Christian Civilization is the Only Civilization
– In a Sense, Of Course
A Restatement of Cornelius Van Til's Argument for Christian Theism
By Michael H. Warren, Jr.
Last revised: 4/23/08
• Part I
. . . [A]ll the theistic arguments should really be taken together and reduced to the one argument of the possibility of human predication. God, as self-sufficient, as the One in whom the One and the Many are equally ultimate, [as] the One in whom the persons of the Trinity are interchangeably exhaustive, is the presupposition for the intelligent use of words with respect to anything in the universe, whether it be the trees of the garden or the angels in heaven.
Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, (1974), p.102
I am afraid we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Ch. 2
Insofar as I had any project in mind, it was to reconcile Trotsky and the orchids. I only wanted to find some intellectual or aesthetic framework that would let me – in a thrilling phrase I came across in Yeats – “hold reality and justice in a single vision.”
. . . As I tried to figure out what had gone wrong, I gradually decided that the whole idea of holding reality and justice in a single vision had been a mistake that a pursuit of such a vision had been precisely what led Plato astray [sic]. More specifically, I decided that only religion – only a non-argumentative faith in a surrogate parent who, unlike any real parent, embodied love, power, and justice in equal measure – could do the trick Plato wanted done. Since I couldn't imagine becoming religious, and indeed had gotten more and more raucously secularist, I decided that the hope of achieving a single vision by becoming a philosopher had been a self-deceptive atheist's way out.
Richard Rorty, “Wild Orchids and Trotsky” (1993)
Intellectuals throughout history have given their views as to what the source, goal and nature of civilization is. The ancient philosopher Plato described a well-ordered civilization as a three-tiered hierarchy of philosopher-kings, the soldier class, and the merchant class. The philosophers are the kings because they are allegedly the most knowledgeable about the ideas of justice and the good. Hegel offered a comprehensive philosophy of life in which he said that the state is God, and the ideal of civilization is for all people to become unified under the State. Freud expressed the predominate view of 20th Century intellectuals when he said that civilization is defined by the degree that a culture rejects the psychological projection of a loving, divine Father as the explanation for the mysteries of the world and embraces rational, scientific, materialistic explanations of the world. In this essay I do not examine all of the competing explanations for civilization in detail. However, despite all their differences, all non-Christian views of civilization have a common point of view that allows for a single refutation that applies to them all and allows for a single proof (see the introductory quote from Van Til above) that Christian Civilization is the only rationally possible civilization.
Some immediate responses to such a thesis come to mind: Christian Civilization the only civilization? Surely you must be joking. Christianity is only 2000 years old. Weren’t there civilizations before then? Haven’t there been civilizations since then that were not significantly influenced by Christianity? And isn’t the concept of Christian civilization an oxymoron? Religion is personal, subjective and spiritual, independent of secular areas of life like civil government and science. And haven’t attempts at Christian civilization proven themselves horrendous disasters, with the witch trials, the Inquisition, the Crusades and other religious wars? The separation of church and state is necessary to preserve freedom. The Galileo affair showed that science and religion don’t mix. Rejection of the idea of Christian Civilization is what keeps us from returning to the Dark Ages. Everyone knows that. Don’t you?!
Obviously, I am aware of all these objections. But they are either false or irrelevant to the question of the truth of Christianity. Despite these objections, there is still a case to be made for Christian Civilization, indeed, as the only possible civilization. This essay will focus on the philosophical case. I address the specific historical events, like the witch trials and Galileo affair elsewhere. By in large, bringing up those past events as a rebuttal to the philosophical case for Christian Civilization amounts to the logical fallacy of the ad hominem argument, which is a fallacy of relevance. For example, self-professed Marxists have acted inconsistently with Marxism, but that does not prove that the Marxist philosophy is false. And if an opponent of Marxism says that he has refuted Marxism merely by pointing to allegedly terrible things that Marxists do when acting in conformity with Marxist doctrine, like taking from the rich and giving to the poor, then the opponent of Marxism has committed the fallacy of begging the question. The Marxist can respond, "So what?" Just because your view of ethics is different from someone else's doesn't prove that your view is right. You must prove that the other view is unsound. Likewise, when an atheist merely asserts that Christian ethical standards in a specific situation are “barbaric,” “cruel,” and all sorts of other words of ethical disapproval, the atheist is simply begging the question.
The twentieth century was the occasion of the most life-transforming scientific advances in history, and during this time the major institutions of science, as well as all the other major institutions of Western civilization, were dominated by secularists. For secularists this is extremely persuasive evidence that the truth of Christianity is not a necessary foundation for the possibility of civilization. Words like “progressive,” “science,” and “reason” are virtually equated with secularism in their minds. But if the transcendental argument that I present is sound—that the existence of God is necessary for the possibility of science—then the fact that many atheists have contributed a great deal to scientific advances only shows that these atheists were acting inconsistently with atheism and were operating on stolen capital from the Christian worldview. Athiest philosophers of the Twentieth Century labored mightily to account for science, but they have failed, as some leading philosophers of science have admitted.
