Christianity And Evidentialism: Van Til And Locke On Facts And Evidence -- By: Nathan D. Shannon

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 74:2 (Fall 2012)
Article: Christianity And Evidentialism: Van Til And Locke On Facts And Evidence
Author: Nathan D. Shannon


Christianity And Evidentialism:
Van Til And Locke On Facts And Evidence

Nathan D. Shannon

Nathan D. Shannon is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at the Free University of Amsterdam and adjunct professor of philosophy at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.

If we seek to defend the Christian religion by an “appeal to the facts of experience” in accord with the current scientific method, we shall have to adulterate Christianity beyond recognition. (Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences)

Cornelius Van Til’s rejection of brute factuality and his claim that the purported neutrality of evidentialist rationality is in its essence decidedly anti-Christian set the presuppositional apologetic method apart from all others.1 In this article, I present a study of Van Til’s philosophies of fact and evidence in comparison with the evidentialism of John Locke, arguably the quintessential modern evidentialist. Section 1 is a brief survey of Locke’s epistemology, focusing on the nature of facts and their role in his theories of knowledge and belief. In section 2 we turn to Van Til. Van Til’s argument from predication leads us to the theological underpinnings of his views of fact and evidence. Then in section 3, having Locke’s and Van Til’s views before us, we turn to Van Til’s critique of evidentialism and, specifically, his claim that evidentialism is ultimately committed to creaturely rational autonomy. In this way Locke’s epistemology serves

as a test case for the claims Van Til makes against brute factuality and evidentialist rationality.

As Gary Habermas wrote, presuppositional apologetics is as much a theological view of apologetics as it is an apologetic method.2 His view is common, and should be welcomed by Van Tillian presuppositionalists. But what Habermas and others have failed to recognize, or what Van Tillians have largely failed to clarify, is Van Til’s claim that trinitarian theology itself endorses one and only one apologetic method as necessary, the transcendental, and that, given the Christian-theistic transcendental or presuppositional foundation, just about any apologetic approach is in play, including the use of evidence.3

Van Til’s views on facts and evidence are closely linked to his transcendental apologetic method; if Van Til is misunderstood on evidence, he will be misunderstood on the transcendental method as well.4 And Van Til’s views on facts and

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