Cornelius Van Til. Christian Theistic Evidences. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, February 29th, 2016. 288 pp.
There is a lot of misunderstanding today concerning the role of evidence in Cornelius Van Til’s apologetics which makes this book a valuable primary source for those who want to understand Van Til’s view. I think understanding Van Til’s position is important whether one agrees with him or not. This is especially relevant given the rising popularity of Presuppositional apologetics. This particular volume is the second edition of the book and it has helpful footnotes with commentaries from the editor K. Scott Oliphint who is currently the professor of Presuppositional apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (this is where Van Til taught at when he was alive). In this review I shall look first at Oliphint’s contribution and then the rest of the book that was penned by Van Til.
Oliphint’s editorial footnote wasn’t as frequent as I expected. It seems as the book progresses there were less of it but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing after all it’s better to have helpful comments and explanations here and there rather than having a book that over-analyze and eventually read everything into Van Til that isn’t there. It seems most of Oliphint’s inserted footnotes is to explain who the names and figures were that Van Til cited, which is helpful given that the book was written decades ago and many of whom Van Til interacted with is largely forgotten or they were technical academic specialists. The biggest contribution that’s uniquely Oliphint comes from his discussion in the introduction of the book about Alvin Plantinga and the contemporary discussion about foundationalism. This essay from Oliphint is good in its own right. Those who wonder about the similarities and differences between Plantinga’s and Van Til’s approach towards the defense of the faith and epistemology would find Oliphint’s discussion useful. Van Til lived before much of the critical discussion about foundationalism in academia so to see an heir of Van Til and a contemporary Van Tillian scholar give a Presuppositionalist’ perspective definitely pushes Presuppositionalism forward.
Van Til’s Christian Theistic Evidences
Van Til begins the book with a chapter on “the history of evidences” that is largely a critique of Bishop Butler’s apologetics. Butler is famous for his work titled Analogy of Religion. Van Til’s critique of Butler is largely theological. Butler’s styled apologetics is seen today in much of what we call evidential apologetics so Van Til’s critique shouldn’t be seen as a historical academic exercise. Van Til then moves to a critique of Hume in chapter two and Kant and the idealists in chapter three. This largely follows the chronological order these philosophers appeared in the history of philosophy. His look at these philosophers are relevant critique of Butler in that these non-Christian philosophers noted the inadequacy of naïve evidentialism which Van Til points out but Van Til also points out the problem with these philosophers and their ideologies.
The rest of the chapters in the book was arranged more topically rather than chronologically with the history of philosophy. I appreciate Van Til’s examination of non-Christian scientific method and their assumptions found in chapters five through seven with it broken down according to theological evidences, creation and providence and finally teology. I also appreciated Van Til’s look at psychology in general and psychology of religion specifically (chapters eight and nine).
An ongoing theme in Van Til’s critiques of various philosophies is the idea of “brute facts.” Here in the book and also from Oliphant’s notes I’ve finally understand what Van Til meant by “brute facts,” which conveys the idea that facts are not created by God and are just “out there.” Throughout the rest of the book Van Til gives a survey of just how vastly held the concept of brute facts is in the realm of unbiblical philosophy and secular science.
There was some moments in the book that I found very quotable and indeed have been quoted elsewhere by other Presuppositionalists. For those who are interested with Van Til’s apologetics and would want to read Van Til himself as a primary source I do highly recommend the book. I must say though at times I wonder if Van Til could have wrote more about philosophy of evidences from a practical stand point. I think the fact that this book was originally a syllabi that Van Til made clear was not intended to be a book didn’t help with some of the way the materials was presented. Even as a Van Tillian myself I do think a practical philosophy of Christian theistic evidences wasn’t Van Til’s strong point. It took other men that followed him to develop this more. Nevertheless I recommend this book.
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.