:
of Christian Theism
Science Seeks to Investigate
A great deal of interest follows from this structure -- particularly in view of Van Til's insistence that the apologete exhibit Christian theism as the only possible explanation for the facts of the experienced world and for the logical constraints that govern discourse about it. But how, exactly, could an argument from the finite human standpoint logically yield such a result? Without further qualification, Van Til's stated objective strongly suggests that the case for Christianity rests on (somehow) demonstrating an exact logico-empirical fit of explanans to explanandum. In technical terms, Van Til's "constructive" phase of argument presentation seeks to establish Christian theism as logically sufficient to account for the facts that is, God in Christ adequately accounts for, or explains, the world in every respect. In the negative phase of the argument, the apologete undertakes to establish the necessity of the Christian explanans. On the presuppositionalist's reckoning, arguing the mere sufficiency of Christian theism is not enough; it is always logically possible that other world-embracing systems (yet to be developed, perhaps) might be sufficient to account for the universe as well. So the Christian apologete cannot be content with sufficiency alone, He must also "show that unless all facts and all logical relations be seen in the light of the Christian framework, all human interpretation fails instantly." It is, in fact, precisely on this apologetic concern that the presuppositionalist most radically parts company with the evidentialist.
Can presuppositional argumentation accomplish its two-fold objective? If it is to make a beginning toward this end it will not do, as I believe it is often the case with Van Til, to merely repeat, "We must show that...," "We must insist that...," or "We must therefore hold that...," without so much as a hint that would help us with a discursive procedure that would logically warrant the position in question. I am therefore concerned with the "cash value" of the actual structure of a putatively presuppositional argument, the actual discursive steps one is to follow in "analogically" reasoning to a conclusion.
At this point it might be best to forestall certain misgivings this writer frequently encounters in discussions with defenders of Van Til's presuppositionalism. First, let us agree that circular reasoning is not a fallacy per se. The superstructure or potentiality of anyone's thought cannot coherently go beyond one's most basic assumptions. However, reasoning that might be dubbed "viciously circular" is fallacious: presupposing something to be so does not make it so. Second, I think it important to acknowledge that any thinking person has, wittingly or not, a "noetic basement" which serves to provide propositions that are simply taken as self-evident. Such propositions are indubitable for that person and serve to shape and determine the rest of his thought.
How, then, does one argue the necessity of Christian theism? To begin, Van Til has told us that the argument must be indirect.13 Any piece by piece (inductive) quest for the answer we seek is doomed to fail at the outset for lack of a supreme integrating principle that will help us make sense of the particulars of experience. As Van Til has put it, "We must seek to determine what presuppositions are necessary to any object of knowledge in order that it may be intelligible to us."14 Thus there is, according to Van Til, no way of totting up the particulars in advance of taking God into account, for
|if God has any significance for any object of knowledge at all, the relation of God to that object of knowledge must be taken into consideration from the outset, It is this fact that the transcendental method seeks to recognize.15|
But how, exactly, does the argument go? Or to put it in more technical parlance, just how does one establish the transcendental sine qua non for all intelligible predication? How could a finite human intellect achieve the perspective necessary to run an argument of such great consequence? To repeat what was earlier cited from Van Til,
|the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and the coherence of all things in the world.10 emphasis mine)|
But here the tacit assumption is made that the arguer has an acquaintance with "the uniformity of nature and the coherence of all things in the world" such that the God of Christian theism is the only thing or being possessed of those properties and attributes sufficient to account for that world of experience. What is striking, however, is that no person this side of omniscience knows the cosmos in the required way. At very most Van Til is logically entitled to claim that the Christian's God is a sufficient condition to account for the world so far as his knowledge goes. Sufficient perhaps, but not necessary.
II. VAN TIL'S TRANSCENDENTALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF PROBABILITY
In Defense of the Faith Van Til exclaims, "Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism."16 Curiously, this remark does not follow on the heels of an actual argument for God's existence but, rather, it follows an analogy which is designed to show the structure and prospect of presuppositional argumentation. The analogy employed betrays, I believe, a tension in Van Til's own thought about what it might mean to argue the necessity, not merely the sufficiency, of Christian theism. The analogy, it must be stressed, is intended to capture how necessity is exhibited by means of presuppositional argumentation. The analogy, however, goes contrary to the very point Van Til seeks to punctuate.
