Reading through Bahnsen’s book Van Til’s Apologetic. If you have been wanting to dive into Van Til, wanting to get into a deeper understanding of Presuppositional Apologetics, or if you are into philosophy and want to view some of the challenges of history through a Reformed lens, this book is a must read. Van Til’s Apologetic is definitely technical and at times you may be reminding yourself of previous terms already defined. However, Van Til has a way of saying the same thing 30 different ways. If you don’t understand what his point is initially, stick with it and he’ll get it to sink in eventually.
One of the interesting sections is in the section “The Epistemological Failure of Unbelief” which is in chapter 5 “The Apologetical Side of Epistemology”. In the section “The Epistemological Failure of Unbelief” there is a section of interest to me “The Condemning Testimony of the History of Philosophy”. Van Til here writes: “Has not the whole of the history of human philosophy shown that if the ‘facts’ of the world were not created and controlled by the redemptive providence of God, they would be utterly discrete and therefore undiscoverable? Has not the whole history of philosophy also shown that when man regards his logical powers as positively legislative for reality, he winds himself into a knot of contradictions? Has not the history of thought displayed the fact that if man takes the laws of logic as negatively legislative with respect to the facts with which they deal, then his logic and his reality stand over against one another in an absolute contrast, or else, when they do come into contact, they immediately destroy one another?” (403)
Van Til is basically saying if philosophy does not stand on Christ and his redeeming work it is set to fall to pieces. Van Til will go on to say that any methodology (in science) that is not based on the “presupposition of the truth of the Christian story is like an effort to string an infinite number of beads, no two of which have holes in them, by means of a string of infinite length, neither end of which can be found.”
Every method is built on prior methods. Van Til cities Rom 1:18ff that God’s wrath has continuously been on man. If a person of today inherits the work of all those since Adam who have had God’s wrath on them what is the quality of the product he is receiving? He would have a diversity of opinions and interpretations that he could only conclude (with the Epicureans) no interpretation could be true. Why is this? Because as Paul writes in Romans men have refused to have God in their knowledge and they suppress the truth regarding Him (vv 18,28), the result was that those who disregarded God became fools (vv 21-22). In short, the intellectual failures through the millennia according to Van Til are illustrations of God’s wrath upon the rebellious and arrogant mind of the sinner.
In closing Van Til rightly cites:
Job 28:12 “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 13 Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
and Job 28:20 “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
Van Til demonstrates throughout the chapter and in this section that the history of philosophy has abundantly testified that men tried to interpret the universe “immanentistically” (principle is found within man’s experience and reasoning, as opposed to a principle that is revealed authoritatively from a “transcendent” God (beyond human experience or reasoning)). History teaches us “clearly that no system of philosophy has ever been able to make its composer feel that he had reached a satisfactory solution of the problems of life” and leads to agnosticism and pessimism. (404)