Gospel For Life

Training and building disciples for Christ

Apart form God, Facts are Mute

I. Anti-theism assumes that God has no bearing upon facts.

 

A. Anti-theism makes the naïve assumption that facts are there as the ultimates at the outset.

(Such vain reasoning is a function of assumed human autonomy. For without God, the human

mind arrogates to itself the task of supplying unity between facts.) [1]

1. The natural man thinks that he can supply the connection between facts. He assumes that

he is the final reference point in predication. In order for man to succeed at relating facts, he

would have to be able to do the following:

a.) He must be able to make a system that allows him to see

exhaustively all of the relations between facts.

b.) He must reduce the facts that confront him to logical relations. The individuality of each fact

must be given up in order that it may be wholly known by man.

c.) He must strive for exhaustive knowledge, in short, he must be omniscient. [2] (Man does not

strive for exhaustive knowledge.

Why should he? His presuppositional commitment to a temporal notion of reality attributes

facts to chance.)

2. The natural man’s attitude about the interpretation of facts can be summarized as follows:

a.) He considers himself the ultimate judge of what can or cannot be. (He will not allow any

authority to be above him revealing what has or has not happened and what will or will not

happen in the future.)

b.) His assumption of autonomy works against an understanding of God’s nature. He denies

that God is sovereign controller of all phenomena. The natural man denies that the universe is

created, controlled and redeemed by Christ.

c.) The above assertions imply a third: that man’s thought is absolutely original. He assumes

that the interpretation he makes for himself will be true for him because his thought is

“legislative” with respect to his environment.

d.) The facts of man’s environment are not created or controlled by the providence of God. They

are brute facts (uninterpreted and ultimately irrational because they exist in a universe

controlled by chance). [3]

B. If the facts of the universe are not interpreted to the glory of God, man is left with an atomistic concept of knowledge.

In that system of irrationality, facts have no meaningful relation to one

another, no significant contact.

1. There is not a single fact that can be interpreted rightly without reference to God as Creator of

that fact. Man cannot truly apply the category of causality to facts without the presupposition of

God. [4]

2. The assumption of brute fact is the most basic denial of the creation doctrine. (We need to

challenge man’s ability to interpret any fact unless that fact be created by God and unless man

himself is created by God.) [5]  (Man’s “quarrel” with God is never about any fact or combination

of facts. The argument is about the nature of facts. Back of that there is the argument about the 

nature of man. The unbeliever denies that he is a dependent creature accountable to God. [6]

3. Brute facts are mute facts -- they are ultimately meaningless if they do not reveal God. Like

beads with no holes and a string with no ends, unrelated, uninterpreted facts are the product of

an irrational world view. [7]

4. All facts are God’s facts. God conditions and structures all reality. In order for man to NOT

see facts for what they are (God’s facts), man asserts the non-createdness of reality. The

natural man’s assumption of brute fact is based upon his presupposition

about the nature of reality. [8]

5. Brute facts are facts that are unrelated to God’s plan. The Christian world view asserts that

there are no facts that are unrelated to God’s plan. (Because there is one system of reality,

there are no brute facts.)

II. The most fundamental question in epistemology is, “Can facts be

known without God?”

 

 A. Only God can give unity to the facts. The debate with the unbeliever cannot be settled by a direct appeal to facts. The reason for this is that only a final reference point can make facts intelligible  [9]

 

B. Presuppositional apologetics exposes the following: One’s starting point is not the samelevel of being as the facts to be studied  [10]  (A transcendental argument determines

the presupposition behind the fact. The traditional method of apologetics sees facts as more

ultimate than one’s world view.) [11]

C. The natural man sees facts as existing by their own power. The unbeliever clings to this epistemology because it allows him to retain his autonomy [12]

1. If a person presupposes chance, he won’t be able to find Christianity in the facts. (Although

they study facts in depth, more than 95% of scientists are unbelievers. Because unbelieving

scientists presuppose a chance universe, they deny all the authority structures and

relationships set up by God.) [13]

