Reality Matters: Van Til’s Apologetic Part 2 – 1/15/2017

Why is it that NASA and other space-faring wannabe organizations go on and on about a bit of water on Mars, and the potential for water under the icy crusts of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn?  Their declared motivation is that water is necessary for life to exist.  Therefore, if water is there and in abundance, then there is a good probability that life exists!  Really?  Just how does that follow?  Isn’t there a difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition?



Supercomputers exist on Earth.  The key chips in supercomputers are silicon-based.  Silicon comes from sand.  Mars has sand.  Ergo, astronauts arriving on Mars have a good chance at discovering supercomputers on Mars!  Yet life, as dependent on water as Intel chips are on silicon, is far more complex than supercomputers.

Why such a desperate hope to find life – even microbial life – on another planet?  Here’s the reason:  If life is found on one more planet besides Earth, then evolution is proven to be true!  Furthermore, then life must be ubiquitous across the universe!  Now that is truly bold inductive reasoning:  1 . . . 2 . . . infinity!  Such is the desperation to believe (blindly) that evolution not only occurs, but is so powerful that there is no need for the Creator.  Why the desperation, though?  It’s clear that if life is found on another planet, there will be a gigantic collective “Whew!” and rejoicing that evolution must actually work.  Wait a second!  Does this mean that even the most hardened atheistic scientists aren’t sure?  Despite all the dogmatic textbooks crammed down our children’s throats, and all the emphatic statements from media scientists like, “Evolution is a fact!” and “No reputable scientist doubts evolution!”, their worry is a palpable admission of uncertainty.

So, if you actually found a supercomputer on Mars, might you suspect that someone had left it there, and others designed and built it?  Now, I don’t expect life to show up anywhere else than on Earth, at this stage in the history of the universe.  (Things may change in the ages to come.)  But if it does, its extraordinary complexity is certainly due to the awesomeness of the Creator.  Not convinced?  See my free ebook on this subject and the many essays that will leave you with no further doubts.

Saturn rings 2I recently finished reading a bi-weekly magazine, Science News (11/12/2016) and noticed a motivating theme behind many of the articles.  One discussed issues with Saturn’s rings; for example, “It’s hard to make rings in the last 100 million years.”  And, “Esposito argued that despite some youthful appearances, the rings are ancient . . .”  You see, the motive for analyzing the dynamics of the rings is to fit the observable data into an evolutionary universe.

Another news item discussed fossils of the placoderm, an extinct armored fish that had bony jaws, although not the same jaw design as that of ‘modern’ fish, along with dogs, humans, etc.  Some paleontologists now speculate that the ‘modern’ jaw descended from placoderms.  “We’ve suddenly realized we had it all wrong.”  (That happens a lot in the evolutionism industry.)  Again, the entire motivation for study is to fit observable fossil data into the evolutionary scheme.

Another reported study analyzed MRI data to correlate what happens in the brain when lying,  tentatively concluding that lies are more likely when activity decreases in the amygdalae, brain structures associated with emotions.  It’s clear that the underlying thesis of the researchers is that brain chemistry is everything, no need to invoke a mind, a soul, or free will.

placoderm - artist's concept

placoderm – artist’s concept

What is common to these research initiatives?  (There are several more such items in the very same issue.)  What motivates the smart people who devote chunks of their lives and who spend big chunks of taxpayer dollars to getting answers?  It’s an unbelieving worldview, namely that of atheism / naturalism / materialism.  The Saturn ring observations will only be modeled and interpreted within a billions-of-years Big Bang paradigm.  Fossil data will only be interpreted within the fantasy of evolution.  Human behavior will only be interpreted in terms of brain chemistry, with humans seen as merely another animal species.

In my previous essay on Cornelius Van Til’s approach to presuppositional apologetics (See Greg Bahnsen’s book, Van Til’s Apologetic:  Readings & Analysis), I pointed out that the foundation of the evangelist’s approach to the skeptic must be to confront him with the Biblical worldview and explain how it – and only it – makes sense of reality, of creation, of man’s existence, of logic and truth and beauty; and that the unbeliever’s worldview, whether atheistic or Roman Catholic or Buddhist, doesn’t.  Van Til:  “We do not seek to defend theism in apologetics and Christianity in evidences, but we seek to defend Christian theism in both courses.”  Namely, we’re not trying to convince the lost fellow that some kind of god exists, but that creation is due to the Creator described in the Bible, who offers redemption via Jesus Christ, and that he had better repent and trust the one and only Savior.

We can invoke arguments about Saturn’s rings or the fossil record or human consciousness, but we must do so in a package that makes the Gospel personal, personally challenging the lost to transcend his oh-so-tiny materialistic worldview and recognize his personal accountability to THE GOD who knows his every thought, word, and deed.  Consider the Scripture, John 1:12.  What does “received Him” mean?  It means the whole package of Christ as Creator, Judge, Messiah, and Savior.  And so the whole package must be conveyed.  The task of the evangelist is to communicate the package efficiently and powerfully, with none of the equivocation so common in evangelical culture.

