On Proof(s)

truth, evidence, burden, proof
truth, evidence, burden, proof

“On the other hand, we hold that the basic contention of Kuyper with respect to Warfield’s position is correct. Warfield often argues as though apologetics must use a method of approach to the natural man that the other disciplines need not and cannot use. 3 He reasons as though apologetics can establish the truth of Christianity as a whole by a method other than that of the other disciplines because it alone does not presuppose God. The other disciplines must wait, as it were, till apologetics has done its work, and receive from it the facts of God’s existence, etc. This distinction between the method of apologetics and the method of the other disciplines we believe to be mistaken. All the disciplines must presuppose God but at the same time presupposition is the best proof. Apologetics takes particular pains to show that such is the case. This is its chief task. But in so doing it is no more neutral in its method than are the other disciplines. One of its main purposes is to show that neutrality is impossible and that no one, as a matter of fact, is neutral. We conclude then that apologetics stands at the outer edge of the circle of systematic truth given us by systematics in order to defend it.” – Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology Chapter 1 The Idea of Systematic Theology

“Thus the Reformed Christian has an effective answer for the modern man. His answer is that the capacities of the human mind would have no opportunity for their exercise except upon the presupposition that the most absolute God does exist and that all things in this world are revelational of him. We grant that it is only by the frank acceptance of the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of God that man can know this. But this only show s that unless one thus accepts the Scripture there is no place for the exercise of reason. The most absolute God of the Confession can only be presupposed. He cannot be proved to exist in the way that the idea of proof is taken by the Romanist-Arminian apologetics. But so far from this fact being unfortunate, it is the one thing that saves the idea of the reasonableness of the Christian religion.” Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology Chapter13 The Incomprehensibility of God

“Carl F. H. Henry follows a method similar to that of Hammond. He points out that science itself must admit that there is much in “nature” that is beyond the reach of the human eye. This fact, he says, opens the door to the supernatural realm of law. 11 “For it is surely permissible that the same evidence at least, on which ‘beyond seeing’ the scientist fixes in order to establish a system of nature, may be evaluated also ‘beyond seeing’ in the direction of evidence for theism.” 12 Thus the sluice gate is open to a “spiritual realm.” And thus “it is at least possible that the comfort which the Psalmist’s fool derives from modern philosophic biases may be turned into a periodic discomfort. The case for theism is not at the moment established, but neither, for that matter, is it disproved.” 13 Henry finds comfort in the fact, while his “fool” is supposed to find discomfort in the fact, that such great men as Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, the Stoic, Plotinus, Descartes, Berkeley, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Royce, Hocking, Bowne, and Brightman have all found it necessary to interpret life in terms of a supernatural world in some sense beyond the world that they saw or see. We believe that the “fool” has more justification than has Henry. For if such men as Stoics and Plotinus have any legitimate grounds for holding the utterly monistic systems that they hold, then the Christian has no ground at all for the “dualistic” Creator-creature distinction that he makes. And surely these men were not basically illogical in their reasoning. Starting with the assumption of human autonomy there was logically nothing else that they could do than conclude that reality is all of one piece and that there is no God in the Christian sense of the term.

It is no wonder that Henry has no way of connecting the Bible and its authority to a philosophic method that is so directly contrary to the teaching of the Bible. He says that the “biblical case for theism moves independently of the philosophic arguments for the existence of God.” 14 Yet the self-disclosure of God is also said to remove the “uncertainty surrounding the so-called ‘theistic proofs.’ ” 15 But if the Bible removes the uncertainty of the theistic proofs, then the Bible and the philosophic proof cannot be independent of one another. And granted they are not really independent of one another, then the question is, what does the Bible say about the proofs? The Bible may truly be said to remove the uncertainty with respect to a proof for monism. For the Bible clearly teaches that such a proof is wrong. And Henry is right when on the following page he says that the Bible does not dethrone reason “for that premise would make it impossible for any one to think anything—even this very sentence.” 16 The instrumental use of reason is denied by no one.

And the Bible is also anything but uncertain in requiring man to submit his reason to the authority of God. The teaching of the Scripture is that when man thus makes his reason subject to the authority of the Scripture he thinks things in their true relations, and that when he does not subject his reason to the authority of Scripture he thinks wrongly.” – Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology Chapter14