2. The believer and the unbeliever do not have a common method of knowing.

a.) When the unbeliever interprets the world, he sees every fact through the lens of his own

autonomy. He views reality as consisting of a non-created or purely contingent factual space-

time cosmos and a non-created, timeless, abstract principle of logic.[ [14]

b.) The presuppositionalist rejects the idea of a common ground of interpretation. Such

common ground would be a meaningless absurdity. Can any one intelligently assume that he

is both a creature and not a creature, a sinner and not a sinner? [15]

III. Only a Christian philosophy of facts can explain facts.

 

A. Only a universal can give meaning to facts. The question is, which universal can state or give meaning to any fact? There is only one such universal, the Godof Christianity  [16]

1. The Christian’s view of reality is based upon his view of being.  God is the ultimate reference

point for all knowledge. God’s control of all things demands the coherence of knowledge.

a.) Every transaction in the realm of knowledge necessarily has an ultimate reference point.

God’s knowledge is the basis for all coherent thought.

b.) The coherence of God’s thought is the very foundation of human knowledge. (It is the

apologist’s task to show the unbeliever that he has no intelligent philosophy of fact.) [17]

c.) Only the Christian can claim ultimate rationalism. The interpretation of all things by God’s

revelation is the basis for unified rational thought.

2. A coherent world view is the condition of knowledge.

a.) The Christian must argue that the unbeliever’s outlook renders pivotal concepts such as

fact, reason, experience, science, necessity, meaning and morality unintelligibledue the

incoherence of the unbeliever’s world view. [18] (The apologist seeks to remove the

unbeliever’s foundation by reducing his world view to absurdity.)

b.) The absurdity of autonomous philosophy is described by Van Til: “If you have a bottomless

sea of chance, and if you as an individual, are but a bit of chance, and if the law of contradiction

has by chance grown up within you, the imposition of this law on your environment is, granted it

could take place, a perfectly futile activity.” [19]

c.) Christianity is the only position that does not take away the very foundation for intelligible

scientific and philosophic procedure. (The unbeliever actually has been working and thinking in

terms of two conflicting world views. He openly acknowledges the autonomous view but does

not wish to acknowledge the theistic world view which he needs to make sense out of

language, math, science, history, logic, ethics, and everything else in his experience and

reason. The unbeliever professes his autonomous point of reference, but suppresses

knowledge of God.) [20]

B. Facts are what they are by virtue of their place in the plan of God.

1. God’s plan is necessary to make sense out of both “causation” (natural explanation) and

“purpose” (teleological explanation). The whole meaning of any fact is exhausted by its position

in an relation to the plan of God. [21] NOTE: At Scripps Institute of Oceanography unbelieving

researchers devote countless hours of post graduate work studying certain species of sea life.

For all their effort, they come not one bit closer to discovering “causation” and “purpose.” In

essence, a grade school Christian student knows far more when he says “God created that

fish (causation) for His glory (purpose).”

2. To say that some facts may be known without God is the opposite of the Christian position.

The unbeliever’s spiritual blindness is evident, for he is optimistic that his study facts without

God will result in true knowledge. [22]

3. The issue is not, “What can unbelievers do intellectually?” The issue is, “Can unbelievers

give an account of facts within their world view?” The unbeliever cannot make the object of

knowledge intelligible by means of his world view. [23]

C. The effort to evade God is never successful intellectually. Attempts to gain knowledge without stopping the suppression of God’s truth will always result in absurdity, vanity and folly (Rom 1:18-25).

1. No proof for God and 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. [24]

2. God’s revelation in nature, together with God’s revelation in Scripture, form God’s one grand

scheme of covenant revelation of Himself to man. The two forms of revelation must therefore

be seen as presupposing and supplementing one another. Revelation in Scripture and

revelation in nature are mutually meaningless without another and mutually fruitful when taken

together. [25]

D. Unity of knowledge (a central principle of man’s cultural task) is only possible if God is ultimate.

(God is ultimate being, ultimate knower, ultimate reference point/ starting point, ultimate

authority.)

