Every now and then I tip my hat in the direction of Cornelius Van Til – But he was wrong in a few ways, and I’d hate for anyone to think that I’m one of those dyed-in-the-wool Van Til fans who think he could do no wrong. He did much wrong (and much good), philosophically speaking. So here’s one way in which he was wrong: Van Til’s position committed to epistemic internalism, which is an indefensible view of epistemology.
Anyone familiar with Van Til’s apologetic, whether expressed by Van Til or his followers, like Greg L. Bahnsen, will recognise the Van Tillian quality of the argument:
- Laws of logic, science and morality require the existence of God.
- So called Atheists employ laws of logic, science and morality.
- So-called atheists show that they really do know that God exists (purportedly from 1. and 2.).
Just now I’m not denying either premise, and I’m not denying the conclusion either. But the above argument is formally invalid, and it might only appear valid if one assumes epistemic internalism.
I’m an epistemic externalist. This means that I consider knowledge to be warranted true belief. In other words, if I hold a belief, and if that belief really is true, and if the belief is warranted, that is, caused in the right sort of truth-aimed way, then what I have is a piece of knowledge. An example: I believe that there is a book on the table over there. This belief is true, and it is caused because my senses tell me the book is there, and my senses are working properly. So I actually do know that there is a book over there.
Internalism does not see knowledge this way. In internalism, not only must a belief actually be warranted, but you must know that it is warranted. If having correctly functioning senses is what warrants your belief that there is a book over there, then in order to know that there is a book over there, you must also know that you have properly functioning senses. And in order to know that you have properly functioning senses, you must know what warrants the belief that you have properly functioning senses – even though the only way to get such a warrant, presumably, is via the senses. And round and round it goes.
Notice that Van Til does not merely conclude that atheists should believe in God, due to their recognition of things like laws of science and morality. He concludes that they do believe in God, as though one could not reach that conclusion without already knowing that God exists. But this is just to assume that a person can only hold a warranted belief if one also knows what beliefs warrant that belief, and they believe those other beliefs too – and round and round it goes.
This is just another reason to join in chorus with William Lane Craig when he notes that a much stronger, clearer and more plausible transcendental argument is available than that found in Van Til, namely in the work of Alvin Plantinga.