Regular Reformed Guys: The Transcendental Argument

We had the opportunity to interview Brian Knapp, co-founder and former contributor of Choosing Hats on my podcast The Regular Reformed Guys.

We talked about what the transcendental argument is, why it is a more biblical, and effective means of doing apologetics, and we talked about the modern development of Van Til’s work.

Check it out.

Why Machen Hired Van Til

For a variety of historical reasons American Presbyterians throughout the nineteenth century were fully committed to the Enlightenment and scientific methods as the surest means for arriving at truth. Though still believing in the authority of Scripture, the best—or at least the most widely accepted—way of demonstrating the truth of the Bible was by appealing to reason and Scripture’s harmony with nature and the self-evident truths of human experience.

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Why Should I Believe Christianity? by James N. Anderson

It goes without saying that I’ll recommend pretty much anything written by James N. Anderson of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.

Here’s my summary of his most recent book, Why Should I Believe Christianity?, available to members of Books At a Glance.

(You may also be interested in the summary of A New Kind of Apologist edited by Sean McDowell.)

Go ahead, sign up for an account! You know you want to.


The Virgin Birth

It’s Christmas time and that means it’s time for the History channel and a variety of other media outlets to play all of their best “the truth behind the Star of Bethlehem” “Jesus never existed and he was a very nice man” documentaries.

Inevitably you will hear or be involved in arguments about the virgin birth of Christ. Usually, on the internet, this means you’ll also be introduced to a myriad of sex jokes about Mary and Joseph.

In the spirit of holiday cheer, here are a couple of things to keep in mind, and perhaps share with those well-meaning jokesters intent on taking all the fun out of celebrating Christ’s birth.

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De-mythologising the mythology of Joseph Campbell.

Recently I was directed to a short video of Joseph Campbell giving an interview to give comment and know what my thoughts were. This is the video in question.

I found there to be a few issues with the kind of philosophy that was being proposed, certainly from that proposed in the video, and other aspects given elsewhere.

Mr Campbell proposes that the mind is a secondary organ, and that it must not be in control, lest it fall victim to following a particular kind of ‘system’. One could only speculate how he knows this is the case – is it the case that he has come to this conclusion by aligning himself to his ‘true nature’, or did he deduce this by using his mind? If he deduced it by using his mind, how can he be sure that the deduction he has made is not a part of that kind of system that he is critiquing?

What he fails to seem to note is that,  if it is the former, saying that someone will fall pray to a particular kind of system by having their mind ‘in control’ is just as much of a system as identifying that there are other systems out there that he is critiquing, thus his alignment to the true nature is just another system out there. The question then becomes, since he seems to be placing particular sociological systems in a negative light, ‘what then is the correct system?’. Furthermore, how does one determine what system is the right/true/good system? By what standard? Which then is to simply beg the question of how did one determine that the ‘standard by which you judge standards’ is correct?

Later, he says that what we should be doing is resisting the systems impersonal claims – which doesn’t seem to harmonise well with the rest of the impersonal claims that he has made.

Further, he states “if the person doesn’t listen to the demands of its own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack up….”. This of course would seem odd if he was insisting on his own certain program? The fallacy of neutrality strikes again…

Where does all of this appear to come from? A quick look into Mr Campbells philosophical bent tends him towards a panentheistic view it seems. Panentheists suffer from some of the similar criticisms that Pantheists are subject to, not least being an amusing quote from CS Lewis:

“Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37. ( a further discussion to be found here :

How does this relate to the Christian worldview? Well, from the get go it denies the Creator-creature distinction in almost every way – it pulls man up from where he is and places him inside God, and pulls God down from His transcendence and places him at the level of man (with little exception). This blurring of the lines leads to severe problems when it comes to moral issues as Lewis notes above – which then causes issues for Mr Campbell futher, since if all is really in deity, then where are the distinctions? Saying we need to get away from subscribing to particular systems, is utterly nonsensical, as those systems imply some level of distinction that is simply unsupported by the presupposition of a panentheistic bent, as all of those systems are in the divine. To paraphrase Bahnsen, “What exactly would ‘divine revelation’ look like? Me talking to myself?”

From a Christian perspective, good and evil have very real criteria – either the fulfilment of the law of God, or it’s violation. God’s law is based on His own unchanging nature, therefore we have an objective unchanging basis for what determines what is morally right and morally wrong, however, without any defined boundaries as mentioned above, there is simply divine action, action, action, without any ability to ascribe moral value, because those values are not transcendant, they are all immanent, ergo a defining mantra for this kind of morality would be essentially “Whatever feels good, do it” (to steal from the Christian worldview to use the word ‘good’).

How would this be a problem from the Christian perspective?

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

It would seem that the bible has a dim view on the moral ability of the human heart to act upon what is right – therefore the idea of ‘Whatever feels good, do it’ will end in utter ruin, and one need only look at the results all around us today in al the suffering that we see.

The cure is to turn to Christ and be saved resulting in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to change our evil God-hating, sin loving hearts to love God and desire to do that which is objectively good and knowable – His Law.