What about the fact that Christianity began only 2000 years ago? How is that consistent with the claim that Christian standards of rationality and ethics apply universally, at all places and for all history? First, while the earthly life of Christ was an extremely important event in the history of the religion that now bears His name, there is an important sense in which Christianity is a religion that existed long before Christ’s incarnation. Christ did not present Himself to a people who practiced a completely alien religion from the one He proclaimed. Christ was a Jew who came to the Jews first and Gentiles second (Matt. 23:37; John 1:11; Rom. 1:16). He appeared to a people who had been separated from the other nations as a nation of God’s own possession from the time of Abraham. The God of the Hebrews was the same God that Jesus proclaimed. He, in fact, claimed to be that God (John 8:56-59)! Christ came in fulfillment of prophecies that extended back to the beginning of time (Gen. 3:15) and grew more specific as His appointed time approached (cf. Isa. 9:2-7). Moreover, according to Biblical chronology, there has been no moment in history in which there has not been some people who worshipped the God proclaimed by Jesus. The incarnation of Christ did result in the institution of many discontinuities from the Old Testament religious system in the way God was to be worshipped, but the discontinuities should not blind us to the many fundamental continuities. As a non-Christian, you don’t believe all that stuff that the Bible teaches about ancient history, but at least you need to confront Christianity on its own merits, rather than assuming the unbiblical view that Christianity arrived in history completely de novo 2000 years ago.
Yet, there is a more important claim to universality that Christianity makes than having adherents throughout history. Christianity has eternally existed and is universal in the sense that the God of Christianity has always existed, has created everything that exists, and directs the entire course of history. It is the nature of God as He is in Himself that is the unique doctrine of Christianity that establishes its truth as necessary for the very possibility of human rationality, and thus as necessary for the possibility of human civilization. If there exists a personal and universal God, then one would expect Him to intervene into human affairs to engage in personal fellowship with His creatures. But the existence of God is not dependent on people believing in Him. The God defended in this essay is self-existent. He has life in Himself. Even if no one in the world acknowledged God’s existence, God would still exist, and His signature on every fact in the world would be evident to any who would want to see it.
Another popular misconception about Christianity that must be corrected in order for my argument to be understood is how faith and reason are defined. The faith/reason distinction, as popularly understood, as understood by atheists, and even as understood by many Christian theologians throughout history, is incompatible with the nature of God that I defend here. For the atheist, even to make the distinction between faith and reason is to make the case for atheism, or at least the case for religion being nothing more than emotional subjectivism. Faith and reason are completely distinct from one another. Faith is a leap beyond reason. So faith must be irrational, right? Mark Twain said that “Faith is believing what you know ain't so.” Friedrich Nietzche derided Christianity by saying, “‘Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens defined religion under the U.S. Constitution by quoting Clarence Darrow: "The realm of religion . . . is where knowledge leaves off, and where faith begins."  Immanuel Kant said that “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” More recently, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have written popular anti-Christian books in which they set reason and faith in opposition to each other. But where does this way of defining faith and reason come from? Do these definitions, favored by opponents of traditional Christianity, reflect an examination of Christianity on its own merits? Does it accurately represent the Christian view of faith? No. You can find self-professed Christians who find some agreement with these defintitions, but they are in opposition to the view of Christianity that I am defending here. To attack Christianity by attacking faith as a leap beyond reason is to attack a straw man. When a Christian appeals to faith, he is not appealing to the non-rational or irrational, but to an absolutely rational God. Christian faith is not a leap beyond reason but a leap to, a trust in, the absolute rationality of God, rather than a trust in the frail, finite, and often sinful reasoning of the human mind. 
If the view of faith as a leap beyond reason does not come from Christianity, where does it come from? Freud described the origin of religion as a product of humanity’s evolutionary past in the “primal horde.” These memories from humanity’s childhood have been inherited by later generations like instinct has in other species. Freud claimed that a primal violent father drove the sons out of the clan to claim exclusive possession of the women; then the sons killed the father, ate him, and took possession of the women. Once the father was gone the sons began to feel guilty about their deed. From the grave the father became a figure of fear and honor. This honor of the unseen father then developed into the projection of a wish by the primitive humans, facing a mysterious, frightening impersonal world, that a loving Father be in control of nature. But as humans have investigated their world and gained greater understanding of it, the need for a divine Father has been reduced proportionately. As science and human civilization progress, the need for religion fades away like the smile on the Cheshire Cat. Is this the Biblical view of human origins? Of course not. Freud’s explanation begs the question of the naturalistic, evolutionary worldview. In other words, when Freud characterizes religion as a leap beyond reason, he is describing an irrationalism that is inherent in the atheist worldview. Faith that is a leap beyond reason is atheist spirituality, not Christian spirituality. It is the atheist that believes that the universe is ultimately non-rational, that finite minds are the most advanced minds in the universe; thus when a human believes something that his finite mind does not fully understand, he must be making a leap beyond reason. (Some atheists believe alien minds are the most advanced; but that's irrelevant to my point. The most advanced mind is still finite, leaving the universe ultimately determined by non-rational forces.) This is the opposite of the Christian view, in which an absolutely rational mind ultimately controls the universe, and thus appeals to faith are appeals to absolute rationality. Christians may be said to make a leap of faith beyond human reason to a degree, but not beyond reason in an unqualified sense.
There are formal similarities between Christianity and atheism. Both appeal to mystery and faith when something is not fully understood by humans. Both may say that they believe in a spiritual aspect of life. But the content of these terms is completely different for the two worldviews. For the atheist, faith is in “faith,” an unknowable beyond. For the Christian, faith is faith in an objective, absolutely rational person who makes Himself known to humans through propositional language. Unfortunately, many modern theologians have been confused by the formal similarity and have characterized Christianity in a way that accepts the atheist content of these terms. “Christianity” then becomes atheism dressed up in the Christian terminology of “faith” and “spirituality.”