Imagine, suggests Van Til, a floor, the mere sight of which cannot prove the existence of floor beams underneath. Rather, "the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath."17 (emphasis mine) But this analogy cannot logically support Van Til's purpose. What he needs is an analogy wherein what is "required" is not merely sufficient for a given phenomenon, but is also necessary. If there are beams undergirding a given floor well and good. But such would be a contingent fact, if it is a fact, not a necessary condition. For all the viewer knows (remember that Van Til has made it clear that the viewer cannot see beneath the floor), there may be concrete, flat earth, or water beneath the floor boards or perhaps the boards are all glued fast and then supported by four large stones, and on and on. The floor, one might rightly suspect (although there is no logical necessity in one's doing so), has some foundation or other, but the nature of that foundation cannot logically be identified under the conditions that define Van Til's thought experiment about the floor boards. The "idea of a floor" simply does not require (necessitate) "the idea of beams." Van Til's floor and beams analogy, in fact, so far from helping us understand the nature of transcendental proof, underscores the probability character endemic to the structure of any argument of this kind. That is, granting a particular viewing of floor boards, and granting that these particular floor boards appear in a house (let us say) which is located in a neighborhood in which floor boards are typically undergirded by beams, then this particular case of floor boards is probably one that involves beams.
Van Til is more explicit about his argument strategy and logical warrant in a remarkable statement against Buswell:
|The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. The argument may be poorly stated, and may never be adequately stated. But in itself the argument is perfectly sound.18|
This statement, it seems to me, is one that requires the conflation of the categories of logic and metaphysics. Van Til, the metaphysical banker, is guaranteeing his disciples that they have plenty of logico-epistemological credit. In fact, they can hardly overdraw their account! Because one is assured, apparently by fideistic resolve, of what must be the case metaphysically, it does not much matter how one argues it.
Van Til, of course, is not using the concepts "validity," "soundness," or even "argument" in standard ways in this quotation. But then in what way is he employing these terms? It is certainly not easy to tell, Officially, validity is the property an argument has if and only if it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true, One can have a perfectly valid argument whose conclusion is factually false. Deduction conserves truth only on the condition that the premises are true. Moreover, it is the truth of the premises of a valid argument which constitutes that argument as sound. What Van Til appears to be actually saying is that since God really does exist, and since Christianity really is true, then testimony to these facts, no matter how poorly or inadequately stated, will never lack a corresponding reality, Thus, for Van Til, whatever the formal logical or rhetorical blemishes that afflict a given presuppositional argument, such an argument will not lack force or objective cogency.
Of more than passing interest here is that Van Til implies that probability is a property of conclusions that can be applied or withheld, subjectively, by the arguer. The latter may "tone" his argument down or refuse to "tone" it down. It would appear, then, that Van Til regards structural probability, or probability ascription that is appropriate in virtue of formal characteristics of argumentation, as somehow inconsequential for his purposes. This is a curious position indeed. Has Van Til abandoned the importance -- the necessity -- of logical force in argumentation? What, precisely, is the structure of a presuppositional argument or at the least, the logical behavior of a presupposition in virtue of which one may repose confidence in the results thus obtained?
The answer, I think, is bound up in what Van Til means by analogical reasoning -- a reasoning, as we will see, that is at best quasi-logical. Thus (if I can make good on this claim) it is not the strict adherence to logical canons of correct reasoning which "necessitates" Van Til's argument objective (such adherence may in fact be violated); it is, rather, a special relationship that allegedly obtains between God and the presuppositional apologete, given that the latter's presentation is faithful to Van Til's two-fold "demonstration." This relationship, so far as I am able to make it out, is that of a radical dependence of the apologete upon God -- a dependence whose intellectual expression is the presupposition of "the absolute self-consciousness of God which alone gives meaning to the terminology [the apologete] employ[s]."19 But more on this later. What we have seen thus far is that Van Til's argument objective includes the "showing" of Christian theism's necessity, for without the showing of necessity there would be no advantage in presuppositional apologetics over against evidential apologetics.
