Sunday, August 1, 2010

Van Tillian Syllogisms

Dr. Reiter, our Philosophy professor, summarized several of Cornelius Van Til's epistemological arguments. Here I present them in syllogistic form, for those who think logically:

The One-and-Many Argument:
1. If knowledge is possible, then unity and plurality must be co-ultimate.
2. Knowledge is possible.
So 3. Unity and plurality are co-ultimate.
4. If unity and plurality are co-ultimate, then Christian theism is true.
So 5. Christian theism is true.

Argument from the Unity of Knowledge:
1. If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one has any knowledge.
2. Someone does have some knowledge.
So 3. Someone has comprehensive knowledge (and thus, God exists).

Argument from the Uniformity of Nature:
1. If one cannot account for the uniformity of nature, then beliefs based on inductive reasoning are not warranted (ala Hume's critique of induction).
2. Beliefs based on inductive reasoning are warranted.
So 3. One can account for the uniformity of nature
4. If one can account for the uniformity of nature, then theism is true.
So 5. Theism is true.

Argument from Conceptual Schemes:
1. If theism is not true, then there are no grounds for believing that human knowledge and communication are possible.
2. There are grounds for believing that human knowledge and communication are possible.
So 3. Theism is true.


  1. Adam, you're making me use my noodle, which is good. Some of the syllogisms here I can follow, others I cannot make sense of, probably because I don't know the vocabulary of philosophy.

    The one-and-many seems the most opaque to me, of all the ones you listed.

    I bought Van Til's book, "Christianity and Barthianism" a few years ago because I was trying to learn the how, why, and where Barth departed from Biblical orthodoxy. I was dealing with a friend who was a fan of Barth, and I was trying to find 'smoking gun' quotes which would definitively show that a Bible-believing Christian ought to read Barth with great caution and discernment.

    But the barrier getting in between me and Barth was Van Til, it seemed. I could not get though one page of that book without coming across a dozen different terms which I did not understand. I kept reading, thinking, "Pretty soon this will begin to make sense." But no. So I struggled through about the first third of the book, and gave up. My comprehension was close to zero.

    So maybe someday I'll try to tackle another of Van Til's books. I know it would be profitable for me to understand his thoughts.

  2. I feel the same way about the first two chapters of Geerhardus Vos' Biblical Theology. It was like reading another language.

    Seriously though, Van Til is really hard to read, in my opinion. In fact, these syllogisms are supposed to simplify his arguments, believe it or not!

  3. Why do Academics feel the need to speak in terms that bring confusion to the masses? Jesus spoke in simple but eloquent terms. Just as speaking in tongues should never be done without an interpreter, neither should an academic write in terms only understandable to a few. and then, do they really understand, or only say they do in order to not be laughed at by their fellow elites?
    in order to be a Christian, one must understand the Bible in its simplest of terms and be relevant to those whom it was intended to reach, when they teach or explain it.

    The Bible does not need to be explained in a complicated way when it is already simple to the average person.

    Who does it serve to speak confoundedly or write books which are more complicated than the words already simply stated and understandable by the simplest of minds?

    Through prayer The Holy Spirit will reveal the meaning to each one of us.

    God bless,

  4. ectracey,

    I am absolutely in agreement with the first part of what you've said. You do not have to understand the finer arguments put forth by Van Til in order to be a Christian. However, I must ask, are you content with drinking only milk? - or would you like to explore the knowledge of God in more 'meaty' ways?

    While I sympathize with the general intention of the last part of your comment, I do have to wonder something - and if you return to read my response I hope you will answer this question for me - how do we discern between interpretations when the Holy Spirit gives you one meaning of a verse and me another?


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