Van Til:  “The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair.  It is the life and death struggle between two mutually opposed life and world views.”  The attack may arise from astronomy or geology or biology or history.  But back of the attack is a worldview that denies the existence of God, denies the fellow’s accountability for his sins, and denies his very existence as a created being made in the image of God, which enables him to have a consciousness that transcends brain chemistry, and to make use of God’s very own character-istics such as logic, truth, and integrity – the valuing of truthful analysis and reporting.  Challenge him on his worldview, which cannot account for science, rational thought, or even sensible communication between two personal beings.  In his view, our one-to-one must simply be acoustic noise associated with two clumps of molecules.

The ‘natural man’ has the ability to transcend his worldview if you provoke him to, since he is an image-bearer, has a God-given conscience that can be challenged on the basis of moral law (10 commandments), and is one of the ‘all’ who are ‘drawn’ by the Holy Spirit who works to bring understanding and conviction on the inside while the evangelist makes his plea on the outside.  In order to honor God, the Christian witness must embrace this Biblical pattern, always looking to penetrate the darkness, the cloud of delusion, always on offense.  Consider the preaching of John the Baptist – or pick your favorite prophet.  No defensiveness there.  Neither did Elijah give any credence to the possibility that Baal’s prophets might have some valid points.  Paul “confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.”  (Acts 9:22)  Peter “let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  (Acts 2:36)

10 commandmentsI’m not discussing specific tactics in this essay.  I have done much of that in the material on this site, including the essays on Evangelism and the free ebook on that subject.  It’s not hard!  I’ve worked hard to make it simple and compact so you can skip all the errors I used to make!  Yet tactics should be subservient to strategy, and strategy must be dictated by principle . . . Bahnsen:  “Apologetics works to develop a method of Gospel presentation that is consistent with the full teaching of Scripture and anticipates the personal needs of the unbeliever.”

Bahnsen again:  “If the believer and the unbeliever do not claim to have knowledge, but are content simply to exchange personal opinions (‘I believe the Bible about Christ’s virgin birth’; ‘I do not believe it is possible for a virgin to give birth’), they are not rationally addressing religious issues or engaging in apologetics.  They are simply sharing autobiographical details that can be ignored.  The issue is whether either side’s personal beliefs are known to be true or not.  To argue about knowledge is to argue about the objective state of affairs, not simply about subjective commitments or feelings.”

A direct argument can be made with someone who shares relevant assumptions (or presuppositions).  For example, I can make direct arguments via Scripture, and therefore conduct apologetics, with a Calvinist who takes the Bible as God’s word.  The atheist doesn’t share that presupposition.  For that matter, neither does the Roman Catholic, who elevates papal authority, nor does the Mormon who elevates the Book of Mormon.  Nevertheless, all share a moral consience, and so God’s moral law can  be used to challenge the heart.  With the Catholic or Mormon, for example, I can discuss salvation by going quickly to the 10 commandments, but with the atheist, I typically have to spend a short time on creation (design) and consciousness (the ‘brain chemistry’ issue), before transitioning to his objective – in his own mind – guilt under God’s laws.  The atheist thereby requires an indirect argument . . . I must challenge his worldview’s presuppositions so he can see how his life makes sense only through a Biblical perspective.  Now, with the Calvinist, I not only make direct Scriptural arguments, but I also challenge his deterministic worldview, within which he cannot live consistently.  Namely, he lives as if he makes choices and he lives as if he can make a difference and as if God just might save a dear loved one . . . he pleads with that loved one as if his pleas might tip the balance.

Van Til reacted strongly to criticisms that presuppositional apologetics is guilty of  ‘fideism,’ supposedly asking the skeptic to make a blind leap of faith to the Christian worldview.  It’s a misinformed and false accusation.  The presup approach, with its emphasis on fully examining opposed worldviews, is completely rational.  How can any other approach be termed rational, if the apologist either ignores the differences in foundational assumptions, or else willingly subjects himself to the insanity of the materialistic worldview?  Van Til:  The unbeliever’s position “ought to be refuted by a reasoned argument, instead of by ridicule and assumption . . . Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold.  It is not merely as reasonable as other positions, or a bit more reasonable than other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take . . . the only position that does not make nonsense of human experience.”  So challenge the unbeliever with this truth, which gives him an opportunity to open his mind and his heart.

It is traditional apologetics, sometimes termed evidentialism that, in arguing probabilistically for evidence for God and probabilistically for the reliability of the New Testament, that requires a blind leap of faith (fideism) at some point to transition the skeptic from judge and jury (condescending to consider your arguments), to a whole-hearted, humble repentance and faith that enables salvation.  Remember that salvation is the issue and the objective.  These aren’t parlor games.