III. "FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT"
Before addressing the issue of analogical reasoning head-on, let us look at the way in which Van Til coaches those who would be presuppositional apologetes. The logical character of Van Til's two-phase argument objective was set out in Section I; our purpose now is to examine two heuristic principles (or rules) embedded in Van Til's comments on the progression in argument toward these phases of argument objective. These principles, it will become clear, set definite conceptual limits to what any "presuppositional" argument may logically accomplish. Both are stated in A Survey of Christian Epistemology.20 For the purpose of reference I will designate these principles as Principle A and Principle B:
|Principle A:||Christians "may and must use the same terminology as their opponents."|
|Principle B:||"We can begin reasoning with our opponents at any point in heaven or earth and may for argument's sake present Christian theism as one hypothesis among many, and may for argument's sake place ourselves upon the ground of our opponent in order to see what will happen."|
Principle A is important because it both licenses us to use, and indeed restricts our use to, "the same terminology" as our opponents. I take this to be at least a recognition that the same logic that orders our ordinary discourse orders the non-believer's discourse as well that, e.g., modus ponens, modus tollens, the laws of distributivity and the like hold equally for both Christians and non-Christians. The fact that these are God-ordained logical constraints is immaterial to the point I wish to make here that is, even if, on a Van Tilian reckoning, our logic is analogical of divine reasoning in some sense, my point would remain unaffected. (It is perhaps of interest to include, at this point, that Van Til does not regard God's "thoughts" to be discursive or sequential at all.)21
If I am right in including the formal constraints of logic within the scope of Principle A, then one extremely important consequence this must have for Van Til is that hypothetical premises can never be made to logically yield more than hypothetical conclusions. Thus, "for argument's sake," the Christian necessarily both starts and finishes his argument at the level of hypothesis. If one treats one's own position "as one hypothesis among many," the logic required by Principle A cannot allow one's conclusion to graduate to the certainty status of apodicticity and this is true no matter what "analogical reasoning" comes to. But this, of course, is utterly destructive of Van Til's insistence that we not tone our conclusions down to the probability level. Even though the Christian is, as Van Til states, arguing for argument's sake, he is nonetheless doing something quite serious within the strategy Van Til prescribes. That is, the Christian is not merely going on for the sake of argument as if this step were superfluous or perhaps a condescension to the non-Christian. Rather, we are at the heart of the presuppositionalist's strategy at this point.
But Van Til is well aware of this. The Christian's conclusion can only be rescued from hypotheticality, on Van Til's reckoning, when the apologete is reasoning analogically. But before we examine this remarkable property of reasoning called analogicity, let us make matters still worse. Principle B states that there is a fundamental symmetry to be recognized in arguing one's own position and in criticizing the position of one's opponent. The symmetry is this: in both cases, that of the Christian's position and that of the non-Christian's position, the provisional, or hypothetical, character of the opposing sets of presuppositions is the same. Neither, for the sake of argument, has the status of being true, only of being provisionally true "to see what will happen." The question, then, is how Van Til exhibits Christian theism's necessity given his ground commitment to the parity of logic (i.e., of formal logical constraint) that governs the conditions of argumentative coherence for either side.
I think this comes about, in the mind of Van Til, in perhaps two ways one of them quite deliberate, but the other, it seems, because of an ambiguity in the phrase, "presupposing the truth of." Reserving comment on the former for our treatment of analogicity, let us examine what appears to be a category confusion resulting from the ambiguity in the aforementioned phrase.
Granting that the presuppositionalist has successfully reduced his opponent's position to absurdity, the presuppositionalist must now construct his own position. In Defense of the Faith, Van Til states that "the Reformed apologist will frankly admit that his own methodology presupposes the truth of Christian theism."22 He then attempts to "show" the unbeliever that on the Christian's presuppositions alone "do 'facts' and 'laws' appear intelligible."23
But if such a result is logically possible given the presuppositionalist's strategy as detailed so far, Van Ti1 has shifted the logical ground on the opposition, He is not presupposing his own presuppositions as being true, the little word "as" being elliptical for "as though." He is, rather, changing the rules of the inquiry when it comes his turn to be examined in effect, fudging on the logical symmetry that initially determined the ground rules for discussion. The wording in Defense of the Faith must be taken quite literally -- even letterally -- if we are to see what has taken place. Whatever might have been the logical status of Van Til's governing presupposition "for argument's sake," for conclusion's sake that initial presupposition has taken on the role of stating a reality. And whereas it makes sense to challenge or quarrel with a hypothesis, it is foolhardy to challenge reality! Thus, while presupposing, at the level of argument, is (and must remain) hypothetical, there is another "level" within apologetical discourse that will somehow nullify the hypotheticality of the purely logical level. But how might this level be characterized? Somewhat as follows, I think: At the outset the presuppositionalist "presupposes-the-truth-of-Christian-theism-etc.," making of the whole argument a sort of "performative act," a declaring, so to speak, that Christian theism is true even though the argumentation itself is formally inconclusive. That is to say, the "success" of the presuppositionalist's argument is not (and cannot be) achieved formally; it is achieved, rather, in its metaphysical character as a speech-act, as a kind of proclamation. So while the internal, or structural, features of the presuppositionalist's argumentation render such argument just as probabilistic as evidential argumerit, Van Til calls attention to the metaphysical status of presuppositional witness taken in its (fused) entirety as a speech-act. And to this we now turn our attention.
