Quill and writing

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 4B – The Epistemological Side of Apologetics

4.4a What’s the correct relationship between nature & Scripture? (p195)

Both nature and Scripture are revelational of God.  It is wrong to think of Scripture however as a sort of 67th Book supplementing the Scriptures which, like the Scriptures ‘speak for themselves’.  Rather, nature is to be comprehended in the light of Scripture (Ps 36:9).  Nature represents an ocean of factuality that finds its true explanation ONLY as it is surveyed by the eye of faith in humble submission to the Word of God.  Thus we cannot suffer any interpretation of any fact apart from the conditioning framework of God’s Word.  This is what is signified by St Paul’s exhortation to bring every thought captive to Christ.  Thus, e.g. star-light from a distant galaxy cannot be comprehended to be older than the Biblical age of the universe!  This might well entail a careful re-think of the principles of cosmology, but we simply must not entertain the thought that Scripture may be broken.  Christ tells is it cannot! (see Jn 10:35)

4.4b What are some of the symptoms of noetic sin?

Noetic sin is committed by that mind which denies the laws of logic & which acts arbitrarily.  It is likewise stumbled into, perhaps unwittingly, when we reason fallaciously.  Formal and informal fallacies (syllogisms) include the following and are commonly found in people’s words & expressions.  We must be careful, if we are to be holy & pure in our thinking, to avoid them.

  • Begging the question
  • Reification
  • Special pleading
  • Equivocation
  • False dichotomy
  • Straw-man
  • False analogy
  • Argument from ignorance
  • Red-herring
  • Circular reasoning
  • Hasty generalization
  • Cherry picking
  • Appeal to fear
  • Ad hominem
  • Ad populum
  • Genetic fallacy
  • Appeal to authority
  • Tu quoque
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc

We must comprehend true rationality as a truly SPIRITUAL activity which, because of sin’s pervasiveness has been corrupted through the Fall.  Right thinking & clear lines of reasoning are the fruit of faith & godliness.  We reason because God is a reasoning God.  Our thinking is to be patterned upon His thinking.  The characteristics & true principles of both deductive & inductive logic can be drawn out from a careful study of Scripture.  Moreover, the true limits of valid thinking (e.g. what is possible, what must remain mysterious/unknown, etc) are established by markers found in Scripture.

4.4c By what authority do we accept Biblical authority?  How can we know this?

We accept biblical authority on its own ‘self-attesting’ authority.  If our validation of Scripture was grounded upon something more ultimate (more authoritative) than Scripture, then Scripture would not be our ‘ultimate authority’.  We must acknowledge that such reasoning is circular – but we may (must!) recognise it as ‘virtuously circular’.  A man who says he uses his reasoning to validate his reasoning is being ‘viciously circular’ because the conclusion is present in the premise.  The Christian asserts that true/adequate justification for reasoning arises from our trust (faith) in God who has made us sufficiently self-aware of this underlying justification.  Thinking is PERSONAL and is properly the fruit of the ‘personalness’ of our constitution.  We reason by virtue of our being creatures made in the image of God.  Faulty reasoning is Christless.  (Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. [Col 2:8]; O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge [1Tim 6:20])

Returning to the question, Scripture, like Jesus’ authority, like God’s authority is self-attesting.  “I am that I am”.  (Ex 3:14)  It is worth noting that this idea is foundational to the Protestant conviction regarding Scriptural Authority & the formulation of the Canon.  VT points out (p214) that ‘the Church merely recognised the Word in its self-attestation.  It is Christ whose voice the Church hears in Scripture’.

4.4d Was divine revelation needed before Adam fell?

Yes, even before Adam fell, he was dependent on God to comprehend properly (truly) his environment.  Both the tree of the knowledge of good & evil & the tree of life were first interpreted by God before they were interpreted by Adam.  The pattern of obedience was plainly established BEFORE the Fall.  If it applied then it applies all the more for us today when the corruption in our minds very much inclines us to think & reason independently of God!  “Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4)

4.4e The Reformers argued for the ‘necessity’ of Scripture.  Why?

Scripture is necessary for the following reasons:

  • Sin arises from man seeking to interpret facts apart from God’s revelation (VT p218); man was to deal covenentally with the facts of history (VT p204). Man is required therefore to identify all facts about him as the bearer of God’s requirements (VT p204).  Adam’s comprehension of the two Trees (Knowledge of Good & Evil; Life) was EXEMPLARY for us.
  • Scripture presents us with the fulness of God’s instruction whereby, as St Paul tells us (2Tim 3:16) ‘the man of God is thoroughly furnished for every good work’. The ‘good’ work that we would do must be validated & defined by God.


4.4f What ‘life & death struggle’ does VT reference on p207?

The life & death struggle is that which prevails between covenant keepers & covenant breakers.  The clash is over which INTERPRETER of life is authentic and which is governed by rebellious creaturely self-will.  Pietism represents a corrupted, degraded ‘brand’ of Christianity, masquerading as orthodoxy, that reduces this distinction.  Van Til, exposes it for what it is: “Christianity has been all too often interpreted in a narrowly soteriological fashion. Accordingly, the territory of nature & history was left vacant for any first comer to occupy.” (p206/7)  Pietists limit their concerns to soul salvation & getting folk ready & prepared to abandon the theatre of God’s creation to be swept off to another celestial sphere, etc.

4.4g What’s wrong with the ID struggle?

Van Til puts his finger on the problem.  ‘All too often it happens that scientists who are Christians …do not place their labours at the foot of the cross.  On the other hand, all too often theologians have been to blame for this neglect ….because they have spoken as though Christianity had no bearing upon Science.’  Let’s unpack this.  We have seen that the actual cosmic struggle taking place under our noses represents a clash of worldviews.  It is not the ‘brute facts’ that speak for themselves but rather the significance attached to them by each diametrically opposed worldview.  The monist sees the fossilised mollusc as one small step in the record of gradualistic evolutionary development; the Christian, fitting the fact into his biblically constrained paradigm, sees the same fossil as a remnant of the Genesis flood deposited catastrophically less than a hundred generations ago!  The ID proponent naively imagines the obstacles to being heard will be politely set aside if he can expunge his apologetic of its religious garb (i.e. Bible vocabulary).  Unwittingly, he’s inviting his adversary to stand where Eve stood & consider the empirical merits of sight, taste, touch, etc in determining whether the fruit is acceptable.

God’s word is the proper foundation of all truth.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom & understanding (Prov 1:7)

4.5a Compare God’s knowledge & ours

Ours is creaturely knowledge.  Therefore, it is necessarily limited in scope & quality whilst being adequate.  God’s knowledge is comprehensive, archetypical & transcendental.  Man’s knowledge, therefore, ought to be reckoned ‘analogical’ – (a sub-set?) of God’s.  At our very best, our thinking is reconstructed after the fashion of God’s; hence we should think of our true propositions as ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’.

4.5b How do (or should) we account for the universality of logic?

God’s thinking comports with His being and character.  God, being utterly honest, cannot lie & therefore His expressions of propositional truth as we encounter them in Scripture must be consistent & harmonious.  We, as image bearers and covenant keepers, should therefore seek to be non-contradictory with no propositions violating the established laws of identity/logic.

Our consciousness of logical laws providing a silent constraint in all our conversations testify of God’s presence, oftentimes our thoughts excusing us and at other times our thoughts vindicating us, etc.  He truly is the silent, unseen guest at our tables & the listener to all our secret conversations!

Steve Layfield – October 2018