CHRISTIAN THEISTIC EVIDENCES, by Cornelius Van Til edited by K. Scott Oliphint

Published on August 11, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

P&R, 2016 | 249 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance

About the Author

Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) earned his PhD from Princeton University. He briefly taught apologetics at Princeton Theological Seminary before moving to Westminster Theological Seminary, where he was a professor for decades. Van Til authored many books and is considered the founder of presuppositionalism.


This book showcases Van Til’s approach to Christian evidences, which he identifies as one part of a broader Christian apologetic. He argues that a rational interpretation of evidence presupposes the truth of Christianity, and that all non-Christian evidential thought inevitably breaks down. Van Til uses many examples from non-Christian philosophy, science, and psychology to show that a “neutral” approach to brute facts will never justify the conclusion that the God of the Bible exists. On the contrary, God and Christianity must be true in order for human beings to make sense out of anything and to make their thinking and experience intelligible. The editor, K. Scott Oliphint, has provided a helpful introduction and many explanatory footnotes. Van Til is not always easy to understand (partly owing to the conceptual difficulty of certain points in his analysis), and Oliphint’s notes accurately exposit and clarify some of Van Til’s claims.

Table of Contents

Foreword: K. Scott Oliphint
General Introduction
Chapter 1: The History of Evidences
Chapter 2: Hume’s Scepticism
Chapter 3: Idealistic Reconstruction
Chapter 4: Christianity and Its Factual Defense
Chapter 5: Theological Evidences—God
Chapter 6: Creation and Providence
Chapter 7: Teleology
Chapter 8: Anthropological Evidences—General Psychology
Chapter 9: Anthropological Evidences—The Psychology of Religion
Appendix: Some Recent Scientists


Chapter 1
The History of Evidences

Bishop Butler’s Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature attempted to defend Christianity against deism. Butler maintained that we rely on probability judgments in our daily reasoning, and the truth of Christianity should also be subjected to this same type of assessment. Probability judgments for Christianity are formed on the basis of analogies—we look at the constitution and course of nature and then use analogy to work from what we know and see to what it is unknown and unseen. Deductive, demonstrative proof does not exist for the existence of God. When creation is our starting point, we should expect both similarities and dissimilarities with nature to exist when we reason about God. The world contains evil, but God does not. Butler believed that human reason was sufficient in natural theology and that it could judge the evidence for revelation.

For life after death, Butler argued that we have experienced many changes in the course of our lives and have survived, so it is likely we will continue to live after bodily death. Since there are many things we don’t understand, discontinuities between life and death can’t rule out a person’s survival. Butler is writing against deism, so he presupposes that God exists (and that God’s existence is necessary rather than contingent). But if God exists, shouldn’t that presupposition control our thinking, ruling out the possibility of being empiricists in Butler’s model? Butler explains the fall into sin through a model that is Arminian in its view of liberty and freedom. He also argues that human beings had propensities that led toward evil even before they actually sinned. After the fall, Butler sees people as retaining their natural goodness and ability to follow God—he rejects total depravity. Butler insists that what we learn about natural revelation and what we find in Christianity’s revealed religion dovetail together into one proof. Then he argues that since there is nothing we know that makes belief in Christianity unreasonable, it is reasonable to believe. We start with facts, and the facts lead to the probability judgment that Christianity is true.

Chapter 2
Hume’s Scepticism

Neither Butler nor the deists won their controversy—the victory was carried by the skeptics. David Hume agreed with Butler in rejecting innate ideas and a priori reasoning—Hume was a strict empiricist. Basic to Hume’s theory of knowledge was that all knowledge comes from sensations, and that ideas are copies of sensations (following Berkeley at that point). Hume argued that there are no necessary connections that exist between our ideas, so his empiricism eliminates our ability to infer causal relationships, as well as our logical ability to claim that the future will resemble….

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Christian Theistic Evidences, Second Edition

P&R, 2016 | 249 pages

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