The truth is that the difference in content between Christianity and atheism could not be more striking: Christianity believes in the ultimacy of the rational, and atheism believes in the ultimacy of the irrational. Christianity represents the dominion of the Logos (John 1:1,14), the Word, the Reason. The Logos is the object of Christian worship and complete devotion. Worship of any lesser rationality is condemned as ignorant idolatry (Rom. 1:22-23; Rev. 19:10). Atheism believes that history moves from Mythos (religion, the irrational) to Logos (reason), making the irrational the ultimate source of all that exists. Christianity believes that the Logos, an absolutely rational mind, stands behind the whole course of history, from beginning to end. The historical fall into irrationalism and immorality after creation is eternally predestined by the Logos, and the remedy is provided by the Logos, so that creation moves back into harmony with the Logos through the power of the Logos. Historical progress is possible only because the Logos, an absolutely rational mind, stands behind the whole process. Christianity is the most rationalistic philosophy imaginable. An absolutely rational mind controls whatsoever comes to pass.
The difference between Christianity and atheism turns out to be just the opposite of what atheists have understood it to be. Christianity is not trust in the irrational while atheism is trust in reason. Rather, Christianity represents an ultimate rationalism, while atheism represents an ultimate irrationalism. In the atheist worldview, rationality and ethics are the anomalies that require explanation. In the Christian worldview, irrationalism and evil are the anomalies. At the very least, atheism, not Christianity, has the up-hill battle in explaining how the existence of human rationality makes sense in their worldview. But the atheist’s ultimate explanation for anything can be only one thing, the irrational. Therefore, in terms of the atheist worldview there can never really be a rational explanation for anything. On the basis of the wholly irrational the existence of rationality cannot be rationally explained. Cornelius Van Til offers a vivid description of the futility of atheism’s attempt to explain human rationality by an appeal to the non-rational:
Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended ocean of water. Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water. He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then climbs out of the water only to fall into the water. So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance. The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance.
Human irrationalism and evil are the difficult things to explain in the Christian worldview, but the Christian can live with such mysteries because the only alternative is to renounce all meaning, to begin with atheism’s ultimate irrationalism. “Good,” “evil,” “reality,” “illusion,” and every other human word would be meaningless if atheism were true and the world were ultimately meaningless. The atheist believes that error and imperfection in the world imply the non-existence of a perfect, absolute God. Rather, error and imperfection in the world require a perfect, absolute God, because such concepts as “error” and “imperfection,” whether in the fields of mathematics, ethics, logic or science, would be meaningless without a perfect, absolutely rational standard by which to identify occurrences of imperfection, and without an ultimately rational structure to the world which allows concepts, whether positive or negative, to be applied, whether rightly or wrongly, to the changing realm of human experience. If God did not exist, it is not merely personal, psychological feelings of having a meaningful life that would suffer, but rational meaning would suffer.
Now that the tables are turned and the atheists are pegged as the irrationalists and the Christians as the defenders of reason, many atheists will protest, “But we don’t believe in the ultimacy of the irrational, just the non-rational. Matter is not mind, but matter can be rationally understood.” In response, I say that it is fine by me if you want to characterize your position that way. But the conclusion of my argument is that a universe that is ultimately non-rational cannot give rise to rationality, and in that sense atheism is ultimately irrational. Kant was far more consistent with the implications of atheism than many atheists are willing to be when he openly identified the source of sense experience (the “noumena”) as irrational, as something that is impossible to be an object of human knowledge. Kant was awakened from his dogmatic slumbers and compelled to develop a philosophy that would save science as a result of reading David Hume’s failed attempt to build a theory of knowledge purely on the basis of sense experience of “non-rational” matter. I believe that Kant also failed to save science, and that Christian Theism is the only philosophy that can save science, but at least Kant deserves commendation for pursuing greater logical consistency in defense of atheist philosophy than other atheists have had the courage to do.
Now that Christian Theism and its most obvious foil, atheism, have been properly defined, it's time to spell out the argument for the exclusive rationality of Christianity in more detail. One might object that there are more positions than just materialistic atheism and Christianity, but in the argument below, I will define an issue (the one and the many) and cover all the possible positions on that issue, so that for this issue, the scope of the argument is universal, even though it does not settle all details of all possible worldviews. As Eckart Förster explains:
"A transcendental argument . . . in order to establish a particular condition of knowledge or experience, proceeds by considering an alternative, that is, the negation of the condition and, subsequently, demonstrates its internal incoherence. Clearly, this exhausts the field of possible alternatives to this condition. For although one may, perhaps, imagine different philosophical positions or conceptions based on the negation of the original condition, this would not add to the number of alternatives to it."
The case for Christianity depends on its ability to answer the problem of the one and the many. By considering the Christian position of the equal ultimacy of the one and the many and the negation of that position (the one and the many being originally in abstraction from each other), I have covered all the possible alternatives to this particular foundational Christian position.
Whether unity or multiplicity is the ultimate determiner of the nature of the world is an ancient philosophical debate. In the famous painting by Raffael, The School of Athens, Plato and Aristotle stand side-by-side in the center of many other famous Greek thinkers. Plato is pointing one finger up to the abstract unity of ideas, and Aristotle is opening all the fingers on one hand, palm down, toward the diversity of the material, empirical world. Some philosophers, like Plato, have emphasized the one as ultimate. Others, like Aristotle, have emphasized the many as ultimate. Still others, like Immanuel Kant, have tried to give equal credit to both the one and the many, saying that they begin abstracted from each other, and then are combined by the human mind to create knowledge.
