Thursday, January 06, 2022

An Examination of Van Til’s “Argument from the Unity of Knowledge”

In my previous entry we surveyed the salient background features propping up Cornelius Van Til’s arguments for the existence of the Christian god as formalized by apologist James Anderson in his paper If Knowledge Then God (IKTG). The four biggies here are that (a) there can be only one argument (hence Anderson presents a total of seven formalized arguments in his paper, four of them on behalf of Van Til), (b) this argument establishes specifically Christian theism (as opposed to some “generic theism”), (c) the argument’s conclusion is certain (“not merely probable”), and (d) the argument must be a “transcendental” argument (by which means the apologist “discovers” or rather asserts what the necessary preconditions of knowledge must be). Thus we witnessed Van Til boast that “there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 103.) and that “this one proof is absolutely convincing” (Common Grace and the Gospel p. 192). 

So the very nature of knowledge as such, which human beings do in fact acquire and possess, is purportedly of vital interest in drawing the conclusion that there must be a god, and accordingly this god must be the god described in the Christian bible. What always strikes me as a fundamental liability to the presuppositionalists’ project here is that their procedure exhibits virtually no awareness of how the human mind forms concepts or even any discussion of whether concepts even play an integral role in epistemology. This omission is evident even in the fourth argument which Anderson attributes to Van Til, the so-called “Argument from Conceptual Schemes” (cf. IKTG, pp. 23-24), which is where one would most expect to find an analysis of concepts, but does not. If knowledge is conceptual (and it is), this oversight is quite a liability. In fact, I’d go even further and wager that not only is it because Christianity lacks an understanding of concepts – their nature, how they are formed, how they relate to and depend on the perceptual level of awareness, etc. – that believers might therefore imagine that knowledge must somehow be sourced in the supernatural, but also that supernatural notions cannot be rationally inferred from an objective understanding of concepts. 

How all this plays out is very instructive when it comes to assaying the intellectual deficiencies of presuppositionalism in particular, and Christianity in general. So with my earlier points in mind, let’s turn to the Argument from the Unity of Knowledge and see how “absolutely convincing” this “absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism” might be.