When Possibility is Impossible: Answering a Rawlsian Ruse with Radical Retortion

In 1971 John Rawls wrote his famous A Theory of Justice in which he presented what is known as ‘The Original Position.’ The OP is a hypothetical state of affairs in which an individual operates from behind a ‘Veil of Ignorance’ in order to establish principles of justice for society apart from considerations of ethnicity, class, gender, and the like. This thought experiment stems from the radical autonomy present in Immanuel Kant’s work.

Enough about Rawls. Cornelius Van Til was a Christian apologist who likewise drew from Kant’s work, taking the transcendental method developed by Kant (and many others before him) and more broadly applying it to the entire Christian worldview. Van Til proposed the Christian worldview as the only worldview capable of rendering human experience intelligible.

Now, sharper non-Christians, and even some Christians who ultimately oppose Van Til’s method, point out the possibility of some worldview X which might render human experience intelligible. The problem with that move is the need to simultaneously establish some platform with which to posit said possibility. Let’s refer to this hypothetical platform from which we might posit a hypothetical worldview X as the OP.

The OP in this instance is very loosely analogous to the Original OP above, or to put it another way, the OOP, which is rather confusing…I leave it to those more familiar with Rawls to decide how close OP and OOP (I did it again) are to one another, and even if objections to OOP are likewise analogous to OP, given that I am at all right about the possible (there’s that word again) similarities between OOP and OP anyway.

In any event, the purpose of the OP is to avoid hypothesizing from a Christian or (specific) non-Christian worldview. But the epistemology of modality for the Christian is worldview specific, even ethically obligatory at points, whereas the non-Christian functions, or attempts to function, within her own epistemology of modality. Strangely though, when speaking of the supposed necessity of the Christian worldview in virtue of transcendental argumentation, both Christian and non-Christian often attempt to think about philosophical objections posed by the possibility of X from something like an OP.

A non-Christian cannot posit that anyone (even a Californian), might propose a worldview that has not yet been refuted by the presuppositional apologist. They can’t do that when their own worldview is demonstrably insufficient for rendering human experience intelligible. Nobody actually operates in accord with OP, nor should we, which says a great deal about our epistemology of modality. Frankly, assuming OP against one’s own particular non-Christian worldview in order to claim the possibility of some worldview X whereby the necessity of the Christian worldview for intelligible experience is undermined is not terribly persuasive, to say the least. To say more, it’s not a move that’s even available to the non-Christian. And it’s certainly not available to the Christian.

The concept of possibility itself does not function in virtue of OP, no epistemology of modality ‘exists’ in a ‘void.’ Possibility is tied to respective worldviews. Yes, so is truth, so is transcendental argumentation, and so on and so forth. I see no difficulty here. Epistemological (not logical) circularity is a necessary feature of a rational worldview. So I’m proposing a radical commitment to Christian presuppositions in Christian apologetics, and the use of radical retortion against any view which is opposed to the Christian worldview. But that’s nothing new, either in my proposing it, or in your reading about it, if you understand the fact of it having been proposed already in the works of Van Til.

The concept of possibility is itself worldview specific, not neutral. A non-Christian with ‘no place to stand’ isn’t within her epistemological rights in telling others where others might stand; that’s an unintelligible epistemology of modality.

Peripatetic 33 – Hypothetical Inception – Spencer Toy’s conversation, but with a real presupper

What would this conversation look like with a real presupper? Sorta like this.

A Fundamental Problem With A Fundamental Problem with the Presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til

Before anyone gets too excited by Haines’ upcoming critique of Van Til at SES (including Haines himself, I might add), it might be useful to point out a common mistake he has made in discussion of Van Til thus far.

The philosopher or apologist who is well acquainted with the modern and post-modern philosophy of Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger will recognize that Van Til’s system of apologetics is very much dependent upon these sources.

He notes this in the body of his announcement for his SES talk – but it might be illustrative to you to note that in his 28pg paper on Van Til, he says the following in footnote 21:

It is interesting to note that there seems to be a link between Van Til’s notion of interpretative structures and the hermeneutics of being of Martin Heidegger. There has never been a study showing that Van Til was influenced by Heidegger (and other post-modern existential thinkers such as Kierkegaard), and the frequent cry some presuppositionalists is that Van Til was not influenced by any non-Christian philosophers (In fact, if he had been, this would have been potentially detrimental to his system. Van Til, himself claims that he is not influenced by Idealism, Hegel, Existentialism or Phenomenalism, but only by simple Calvinism (Cf. Van Til, DF, 23.).).