The Christian view differs from all of these. Even though the object of Christian worship is the Logos, this does not mean that Christians side with Greek rationalists against empiricists. The Greek Logos was a unity abstracted from all diversity. Plato, for example, regarded the material, changing world of history as the object of mere opinion, whereas the world of the abstract Forms was the only true object of knowledge. That is not the Christian view. A God that is an impersonal, abstract principle of unity is the God of the philosophers, not the living, historically-active God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Christianity does not deprecate the material and historical as inherently evil or illusory. To state the obvious, the Bible teaches that God created the material, historical world, and it was good (Gen. 1). God inspired human prophets in the midst of history to deliver His words. God established laws and ordinances pertaining to everything from sex, to economics, to politics. He performed miracles in the midst of history. He guides the entire course of history, down to the smallest detail of the number of hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30). The Logos Himself even became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Christ offered observable evidence for his claims to those who doubted (Matt. 11:2-6; John 20:24-30). Peter and Paul appealed to eye-witness testimony in support of the fact that the resurrection was a historical event rather than a “cleverly devised myth” (2 Peter 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-11), and Paul argued that if Christ were not physically resurrected from the dead, then the Christian faith is futile and believers are to be pitied above all men (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Christianity is, without a doubt, a historical religion. But as with the historical universality mentioned above, the most important fact for our present purposes is not any particular intervention of God into history, but the nature of God as He is in Himself that allows His contact with the historical.
The Greek view, held in common by Aristotle and Plato and others, was that matter is the principle of individuation, the source of diversity in the world; and it stands on the other end of “The Great Chain of Being” from Being or Form. Matter tends toward the non-being end of the chain. Being is the principle of unity in abstraction from diversity (see diagram).
Christianity rejects this abstraction of the one from the many. The Christian view is that unity and diversity are equally ultimate. They are eternally related to one another in God, the source of all the unity and the diversity of the world. This is clearly reflected in the orthodox view of the ontological Trinity. There are three distinct persons, yet they are the same God. The plurality of persons cannot be reduced to modes of a more basic unity. Nor is the unity destroyed by the diversity. Furthermore, the unity of God’s personhood involves a unity of knowledge of all particular facts, both within His own being and in His creation. God is eternally omniscient, which means that His concepts relate to all the particular facts that have ever existed or ever will exist. All facts outside of God originate as a creation of God according to His eternal, comprehensive plan. The meaning of every fact and its relationship to other facts is imputed by God. He determines the denotation and all the possible connotations of every fact. Because of God’s eternal omniscience, particular facts never exist in complete abstraction from universal concepts.
Historian Charles Norris Cochran explains the uniqueness of Christianity compared to the philosophy of Classical civilization, which Christianity defeated:
The revelation of Christ was the revelation of the Divine Nature as the Trinity. Accordingly, in the Trinity, Christian wisdom discovers that for which Classicism had so long vainly sought, vis. the logos or explanation of being and motion, in other words, a metaphysic of ordered process. In so doing it does justice to the element of truth contained alike in the claims of classical materialism and classical idealism; while, at the same time, it avoids the errors and absurdities of both.
Unlike Classicalism, in which the one and the many begin abstracted from each other, in the Christian logos there is an equal ultimacy of one the and the many in their many expressions: being and motion, order and process, idea and matter. This logos was not an escape from history into pure subjective emotionalism, but was a comprehensive philosophy of life. To quote Cochran again:
[The Christians’] revolt was not from nature; it was from the picture of nature constructed by classical scientia, together with its implications for practical life. And what they demanded was a radical revision of first principles as presupposition to an adequate cosmology and anthropology. The basis for such a revision they held to lie in the logos of Christ, conceived of revelation, not of ‘new’ truth, but of truth which was as old as the hills and as everlasting. This they accepted as an answer to the promise of illumination and power extended to mankind and, thus, the basis for a new physics, a new ethic and, above all, a new logic, the logic of human progress. In Christ, therefore, they claimed to possess a principle of understanding superior to anything existing in the classical world.
As defended in this essay, this unique principle of understanding for all of life, the Christian-theistic view of God, can be described as the “Concrete Universal” or the “Absolute.” Hegel used these terms to describe the ideal toward which humanity evolves as abstract unity (the universal) and abstract diversity (the concrete) become synthesized. The historical process is one of “God” (which Hegel identified as all the world including humanity) gradually achieving self-consciousness as the one and the many are synthesized. Hegel’s ideal is one that is achieved only in the distant future. In contrast, the Christian Concrete Universal has always existed. He has been fully self-conscious from all eternity. Unity and diversity have been synthesized from all eternity in God. Since God is the source of all the unity and all the diversity that exists, we can use the term “absolute” to describe God’s eternal nature. If any sort of unity or diversity of the world could arise independently of a being, then that being cannot properly be called absolute. For the remainder of this essay I will use “concrete universal God” and “absolute God” interchangeably to designate the distinctive view of God that I am defending.
In terms of the one and the many, all the different views can be reduced to only two possibilities. Either unity and diversity are eternally related to one another, or they originally exist abstracted from each other. In terms of the second choice, there are three possibilities: (1) Only an abstract diversity originally exists, (2) only an abstract unity originally exists, or (3) abstract diversity and abstract unity both originally exist, only later to become positively related (synthesized) to each other. But regardless of which of these latter three options one chooses, there are only two basic worldviews: (I) The Christian worldview, which, affirms an eternal concrete universal – God, and (II) the non-Christian worldview, which denies it, and thereby affirms an abstract one and/or many as the ultimate determiner of the world.