IV. THE ANALOGICAL TETHER
What we have indicated thus far is that, so far as logic is concerned, Van Til's apologetic offers no advantage over what he disdains as the "traditional method." We may make our final point by drawing attention to what I shall call discursive finitude -- i.e., fundamental limitations on how the human being can marshal evidence discursively (or by the use of language). First, there is the noetic effect of sin, the reluctance or refusal to acknowledge God in connection with one's understanding of oneself and the creation. Second, the finitude of partial perspective -- the creaturely limitation which prevents the possibility of ever being able to logically guarantee that all the relevant data have been considered with regard to any existential truth-claim. And third, hermeneutical finitude -- the creaturely limitation which prevents the possibility of ever being able to logically guarantee the interpretation of the data within our possession. I should mention, however, that these modes of limitation, while precluding a human competence for logically guaranteeing what one takes oneself to know, do not in any way exclude the human being from genuine knowledge. As I have developed this point elsewhere,24 there is a crucial difference between knowing and knowing that you know. It is clear from Scripture and common experience that the human being is a knower (at least to some extent) -- that the human being has been epistemicallv suited to his environment by his Creator. The human being is not, however, an individual with the noetic competence to know that he knows if the first mention of "know" be taken as indicating a logical guarantee for the second mention of "know." Thus, I think, there is an important distinction to be drawn between first and second order knowledge. So while first order knowledge (if need be) can be discursively and ostensively vindicated in many ways, it cannot be logically validated in the sense of an infallible guarantee.
Returning now to Van Til, what are we to make of his claim that there is an "absolutely certain proof for the existence of God" in view of discursive finitude? Apparently, the limitations we have briefly discussed can be transcended in some way. But how? According to Van Til, the believer is, or at least can be, epistemically tethered to the Author of human knowledge. There is an epistemological gold standard, so to speak, and the apologete needs to sustain a special relation to it. The apologete accomplishes this relating or tethering by engaging in a discourse that is self-consciously committed to his governing presupposition. The Christian's reasoning, according to Van Til, must always be analogical. Christians "may and must use the same terminology as their opponents, but while using this terminology they cannot afford to forget for a fraction of a second the presupposition of the absolute self-consciousness of God, which alone gives meaning to the terminology they employ."25
So the question arises, "How can 'analogical reasoning' render objectively valid an argument that is not only inadequately and poorly given, but also logically inconclusive?" The answer seems to be that analogical reasoning, for Van Til, has a metaphysical rather than a logical function (as was indicated earlier). That is, reasoning analogically should not be considered to bestow in some mysterious fashion more logical clout upon the premises used by the apologete than they formerly possessed. Nor does reasoning analogically somehow involve a special "Christian" rule of logical inference -- sanctus ponens, let us venture -- that has thus far escaped the notice of the professional logician. Rather, Van Til characterizes analogical reasoning as reasoning on a "higher plane," a plane from which the apologete can uncompromisingly draw the unbeliever toward theistic reality. To reason analogically, therefore, is to have a special epistemic "footing;" it is to be epistemically positioned in Christ. Thus it is easy to see a close relationship between Gospel proclamation and apologetic discourse on Van Til's reckoning. The latter has the "validity" possessed by the former and is (seemingly) "valid" because the former is. Apologetics differs structurally, of course, because it deploys the indirect argument strategy identified earlier.
A great deal more could be said about Van Til's notion of analogy and of analogical reasoning. My very limited aim here is to indicate the extra-logical, or quasi-logical, nature that analogical reasoning has for Van Til. Thus, it would be a mistake for a critic of Van Til to test a purported specimen of analogical argumentation for a unique logical structure i.e., test it for a special structure that can be identified by the application of formal logical techniques. Ironically, perhaps, analogical reasoning is compatible with factual errors and logical dissonances; in these regards the presuppositional apologete should be considered a fallible practitioner of a fallible method. The test for the presence of Van Tilian analogicity is, rather, in terms of one's personal fidelity and commitment to one's governing presupposition(s) in the course of reasoning with unbelief. And the apologetic reasoning involved must always, in one way or another, exhibit a strategy for achieving the twofold argument objective previously discussed. In fact, analogicity cannot, within Van Til's thought, be exemplified by any other argument structure. But it is vital to recognize that it is not owing to the formal characteristics of the argument strategy per se that analogicity characterizes the argument. Analogicity, although necessarily exhibited only by an indirect argument strategy, is more properly conceived as a metaphysical fact about the total argument's radical dependence upon God.