What about this objection:  “Hey, you must argue about probabilities because there is no such thing as an absolutely compelling proof.”  Van Til:  “In this way of putting the matter there is a confusion between what is objectively valid and what is subjectively valid to the natural man.”  Bahnsen:  “Although this is overlooked in casual conversation, it is well to remember that there is a conceptual difference between ‘certainty’ (a property of propositions) and ‘confidence’ (a property of persons).  Likewise, there is technically a difference between the ‘soundness’ of an argument and its ‘persuasiveness.’  Only the latter is relative to people.”

Another way to say this is that you, as a person, can be subjectively convinced wholeheartedly enough to make big decisions, decisions about whom to marry, which academic major to choose, whether or not to cross a street after looking – merely looking – to see whether a bus is coming.  You don’t need mathematical (propositional) proof.  In fact if someone gives you what is apparently sound mathematical and physics-based proof that the street is free of traffic, yet you see a bus coming, you will ignore that propositional apologist.

Hey, remember the big picture here . . . it’s all about evangelism.  When heart and mind are convinced of the truth of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit . . . who has been working to convict all along . . . will seal the deal with regeneration and provide all the proof the new convert needs.  For example, at this point in my life am I still thinking that God probably exists?  Am I just working to tack on more 9’s to a 99.99% probability?  Of course not.  Do I think of the existence of my wife and children as probable?  Could you convince me that my wife and children have some probability of non-existence?  And so it is with presup apologetics.  We confront the unbeliever with the whole package, the whole worldview . . . at least enough for him to understand reality sufficiently to make a life vs. death, Heaven vs. Hell decision.  Van Til:  “The natural man must be blasted out of his hideouts, his caves, his last lurking places.”  Arguing probabilities, as the evidentialists do, lowers the claims of God on man.

In doing evangelism, we trust that this is the Biblical pattern that the Holy Spirit has given us and that He will work with.

By the way, if you’re not already trying to reach out with the Gospel, via 121s and / or tracts, then this essay is totally irrelevant to you.  In that case your only question about apologetics may as well be, “What strategy should I use for not talking to people?”

Now, when Van Til invokes his Calvinism, he goes too far:  “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 mask from his face.”  Van Til is a committed Calvinist.  He believes that God will regenerate only the pre-ordained-from-before-the-foundation-of-the-universe elect.  God will regenerate with ‘irrestible grace’ only the elect by His sovereign will.  No others get to go.  Within the same paragraph, though, he contradicts himself:  “Apologetics is valuable to the precise extent that it presses the truth upon the attention of the natural man.”  Therefore, good arguments are more valuable than bad arguments, according to Van Til . . . which is surely the thrust of his entire published works!  But in Calvinist sovereignty and Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace, what’s the practical difference between a good and a bad argument?  Will God fail to regenerate someone who hears a bad argument?  Will He regenerate a non-elect fellow who hears a really good argument?  Will the date of regeneration be delayed for someone who hears nothing but bad arguments for years and then finally hears a good pitch?  Sigh.

Van Til’s mind must be shut off when he contradicts his Calvinism, although expressing his heart:  “For if men are told the truth about themselves, and if they are warned against the false remedies that establish men in their wickedness, then, by the power of the Spirit of God, they will flee to the Christ through whom alone they must be saved.”  I agree!  Those ifs matter!  What the evangelist does matters.  What the sinner chooses matters.  In Unconditional Election they don’t.

City of Destruction

City of Destruction

Let’s get back to ‘rational Van Til’:  “Repentance means the recognition of bankruptcy.  It involves the suppliant’s attitude – begging for mercy, for pardon, for life.  It means fleeing from the City of Destruction and pressing on to the Celestial City even when Mr. Worldly Wise Man and all his friends are going in the other direction.  It means bearing the offense of the cross.  Will any of the wise of the world accept his Gospel and repent?”  The answer is yes.  The Bible is clear that the Gospel has the power to save and the Holy Spirit will bring conviction, if the sinner chooses.

But recall what you, as the evangelist, are trying to accomplish – to help the lost uproot and cast aside his entire way of thinking about himself, about God, about the world, about his purpose and manner of life.  You don’t do this one little probability at a time.  He’s got to agree with God that he’s been completely wrong about everything that matters.  In my experience it is clear that it is harder for most people to fully embrace “I have been wrong!” than it is to repent from the sins of the flesh, including drunkenness, fornication, greed, anger, etc. To admit “I am wrong!” and proceed to act out on that means a worldview transformation.  Therefore . . .