So which view is true? The problem with the abstract one and many view is that neither an abstract one nor an abstract many can be an object of knowledge, and the abstract one and the abstract many cannot become positively related to one another to become objects of knowledge because they each exclude the other by hypothesis. Trying to add a blank (abstract unity) to chaos (abstract diversity) to create knowledge and an intelligible world is like trying to add two zeros together to produce a positive number. The rational cannot be derived from the wholly irrational. It is as futile as trying to string an infinite number of beads that have no holes (abstract particulars) onto an infinite string that has no ends that can be found (abstract unity).
The proof for the existence of God is that God’s existence is necessary for the very possibility of rationality. Inescapable evidence for God’s existence is found in every fact of experience and every statement uttered by man. Without God, predication is impossible, "with respect to anything in the universe, whether it be the trees of the garden or the angels in heaven." Predication is when properties are attributed to objects. If all is one, then all properties could be attributed to all objects. That would lead to irresolvable contradictions. It would be just as true that an object is black as it is white, at the same time and in the same respect. Any distinctions would be meaningless. Hegel criticised this view that "all is one" as a "night in which, as we say, all cows are black -- that is the very naïveté of emptiness of knowledge." Two plus two would not equal four. Everything would equal one. Everything would be a pure blank.
On the other hand, if diversity were ultimate, no properties could be attributed to objects because there would be no relationship between any two facts. There would not even be a relationship between the human mind and any other fact:
It is clear that upon pragmatic basis, and for that matter upon antitheistic basis in general, there can be no object-object relation, i.e., there can be no philosophy of nature, so that the sciences become impossible, and no philosophy of history, so that the past cannot be brought into relation with the present nor the future with the present. Then there can be no subject-object relation, so that even if it were conceivable that there were such a thing as nature and history, I would be doomed to ignorance of it. In the third place, there can be no subject-subject relation, so that even if there were such a thing as nature and history, and even if I knew about it, I could never speak to anyone else about it. There would be Babylonian confusion.
If the past, present and future could not be related to each other, there would be not even be unity of the subject (the individual person) over time. Therefore no person could rely on memory; there would be no communicate within the person. This would be a world of pure chaos.
Even making the statement “God does not exist” would be impossible if God did not exist. No statement can be made about chaos, abstract plurality. Without any order to the world, words would never have a consistent meaning. “This is x” would be equivalent to “This is not x.” “God does not exist” would be equivalent to “God does exist.” The words “God,” “does,” “not,” and “exist” would suffer the same possibility of becoming their opposites, or anything else; nor would there be any relationship between any of the words. To say that God does not exist is to make a universal negative claim, yet on the basis of a plurality that excludes all unity, universal claims are not possible. On the other hand, on the basis of an abstract unity as ultimate, no words would have any content. Once again, "is" would be equivalent to "is not." All would be a blank. God, as a concrete universal, must exist in order for the statement “God does not exist” to be intelligible. Antitheism presupposes theism.
As a finite product of a changing world, man himself is in constant flux. From this standpoint, man has no basis for knowledge of any universal that would allow him to predicate “This is true” concerning anything. As Van Til explains,
If man is made the final reference point in predication, knowledge cannot get under way, and if it could get under way it could not move forward. That is to say, in all non-Christian forms of epistemology there is first the idea that to be understood a fact must be understood exhaustively. It must be reducible to a part of a system of timeless logic. But man himself and the facts of his experience are subject to change. How is he ever to find within himself an a priori resting point? He himself is on the move. . . . Every effort of man to find one spot that he can exhaustively understand either in the world of fact about him or in the world of experience within, is doomed to failure. If we do not with Calvin presuppose the self-contained God back of the self-conscious act of the knowing mind of man, we are doomed to be lost in an endless and bottomless flux.
But granted that man could get started on the way to learning by experience on a non-Christian basis he could add nothing new to what he already knows. There would be nothing new. If it was known it would be no longer new. As long as it was new it would be unknown. Thus the old dilemma that either man must know everything and he need ask no questions, or he knows nothing and therefore cannot ask questions, remains unsolved except on the basis of the Reformed Faith. . . . By presupposing the God of eternal self-affirmation man can get on the way to learning because he knows God when he first appears upon the scene. He has knowledge of self for what he really is. He also can add to his knowledge since the new facts that he learns about are already known and not new to God. Therefore they are related to what man already knows in true coherence.
If any fact were known, if the absolute statement “This is true” were attributed to the fact, it would no longer be part of the flux but be part of the abstract oneness of timeless logic, in which case the fact would be timeless, not new, and no longer an individual fact, but an abstract universal. Abstract individuality would be sacrificed to abstract unity. As Goethe said, “When the individual speaks it is, alas, no longer the individual that speaks.” And more precisely, such a fact made a part of timeless logic could not even be known then because it would be a completely empty concept. For there to be any intelligible facts, the particulars of experience must be originally related to an exhaustive system of logic. There must be the absolute mind of God in back of man’s mind and the world. The universal concepts in the mind of God must be eternally and exhaustively related to all the particulars of history. Without God, explaining human rationality becomes as futile as the man made of water in an infinite sea of water trying to escape the water on a ladder of water. Beginning with man as a product of particulars existing in abstraction from rational unity, logic could never be applied by man to the world: “If you have a bottomless sea of Chance, and if you, as an individual, are but a bit of chance, by chance distinguished from other bits of chance and if the law of contradiction has by chance grown within you, the imposition of this law on your environment is, granted it could take place, a perfectly futile activity.”
