In so far as thought is merely human, merely a characteristic of one particular biological species, it does not explain our knowledge. Where thought is strictly rational it must be, in some odd sense, not ours, but cosmic or super-cosmic. It must be something not shut up inside our heads but already ‘out there’ – in the universe or behind the universe: either as objective as material Nature or more objective still. Unless all that we take to be knowledge is an illusion, we must hold that in thinking we are not reading rationality into an irrational universe but responding to a rationality with which the universe has always been saturated. (“De Futilitate” in Christian Reflections, p. 65)
Lewis does such a great job of displaying the contradiction of enlightenment thought. He makes nature sound so much better. I was told a while back that Lewis says many things that mesh with what Van Til sought to do with his focus on presuppositions. I definitely agree, with this exception: where Van Til considered the standard mainly in terms of special revelation Lewis spoke of it as naturally implanted in man and assumed by the particularly human faculty of reason.
He was a realist reader of old books – very much Medieval. This can be seen in his utilization of imagination and his love of myth. Without a proper view of nature one cannot have a proper love of myth. Detrimental to the Christian faith is this understanding of myth since, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.” (Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock, p. 66) Myth allows one to come down from abstraction, speaking or thinking in the realm of facts, and experience those facts. “It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely.” (Ibid) The enlightenment bend toward solipsism is a rebellion against nature and therefore lacks imagination and appreciation for myth. Only in the Christian story is nature perfected, not destroyed. Only with Christ does the myth become fact. “For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.” (Ibid., 67)
Those theologians who consider themselves to be within the theological lineage of Cornelius Van Til tend to represent Thomas Aquinas as a rationalist who polluted the waters of theology with the pagan wine of philosophy. He should have recognized that philosophy is separate from theology and that the use of reason by Christians such as proofs for God’s existence subsumes the latter underneath the former. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that those who believe this usually themselves hold to a radical opinion on how philosophy relates to theology. See this statement by Van Til for example:
The Romanist-evangelical type of apologetics assumes that man can first know much about himself and the universe and afterward ask whether God exists and Christianity is true. The Reformed apologist assumes that nothing can be known by man about himself or the universe unless God exists and Christianity is true. (Defense of the Faith, pp. 163, 317)
I understand what Van Til is trying to say here: “Those apologetic methods that present Christianity to the atheist as an option on the buffet table of religions to be tested and verified by how much it “makes sense” do more harm to Christianity than good.” They turn theology into philosophy. I agree with this idea. However, I do not agree that man must first believe in God in order to know himself and the universe (which is the import of Van Til’s first statement). Unbelievers can have a limited knowledge of themselves and even of God. With the implications of Van Til’s statement he is in danger of subsuming philosophy into theology.
It is tempting to answer the Kantian dilemma and bridge the gap between the noumena and phenomena by appealing solely to God’s supernatural revelation of himself. However, this only makes things worse. If certain things about God cannot be know apart from special revelation then how can anyone, Christian or not, justify anything extra-biblical? Are we all skeptics? What about Paul’s statement in Rom. 1:20 that the invisible things of God (his eternal power and divinity) have been clearly revealed to all men through created things? I shall first debunk the idea (however implicit) that Aquinas subsumed theology under philosophy and then show what I think his apologetic method may have looked like and point out similarities between it and that of Van Til. I hope this demonstration will reveal that a healthy relationship between philosophy and theology can only be maintained if reason is allowed to play a significant part in apologetics.
Continue reading “An Apparent Apologetic Method in Aquinas: A Critique of Certain Van Tilianisms”
I don’t think it is autonomous rationalism to begin one’s apologetics with theological proofs. The whole point of beginning with reason is not to start from a neutral ground where all facts are brute facts and everyone agrees that religion is not an issue. The point of beginning with reason is to demonstrate the necessity of faith. One must differentiate, as St. Anselm did, between an “independent” argument and an argument made directly from Holy Scripture. Neither can be called “autonomous.” Both presuppose the necessity of the Triune God.
As I read it is becoming more clear to me that folks like Van Til, Schaeffer, and Bahnsen did not invent the idea that Modern Philosophy has borrowed turf from Christianity. Van Til was critical of Medieval Philosophy for being too rationalistic but Ettiene Gilson in his The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy argues that Modern Philosophy borrowed just as much from Augustine as it did from Plato and Aristotle. He notes that philosophical works from the 17th and 18th centuries would be difficult to explain without taking into account the “Christian Philosophy” of the Medievals, who may have overemphasized man’s reasoning capabilities but never allowed that reason to contradict the fundamentals of faith:
Open for example the works of Rene Descartes, the reformer of philosophy par excellence, of whom Hemelin went so far as to say that “he is in succession with the ancients, almost as if – with the exception of a few naturalists – there had been nothing but a blank between.” What are we to make of this “almost”? Consider, to start with, the title of the Meditations sur la metaphysique, “in which are demonstrated the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.” Consider, again, the close kinship of Descartes’ proofs of God with those of St. Augustine or even those of St. Thomas. It would not be at all difficult to show that his doctrine of liberty owes a great deal to the mediaeval speculations on the relations between grace and free-will – a Christian problem, if ever there was one. (Gilson, p. 13)
Gilson also points out that Hume, in his pronouncement against causality, borrowed heavily from Malebranche. “Now to whom does Malebranche appeal? To St. Augustine quite as much as to Descartes.” (Ibid., p. 15)
BTW: Gilson wrote this in 1931.