In this series of posts, I will be discussing a very popular claim made by proponents of the Van Tillian school of covenantal apologetics - the claim that logic somehow presupposes Christian Theism. The claim is undeniably a very strong one. This claim about logic is meant to be a subset of similar claims and arguments in the Van Tillian transcendental programme. Simply put, Van Tillians propose a transcendental argument for Christian Theism, arguing that, taken as a unit, it uniquely provides the necessary preconditions for intelligible human experience and thought. The aforementioned claim about logic, then, is part of a family of arguments with the argument from logic being just one instance of such arguments.
The immediate question that comes to mind is how one demonstrates or justifies this claim that logic presupposes Christianity. It has been claimed by many critics of the Van Tillian school that a proper argumentative support for this claim is never presented. It is unfortunate that I somewhat sympathize with this criticism. I sympathize not necessarily because I think it is true, but because I can see why some critics may claim this. I do believe that proper justification for this claim has been provided in the works of Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen - the two primary authorities on Van Tillianism - and many other Van Tillian covenantal apologists. However, I also believe that a lot of the discourse surrounding the Van Tillian argument from logic, most notably at the popular level, is shrouded in ambiguity and a lack of precision. A lot of the substance of Van Til’s arguments and ideas are lost in a rhetorical squabble between the proponent and opponents of the argument. My aim with this series is to bring the much needed clarity to the discussion. I hope to explicate the core ideas and arguments of both Van Til and Bahnsen and explain how exactly they supported the claim that logic presupposes Christianity.
Popularization of the Argument
Although this claim that Christian Theism is necessary for logic is found in Van Til’s writings, it was popularized by Dr. Greg Bahnsen in his 1985 debate with Dr. Gordon Stein titled “Does God Exist?” This debate, for many, served as a gateway to the world of Van Tillianism. In this debate, Dr. Bahnsen employed the argument from logic with so much rhetorical force that his debate opponent stood no chance. This is one of the biggest reasons why the argument from logic is so popular among Van Tillians today. The idea that the unbeliever’s appeal to and use of logic commits him to Christianity seems to be so rhetorically powerful and argumentatively forceful. It seems to provide quite irrefutable proof of the truth of Christianity and a “nuclear strength” apologetic.
The problem, however, is that most times the rhetorical force and the philosophical substance of the argument are confused. In an attempt to employ the argument with similar rhetorical force as Dr. Bahnsen did in his debate, many, mostly popular level, Van Tillians fail to also apply the philosophical nuance and precision found in the writings of both Van Til and Bahnsen. In most cases, what is presented is a diluted, watered-down version of the argument. This does not have to be the case. One need not sacrifice philosophical substance for rhetorical force. Both can be fully applied by the Van Tillian. And in order to do so, we must fully examine and understand the ideas and concepts central to Van Til’s argument from logic.
The Core Ideas
Throughout the works of both Van Til and Bahnsen, one would find that the ideas central to the argument from logic are multi-faceted. The ideas can be classified into: (1) the ontology of logic, (2) the epistemology of logic, (3) the ethics of logic, and (4) the relation of logic to fact. Each post in this series will address these ideas in turn after clarifying what exactly logic means.