God is the missing link between the object an subject of knowledge (the thing known: the object; and the knower: the subject). Philosophers who have tried to ground "objectivity" in the empirical facts to the exclusion of any rational interpretation have become lost in a meaningless chaos of unrelated particulars. Philosophers who have tried to ground "objectivity" in unchanging laws of logic in order to avoid the untamed flux of experience have lost all connection with the empirical world and are left with a timeless emptiness. The better ones have recognized the need for both to account for knowledge, but cannot bring the two together because they begin with them in abstraction from each other. The Christian view of the concrete universal God is the only way to give both the object and subject a constructive role in human knowledge, and consequently the only way for there to be human knowledge. The object of human experience and the human mind are able to have fruitful contact because they both have their origin in God, in whom facts and concepts are exhaustively linked from all eternity.
A.1. Either unity and diversity are related from all eternity, or they are not originally related.
A.2. If not, either (1) abstract unity is ultimate, (2) abstract diversity is ultimate, or (3) they are both ultimate in original abstraction from each other.
B. Predication is the application of attributes to objects.
C.1. Predication is logically consistent with unity and diversity being eternally related (i.e. all predication is eternally determined).
C.2. Predication is logically inconsistent with unity being ultimate because all attributes would be attributes of all objects, even attributes that are inconsistent with each other.
C.3. Predication is logically inconsistent with diversity being ultimate because without unity, no attributes could apply to any objects.
C.4. Predication is logically inconsistent with the unity and diversity in original abstraction from each other because abstract unity excludes all diversity, and abstract diversity excludes all unity, and each of these is logically inconsistent with predication per C.2. and C.3.
D. Unity and diversity being related from all eternity describes the God of the Bible (by the Calvinist interpretation), who has determined the relationship of all objects to all attributes from all eternity.
E. From C and D, the existence of the God of the Bible is necessary for the possibility of predication.
Christ v. Kant
Kant recognized that, abstracted from each other, the one and the many cannot be objects of knowledge in his famous statement that “Concepts without percepts are empty, and percepts without concepts are blind.” (“Percepts” being the abstract diversity arising from sense perception.) But he mistakenly believed that the two abstractions could be combined by the autonomous human mind to create the intelligible world. As many have recognized, at the very least, Kant’s view results in solipsism (that you are the only person that you can know exists) and is self-refuting in that it requires Kant to make knowledge claims about the noumenal realm (realm of pure abstraction), which, according to Kant’s own view, cannot be an object of knowledge. But the basic problem, as noted above, is that since an abstract one and abstract many exclude each other by hypothesis, they cannot relate to each other except in terms of a head-on collision.
The Christian view can be understood as the mirror image of Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” that placed the human mind at the center of the universe as the autonomous, original source of knowledge. The autonomous God, rather than autonomous man, is placed at the center of the universe as the original source of knowledge. The Christian view is solipsistic in the sense that there is no other autonomous mind except God’s. All other minds exist because of God’s ex nihilo creation of them, and thus are completely dependent on Him for their existence and functioning. On the Christian view, the one and the many are eternally related in the mind of God, whereas on Kant’s view the human mind creates knowledge from the raw (i.e. irrational) material of abstract unity and plurality. On the Christian view, the human mind is receptively reconstructive of God’s original knowledge. Humans are to think God’s thoughts after Him, applying His absolute word to particular situations. On Kant’s view, the human mind is originally constructive of knowledge, trying to create a rational world from the infinite sea of irrationalism from which it has been generated.
That God’s mind is the only autonomous mind and God’s world the only world, nevertheless, overcomes the problem of solipsism. God can communicate with man because man is created in God’s image. The mind of man is created to be able to receive communication (revelation) from God. Humans can communicate with each other because they have a common Creator. Humans can gain knowledge of the facts of the external world as the facts truly are, “in themselves,” because the facts are the creation of an absolutely rational mind, in whose image man is created. The facts of the world and the mind of man are fitted to one another.
An example of the irrationalism to which a philosophy based on abstract particularity leads is the empiricism of David Hume. Hume is widely known for his arguments against Christianity, and his empiricist approach to knowledge is the received view among modern atheists. But Hume should also be credited with demonstrating the absurdity of atheism, or at least an atheism that begins with the abstract particularity of experience as the ultimate source of knowledge. Hume noted that, based purely on experience, nothing can be said to exist but the discrete moment. That there are cause-and-effect relationships between various perceptions cannot be known from experience. Any necessity that might connect various perceptions is not itself a perception. Abstract concepts like law, logic and identity are applied by the human mind to perceptions, but they themselves are not perceptions. They all involve continuity over time, but bare experience gives us nothing but the discrete moment. Or put another way, since we have no experience of the future, experience itself provides no basis for believing that the future will be anything like the past. Hume resorted to custom and habit as explanations for our belief in the regularity of nature, but custom and habit themselves presuppose continuity over time, and discrete experience can provide no basis for continuity over time.