You can’t sneak up on people and hope to fool them into conversion.  You can’t just drop hints.  You can’t invite them to church and hope they absorb it.  You can’t just win them to yourself and hope they find Jesus attractive, too.  You’ve got to confront them with THE TRUTH!  You’ve got to risk a less-than-enthusiastic reaction when they actually comprehend what you are saying.

John Bunyan's Celestial City

John Bunyan’s Celestial City

I see multitudes of evangelical church members who came over from the Roman Catholic church, or from an unchurched ‘worldly’ background, or from wherever, who pick up a little ‘loving Jesus’ here, or a little ‘following Jesus’ there, and a little social gospel cheeseburgers for the homeless hither, and a little have-a-great-marriage camp yon.  It’s all very . . . nice.  But nobody ever gets lost (wrong) – in his own mind – and so nobody ever gets saved.

Van Til on the relationship of reason to faith:  “When God has reasoned with us and changed our minds till our every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, we must use our minds, our intellect, our reason, our consciousness, in order to receive and re-interpret the revelation God has given of Himself in Scripture.  This is the proper place of reason in theology.  There is no conflict between this reason and faith, since faith is the impelling power which urges reason to interpret aright.”

The unbeliever doesn’t buy this.  He thinks he is employing reason in an entirely self-sufficient way.  He doesn’t worry about his brain chemistry getting in the way and doesn’t worry that the logic he uses transcends what’s in the periodic table.

The unbelieving scientist can, indeed, do science, but only by employing transcendental principles.  The believing scientist, even if (individually) he is not as skilled as some of his Nobel Prize winning peers, is far more in touch with reality because of his transcendent perspective.

For example, can the world’s best unbelieving biologist properly understand a cow?  Both the Christian and the atheistic scientist can quantify milk and protein production (along with methane), can investigate genetic differences among breeds, and may even do innovative work in optimizing breeds.  But only the Christian understands that cows are a blessing from God for man’s benefit, that they are creatures that ought not – on an objective moral basis – be mistreated, and that its DNA is designed.  Cows aren’t evolved.  In fact, only by recognizing design can some advances be made.  The idea of junk DNA, for example, is entirely an evolutionary idea and has hindered progress in genetics and medicine for many years.  Only by finally recognizing design – purpose – across the entire genome of a given organism (including humans), geneticists and biochemists are beginning to figure out just how life works at the cellular level.

cowMy wife and I recently took a trip to the Grand Canyon.  Only because we are Christians can we see it as a consequence of the Genesis Flood’s aftermath, a judgment upon man’s sins some 4400 years ago.  The evolutionarily disabled, including our bus driver / tour guide, can only see it as a result of some random processes of erosion, which is incredibly blind.  The features of the canyon speak to awesome and powerful scouring action by vast quantities of flowing water.  You can see the ‘scour marks’ everywhere.  If normal erosional processes are the root cause, why aren’t Grand Canyons everywhere?  The natural man misses not only the physics and geology of it, but also the history and, above all, the moral significance.  (Yes, we passed out specially designed tracts to about a hundred folks on this trip.  See my tracts essay, especially the pdfs toward the end entitled, “Does the fossil record validate evolution?” and “How old are the fossil bearing rocks?”)

The non-Christian chemist can marvel at the fascinating diversity of organic compounds made possible only by the structure of the carbon atom, but only the Christian chemist can see that the purpose for the design of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and the character of their interacting forces allow the bodies of image-bearers to live and move and have their being within their Creator’s realm.

Likewise, the Christian astronomer thanks God for the wonderful stability of our sun and its consistent radiation output, for the delicate balance of the Earth’s orbit and the tilt of its axis and its rotation to allow for a livable environment . . . yea, much more than livable, enabling even prosperity despite the Fall and its consequences, a Fall incomprehensible to the natural man, who can see only luck, chaos, and yet an inscrutable order and regularity.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Likewise, the Christian historian sees a rational arc of history from creation to the final judgments to the Millennium to the ages to come.  He sees Israel’s regathering as the prophetic herald of the end times.  Why do so many secularists despise Israel?  They don’t see the spiritual war and scoff at the Christian’s warnings of Tribulation to come.  The unbelieving historian cannot understand history.

The non-Christian’s view of history, science, purpose, meaning, the nature of man and the purpose of it all is so small.  God’s reality is bigger than that.  The Christian sees so much more now and envisions so much more in the future . . . not just a generalized future, but his own future as a child of God, an inheritor of his Savior’s promises, as one who will live and learn and reign and love and fellowship for eternity future.

There is much, much more to be gleaned from Van Til, particularly the rational Van Til.  Better yet, there is much more and better that you and I can do to sanctify our own perspective as growing children of the coming Kingdom, and to share that perspective with others blinded by sin, deceived by the small and corrupt wisdom of this world, who simply need a bit of rationality to open their minds and grapple with their need for the Savior.


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