Christian Apologetics – Sin and Free Will
Van Til uses a term here that is explicitly descriptive rather than using the more nebulous term “free will”. He uses it in the section The Fall of Man on page 42. In this section, he investigates the substance of the fall. In other words, he addresses the question: in what manner was man disobedient to God at the moment of the fall? His answer:
“Man made for himself a false idea of knowledge, the ideal of absolute inderivative comprehension. This he could never have done if he had continued to recognize that he was a creature. It is totally inconsistent with the idea of creatureliness that man should strive for comprehensive knowledge; if it could be attained, it would wipe God out of existence; man would then be God. And, as we shall see later, because man sought this unattainable ideal, he brought upon himself no end of woe.”
The term I mentioned above as found in this quote is “absolute inderivative comprehension.” For will is founded on knowledge. Will is only free where knowledge is complete. The footnotes provided by editor William Edgar on this term reads thus:
“In Van Til’s terminology, ‘comprehensive knowledge’ means exhaustive knowledge. ‘Absolute’ and ‘inderivative’ mean autonomous, without recognition of creaturely dependence upon the Creator”
The way that I have quickly described it in debating Reformed theology is that there is nothing we know outside of God’s created order. God, being the Creator, has knowledge outside his created order. The word “inderivative” here means that knowledge that is outside of the created order. This is knowledge that is required for us to make decisions autonomously. As it is, even the knowledge we have is not exhaustive of everything IN the created order. While we can claim to make somewhat informed decisions, we cannot claim fully informed decisions.
Talk like this could lead to a huge debate where those Christian brothers and sisters who hold to a non-reformed theology would think that I’m questioning their salvation for believing that they have free will over God’s sovereignty. I assure you that’s not the case. There is a difference between the academic proposition of libertarian free will and the functional rebellion of exerting what doesn’t exist. In other words, many who believe that they can make decisions using knowledge God didn’t give them aren’t necessarily practicing it to their spiritual death by doing so. Rather, the unconscious illusion of libertarian free will results in the sin of conscious desires that counter God’s clear commands. This in turn results in behavioral disobedience. But one can easily consciously hold the illusion of libertarian free will to be true and yet be submissive to God in intentional practice.
So then, the sin of the fall being the illusion of libertarian free will, or “absolute inderivative comprehension”, foremost establishes presuppositional error. This is why Presuppositional Apologetics is historically aligned with Reformed Theology.