Caution - Depraved Minds at Work - 2

Part 2 of a 2 part series by Don Craig

I was thankful the
cockpit was dark

An evidential apologist

The intellect of
fallen man

Two main concepts

Historically significant

"The Christian apologist must be alert to the fact that the average person to whom he must present the Christian religion for acceptance is a quite different sort of being than he himself thinks he is."

Cornelius Van Til

Since writing the previous article on apologetics,  I  had a particularly enlightening conversation with another pilot during a  recent flight.  As we talked, it became apparent that this person had some roots in historic Christianity. 

Our discussion was interrupted by an enroute stop, but once in cruising flight again, it resumed.  It was time, he said, to lay all his cards on the table.  I waited with bated breath.  What could be worse than what I had already heard?  My keen sense of anticipation was rewarded as he related how this earth and its inhabitants are actually an experiment conducted by extraterrestrials.  The old model of man wasn't working out too well (too many bad relationships, wars, sickness, etc.) so it was time to experiment with a new genetic series.  Jesus, he said, was the prototype and he was so successful that this new gene is now being steadily implanted in the human race by the process of evolution!!!??

I was thankful the cockpit was dark so I could regain my composure unobserved. It is obvious from both Scripture and experience that there are two perceptions of reality competing for the mind of man.  The believer in Christ holds presuppositions grounded in the Word of God concerning God, man, and the universe that he lives in.  He understands that his mind is part of creation, and therefore is dependent on revelation from God in order to function properly.  He allows Scripture to interpret and bring meaning to his entire life.  The fruit of a life lived this way is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

The unbeliever, though possessing intellectual knowledge of God, suppresses this truth, and in its place substitutes his own presuppositions:  There is no God; man is autonomous (sets his own rules); the universe is ruled by chance.  Based on these errors, he surmises that his mind operates independently and is capable of perceiving truth all by itself.  He needs no revelation from God and wishes to bring his own interpretation to every fact of his existence.  A life lived according to this world view is characterized by depravity and the fruit of it is summarized in Romans 1:28-32.

An evidential apologist (one who attempts to prove Christianity on the basis of evidence apart from Biblical interpretation) would contend that the unbeliever has a knowledge problem.  Simply give him more information and he will surely respond.  Unfortunately for the evidentialist, this approach does not square with Scripture.  In fact, the Bible declares that all men do know God (Rom 1:21).  Every fact of the universe testifies to them about God.  The knowledge which all men have about God is "plain," "clearly seen," and "understood," therefore they are "without excuse" (Rom 1:19,20).  Men know that they are created, responsible for sin, covenant breakers, and liable for eternal punishment. 

They understand that the world is controlled by God's providence.  This fact gives the presuppositional apologist (one who argues on the basis of Scripture, and sees all evidence as bearing witness to Scriptural truth) hope because as he bears witness of the Truth the unbeliever's conscience agrees with his testimony.

This knowledge that the unbeliever possesses is not to be confused with the believer's knowledge of God.  Ever since Eve chose to obtain her knowledge independently of God by making herself the ultimate reference point for truth, unregenerate man's knowledge of God has been characterized by rebellion.  It is knowledge cut away from its source, and framework, emptied of its full significance and confined to a distorted intellectual realm.  Unlike the believer whose mind has been renewed in order to obey the truth, the intellectual knowledge the unbeliever possesses forms the basis for his ethical opposition to God (he fights against precisely that which he knows). 

Having ethically separated himself from the only source of knowledge, he seeks to deny his creaturehood in order to interpret everything without reference to God.  This key presupposition controls all non-Christian philosophy, including other religions.  Cornelius Van Til provides an insightful illustration:

The intellect of fallen man may, as such, be keen enough. It may be compared to a buzz-saw that is sharp and shining, ready to cut the boards that come to it. Let us say that a carpenter wishes to cut fifty boards for the purpose of laying the floor of a house. He has marked his boards. He has set his saw. He begins at one end of the mark on the boards. But he does not know that his seven year old son has tampered with the saw and changed its set. The result is that every board he saws is cut slantwise and thus unusable because [it is] too short except at the point where the saw first made its contact with the wood. So also whenever the teachings of Christianity are presented to the natural man they will be cut according to the set of sinful human personality. The result is they may have formal understanding of the truth, mere cognition [mental perception] but no true knowledge of God.(Van Til, p.74)

Two main concepts emerge as a result of man attempting to be as God.  The first is that man is viewed as the ultimate reference point for interpreting all of life.  He interprets and gives meaning to all facts.  In order for man to consider himself autonomous, there must be no controlling plan for the universe, therefore he invents the idea of chance.  By his own logic, he determines what is possible or impossible in this world of chance.  The second concept is that facts are treated as "brute" facts.  They are uncreated, unrelated, and controlled only by chance.  They have no meanings or prior interpretations attached to them.

This attitude has implications for us as we use evidence in our apologetics. The unbeliever does not see the facts in the same manner as we do. As Van Til points out, when a non-believer sees an apple tree, he sees a "Creator-denying" apple tree. He sees in the apple tree evidence of evolution; to the non-believer...apples prove that the God of Scripture does not exist, and each apple is an evidence against such a God. Ultimately, the nonexistence of God becomes part of the definition of apples. He defines every term of his experience on the basis of atheistic presuppositions. (Notaro, p. 38)

Historically significant events like the resurrection of Christ have no meaning to him because in a universe of chance, anything is possible. This should tell us something of the critical importance of using evidence only when it is fully interpreted and explained within a Scriptural context. It is not wrong to use evidence in our arguments, however it is wrong to assume that the unbeliever is somehow neutral and will draw correct conclusions from the evidence on his own. We must give him the interpretation and the conclusion of the evidence he experiences:

A father takes his young son to a baseball game in which a player hits a timely home run. The father is ecstatic, whereas the son who is puzzled by all the excitement asks, "What happened?" Do both father and son witness the same fact? A yes and no answer is possible. Both father and son are eyewitnesses. Each watches a hanging curveball travel from the pitcher to the batter and thence into the right field seats. But only the father perceives a home run. The son does not understand the rules of the game or the game's significance within the schedule. In order for the son to recognize the fact of a home run, he must first cognize the significance of the visual phenomena, integrating it into meaningful whole. Unless this takes place, the son may leave the ball park insisting he never saw a home run, even though he had witnessed the visual phenomena necessary for one. (Notaro, p. 38)

This is why the evidential system of apologetics fails. It tends to divorce the facts from their Scriptural context, and therefore does not present the facts for what they really are. It does not challenge the central tenets of the unbeliever's "faith": Man is autonomous, the universe is ruled by chance, facts have no prior interpretation attached. If the ideas of human autonomy and brute fact are left unchallenged, all the facts and arguments presented to him will be distorted by his sinful thinking.

It is true that a presuppositional approach which places all evidence within its Biblical framework will be most unsavory to the natural man, but it is the only approach that will cause a man to bow at the feet of Christ when the Spirit of God is pleased to open his eyes.

Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith
New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1955.
Thom Notaro, Van Til & the Use of Evidence
New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1980.


Originally published in U-TURN

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