Knowledge of the self is undermined because presumably the self is a thing that persists through great lengths of time, but there is no one perception that lasts as long as the self is supposed to. Consequently, not only does naturalistic empiricism undermine knowledge of the future, it undermines knowledge of the past. Knowledge of the past depends on the continuity of memory and personal identity. But since the discrete moments of sense experience do not provide a basis for continuity over time, knowledge of the past, including one’s own past existence, is inconsistent with the claim that all knowledge is through sense experience. Hume’s atheism reduces to absurdity. On the basis of it he can have knowledge of neither the external world nor himself, neither the past nor the future. His view of knowledge does not allow for laws of nature, confirmation of theories by predicting future events, or repeatability of experiments. Although Hume’s views are standard among modern atheists, it provides no basis for human rationality, science, or the advancement of civilization. The outcome of his philosophy was despair, ignorance, and “the deepest darkness,” not intellectual enlightenment. Hume lamented:
Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv’d of the use of every member and faculty.
Kant tried to save science from Hume’s skepticism, but philosophers widely acknowledge his failure, as explained above. Atheists have no claim on principle for being the guardians of science. The famous atheist Bertrand Russell wrote:
That scientific inference requires, for its validity, principles which experience cannot even render probable is, I believe, an inescapable conclusion from the logic of probability. . . . To ask, therefore, whether we "know" the postulates of scientific inference is not so definite as it seems. . . . In the sense in which "no" is the right answer we know nothing whatsoever, and "knowledge" in this sense is a delusive vision. The perplexities of philosophers are due, in a large measure, to their unwillingness to awaken from this blissful dream.
The application of laws (unity) to facts (diversity) is only possible on the assumption that the concrete universal God exists. Christian-theistic science is the only possible science.
The Intellectual Fool's Deal with the Devil
Atheists think that they have struck a deal with religious believers. They have said, “Go ahead; have heaven and the afterlife, whatever one can know about such things. We will take the earth, science, and the kingdoms of this world.” Any religion that would make such a deal is not true Christianity. In reality, atheist rationalists have struck a deal with atheist irrationalists, though the latter may call themselves Christians and use Christian terminology.
But by rejecting the kingdom of God, the kingdom of an absolutely rational God, the atheists have lost heaven and earth, faith and science. God owns all that exists. The Father gave Christ all authority “in heaven and on earth” (Matt.28:18). The meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5), to a great extent prior to the Last Judgment (Rom. 11:12,15) and completely after it (Rev. 21). By trying to explain the world without God, atheists, though “professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). Or as it may be translated, “The more they called themselves philosophers, the more they became stupid.” And as the Apostle Paul observes elsewhere, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). Atheism was well-described by Shakespeare’s character Macbeth when he says life is nothing but “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Atheism reduces to absurdity. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Atheism cannot account for knowledge of anything, whether in heaven or on earth. God rules over all.
In becoming a Christian, one does not make a blind leap beyond reason. Salvation is not just a ticket to heaven. It is not merely moral transformation. It is deliverance from ignorance and darkness, from the “futility in their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Eph.4:17-18). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), for in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). To escape irrationalism, to escape the darkness, to escape atheism, you must pray for mercy from the Light of the world, and your mind will be renewed unto knowledge.
Viewing the world in terms of unity and plurality being abstracted from one another, the atheist is trapped in an irresolvable dialectic tension between rationalism and irrationalism. In terms of his ultimate beliefs about the one and the many, the atheist’s descriptions of the world, in every statement that he utters, cannot be but flatly contradictory on its own premises. Predication and knowledge require both the one and the many, but since the atheist views these as abstracted from each other, he must be a rationalist (appealing to abstract law) and an irrationalist (appealing to abstract, isolated particulars) at the same time. The irrationalist must be a rationalist because nothing can be said about a purely indeterminate reality. And the rationalist must be an irrationalist because nothing can be said about a timeless, blank unity. Van Til explains:
The Sophists are as able to refute Plato as Plato is to refute the Sophists. For Plato’s highest law, his absolute universal is a purely empty form. If anything is to be said of it this must be done by making this form correlative to the idea of pure contingency. If Plato speaks he thereby becomes a relativist. He has then taken pure contingency into his pure absolute. He, as well as the Sophist, must, if he speaks at all, contradict himself in every word that he speaks. To make an appearance of justification for their predication on any subject the Sophist and the Platonist must take in each other’s washings. Pure form and pure “matter” or pure contingency are correlatives to one another. . . . But as to logical priority neither can “make peace with the law of contradiction,” neither can offer a positive foundation the basis of which the law of contradiction can be employed at all. It is only if the Christian position, with its teachings of the triune God as the creator and redeemer of men be one’s starting-point that one can speak without contradiction. Only in Christianity is skepticism answered.
When the atheist speaks directly about ultimate matters, the contradiction at the basis of his thinking becomes evident. As an irrationalist, emphasizing the many, the atheist will claim that we cannot know anything about ultimate reality. But even in that statement, the atheist is relying on the most extreme form of rationalism, for he is making a universal, negative claim about the nature of ultimate reality – that it is unknowable and that Christianity cannot be true. He has been known to say, “Christians are wrong because nobody knows ultimate truth.” He is making an absolute statement that there are no absolutes.
As a rationalist the atheist will make the absolute, universal claim that the Bible has been proven wrong by science, allegedly the source of all genuine human knowledge; and then as an irrationalist say that, because science is based on a piecemeal gathering of finite experiences, humans can never know absolutes. The atheist may try to get around this contradiction by saying that science proves that the Bible is probably not true; but he fails to realize that probability depends on a universal claim that limits the number of possibilities. We can calculate the probability that a certain number will be rolled with dice only because we do not live in a world of chaos, in which dots might appear, disappear, or become something other than dots with each roll.
On the one hand the atheist will say that he is an opened-minded scientist and that anything can happen in nature, but then will say that nature operates according to unbreakable laws so that supernatural intervention into nature could never happen.