1. Unity of knowledge cannot be obtained by a compromise of principle between those whose

ultimate point of reference is God and those whose ultimate point of reference is man. [26]

2. God’s knowledge is absolute, men must have God’s knowledge in order to have their own

knowledge. The only alternative is folly. The natural man displays the vanity of his thinking when

contends that he does not need an absolute universal in order to know with certainty. (It ought

to be clear that the nature of knowledge and the nature of reality are necessarily joined. If they

are not joined, knowledge has no rational basis. Ontology has everything to do with knowledge,

for in God, what is real is rational. It is His omniscience that makes rational, unified knowledge

possible.)

IV. The Creator-creature distinction gives us our starting point and method for finding the meaning of facts.

 

 A. The unbeliever takes the erroneous position that the law of reason is the point of identity between God and man.

1. There is no single point of identity between the mind of God and the mind of man . The

difference between the mind of Creator and creature is not merely quantitative, but qualitative.

[27] (God knows a rose in a qualitatively different way than man. God is the original Knower, He

thought of the idea of a rose in eternity and created it in time. Our thoughts will always be finite

and “creaturely”.)

2. God’s being is “fundamentally other.” Man is but a derivative of God, therefore the content of

God’s mind is radically different from the content of our own minds. We can never know what

God knows in the same way that God knows it. God lives wholly above and beyond time. Any

notion we apply to God will at best be a finite replica of the same notion God has of Himself.

(As far as our conceptualization is concerned, we cannot think of eternity otherwise than as the

passage of years.) [28]

B. Non-Christian thinking is univocal thinking.

(Univocal refers to man thinking independently of God. The unbeliever’s reasoning is “univocal”

in that he views knowledge as identical for God and man.)

1. Our knowledge of the world is not univocal (the same as God’s), but analogical(dependent

upon the self-revelation of the Creator). [29]

2. Univocal reasoning denies the foundation upon which analogy is built.

a.) It seeks to erase the ontological distinction between God and man.

b.) It rejects the authority of God and His Word.

d.) It is an abrogation of man’s covenant consciousness.

e.) It represents an effort to shed and flee from the temporal, finite make up of man. (Human

reason is enthroned by univocal reasoning; “you shall be as gods.”) [30]

C. Univocal reasoning reveals one’s view of reality.

1. When one attempts to reason univocally, one assumes that reality is of one type. Therefore,

when discussing ontology, cosmology or even trees, one assumes that these categories are

the same for God at every point as for man. [31]

2. By contrast, the Christian reasons analogically. Man is an analogue of God, he is to think

God’s thoughts after Him. When the believer reasons about the complexities of human

anatomy, he reasons analogically. He declares along with the Psalmist that man is “fearfully

and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14).

a.) The unbeliever places God’s knowledge of the human body and a doctor’s knowledge of the

human body on the same plane. As a consequence of arrogant univocal reasoning, the

unbeliever refuses to say of God’s knowledge, “[It] is too wonderful for me” (Ps 139:6).

b.) The believer is careful to guard the following in his thinking in order that his reasoning will

be thoroughly analogical:

· He thinks under the authority of Scripture.

· He thinks as a being in covenant with God.

· He recognizes the finite, creaturely status of his thoughts. He regards his thoughts as derivative of their original (God).

· Consequently, his reasoning uses the law of non-contradiction. [32]

c.) Analogical thinking is firmly rooted in the Creator-creature distinction. Being is key,

everything other than God is the creation and the creature. [33] We do not know one thing as

God knows, otherwise we would posit an identity between the mind of God and the mind of

man. [34]

3. Univocal reasoning always leads to skepticism and self-contradiction. Epistemological

despair is the result of suppressing the truth of God; the only source of certainty. [35]

4. Univocal thinking assumes that a finite human can attain epistemological self-sufficiency.

a.) It is God alone who knows all knowledge simultaneously. God’s mental processes

established the laws of logic. His providential laws of causation uphold the creation, His

orderliness is the basis for inductive science.

b.) God made our senses and reasoning faculties to be accurate, but limited probes of

objective reality. God alone is the “Fisherman” whose “net” catches all “fish” (knowledge).

c.) We are gifted with an imitation of His net that will catch many fish. But countless fish are too

small for the mesh of our net. And innumerable fish are too big for our nets. God has told us

what categories (of knowledge) these “fish” are so that we won’t be presumptuous enough to

 fish for these. No fish are too large or small for God’s net. My net is made in the image of