Moreover, within Van Til's theoretical epistemology there are no meta-analogical criteria whereby one might identify or distinguish strong versus weak analogical knowings, believings or reasonings. Van Til's is not so much a theory of the justification of specific knowledge claims, but a theistic, or better, a theological, characterization of human knowledge in general. In the final analysis, it seems to me, the doctrine of analogical reasoning has to do with epistemic position, such that, proof simply becomes defined as faithful witness. Not just faithful witness, of course, but faithful witness which, having learned an important philosophical lesson from Hume, seeks to overcome the unbeliever's protest by an indirect argument strategy. Otherwise put, analogical reasoning seems to be an ingenious maneuver whereby discursive finitude is rendered inconsequential by determining that apologetics is a logico-epistemological outgrowth of Christian metaphysics the latter two categories are, wittingly or not, conflated.
We can become less abstract about the matter by using one of Van
own illustrations: The believer argues from a position of knowledge. He
whereas the unbeliever does not. The unbeliever is, as it were,
while the believer stands on dry ground. The believer's task is to
an apologetic discourse to the unbeliever that does not compromise the
salvific potential of his own position. He cannot, that is, be merely
water with no shore in sight as he attempts the rescue. The question
however, how one translates the metaphysical realities involving
rescue into the categories of epistemic certitude achieved by
valid argument." Physically pulling a drowning man to shore is easily
but how, exactly, is discursively "pulling" a man to Christ to be
It seems clear that Van Tilian apologetic "pull" is owing to the
of the believer's argumentation, but however this "pull" is to be
it must be theorized in a logically consistent manner to cancel the
logico-discursive defects of the argument's presentation. And the
is monumental: How does one exhibit metaphysical certitude within
the logical parameters of discursive finitude? Van Til's answer has to
do with the mode or plane of the believer's reasoning, not its logic.
is this not an intolerable mixing of categories? The consequence of the
category conflation resulting within Van Til's thought is that the
advertised by Van Til is not accomplished in virtue of the logic of his
apologetic strategy but in spite of it. "For the sake of argument" we
licensed to advance Christianity "as one hypothesis among many," but
the sake of one's apologetic conclusion, Christianity assumes the
of metaphysical reality. It is this very peculiar logical behavior of a
Van Tilian presupposition, I believe, that has been one very
reason why evidentially inclined apologetes have been so reluctant to
1. As I am using the term, "meta-apologetics" is intended to designate serious philosophical work which seeks to justify and clarify the apologete's most basic terms and approach. Meta- apologetics is the Christian's philosophy of reason-giving.
2. Apologetics should be considered interdisciplinary, a concern for all believers (cf. I Peter 3:15). Nicholas Wolterstorff has a refreshing comment to this effect in his Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, p. 114n.
3. The scope of practical apologetics must include purely philosophical or conceptual argument as well as matters of empirically determined fact.
4. Aside from Van Tilian presuppositionalism there is that of Carnell and Clark. The latter two are far more rationalistic than Van Til. Moreover, one can distinguish from among what I take to be logically disparate presuppositionalisms e.g., ones favoring the terms "faith commitment," "control beliefs," or "axioms" to the logically ambiguous term "presupposition."
5. Van Til says this of the methodology of Gordon R. Lewis in Jerusalem and Athens, pp. 367-8.
6. The second chapter of Greg Bahnsen's syllabus, A Biblical Introduction to Apologetics, I, 1.
7. Jim Halsey, "A Preliminary Critique of Van Til: The Theologian," Westminster Theological Journal, Fall 1976.
8. Robert Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge, pp. 142-43.
9. Halsey, "Preliminary Critique."
10. Van Til, Defense of the Faith, P. 103.
11. Van Til, Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 225.
12. Ibid., p. 10. 13. Defense of the Faith, p. 100.
14. Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 201.
16. Defense of the Faith, p. 103.
18. Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 291.
19. Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. xi.
20. Ibid., p. xi and pp. 200ff.
21. Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 165.
22. Defense of the Faith, p. 101.
24. As yet unpublished manuscript, Persons, Proof, and Knowledge of God.
25. Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. xi.
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