Christian Apologetics – The Existence of God
I discussed briefly in my first article the existence of God. Van Til put forth in his discussion of Systematic Theology that Theology seeks to answer two fundamental questions. First, does God exist? And second, what sort of God is he?
Now it would seem that Van Til is following the existentialist trap here. However he goes on to state that we must first know what sort of God he is before we can meaningfully discuss whether he exists or not. This is a great statement and is an indication to the purposeful approach Van Til presents here.
There is further evidence that he has considered the difference between the logical presuppositions and the epistemological or pedagogical presuppositions. In his discussion of the knowledge of God on page 26 he observes the historic debate between Lutherans and Calvinists whether "one should reason" from experience of God back to the nature of God or start with the nature of God and derive the Christian experience.
Regardless, God is eternal and we are temporal. I've written about this before. The essence of God goes far beyond merely a description of what kind of God he is. It's certainly true that we cannot discuss the existence of God without agreeing on the nature of God. However, an understanding of the nature of God can only be discussed among us in temporal terms.
In this vein, Van Til discusses whether God’s knowledge is analytical or synthetical. (These are two categories from Bloom’s Taxonomy. To analyze is to take a unified concept and break it apart into sub-categorical observations. To synthesize is to take observations as premises and conclude a unified concept.) Largely, the use of either word is merely semantic because the meaning is a matter of perspective. God is absolute and our understanding of him is not. God’s essence is absolute and absolutely unified. To understand him temporally, we must analyze God. To approach an eternal understanding of him, we must take what we know observationally and synthesize an understanding of his unified character.
Parenthetically, by the use of the term "unified concept" I don't mean to imply that God is in some way impersonal. Rather, I mean that God's eternal essence does not subsist as a multiplex of distinct items of knowledge but as a single concept that consists of the unification of all the qualities we can attribute to God. So I also use the phrase "unified character." Van Til uses the expression "a single internal act of intuition" on page 27 to indicate the same thing and spends much of his discourse on theology up to this point expounding on this. I would say that while he uses different words to say it, Van Til is explicit enough about this and we agree in general.
The philosophical lie that has permeated the thinking of fallen creation is that existence is preeminent. That is to say that the manifest analysis of God is preeminent and the synthesis of a unified understanding is subjective. To be sure, we fall short of a true understanding because our synthesis will be flawed until such a time as our knowledge is made whole. But to presuppose that the unified concept of God is not preeminent because our synthesis to know him is flawed is fallacious.
Rather, the unified concept of God is preeminent to his existence and our attempt to understand him is merely tertiary. The subsequent charge that it’s circular reasoning is therefore flawed. The primary human knowledge of God is organic in such a way as a baby knows its mother. Only as we mature do we learn more of God as the child learns more of his mother as he grows up. There may be more on this later, but I'll stop there because the text doesn't warrant a discussion of it yet.