God’s net. But mine is creaturely, finite, limited. The fish which only God’s net can catch are not

absurdities. [36]

5. God’s incomprehensibility is infinitely inexhaustible.

a.) Man’s ignorance is not primarily from finitude. Man’s ignorance is due to the infinite

ontological “chasm” between self-existent God and the creature.

b.) Paradoxes and antinomies will not be resolved by more knowledge or even exhaustive

knowledge. If the paradoxes could drop away by more information, then the Creator-creature

distinction would drop away as well. (Univocal reasoning “flirts” with the concept of the divinized

mind. It attempts to insert the temporal into the eternal.) [37]

V. A fact can only have the meaning that Scripture ascribes to it.   Facts are only interpreted truthfully by the knowledge of God.

 

A. The apologist must always maintain that the “fact” under discussion must be what Scripture says it is in order to be intelligible as a fact at all. [38] 

 

 1. The apologist must present his philosophy of fact with his facts.  The presuppositional   

apologist does not need to present less facts in doing so. He will handle the same facts, but

he will handle them as they ought to be handled. (It’s futile to talk endlessly about facts without

ever challenging the unbeliever’s philosophy of fact.) [39]

2. The evidentialist mistakenly assumes that facts can be considered apart from an interpretive system.

a.) Frequently the apologist is challenged by the unbeliever, “Let the facts speak for

themselves.” The natural man often appeals to the realm of empirical science as a zone “free

from world view.”

b.) On the contrary, all empirical observation and observation is laden with theory. Modern

scientific description is itself explanation. When researchers describe the simplest facts, the

description presupposes a system of metaphysics and epistemology. [40]

c.) A person cannot even be a scientist without a philosophy of reality. (Our battle is always 

over  philosophy of fact.) Christianity does not need to take refuge under the roof of a

scientific method independent of itself. Rather than assuming

a defensive posture, the apologist can assert that biblical Christianity offers itself as “a roof” to

methods that would be scientific. [41]

B. Every starting point involves faith.

 

1. Even the description of facts requires a starting point. A starting point always involves a

commitment to presuppositions.

2. The anti-theist claims that man can have true knowledge of a fact without the “fact” of God’s

existence. Thus, the starting point is man himself. His starting point and method are solely

from himself. (By contrast, the theist knows that knowledge of any fact presupposes the

existence and knowledge of God who created the fact and Christ who interpreted the fact in

Scripture.) [42]

3. All men do their thinking on the basis of a position or perspective that is accepted by faith. If

your faith is not in God who speaks infallibly in His Word through Christ, then your faith is in

man as autonomous. “All of one’s reasoning is controlled by either of these

presuppositions.” [43]

4. Underlying the natural man’s discussion of facts is his commitment to his particular method

of knowing. His theory of knowledge (epistemology) is but a part of a whole network of

presuppositions he maintains. His presuppositions include beliefs about the nature of reality

(metaphysics) and his norms for living (ethics). A key point for the apologist to understand is

that the unbeliever (when espousing his autonomy) treats his method of knowing, reasoning,

proving and learning as normative. [44]

C. All the facts are in for God, therefore we must accept His interpretation of them.

(In an open universe with a finite god, a “new fact” may appear at any time.) [45]

1. In order for man’s interpretation to be correct, it must correspond to the interpretation of God.

The accuracy of man’s synthesis and analysis rest upon God’s analysis. Our thought is

receptively constructive. [46]

2. To be neutral in method is to suggest that the universe is open for God as well as you. It

implies that system is non-existent. It infers that synthesis is prior to analysis for God as well

as for man. It places God within the universe.

3. If facts are not viewed through the lens of the plan of God, they will be viewed through the

lens of possibility. (Chance and possibility are like a bottomless pit. The skeptic can toss any

fact into its dark depths while uttering, “without a system, anything is possible.”) [47]

D. Every fact of the universe must be Christologically interpreted.

1. Christ came to save the world. His work is of cosmic significance. Therefore through Christ and His word, an authoritative interpretation is given to mankind of the whole cosmic scene. Thus, every fact in the universe must be Christologically interpreted.