He goes on to say, in the same footnote:

Secondly, it is evident, contrary to Van Til’s protests, that Van Til was indeed influenced by different aspects of the popular philosophical systems of his time (Cf. Van Til, DF, 137, 19fn80, 137, 113.) The attentive reader cannot help but notice the subtle similarities between Heidegger’s hermeneutics of being, and Van Til’s Presuppositionalism. That there is a probable connection between Van Til’s system and Heidegger’s hermeneutics of being can be shown as follows: It is common knowledge that Van Til was influenced by the Dutch reformed school of philosophy (There is no doubt that Van Til was influenced by Abraham Kuyper, but he was also influenced by thinkers such as Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven, both of whom were heavily influenced by Neo-Kantian philosophy, Heidegger, and Husserl (cf. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2013), 243-244.) Also important for this question is that Van Til was familiar enough with Heidegger’s writings to be able to write a scathing attack on the Heideggerian notion of god (cf. Cornelius Van Til, “The Later Heidegger and Theology”, in The Westminster Theological Journal , 26:2 (May 1964), 121-161. Interestingly enough, Van Til’s
Presuppositionalist system shares, with Existential Phenomenology and Relativism, some basic foundational doctrines, namely the Kantian critique of knowledge (without going into too much detail we can note Van Til’s use of the Kantian distinction between the phenomenal world and the noumenal world (Van Til, IST, 83, 113. Cf. Van Til, DF, x, 32fn15, 71fn46, 91.)), and the hermeneutics of being (which is essentially the notion that all people necessarily interpret the world that presents itself to them through categories that they inherit in one way or another). For example, we find the influence and combination of Heidegger’s hermeneutics of Being, and of the Kantian critique of knowledge, in the works of a well-known Canadian post-modern theologian, Myron Bradley Penner, “In one sense, of course, hermeneutics is a kind of epistemology — at least insofar as it is a reflection on the nature and limits of human knowledge. (Myron Bradley Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2013), 70. Cf. Ibid., 11, 29, 67-68, 127, 147.) Let it be noted that to claim that Van Til’s dependence on the works of Kant and Heidegger therefore falsifies his system would be a genetic fallacy. However, if it turns out that the positions of Kant and Heidegger run into serious difficulties, then it may be possible that Van Til’s system falls prey to these same problems.

So, there are no studies which say this. But here’s an attempted argument. Fair enough. But it fails.

“It is evident” – ipse dixit.

Notice the “influences”, if you own the book. Go to these references. Take pg 137 as an example. Bradley, Kant. Now notice the start of last paragraph on the page, which continues on the next. “In reply we need only to observe that this way of escape is not open to the Reformed apologist.” Bradley, an idealist, is similarly treated. He is considering the *problems* with idealism, and showing the consequences which derive from such a position. Sure, he uses transcendentalists and idealists as foils. He uses lots of people as foils, no? Considering this as an “influence” – or as a “dependence” is exceedingly wrong-headed. See fn80 on pg 19. Think it through. Val Halsema is doing what? Why is he doing so? What is Van Til’s intent in mentioning his own critic? What is he responding to, and what is his general theme, throughout this entire response section? I have no idea what Haines is referring to on 113, and Haines doesn’t say. His references to IST are similarly inconclusive. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that he was looking for any and all references to philosophers in these two works, and saying that because he references them, he is influenced by them and/or depends on them. Just between you, me, and the fencepost – if he wants to try to prove this thesis, he would have done far better to actually interact with some of Van Til’s specifically philosophical material, instead of vaguely cherrypicking material which, on the main, has to do with reponses to his critics, or his comparisons of the Reformed system to that of major schools of philosophy, on a broad canvas.

Just as one additional tip, for those who might be as new to reading Van Til as Mr. Haines seemingly is: Van Til does a lot of “repurposing” of terms. He uses terms which he happens to like – but assigns different meanings to them. Intentionally. He is doing something a great deal like John does with Logos. What Mr. Haines mistakenly thinks is “reliance” is, in fact, a repurposing – and a redirecting – of certain aspects of a variety of systems which, in isolation, have some parallel within classical reformed theology. He is a trained philosopher – in a lot better school than most philosophers can claim, incidentally – who is also a trained theologian – and who is much interested in showing how the two fields are intertwined. You have to actually read his defenses against the accusations which the entire first third of DotF deals with, however. He gets these sorts of accusations *all the time*. He is, however, no longer around to defend himself – so, with all due respect, Mr. Haines – please, feel free to make more uninformed speculations. I’ll be happy to reply, and I’m sure there will be entire classes of grad students at WTS who will be more than happy to disabuse you of your conclusions, and that your speculative fiction will provide reams of papers in response. Don’t say, however, that I didn’t warn you.

There is no support for his first premise. I’ll leave Haines to attempt to find some, if he wishes. This attentive reader notes that Van Til had a great deal to say about Heidegger, (as well as Kant) in a great many places within his corpus – and that it might be educational for others to track those down for themselves – to save themselves embarrassment, at the very least. Here’s a hint: track down a copy of “A Christian Theory of Knowledge”. Esp. the blue volume, with the helpful index, which the other editions, to my knowledge, lack.

Mention, discussion of, or comparison to is not dependence. This is, essentially, the exact same argument that many, many people have made about Van Til and *idealism* – which, you might note, he discusses more than just about any other philosophical system. Eventually, you folks might figure out that he was very, very widely read – and that even y’all are going to run out of people he mentioned, eventually. Maybe then this will stop. There I go being optimistic again, though. By that time, the latest round will have forgotten that the first round existed. I’ll make sure to watch this upcoming talk, though. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you, David. This kind of stuff isn’t going to fly.