“We shall not, in this connection, discuss Bavinck’s view on the “theistic proofs.” We have had what amounts to Bavinck’s position before us when we evaluated the work of Dr. Hepp. We only remark that Bavinck’s discussion of the proofs is not carried on upon that high level to which he himself has led us when he made plain that there could be only one principle of theology, and that there could be, therefore, no natural theology, in the accepted sense of the term. So, with respect to the teleological proof, Bavinck says that it would have some value even if it should leave unsettled the question of the unity or the plurality of the Godhead. He says that in any case it would have proved the necessity of the idea of intelligence for an interpretation of the world. 9 With this we cannot agree. We hold this to be out of accord with Bavinck’s own theology. If the question of the unity or plurality is not settled, the question of intelligibility in and beyond the universe is not settled. Or, rather, it is then settled unfavorably for Christianity. A plurality of gods is, for all practical purposes, equal to no god. He who is a polytheist is an irrationalist; he has no right to claim the rationality of one absolute God as the principle of his interpretation of life. And a similar line of argument holds for the other so-called theistic proofs. They must either be stated in a truly Christian-theistic fashion, or they involve the doctrine of a finite god; and a finite god is no God.” Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology Chapter15 Innate and Acquired Knowledge of God

“Two remarks may here be made by way of meeting the most obvious objections that will be raised to this method of the Reformed apologist. The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical question “Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?” The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own methods consistently. Says A. E. Taylor in discussing the question of the uniformity of nature, “The fundamental thought of modern science, at any rate until yesterday, was that there is a ‘universal reign of law’ throughout nature. Nature is rational in the sense that it has everywhere a coherent pattern which we can progressively detect by the steady application of our own intelligence to the scrutiny of natural processes. Science has been built up all along on the basis of this principle of the ‘uniformity of nature,’ and the principle is one which science itself has no means of demonstrating. No one could possibly prove its truth to an opponent who seriously disputed it. For all attempts to produce the ‘evidence’ for the ‘uniformity of nature’ themselves presuppose the very principle they are intended to prove.” 2 Our argument as over against this 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. We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments.

The second objection may be voiced in the following words: “While a Christian can prove that his Christian position is fully as reasonable as the opponent’s view, there is no such thing as an absolutely compelling proof that God exists, or that the Bible is the word of God, just as little as anyone can prove its opposite.” In this way of putting the matter there is a confusion between what is objectively valid and what is subjectively acceptable to the natural man. It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. It is the weakness of the Roman Catholic and the Arminian methods that they virtually identify objective validity with subjective acceptability to the natural man. Distinguishing carefully between these two, the Reformed apologist maintains that there is an absolutely valid argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christian theism. He cannot do less without virtually admitting that God’s revelation to man is not clear. It is fatal for the Reformed apologist to admit that man has done justice to the objective evidence if he comes to any other conclusion than that of the truth of Christian theism.

As for the question whether the natural man will accept the truth of such an argument, we answer that he will if God pleases by his Spirit to take the scales from his eyes and the mask from his face. It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its non-acceptance by the natural man. The natural man is, by virtue of his creation in the image of God, always accessible to the truth; accessible to the penetration of the truth by the Spirit of God. Apologetics, like systematics, is valuable to the precise extent that it presses the truth upon the attention of the natural man. The natural man must be blasted out of his hideouts, his caves, his last lurking places. Neither Roman Catholic nor Arminian methodologies have the flame-throwers with which to reach him. In the all-out war between the Christian and the natural man as he appears in modern garb it is only the atomic energy of a truly Reformed methodology that will explode the last Festung to which the Roman Catholic and the Armenian always permit him to retreat and to dwell in safety.” – Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics, Chapter 4, Reasoning by Presupposition

“The proper attitude of reason to the authority of Scripture, then, is but typical of the proper attitude of reason to the whole of the revelation of God. The objects man must seek to know are always of such a nature as God asserts they are. God’s revelation is always authoritarian. This is true of his revelation in nature no less than of his revelation in Scripture. The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him.

When these matters are kept in mind, it will be seen clearly that the true method for any Protestant with respect to the Scripture (Christianity) and with respect to the existence of God (theism) must be the indirect method of reasoning by presupposition. In fact it then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God. Protestants are required by the most basic principles of their system to vindicate the existence of no other God than the one who has spoken in the Scripture. But this God cannot be proved to exist by any other method than the indirect one of presupposition. No proof for this God and for the truth of his revelation in Scripture can be offered by an appeal to anything in human experience that has not itself received its light from the God whose existence and whose revelation it is supposed to prove. One cannot prove the usefulness of the light of the sun for the purposes of seeing by turning to the darkness of a cave. The darkness of the cave must itself be lit up by the shining of the sun. When the cave is thus lit up each of the objects that are in it “prove” the existence and character of the sun by receiving their light and intelligibility from it.” .” – Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics, Chapter 4 Scripture


3 B. B. Warfield, article, “Apologetics,” in Studies in Theology, N.Y. 1932.

11 Notes on the Doctrine of God, p. 27.

12 p. 28.

13 p. 29.

14 p. 64.

15 Ibid.

16 p. 65.

9 p. 64.

2 Does God Exist? p. 2.

To be continued…

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