2. Only the world view that centers upon the Person and work of Christ can render facts intelligible to sinful men. [48] (Even when we investigate a fact, we cannot come up with “truth” that does not correspond with God’s truth in Christ.) [49]

E. A transcendent argument determines the presupposition behind the fact.

1. The starting point is never the same level of being as the facts to be studied. The

transcendental method exposes the world view behind the facts. When seeking to uncover the

foundations for the “house of human knowledge,” it behooves the apologist to ask questions

that reveal a person’s world view:

· What is the nature of things that are real?

· How does the world operate?

· Where did it come from?

· What is man’s place in the world?

· What is man’s nature?

· Are there moral or epistemological norms that are not chosen by the individual?

· What are the criteria for truth?

· What are the proper methods of knowing?

· Is certainty possible? [50]

2. When interpreting facts, we never grant to our opponent that human categories are ultimate.

If we compromise at that juncture (by granting the ultimacy of human categories), it destroys the

self-consciousness of God. God’s absolute self-consciousness is inseparable form His

authority as final interpreter of facts. [51]

3. The apologist emphasizes that God’s mind is the final point of reference. We are to press

the non-Christian to be epistemologically self-conscious. To the glory of God, we contrast his

philosophy of fact with the Christian world view. [52] (We use the transcendental method to

expose the inconsistencies of the unbeliever’s world view. The natural man’s system is not a

system, it is the opposite of God’s truth.) [53]

Endnotes:

[1] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1998), pp. 520-523).

[2] Ibid., p. 717.

[3] Ibid., p. 310.

[4] Ibid., p. 378.

[5] Ibid., p. 379.

[6] Ibid., pp. 380, 381.

[7] Ibid., pp. 376, 382, 384.

[8] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, pp. 259, 260, 308.

[9] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, pp. 524, 525.

[10] Ibid., p. 519.

[11] Ibid., p. 466, 467, 539,

12] Ibid., p. 716.

[13] Ibid., pp. 396-399.

[14] Ibid., p. 421.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 38.

[17] Ibid., p. 109.

[18] Ibid., p. 111. Cited by Bahnsen from Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought, (Philadelphia: P&R Publishing, 1971). pp. 30, 31.

[19] Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism, (Philadelphia: P&R Publishing, 1963), pp. 141, 142.

[20] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 114.

21] Ibid., p. 172.

[22] Ibid., 171-174.

[23] Ibid., p. 514.

[24] Ibid., p. 211.

25] Ibid., p. 195.

[26] Ibid., p. 723.

[27]Jim Halsey, “A Preliminary Critique of Van Til: The Theologian” Westminster Theological Journal 1:39(Fall, 1976) p. 123, 128, 129.

[28] Ibid., p. 122.

[29] Ibid., p. 125.

[30] Ibid., p. 126.

[31] Scott Oliphant, “The Consistency of Van Til’s Methodology” The Westminster Theological Journal, 52 (1990), p. 45.

[32] Jim Halsey, “Critique of Van Til,” p. 125.

[33] Ibid., p. 122.

[34] Ibid., p. 124.

[35] Ibid., p. 127.

[[36] Grover Gunn, ”Epistemology 101” (from a lecture given by T E Grover Gunn at Christ Presbyterian Church, Elkton, MD, March 10, 1997). Transcript available at http://capo.org/cpc/apolo42.htm. Pp. 2-5.

[37] Halsey, “Critique of Van Til,” pp. 128, 132, 135.

[38] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 529.

[39] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, pp. 317, 264.

[40] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, pp. 640-42.

[41] Ibid., p. 644.

[42] Oliphant, “Van Til’s Methodology” WTJ, p. 34.

[[43] Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism, 128, 129.

[44] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 263.

[45] Ibid., p. 702, 704.

[46] Ibid., p. 702.

[47] Ibid., pp. 652-655.

[48] Ibid., p. 215.

[49] Oliphant, “VanTil’s Methodology” WTJ, p. 36.

[50] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 512.

[51] Ibid., pp. 490-493.

[52] Ibid., pp. 229, 248, 700.

[53] Oliphant, “Van Til’s Methodology” WTJ, p. 39.