Likewise, the atheist believes that he has free will, but also believes that nature, in which he is wholly immersed, behaves according to unbreakable laws. But since this “freedom” is an absence of order, a pure contingency, and nothing can be said about pure contingency, the atheist is free only in so far as he has no knowledge of his freedom; and to the extent that the atheist knows himself, he cannot be free.
In defense of “freedom” the atheist will denounce moral absolutes and the “judgmental” people who appeal to them, not recognizing that the pronouncement “Do not judge” is itself an absolute moral command and condemnation of those who judge. At one moment the atheist is denouncing judgementalism, and the next moment condemning capitalists and killers of a rare species of sucker fish with words of ethical judgment as absolute as those delivered by Moses from Mount Sinai. The rationalist-irrationalist tension of atheism results in the perpetual charade of atheists on university campuses, who, in pursuit of the cause of diversity and open-minded inquiry, try to silence Christians and invent a new code of moral absolutes currently known as “political correctness.”
Atheism’s rationalist-irrationalist dialectic tension is the Mother of All Contradictions because it undermines the very possibility of logic. Given that logic is unintelligible except on the assumption of the truth of Christianity, even to identify that atheism is self-contradictory on its own premises requires one to presuppose the truth of Christianity. Atheism presupposes Theism.
As finite creatures, we inevitably face contradictions that are merely apparent rather than real, but which we cannot resolve because of our limited knowledge, such as light having the properties of both a wave and a particle, and God being one person in a sense and yet three persons in another sense. We can live with these contradictions. They don’t undermine the possibility of rationality because we assume that there is no ultimate contradiction. The mysteries are simply the product of our limited knowledge. The Christian can live with apparent contradictions because there is an absolutely rational God in whom it is possible to resolve logical problems that exceed the abilities of finite minds. Atheism’s rationalist-irrationalist tension undermines the possibility of rationality because, by hypothesis, there is no absolute mind in which logical problems could find their resolution. Consequently, though the unbeliever often makes ad hominem judgments about the hypocrisy of Christians, it is the unbeliever who is Janus-faced in all his ways, psychologically, epistemologically, and morally.
The non-Christian’s hypocrisy here is not a matter of failing to conform to their professed philosophy, but a matter of conforming to it, because logical contradiction is inherent in their philosophy. The atheist boldly makes the universal claim that God does not exist. The agnostic tries to be more modest by saying that God probably does not exist, or we cannot know if God exists. But the agnostic is still sneaking in universals: 1) The universal that we live in an orderly universe which allows the calculation of probabilities, or the more blatant universal that we cannot know if God exists, 2) either of which entail the universal claim that a certain type of God does not exist: A God who is inescapably known through every fact in creation, both in the observable world as well as in each person’s own consciousness, i.e. the Christian God. Van Til explains the hidden, inherent contradictions in the agnostic’s thinking:
[Agnosticism] is, in the first place, psychologically self-contradictory upon its own assumptions. Agnosticism wants to hold that it is reasonable to refrain from thorough epistemological speculations because they cannot lead to anything. But in order to assume this attitude, agnosticism has itself made the most tremendous intellectual assertion that could be made about ultimate things. In the second place, agnosticism is epistemologically self-contradictory on its own assumptions because its claim to make no assertion about ultimate reality rests upon a most comprehensive assertion about ultimate reality. . . . [T]he alternative is not between saying something about ultimate reality or not saying anything about it, but that the alternative is rather between saying one thing about it or another. Every human being, as a matter of fact, says something about ultimate reality.
It should be noted that those who claim to say nothing about ultimate reality not only do say something about it just as well as everybody else, but they have assumed for themselves the responsibility of saying one definite thing about ultimate reality. They have assumed the responsibility of excluding God. We have seen again that a God who is to come in afterward is no God at all [i.e. a God that is not sovereign over all existence – M.W.]. Agnosticism cannot say that it is open-minded on the question of the nature of ultimate reality. It is absolutely closed-minded on the subject. It has one view that it cannot, unless its own assumption be denied, exchange for another. It has started with the assumption of the non-existence of God and must end with it. Its so-called open-minded attitude is therefore a closed-minded attitude. The agnostic must be open-minded and closed-minded at the same time. And this is not only a psychological self-contradiction, but an epistemological self-contradiction. It amounts to affirmation and denial at the same time. Accordingly, they cancel out one another, if there is cancellation power in them. . .
Incidentally, we may point out that, in addition to being psychologically and epistemologically self-contradictory, the agnostic is morally self-contradictory. His contention was that he is very humble, and for that reason unwilling to pretend to know anything about ultimate matters. Yet he has by implication made a universal statement about reality. He therefore not only claims to know as much as the theist knows, but he claims to know much more. More than that, he not only claims to know much more than the theist, but he claims to know more than the theist’s God. He has boldly set bare possibility above the theist’s God and is quite willing to test the consequences of his action. It is thus that the hubris of which the Greeks spoke so much, and upon which they invoked the wrath of the gods, appears in new and seeming innocent garb.
The Christian worldview does not face the dialectic tensions of atheism because it rejects the abstraction of the one from the many. The Christian worldview admits mystery, but only for man, not God. The finite human mind is not given the impossible task of being the ultimate judge of truth while being surrounded by ultimate mystery. Thus, while the atheist must say “I know” and “I don’t know” at the same time, the Christian can say “I know to the extent my thinking reflects the thinking of God, and I don’t know to the extent that my thinking does not reflect God’s thinking.”